In 2007, the hit television series Gossip Girl invited viewers to enter its lavish world ruled by New York City’s teenage elite. Inside this shiny bubble, 16 year olds wore Chanel to math class and social climbed in couture hot off Parisian runways. Maximalism was the name of the game and it remained part of the show’s DNA until its 2012 finale. In the newly-released sequel series, however, all these elements have changed. For Gossip Girl’s reboot, Eric Daman focused the fashion on inclusivity and orchestrated a more subtle approach to luxury dressing.
“There’s a pared-back minimalism to [the sequel’s costuming] where it’s not as in-your-face opulence,” explains Daman, the acclaimed costume designer who worked on the original series and revived his role for the show’s new iteration. Daman discussed the method behind his outfitting magic and detailed his process to me on the phone. “Instead of a bright red Hermès dress with three necklaces and platform heels, it’s a nude leather bodycon dress.” In other words, the Blair Waldorfs and the Serena van der Woodsens — and their ostentatious display of wealth through sartorial excess — are no more.
Instead, you’ll find a motley crew of Instagram influencers, laid-back skater boys, and self-described “guilty rich kids,” all dressed in the understated Gen Z trends you see today (i.e. the oversized, athleisure-inspired hoodies and baggy jeans styles that are currently consuming everyone’s Insta feeds). This time around, Daman leaned into a more casual street style influence and even introduced biker shorts into the mix of everyday wear. (Blair made her stance on tights as pants very clear, but, I wonder, how would she feel about spandex?)
Daman’s choice to adopt a more well-rounded and accessible aesthetic feels perfectly in sync with the new Gossip Girl, as the show’s cast is much more diverse than the original, all-white class of students who ruled Constance Billard’s halls. The 2021 version of Gossip Girl features two Black leads: Jordan Alexander, who plays Julien Calloway, and Whitney Peak, who plays Zoya Lott. The ensemble cast, too, is made up of several actors of color. Daman took great effort to have the show’s fashion — both the overall aesthetic and the pieces worn — reflect the series’ new inclusive universe. “I worked with designers and brands like Christopher John Rogers, LaQuan Smith, Pyer Moss, Wales Bonner, and Monse. Having more diversity in the designers, I think, really connects the diversity of the cast with this high-fashion world,” Daman shares.
In particular, Daman shouts out the work of Christopher John Rogers. “For me, Christopher hit the fashion world at a moment when it was all athleisure, all the time. And he came in with these opulent colors, taffetas, and ruffles — this type of old-world-structure-meets-church-lady elegance,” he says. “His use of colors, shapes, and structure really resonated with the old Gossip Girl. But the way he puts it together, and the way it’s styled, and the actual look of it, it’s 2022 — it’s today and the future.”
In what Daman describes as his manifestations having come to fruition, he and Rogers were able to collaborate on a fantastical, no-holds-barred fashion show for the first Gossip Girl episode. “I still get goosebumps when I see that runway show,” Daman says. “I mean, it was the first episode of Gossip Girl, so we were setting ourselves up to start the show — it had to be fire, and it was.” (In the most literal sense, the runway show actually did also feature pyrotechnics.)
Rogers was unable to have an in-person show for his Spring 2021 collection due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the opportunity to have a fictional runway for Gossip Girl felt like kismet for Daman. “It was just like one of those things where all the stars were lining up. There were some corporate elites who wanted bigger names, bigger house names, bigger this, bigger that. And then Zendaya showed up at the Emmys in CJR and everyone got very quiet. And we were literally filming the fashion show during the inauguration when Kamala Harris wore CJR. So, it was like, ‘Alright guys, this is correct. Welcome to today.’”
On the topic of the CJR runway show, Daman segues into the character of Max Wolfe (played by actor Thomas Doherty) and how he represents the show’s newfound theme of sexual fluidity. “For the fashion show, Max wore this lacy blouse that’s technically ‘labeled for a woman,’ and he owns it. Max is pansexual and is this beautiful man about town that has such swag and panache,” Daman describes. “In a way, his style does harken back to Chuck Bass, but it’s different because now we can play with women’s blouses in a way we never would have been able to on Chuck. Moments like these where we are able to have these discussions about what gender means and how that refers to clothing represent this new world that we are designing in and living in.”
For the reboot, Daman shopped from secondhand retailers, which he found to be a liberating opportunity since thrifting was somewhat taboo on the original Gossip Girl. “When I was working on Sex and the City with [Patricia Field, the series’ costume designer], we thrifted a ton of stuff for Carrie’s character,” Daman says. “But then on Gossip Girl, thrifting just felt ... not to say there was judgment attached to it ... but, in a way, it was very classist. [Thrifting] didn’t really have a place in Gossip Girl. Like, if I bought a secondhand Fendi bag for Blake [Lively aka Serena], I would have gotten hit by it.”
On Gossip Girl 2.0, however, any lingering stigma about thrifting was nowhere to be found. “We were able to get these really incredible, idiosyncratic pieces from places like The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective, Thredup, and Depop. It all felt very keyed into this generation,” he remarks. “I think for Gen Z, thrifting is such a big part of fashion because you get something that is unique, feels like yourself, and has a life to it. These kids really identify with that.” One item, in particular, stood out for the costume designer: a Dior saddlebag that was sourced for Alexander’s character Julien. “It was funny because I felt like I was buying the same Dior saddlebag from The RealReal that I was getting for Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City,” Daman says with a laugh.
Thrifting also became a welcomed opportunity for Daman to explore the show’s new socially-conscious tone — especially for the wardrobe of Zoya, a politically-involved young freshman. “She’s wide-eyed — like Jenny Humphrey was if you want to connect those two — but she comes in with these socio-political aspirations. She’s an activist, so it was important for her style to reflect her values,” Daman explains. In particular, he spotlights a NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt T-shirt from Procell that Zoya wears on the show.
“It’s important to have these moments to discuss clothing, thrifting, and sustainability — and also to have these sociopolitical conversations around AIDS, which was something that had such a huge impact on our world and the world of art and design,” says Daman. “To put a NAMES Project T-shirt on Jenny Humphrey or Blair Waldorf? No, it just wasn’t part of the conversation. So to bring [the T-shirt] onto the show, it just feels very contemporary and representative of the now.”
While Constance Billard’s new ruling class may be more diverse in its cast and costuming, the elitism that’s fundamental to Gossip Girl is still very much at play. Daman showcases it best within the first few minutes of the series premiere titled “Just Another Girl on the MTA,” which aired on July 8. The episode opens on newly-appointed Constance Billard teacher, Kate Keller (played by actor Tavi Gevinson), traveling on an above-ground, presumably Manhattan-bound subway. She’s wearing a camel-colored blazer, a striped sweater, and a neckerchief — an outfit later revealed to be from Zara, which is considered to be a sartorial abomination when within a one-mile radius of Constance Billard’s Upper East Side campus. Daman also shared that Kate’s outfit was an Easter egg reference to the debut scene of Serena van der Woodsen in the pilot of the original series.
The episode then cuts to Julien, in a glossy pink button-down and delicate golden jewelry, who is spending the morning taking stock of a walk-in closet that’s the size of my entire West Village apartment. The juxtaposition between Kate and Julien’s styling in the opening few minutes is, of course, intentional. While Kate takes public transportation in off-the-rack Zara, Julien caresses her mega-watt jewelry at leisure and carries a Louis Vuitton Capucine bag in lieu of a backpack. This explicit contrast of fashion, here, is an example of Daman’s styling at its best — these people come from two very different worlds and the clothes reflect that.
The costume designer confirms that when it comes to the show’s styling, nothing is accidental, and these sartorial callbacks and symbols were thought out well in advance. “Like, we are all saying, ‘Oh, it’s a whole different show!’ but it’s also important to have these references. It’s important to me, and the viewers also want that connection,” he says. Daman, of course, is correct; the impact that Gossip Girl’s costuming has had on the fashion world cannot be understated. The series largely inspired the 2010 trend of infusing aspects of school girl-inspired preppy-ness into your daily wardrobe (remember the plaid, pleated, and ultra miniskirt fad?), so once news broke about the reboot, many began to speculate on whether the series’ signatures — especially Blair’s iconic headbands — would make an appearance in the sequel. “The headband has been haunting me all these years. If there’s one thing that’s come from Gossip Girl, it’s the headband,” Daman jokes.
Much to the delight of any headband lovers out there, you will find an homage to Blair’s favorite accessory in the reboot’s first episode. But in Gossip Girl 2.0, they aren’t a marker of style superiority anymore; Constance Billard newcomer, Zoya, enters the scene wearing a scarf as a headband only to have Julien remedy her faux pas by turning it into a makeshift necktie instead. “It was fun to have a nod to Blair’s headbands because they’re so iconic. But to give it that little side-eye where one of those characters is like, ‘Is that a headband?’ — to give it that pooh-pooh — it shows you these girls do not wear headbands. This is not the world we live in anymore,” Daman explains.
As for what the new headband will be — aka the defining, breakout trend that might end up following the stylist for years to come — Daman has a theory. “For me, [the school uniforms] and varsity gear are such a new vision. The iconic image of the original Gossip Girl uniform is those bright colors and the capes, but it still was all very much by the rules of what students wear. They wore those little skirts and those special cross ties, and we didn’t really stray from that except for with the tights and accessories,” he admits. “But in this version, what we are doing with the varsity gear is these giant oversized Constance Billard sweatshirts and varsity jackets. The proportion play and how fluidly things are being put together, it represents how this show exists in a more unisex realm.”
Welcome to the new world order of Gossip Girl, where the cool girls arrive for the first day of school in dramatically oversized button-downs, itty-bitty biker shorts, and host Instagram lives during first period. To catch up on the fashion (and drama) of the group, tune in every Thursday on HBO Max.