Heavenly Hotties: Fashion In The Reality TV Imagination

If we weren’t going to look at what someone is wearing, we would listen to a podcast, it’s as simple as that. When we turn to reality TV, we do so with the intention of documenting every single outfit and accessory on our screens. We either imagine ourselves in it and immediately add to cart, or we desperately try to understand what was going through their heads. Fashion in reality TV has come a long way, from trying to look relatable but slightly aspirational, to looking like someone got lost on the Jean Paul Gaultier runway. We’ll never be them, but we’ll go bankrupt trying! Below see the most memorable, over-the-top reality TV fashion moments that will forever be ingrained into our minds — for better or worse. 

Jersey Shore


Before Jersey Shore physically forced its way onto our screens, we all ignorantly believed that spray tans were supposed to look natural. We were foolishly going for a bronzed, beach look, while Snooki, JWoww, and the rest of the Guido crew showed us that instead, we should be going for a mildly offensive shade that could only be naturally obtained by traveling to the sun. 

Their spray tans were an outfit in themselves, but the fashion workings didn’t end there. The women were always kitted out in skyscraper heels, bodycon dresses, and straightened hair (prob missing some strands in the back). The men opted for jeans and a blazer (which we mistook for attractive), and gelled spikes a la Sonic the Hedgehog.

A special shoutout to Snooki, who abstained from day-to-night looks with very clear differentiating wardrobes. By day, she was a Clark Kent of sorts, in baggier than baggy t-shirts, bare legs, various fluffy slippers, and baseball caps. By night, Superman came out in her skin-tight outfits and gravity-defying quiff as she prowled for her next beau.

Selling Sunset


This show could’ve been an opportunity for realistic office attire to fill our Pinterest boards with (and never actually use). Instead, it became an absurdist take on what a real estate agent could wear and actually get the job done. We watched our girl bosses totter around mansions in impossible heels, and risk a nip slip at each cupboard they opened. Are we complaining about it? God no. 

You know an outfit is groundbreaking when the huge pointed shoulder pads aren’t the strangest part. Our Cruella De Vil, Christine Quinn, showed that anyone can be fashionable while nine months pregnant, they just need a diamante-encrusted folding chair purse.

Laguna Beach


If Selling Sunset is unattainable fashion, then Laguna Beach was attainable — too attainable. To the extent that you can’t bear to rewatch it, as you’ll be confronted with many of your own fashion crimes. 

There was denim, a lot of denim, even more denim, denim on top of denim, and all of that on a beach while the cast sweated buckets. It was a time of spaghetti-strapped tank tops and a time of knee-length board shorts. But what really kept us up at night were the denim mini skirts and chokers, because, in those moments, we were them, and they were us, and we were all hopelessly trampy. 

America’s Next Top Model


Or better known as The Tyra Banks Show. I’m still waiting for justice to be served for those horrendous makeovers she subjected participants to. Aside from all the lucrative choices she made for others, let’s take a moment to acknowledge her own fashion decisions. 

Tyra was fixated on cinching outfits at the waist. You could bet her outfit would be waist-focused. She also had a habit of suddenly pairing a look with glasses. While it could be a case of her wearing contact lenses the rest of the time, I’m more inclined to believe that she thought it was the perfect accessory for certain looks. And let’s not lie, we’ve all done that (or at least wanted to). 

She was a total slut for hats, and we loved her for it. Whatever the hat, Tyra would make it work, whether it was giving little French girl, bellhop at the Tipton, or newspaper boy. But her real legacy lies in those cunty suits she started wearing in later seasons. Bravo, I say, bravo!

The Hills


We’d expect nothing less than a fashion masterclass from a show centered on three girlies trying to make it in the industry. What we didn’t expect were micro denim jackets, jaunty fedoras, layered crystal necklaces, and so many fucking scarves in LA. 

When Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he was definitely referring to the styling in The Hills. I hold this show responsible for us wearing a fucking headband on our foreheads for years, despite the agony and imprint caused by said headband. Layering a t-shirt and tank top wasn’t too revolutionary (unfortunately) by this point, so why not layer tank tops? Why not layer beanies? Why NOT?

Justin Bobby taught us new ways to wear (and lose) our sunglasses. (Did you know they can protect your chin from UV rays, too?) Heidi showed us you could layer a tube top over a tank top and also that you shouldn’t. Lauren demonstrated the joy and agony of extra-long tank tops that will inevitably roll up seconds later.

But a fashion highlight of The Hills was Kristin Cavallari arriving for Heidi and Spencer’s wedding in a jumpsuit the exact same electric blue shade as Lauren’s dress. Who wore it best? I don’t think we even need to answer that question.

The Simple Life


It was impossible to watch a whole episode of The Simple Life without commenting, “That’s hot.” We dare you to try it for yourself.

Starting with the iconic denim duo cover for the show, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton did not disappoint. Those huge suitcases they were lugging around were filled with fashion gold, at least for the time. Looking back now, their outfits feel like they were created by someone who had never lived through the early 2000s and had only heard rumors of Y2K fashion. 

There was pink, so much pink, and honestly, it was a feminist statement. Bandanas, headbands, fedoras, and more lined their pretty little heads. If there was an opportunity to wear a bikini, they’d take it. And it was “hot.” 

The best part of The Simple Life fashion was the coordinating outfits. Often to an extreme sense, of twin-like looks in differential colors, but other times in subtle accessories or accentuating outfits. It was what you always dreamed of doing with your bestie, but the bitch wouldn’t come to T.J. Maxx with you.

The Real Housewives


It can be hard to focus on the fashion with all of the screaming that occurs in the Real Housewives franchise (not that we are complaining in any way, shape, or form). But once you do zoom in on the looks worn during said yelling, you’ll be pleasantly impressed.

Not just at some of the business chic looks we see more recently, but the pure audacity worn by the girlies in earlier seasons. Erika never failed to go the extra mile, including in her hair height with that Rapunzel-esque chunky braid she tottered around. Jen Shah of RHOSLC went to jail for financial crimes, but perhaps some fashion crimes should’ve been thrown in there too. You can’t wear that many sequins and not blind someone. Also, Teresa’s bird dress in RHONJ traumatized me more than the Hitchcock film did (or the film bro I watched it with). 

Forget the old broad’s necklace in Titanic — the only neck candies we care about are Luann’s statement necklaces. Only rather than being a statement, she wore an entire billboard around her neck. Oh, the muscles Luann must have built up to wear these Countess Collection anchors. 

We can’t decide if we love or hate sky tops, and therein lies the beauty of them. Your gaze is undeniably drawn to the wearer’s decolletage, as the mystical stone in the middle captures your attention. They have all the qualities of sexy and yet don’t quite manage it. They’re the unofficial uniform of The Real Housewives of Orange County, or the Real Housewives enterprise as a whole. 

Vanderpump Rules


Oh, but they’re all working at SUR, so they’re just in uniforms, why bother discussing their outfits? WRONG. 

First, those SUR uniforms were criminal. Why were they in handkerchief dresses? Why was it some sort of tribal print? Why did they keep bringing out new iterations in a different color? Just why?

Then the cast. As for a show about working together, they sure don’t work much. No one can forget Jax’s chunky knit sweaters, which we’re still discussing in therapy on a weekly basis. Brittany gave us false expectations for job interviews when she turned up in a tiny lace romper to meet with Lisa Vanderpump. Not even a CV to accessorize this Barbie Goes to Work look. 

Wearing a two-piece wedding dress isn’t as rare now as it was when Scheana did it for her season 3 wedding. A lot of women in the world were influenced by her decision and would most certainly like an apology for the wedding photos they had to burn. 

There’s a lot we could say about Tom Sandoval, but no word count would be enough, so to surmise: Tippex nail polish, Willy Wonka, skunk hairstreak, the Raquel costume, HATS!!!, so many stripes, and very, very tight pants. 

To end on a positive note: We bow down and offer our souls to Ariana’s revenge dress. It was so very Princess Di and we yearn to just touch the fabric. There’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more red because of her, so let the Reputation era begin!

Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman, a European-based copywriter. She’s interesting (cause she’s from Europe), speaks multiple languages (again, she's from Europe), and is mentally unhinged (despite socialized healthcare). You can find her European musings on Twitter @ByFleurine and her blog, Symptoms of Living, both of which are written to the sounds of unhinged Taylor Swift playlists.