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Small Screen Style: Suburban Fashion in 'The Americans'

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As series one draws to a close, Anna Hart finally understands why ITV’s Cold War espionage drama really got a hold of her...

For a while I couldn’t work out why I found The Americans such addictive viewing. Sure, there’s the gripping plot, pivoting on a seemingly dull suburban couple in 1980s Virginia, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, who are in fact KGB agents. There’s the killer soundtrack, from the dramatic opening sequence to Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk to that sex-in-the-drivers-seat scene along to Phil Collins on the car stereo. There’s the reliably brilliant acting from a sultry, stony Keri Russell and DILF Matthew Rhys. But quality alone couldn’t quite explain why this is the show of the summer for me; I’m more superficial than that.

Then it dawned on me: everyone in The Americans is dressed like my parents. My parents when I was a kid, I mean. Because whatever my mother has worn since, for me she’s preserved forever in tapered-leg Jordache jeans and bold blouses.

It’s an odd feeling to see an era you can remember rendered onscreen as a period piece; it’s weirder still for it to so accurately represent what you saw back then. Because yes, The Americans is set in the 1980s, but Elizabeth Jennings is not in T’Pau. The fashion we see in The Americans is 1980s fashion as filtered through suburban malls, selected by working moms who want to look stylish and professional but still fit in at the schoolgate. It’s what real women wore.

And I find it oddly comforting to watch my mum’s late 1970s/early 1980s wardrobe (chestnut leather boots, trench coats, homely mohair jumpers) dressing Keri Russell as she makes school lunches, bakes brownies and kung-fu chops intruders before stabbing them to death with a kitchen knife. It sure makes for an interesting ride; seeing the cosily familiar hallmarks of our childhood and then watching someone dressed like DAD coolly shoot someone in the temple. Thank goodness I'm old enough not to get nightmares...

Words: Anna Hart

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