It’s Been 20 Years Since This Teen Drama Aired — And It Still Influences Our Wardrobes Today

“Welcome to the O.C., b*tch.”

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The O.C. cast
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Marissa’s loyalty to her friends; Ryan’s compassion for those in need; Summer’s ability to light up a room with her bubbly energy; Seth’s quick wit and sarcastic sense of humor. After rewatching Fox’s The O.C., which celebrates its 20th anniversary today, upward of three times, I could wax poetic about how the main characters’ lovable personalities have tugged at my heartstrings time and time again. And not only did I quickly fall for the cast, but the series’ definitive ’00s style still has me in a chokehold to this day. In fact, I’ve told several people, including many of my fellow TZR editors, about one of my favorite Instagram accounts, @fashionintheoc. Scroll through its feed, and you’ll see how the beloved teen drama, which ran from 2003 to 2007, significantly impacted early aughts fashion.

Following the very juicy lives of the aforementioned high schoolers, The O.C. sparked a sartorial fascination with the once-sleepy surf town of Newport Beach, where the series took place, as well as the sunny SoCal region in general. “When it came out, ‘casual California style’ was not a thing in culture,” Alexandra Welker, the show’s costume designer, told British Vogue last month. The stylist, according to the outlet, drew inspiration from ’70s and ’80s skate and surf culture when creating the characters’ individual looks, adding: “But it very much became a thing.” With her chic spaghetti strap going-out tops and relaxed denim, no one embodied the effortless, Cali-cool aesthetic on the show quite like Marissa Cooper (played by Mischa Barton).

What’s more, The O.C. paved the way for a string of fashion-filled Southern California-based shows that aired shortly after the series, including Laguna Beach (2004), which led to The Hills, and The Real Housewives of Orange County (2006) — which, of course, led to countless franchises and the reality TV phenomenon. Considering the profound pop culture impact of its successors, it’s safe to say The O.C. was the original gift that literally kept on giving.

Warner Bros

But back to the fashion of it all. While, yes, many of the outfits on the show were laid-back (more on those ahead), the TV melodrama also spotlighted the sumptuous looks wealthy California prep school kids wore on campus — i.e. plenty of sweater vests (rocked by the one and only Seth Cohen, played by Adam Brody), polos, and designer bags. Ever since The O.C. honed in on the preppy aesthetic, the look has remained popular, which is a testament to the show’s sartorial grip on the fashion scene.

But the costumes weren’t all high-end labels and cashmere — not in the beginning, anyway. Welker revealed in a 2018 interview with Page Six that many Chanel purses Barton toted around at the start of the series were fake — gasps! — due to the show’s tight budget, which the costume designer said “was a challenge because everything had to look super high-end.”

The stylist had a similar convo with Insider in 2021, speaking about the charity fashion show in the pilot episode, when many designers denied her request for using pieces in the scene. She understood getting turned down, though, seeing as no one at the time could predict what a cultural phenomenon the show would turn into; Josh Schwartz, the series creator, was just 26 years old when it aired, after all. (Note: He created Gossip Girl, another binge-worthy teen drama, the same year The O.C. ended.) But when the show’s star power began to show midway through that first season, Welker started receiving a slew of requests from labels to feature their looks on screen.

Warner Bros
Warner Bros

Considering the many Y2K trends that began with The O.C., one can’t deny the show changed the way we dressed in the early ’00s. Thanks to Summer Roberts (played by actor Rachel Bilson) and Julie Cooper, Marissa’s unhinged mom played by Melinda Clarke, Juicy Couture tracksuits became a trend that reached meteoric heights, with Hollywood It girls like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears catching the velour fever.

Teeny-tiny miniskirts, too, became an outfit signature within the cast, including for Olivia Wilde’s bad-girl character Alex Kelly (yes, the actor made a cameo on Season 2 as Seth’s girlfriend!). And when The Hills premiered years after The O.C., Heidi Montag followed suit, wearing micro hemlines reminiscent of those donned by Newport Beach’s fashion-forward high schoolers. And I’d be remiss not to mention the Ugg boots Marissa wore during her time on the show, as teens across the country soon began strolling to class in the notoriously “ugly” shoes (myself included, obviously).

But what’s even more notable is how the series’ signature style has returned to the fashion zeitgeist in recent years. Following Miu Miu’s miniskirt-filled Spring/Summer 2022 collection, the itty-bitty look roared back into the style world. Hordes of other designers, including Diesel and Theophilio, jumped on board by presenting their distinct takes on the look, from the former’s Fall/Winter 2022 belt iteration to the latter’s Spring/Summer 2023 two-tone leather style. Then there’s the polarizing low-rise jean trend, which has been slowly edging its way back to into relevance via labels like Blumarine and Vaquera. Even Juicy tracksuits — a look you probably never thought you’d see again — have been revived thanks to collaborations with brands like Ganni and Aries.

Whether you emulated the characters’ looks the first time around or are just discovering all the sartorial greatness now (um, jealous), there’s no better way to celebrate The O.C.’s 20th anniversary than by recreating some of the best outfits with an assortment of Y2K pieces below. I, for one, will be copying my most-loved look from the series’ four-season run, Summer’s silky scarf and halter top mashup she wore on the squad’s Tijuana trip, before summer (ha!) ends.