Top TV shows for your fashion fix, from royal documentaries to period dramas


You will not find the ugly truth about fashion on mainstream or streaming television.

Dogs and cats (many of them stolen pets) battered to death in China to produce leather gloves? You do not see that in any handy documentary series, because advertising dollars carry more weight than ethics. Go to Peta’s YouTube video offerings instead.

As one venerated broadcasting company put it in a mealy mouthed answer to questions posed on the subject of fashion exposés: “[A]ngles like animal abuse in fashion or ethical fashion will not be aligned with [our] neutrality and mission to educate, not advocate.”

Many major fashion brands remain complicit in animal slaughter. That said, feel free to enjoy fashion and its favourite names as relentlessly presented globally in hit television shows.

Let’s start with that most rock ’n’ roll of footwear, the Dr Martens boot, subject of Leather Boots, an instalment of BBC Earth’s Inside the Factory.

Leather is cut, split, trimmed, stitched and baked, before soles (consisting of molten plastic) are melted onto welts, all courtesy of frightening machinery with which you would not want to argue. Then it is off round the world – from factories in England, China or Thailand, to music venues and elsewhere.

Dr Martens has long been connected with skinheads, too. Which brings us to HBO Go series Gossip Girl, in which shaven-bonced Jordan Alexander plays social media “influencer” Julien Calloway, and sports various pairs of cowboy and other boots in the process.

This “cult classic” title, as some websites describe it, is famed for its “sartorial takes” and even – says Town & Country magazine – “inspired an entire generation of fashion lovers”.

For a factual rather than fictional take on fashion’s impact, tune in to In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye, the documentary charting the evolution of Vogue, first shown in 2012 to mark the magazine’s 120th anniversary and still available on HBO Go.


Designer Vera Wang is among interviewees lining up alongside evergreen editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and the likes of previously featured magazine stars Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker. Meanwhile, Sex and the City, with all its fashion pointers (some now decidedly retro), can be found, in its various incarnations, on Amazon Prime.

“British” royals have always been good for selling a frock or two, and actress-model Meghan Markle was never likely to deviate from the template when she started dating Prince Harry.

Her initial popularity resulted in website overloads when wannabes went in search of at least one of her outfits, according to documentary How to Dress Like a Princess: Royal Fashion Secrets (Netflix).


“They may not say anything, but what they’re wearing speaks a thousand words,” opines one contributor about their royal highnesses. Perhaps that is for the best.

Also letting the clothes do the talking, much of the time, are glossy period dramas Bridgerton (Netflix) and The Gilded Age (HBO), in both of which intricate scripts struggle to compete with overwhelmingly elaborate costumes and sets, from the early and late 19th century, respectively.

But if that is all too much and you prefer the basics, BBC Lifestyle offers reality show The Great British Sewing Bee , in which skilful amateur thread-pullers compete for the title of “best home sewer”. Pronounced “so-er”.


All the nice girls love a sailor, as the old music hall song has it, which must be something to do with the uniform.

According to Netflix documentary series Worn Stories (“a show about clothes and the people who wear them”), uniforms can “[make] you feel invincible”. Or constantly remind you of “your worst mistake” in the case of prison garb – something undoubtedly true of innumerable other fashion faux pas.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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