Dressing the Part: On ‘UnREAL’, Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Shattering

UnREAL.

UnREAL. Sergei Bachlakov

Welcome to our TV Fashion column, where TV Ate My Wardrobe‘s Emma Fraser discusses the trends in television apparel. This week: Rachel’s un-Quinning on Lifetime’s UnReal.

It took just three episodes of UnREAL for Rachel to switch out her ‘dress for success’ black Helmut Lang blazers and leather pants for jeans and the comfort of her season 1 signature olive green army inspired jacket. The work environment on Everlasting hits new levels of toxicity as they try and make the most explosive season of the reality dating show yet.

In part this is down to Rachel and Quinn’s partnership of power disintegrating at the hands of a recently invigorated Chet, network executive Gary and new hire Coleman. Sabotage comes from all angles and clothing unity is not enough to protect from the patriarchal system that is in place.

Quinn and Rachel’s matching bestie “Money, Dick, Power” tattoos have barely healed before the undermining has begun with each trying to keep some semblance of control and having varying results. Also, let’s not forget how Quinn convinced Rachel to stay, offering her a promotion with a side order of blackmail; in work as in reality TV they are not there to make friends. However they do have a deep bond despite the underhand tactics at play and this in part due to the complex web of gender politics at play; their male counterparts have succeeded with work that is less than and in the case of Chet and Quinn he took credit for her idea. The chemistry between Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer crackles in a way that sets this relationship apart from any of their male co-stars and it is this coming together and falling apart that sets the screen on fire.

Shiri Appleby as Rachel and Constance Zimmer as Quinn.

Shiri Appleby as Rachel and Constance Zimmer as Quinn. Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

This dynamic comes with a huge amount of push and pull; when they are in a good place this means lounging by the pool smoking and drinking plotting their next move. But you can’t have a relationship without trust and too much manipulation and string pulling has gone on for Rachel and Quinn to ever be on the same level. Rachel can do her best Quinn by dressing like her in power neutrals and yet while Quinn is around she will never be truly free to get on and create the show she wants to.

By taking her new role and dressing exactly like Quinn; Rachel isn’t doing herself any favors in the respect stakes as the only person who compliments this style choice is the person she is mirroring “Here’s to booze and fancy clothes.” Others use it as a way to undermine with Jeremy still smarting about the end of their affair dismissing her new position by asking if she raided Quinn’s wardrobe. Helmut Lang isn’t cheap and this costuming change shows that Rachel has got her money situation handled (for now at least) and superficially she has her shit together.

The bitter ex is not the only person to point out the Quinn similarities and Jay takes it further in episode 2 when he notes her new Quinn like smoking habit and asks when she’s getting a haircut. Jay follows this up with a super bitchy observation that she doesn’t have the cheekbones to pull it off before he sees the start of Rachel in crisis. Rachel might be smoking like her mentor, but she’s also very much hiding in the fur-lined hood of her parka coat; the cracks in the Quinning of Rachel’s wardrobe hit early.

Cut to this week’s episode “Guerrilla” and Rachel has ditched the black blazers and leather pants for old faithful with the return of her Talula ‘Trooper’ jacket (sadly it is no longer available – eBay anyone?). The “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” tee has yet to make an appearance, but the rest of this casual look is back with a vengeance as she essentially returns to her old role on Everlasting. It is worth pointing out that this excellent New Yorker profile of UnREAL co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (and former Bachelor producer) notes that she wore a “George Bush, Out of My Uterus” t-shirt while working on The Bachelor.

Shiri Appleby as Rachel and Gentry White as Romeo.

Shiri Appleby as Rachel and Gentry White as Romeo. Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

Rachel tried to scheme her way to the top by going to Gary the exec and telling him all about Quinn and Chet’s power games; this backfired in a couple of ways as not only did she lose out on the promotion, but Gary has now told Quinn about Rachel’s snitching. All the matching tattoos and wardrobes is not going make this a happy discussion.

“Why are you still here?” A question that could be asked to those behind the camera and in front of it, but this one is for Rachel. The answer is much more complex than the convincing and true response she gives – she’s been pushing for a black suitor for years and she’s not going to leave now it has happened – and part of this can be explained by the Quinning and subsequent Racheling of her look. I mean part of it can be explained by blackmail, but even without that nefarious maneuver I think Rachel would find it hard to quit.

The other is this question of what would Rachel do without Everlasting? Coleman looks set to be the angel on her shoulder to Quinn’s devil, but just as Rachel embraced her new clothes she also was quick to return to her old look. Both are tied to Everlasting and this bond is going to hard to break no matter how bad it is for Rachel’s mental health. Rachel has no control over her own life, but she has the special skill set to manipulate others and all for the entertainment of millions of strangers. Switching back to her old clothes could easily be a sign that she is falling apart, but it also suggests she is reclaiming the control which her fancy costuming was pretending she had. And at least she isn’t sleeping in them yet.

On ‘Everlasting’ they put people in certain boxes to help creative a romantic narrative so there are the ‘wifeys’ (and ‘blifeys’ this season), the controversial figures that will help give them ‘suicide numbers but without the suicide’ and everyone else in-between. Image is very important here and the right dress or bikini can sell a story in an instant. So for Rachel to become a power player she started dressing like her mentor because this is the look she thought she needed to gain the respect of a crew who have already seen her come apart at the seams. By copying Quinn’s style Rachel loses her own identity and instead of asserting influence she loses what little control she did have. While Quinn still has a walkie in her hand she will reign.

Constance Zimmer as Quinn.

Constance Zimmer as Quinn. Lifetime

Hiding in the hood of a parka can only go so far and Rachel could quite easily crash and burn; instead she switches into ‘old’ Rachel mode and takes on her position of producer with gusto. The power of the Lindsay Weir-esque jacket and a pair of jeans. This is Rachel’s comfort zone and Quinn exerts her dominance in the control room taking Chet’s skeezy obstacle course and manipulating a narrative that leaves two women with injuries both physical and mental. But it’s gonna be great for ratings.

Rachel rejects Quinn’s wardrobe in favor of her old one, but one contestant is taking a different approach. Ruby switches out her black activism t-shirts for a more typical Everlasting dress borrowed from Yael (or ‘Hot Rachel’) as she finally takes on Jay’s advice and starts playing the game. There are a lot of agendas at play in front and behind the camera on Everlasting and the only thing that concerns Quinn about the contestants is how she can make their story work for the ratings. Even if this means fabricating and destroying credibility; I doubt this is the last we have seen of Brandi. Watch your back Quinn as we’ve seen how good she is at leaping on someone.

Where there is a Quinn double, there is also a Rachel in the form of Madison. Madison has also taken to wearing clothing with a hint of camo going bold in a Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren hunting vest. Madison is currently far more timid than Rachel and needs a lot of coaching, which she is more than open to. This includes a really painful conversation about her recently deceased mother and Chantal’s dead fiancé. Madison pukes after this gut wrenching moment, but instead of wanting to quit she gets the kind of rush that has probably kept Rachel in this job for far longer than her mental health can handle. This blast of manipulative power has a lot to answer for.

Hoodies or Helmut Lang? Rachel’s quick descent from her fancy wardrobe to the coat that was like her second skin during season 1 is a strong indicator that hard times are ahead for the Everlasting producer. And yet it also suggests a semblance of self and this is a far cry from the Quinning effect of Rachel’s short lived position in fake command. Control is lacking for the contestants and a majority of the Everlasting staff; if Rachel can claw this back by wearing her less professional looking attire then this will bring a whole new meaning to power dressing.

Emma Fraser is the creator of TV Ate My Wardrobe and spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion and costuming; Abbi and Ilana’s Broad City style, the wigs on The Americans and Mindy Lahiri’s pajamas are just as vital as talking about ’90s/’00s teen shows. Emma has a MA in Film and Television and she probably holds Angela Chase responsible for this path. You can find her on Twitter @frazbelina.

Dressing the Part: On ‘UnREAL’, Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Shattering