Throughout the eight episodes of the series, Betty, played by Amanda Peet, chronicles the greatest hits of ’80s fashions: peplum jackets with matching skirts (and shoes); Polo Ralph Lauren logo shirts; brightly-patterned jumpers; chunky gold jewellery; and parachute tracksuits.
Owing to Betty’s wealth, thanks to her husband Dan, who she ultimately kills (along with his younger, second wife, Linda), she has access to the decade’s “power brands”, including Salvatore Ferragamo and Versace.
Series costume designer Amy Stofsky had a lot of leeway when considering Betty’s early ’80s’ wardrobe, given the real Betty Broderick only fully entered public consciousness after her husband’s death in 1989.
“The onset of wealth is a vast emotional shift for Betty, and it enables her to spend an exorbitant amount of money on designer clothing,” Stofsky told USA Network ahead of the show’s premiere.
The show has coincided with a surge in interest of certain brands, as well as accessories such as padded headbands, according to designer fashion re-sale website Vestiaire Collective. Searches for Ferragamo alone have jumped 79 per cent since the show’s premiere; searches for Levi’s are up 53 per cent.
Vestiaire’s brand director and co-founder, Sophie Hersan, says interest in ’80s’ pieces has been strong for some time. She says many designer brands have re-released iconic pieces from the archives, such as Prada’s 1984 game-changing nylon bag, which then drives renewed interest in the original design.
[Fashion] reflects parts of the character – what they are wanting to outwardly project, and what they are internalising.
Reece Goodwin, television curator, ACMI
“This nostalgic desire we’re seeing in the market is heavily influencing fashion choices and trends,” Hersan says. “All the most current trends today are courtesy of the ’80s: wide shoulders, white jeans, high-waisted jeans, underwear as outerwear, oversized jewellery, neon colours, oversized biker jackets, to oversized blazers.”
Reece Goodwin, television curator at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, says viewing Dirty John, or indeed fashion-heavy series such as The Crown and Killing Eve, is like watching “a moving look book”. He says the next season of The Crown will be of particular interest to fashion lovers as it charts the Diana years and is likely to feature Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, as Diana, in replicas of the late Princess’ most iconic looks.
“People are watching these shows more than reading a historical book,” Goodwin says. “[The audience’s] expectations are that things will be super accurate.”
Although Dirty John is primarily a true-crime series, Goodwin says the opening montage of Betty getting ready – often in extreme close-up – sends the viewer a clear message that fashion and appearance are central to the storyline.
“Fashion conveys socioeconomics, time and place, which is really important for a historical drama, it also reflects parts of the character – what they are wanting to outwardly project, and what they are internalising,” Goodwin says.
Throughout the series, Betty communicates through her clothes, from the pussy-bow blouses that shout, “I am competent!” in the courtroom scenes, to the patterned Christmas and Easter jumpers that evoke sentimentality and her desire to appear a good, wholesome mother and not an unhinged, jilted ex-wife.
Stylist Elliot Garnaut says chunky, bright jumpers with exaggerated sleeves have become a key piece during lockdown.
“The ’80s was their birthplace, then we saw them reappear in [TV series] Kath and Kim and we rolled our eyes,” he says, adding that such jumpers have gone from being an ironic statement to something “extremely trend focused”.
Garnaut says women are also reverting to smaller, crossbody or “camera” bags with ’80s details such as chains or bumbags after years spent “carrying their life in their handbag”.
His overall advice for wearing ’80s trends? “Dissect what was once a more is more approach and take a piece of what you think is iconic and incorporate it into a contemporary wardrobe.”
Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story is currently streaming on Netflix.
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Melissa Singer is National Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.