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The first time we’re introduced to the cast of Search Party they’re partaking in a millennial cultural touchstone: brunch. Dory (Alia Shawkat) is explaining to her friends that she just found a missing person poster for an old acquaintance and college classmate of theirs, a girl named Chantal Witherbottom.
Just a few minutes into the show I’ve already made two observations; the first being that these characters embody varying levels of self absorption that have become on brand with people’s perception of millennial identity and the second being that they all have great outfits.
Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner) look like kindred spirits in their relaxed fit, short sleeve, printed button down shirts. Dory and Drew (John Reynolds) favor a more muted color palette but are still very much hipster leaning. What’s to come over the course of the rest of the season is an array of expressive ensembles that both downplay and mirror the ways that these twenty something Brooklynites are internalizing the events that ensue when you’re searching for a missing person you barely knew.
With the premiere of Search Party’s second season coming November 19th, this is the perfect time to reflect on the style highlights of season one. And what better person to talk to this about than the show’s costume designer, Matthew Simonelli.
One of the most striking qualities about the show’s styling is that it captures the New York style that we see in real life. At times it can even seem like it’s poking fun at it, making us think about how one outfit can always be upstaged by the next. But the characters wear their clothes so well that it feels natural and true to who they are.
When asked about how he initially approached the task of dressing the show’s characters and curating their personal styles, Simonelli said the first thing he did was revisit movies like Maltese Falcon, Gilda, Double Indemnity, and Cat People. He sees Search Party as a “film noir Scooby Doo” which is very spot on.
Let’s start with Search Party’s main character Dory, whose wardrobe is reminiscent of your vintage fashion dreams. Her job as an assistant to a “rich married lady” (her words) doing “things that no one else wants to do” (lady’s words) doesn’t require her to invest in a business casual wardrobe of Ann Taylor Loft blazers. This is true for a large portion of millennials and young professionals, for whom the pairing of basic sneakers with a cool looking dress or funky button down is the new “work appropriate.”
One of Dory’s go-to pieces is her long blue boucle jacket, a vintage find that makes her look ready to solve a mystery whenever she throws it on. Actually, Dory’s style seems to be defined by a series of cool finds; Simonelli found the red floral ’80s vintage dress Dory wears in the final episode on the Etsy shop Harlow’s Vintage. He says it’s one of his favorites because “it says so much about where Dory is headed and really cements the noir vibe.”
In this way, each of the show’s characters represents a specific type of millennial style. Viewers are able to envision what kind of shopper they would be in real life. For instance, Dory would choose to go thrifting at Buffalo Exchange over shopping at a curated, pricey high end store.
As for the rest of the Search Party crew, it’s likely that we could run into Julian (Brandon Micheal Hall) at Cos, Elliott at Opening Ceremony or Totokaelo, Portia at What Comes Around Goes Around (or surfing Moda Operandi), and Drew at J.Crew or Brooks Brothers. Each of their personalities is complemented by what they wear — a team effort by the show’s creators, actors, and costume designer — in ways that reflect how people their age would choose to dress.
In a time where the question, “what do you do?” warrants a response similar to Elliott’s “I’m a stylist, I’m a designer, I could curate,” it makes sense that young people are hyper aware of their style in an effort to seem different. RIght?
“I don't think it's just young people. It's everyone in a way. I think many New Yorkers are kind of youthful and have conflicted feelings about adulthood. The clothes are the great coverup,” says Simonelli. “You know, ‘I intern for a PR agent who doesn't pay.’ Or ‘I work paycheck to paycheck, I have no retirement plan and my roommate is a sociopath, but this new jacket from Opening Ceremony feels like the armor I need to convey that I'm in control (or very comfortably out of it).’”
Any New Yorker has found themselves either partaking in or at least eavesdropping on a similar conversation, while sipping an overpriced matcha latte. There’s something about trying to build a semblance of a functional adult life in a city like New York that can take a toll on a person. But if you’re happy with the wardrobe you’ve collected to project that image, who’s to say you can’t have fun with it? In the greater context of Search Party’s plot this makes for moments where an outfit, especially Portia or Elliott’s, is the source of humor for an entire scene.
At Chantal’s vigil, Elliott and Portia are two of the only people to don entirely black ensembles. Their appropriate mourning gear makes it seem like they’re the ones leading the mission to find Chantal instead of Dory.
Episode nine is where we see Elliott wear an all white ensemble, specifically to talk to Chantal’s family as they shop for wedding dresses for her sister. Does he think the pristine look will make him seem less threatening than Dory had when she cornered Chantal’s mom, questioning the real story of her disappearance, at the vigil a few episodes prior? Perhaps the white on white is a subconscious attempt for him to start anew after being exposed for lying about having cancer by Julian in the form of a New York Magazine article. But his excitement about getting a book deal because of his high profile lies undercuts that.
“Part of the gag is that [Portia and Elliott] are constantly saying something boldly within the context of any situation,” shares Simonelli. “It's always an Instagram story with those two. ‘LOOK AT ME! LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!’” Which, might be why they opted for a fur vest and a head to toe floral suit for an ‘undercover’ visit to the cult in episode six.
By the season one finale Dory, Drew, Portia and Elliott have literally and figuratively ventured into unchartered territory otherwise known as Montreal, Canada. To say that what ensues is going to be a mess to cover up is an understatement. So how will we see the Search Party crew, now forever bonded by the events of one weekend, cope with the repercussions? They might have found what they thought they were looking for, but the reality that awaits them in New York will be way more complicated than how they left it.
Whether this major event is going to signal an immediate change in the characters’ wardrobes is hard to say, but there will definitely be some cues to keep an eye out for. According to Simonelli, Elliott will have taken on a new keenness for accessories — hats to be specific —and more sartorially daring outfits.
When asked about the “NO” ensemble Elliott is wearing in the season two trailer, Simonelli reveals that it was for a scene where Elliott is on a secret mission and this was his approach to a “low key” look. His loss of all senses makes him the perfect canvas on which to project the craziness of this situation.
Each of the characters will naturally have different ways of coping with the fact that their lives are forever changed by the events of season one, despite their attempts to convince themselves that they’re still good people. This might translate into them keeping with the same appearances they put on pre-Montreal. But it could very well be a catalyst for change, for an attraction to a less youthful and more jaded by the world’s evils approach to dressing.
“I wanted to convey what happens to these characters after they are exposed to sex and violence. What tools do they pick up or leave behind to better serve them after this severe trauma? It's a loss of innocence in many ways for Dory,” notes Simonelli. “I question whether she has started to embrace manipulation.”
The gears have shifted and the stakes are higher. The characters have learned to manipulate and seduce. Brunch might never be the same.