Time was, you could count the number of stylish television characters on one hand. Perhaps Mischa and Rachel on The OC; Rachel from Friends (at a push; no one has forgotten the mistakes the 1990s made on her behalf); anyone in a school uniform on Home & Away.
Then along came Gossip Girl's Eric Daman and, all of a sudden, what our television characters were wearing was just as important as what they were saying - if not more. Blair's naughty-schoolgirl chic and Serena's laidback Manhattan cool became the styles to emulate - and hot on their heels came shows whose very essence seemed to ride on what their characters wore, Mad Men being the most prolific of these fashionable serials.
But, of course, our love affair with Joan's waspish waist and formidable curves just couldn't - and didn't - last. Though the sense of whimsy that goes along with adopting vintage sensibilities in our everyday dress is fun, it has a time limit; after a while, a woman who dresses constantly in 1950s dress is seen as an oddity, rather than an interesting individual testing out the limits allowed by fashion.
It was recently announced that, of all of the TV characters in all of the (one presumes, white, Western, doesn't one?) world, Emily Thorne / Amanda Clarke (played by Emily VanCamp) of ABC's Revenge is the one whose wardrobe we covet the most. It's sad, but it's true; we want to dress like a slightly badass woman who dresses like your mother (if your mother had the body of her youth, the budget for Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors and a beach house in the Hamptons).
Why? I, personally, blame the recession. When we first found ourselves living under looming threat of an economy gone bust, we embraced whimsy. John Galliano's shows were (though it seemed impossible) even more theatrical; Miu Miu produced glitter heels that wouldn't have been out of place in Oz; gem stones were affixed to the most unlikely of items - plain ol' grey knits, tracksuit bottoms and running shoes. We were in denial, and we were going to express our disbelief in as loud a manner as we could.
Fast forward a year or two and our landscape is quite different - that's not to say that our recession has deepened (although it has), but that we have reached something of an acceptance. And though we are still spending - the Row's $39,000 backpack sold out last season - we are now spending in a more discreet way. VanCamp's Revenge character is the perfect model of austerity chic: she looks classic and well put together, but no one is ever going to know how much she spent on her clothes (which, incidentally, are by a litany of American designers).
Maybe it's less of a return to austerity and more of a return to the classier times of yore, when all TV characters dressed badly, revenge was a dish best served cold and nobody ever spoke about money.
Follow Rosemary Mac Cabe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rosemarymaccabe