Fashion has a significant history in the Archie-verse. Straddling the line between slice of life and romance comics, Archie Comics have frequently featured the fashion spreads or pin-up pages of romance comics. Even as romance comics faded in popularity, Archie Comics long carried on the tradition. My very own ’90s Archie Comics, particularly the Betty & Veronica series, heavily featured fashion via, not only spreads and pin-ups, but also as a part of storylines.
As a budding fashion illustrator myself, I even submitted my own fashion illustrations to the series…and never heard back. The importance of fashion as symbolism is not lost on the Riverdale costume design crew. Combining a mix of vintage, to nod back to the comics origins, and modern, Riverdale tells us a lot about the show’s unique spin on “Riverdale meets Twin Peaks.”
Let’s begin with the most obvious choices for this analysis: Betty, Veronica, and Cheryl. As we are only about three episodes in, a lot of the characters of the Archie-verse haven’t had much screen time, and the show has spent significant time establishing who these three women are via their stories and their costumes.
Betty is currently the character where where the symbolism of fashion is really playing out, as seen most recently in episode 3, “Body Double.” Up until this point, we have seen Betty largely bedecked in pastels, mostly pinks, and lots and lots of white and beige. To quote our editor-in-chief when she saw the promo shots for the series: “Betty is so beige.” Not only is Betty’s color story bland, but even in her silhouette is designed to say “I’m a good girl, I am!” She mainly wears jeans with looser tops, cardigans, tops with peter pan collars, and pale sweaters. She blends so much into the background with her blonde hair and pale coloring, that it is only next to Veronica, she stands out against all of Veronica’s stark, rich girl aesthetic.
It’s no wonder that when Betty goes rogue in “Body Double,” that her look channels Veronica’s.
In the comics, Veronica is often the sexy one in comparison to Betty’s girl-next-door aesthetic. However, in the television series, her style is far more concealing than revealing. In a literal sense, it’s obvious Veronica, as the former New York City socialite, has a lot of secrets, but it’s also what conveys her wealth. She does not need to seek attention via juvenile reveals of skin, but rather through a high-quality, well-curated closet. In fact, Veronica’s outfit reads as a bit “old” for her character’s age, harkening back to femme fatales more than high school fallen bad girls.
In fact, there’s a sort of primness to both Betty and Veronica’s looks. Next to each other, Betty and Veronica are classics: Betty’s pale pink and Veronica’s black a classic femme combination made famous by none other than Coco Chanel.
Compare this classic imagery with our red-haired vixen and antagonist, Cheryl Blossom, and as it often happened in the comics, B & V become the old-school guard against Cheryl Blossom.
Cheryl’s style is total vixen. Her silhouette all bodycon and kick-ass boots, her power color as red as her hair. Cheryl’s costuming reads like a super-villain in comparison to the more demure styles and silhouettes of both Betty and Veronica. Even when Betty tries on red lipstick, as opposed to pink, in episode 3, Betty’s shade is more of a classic, cool red in comparison to Cheryl’s shiny, red, exaggerated lips that resemble a vampire having just fed on its victim instead of desaturated pin-up sex appeal.
Cheryl’s style only changes once, in the flashback scenes with her brother. She still wears her signature red in her accessories, but her dress is all white with the sort of prim, vintageness of Betty and Veronica’s day-to-day wear. More time will tell exactly what this means for the character and her relationship with her brother.
Let’s face it, men’s fashion is pretty dull, most of the time. Look at any red carpet event, and it’s black and white tuxes next to sumptuous gowns in a variety of colors and styles. However, within those limitations, Riverdale is still telling us a lot about its take on our classic characters.
Archie’s clothing has moved from the preppier style of the comics to jeans and t-shirts. It’s pretty dull, but the purpose of Archie’s clothing is not the style, but the cut. It’s all about maximum expected hotness here, with short ringer tops to show off his buff biceps and reveal the treasure trail of hair along his six-packed midriff. This is Hot Archie, y’all, desired by the three most prominent hetero (unfortunately) girls at Riverdale High and even the young Miss Grundy (or is she?!).
The preppier styles of Archie have found their way to our resident gay character, Kevin Keller. Right now, Kevin is mainly the gay best friend, an unimaginative cliché, but his costuming conveys more nuance to the “gay best friend.”
Archie Comics has a long history of incorporating diversity into the Archie-verse (yay!), usually in very tokeny-ways (boo!). During the ’70s, the Archie-verse saw the incorporation of a handful of characters with a more melanin in their skin, and 2010 saw the introduction of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in Riverdale. Like most of Riverdale, Kevin is as American as apple pie. He’s an army brat, class president, and all around nice guy, a deliberate move on the Archie teams, I think. What happens when the all-American boy is a white, gay man? This all-American presentation takes a dark twist in the CW series when set up against Hot Archie and not-gay-but-wants-gay-sex Moose. Until we see more from Kevin, it’ll be interesting to see what more his aesthetic says about his character.
Jughead Jones, or Forsythe Pendleton Jones III
Jughead, and Cole Sprouse, the actor that portrays him, rocks ’90s slacker chic. Being a child of the ’90s, I have trouble accepting this very deliberate homage to grunge (or the fact that the students in my classes show up thinking what they are wearing is “new,” but so the cycle of fashion goes), but there it is. Jughead’s clothing emulating the middle-class angst of Nirvana, which perfectly suits his role as narrator and writer of Riverdale’s sordid tale.
Josie & The Pussycats
The Pussycats have their own section, because, as of right now, they still haven’t had a lot of screentime. In fact, I had trouble coming up with something to describe The Pussycats other than the very obvious rocker chic. Capturing the nuance of their clothing presents a difficulty. Let’s hope they get more screen time and say, for now, that their rockstar style conveys not only their role as musicians within the show, but does the double duty of signaling the ways in which they have had to not only “claw” their way up, but also protect themselves as black women.
What about you, readers? Share your insights into Riverdale’s fashion below. What haven’t I noticed that you have? Do you think the costuming suits the characters so far? I must know your thoughts, so we can all fangurl together!