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When Will & Grace premiered in 1998, there were elements that would evolve over the course of the show: Karen’s voice would get higher, Will’s hair would get shorter, Jack’s pet bird would go the way of Marcel the monkey, the probably network-mandated sexual tension between Will ampersand Grace would blessedly fade (mostly) away.
But right from the jump, one thing was absolutely set in stone: the main characters’ styles. Will’s well-cut suits and striped ties, Jack’s sweater vests and khakis, Karen’s classic doyenne suit dresses and giant bump of hair — all there from the start. Even Grace, a relative wild card, consistently displayed a love of cutouts and loud prints, and always always took fashion-ish swings and misses the rest of the cast could make fun of. (Along with her eating habits, which were apparently monstrously gluttonous — thanks, ’90s).
Now, as the show returns to NBC on September 28th, 11 years after its finale, everyone appears to have woken up from a long and notably restful coma, outfits intact.
Here’s Grace in season 3 (the first one anyways) and Grace today:
Will Willing it up through the years:
Just Jack in just the same old thing, in 2000ish and now:
As Vox Media’s resident Debra Messing expert, Adam Moussa, points out, aging the characters (as the intervening time presumably has) actually means that some are finally dressed appropriately. “Jack was supposed to be this horny gay man who walked around in sweater vests. You never saw his legs,” Moussa says. Now that actor Sean Hayes is in late 40s and Jack is presumably around the same age, the button-downs and chinos make some sense.
Similarly, Karen, played by Megan Mullally, has always dressed in the Chanel-esque suits of a society matriarch, albeit a hot one. Mullally was 41 when the show premiered, with — as Karen herself says — “an ass you could bounce a quarter off of.” Today, at 58, she looks uncannily the same (the true skincare and fitness secret is being married to Nick Offerman), but her outfits are bordering on age (if not ass) appropriate.
But the reason everyone in the Will & Grace cast hasn’t changed isn’t because they always dressed older, but because we need them to. Entertainment Weekly once explained why cartoon characters wear the same clothes — in part, because “since there’s no actual body under the clothes, an animated character IS the costume.” There’s only one measly dimension and very little on-page difference between sitcom and cartoon characters; for audiences, they’re effectively the same (and similarly, rarely full nude on screen, unless we’re talking HBO). Lisa Simpson always wears that red dress because she’s Lisa Simpson, so who is Jack without his sleeveless sweaters — just some guy?
Familiarity is the entire point of rebooting these old show. We want to recognize our old friends. That’s why Dale Cooper still wears suits, Lorelai Gilmore still covers herself in conspicuously adorable outerwear, and Stephanie Tanner still goes for a side-pony. We don’t want to have think about the time or styles that have passed while they were gone and things got ever more complicated; we just want them to pick up where they (and we) left off, frozen in time.
On a production level, it’s not a coincidence either. On Watch What Happens Live, Megan Mullally confirmed that the whole crew was back: “The best part was really that it was all the same people, not just the cast, but Jim Burrows the director, the lighting designer, the costume designer, the set designer, the writer, I mean, everybody the same." The same costume designer means the same costume designs. “It was kind of like we had just been away for the weekend,” Mullally said, and presumably fans will feel the same way.