When most of us get dressed in the morning, it’s a question of what’s clean, to-hand, and won’t blatantly reveal the fact that the cat has spent the weekend lounging on it like a Playboy centerfold. They’re just clothes. Things to cover your bits and prevent you from sticking to the bus seat.
Not so for TV characters, whose outfits aren’t just for insulation, but help to tell the story. Costume designers and showrunners often deck their characters out in key bits of kit chosen specifically to nod to the past or future, or to pay homage to an inspiration. That’s what’s happened in these eleven examples…
1. One of several places that other work by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman turns up or is referenced in the TV show is Carl Grimes’ season one ringer t-shirt, which sports the logo of Science Dog from Kirkman and Cory Walker’s Invincible series.
2. Being well-versed in zombie horror history, the costume and designs of several Walkers from The Walking Dead pay homage to their undead predecessors. A number, as broken down here, nod to George A. Romero’s Dead movie series, the third of which The Walking Dead’s make-up-head-turned-director Greg Nicotero worked on.
The image above shows The Walking Dead season four episode Us‘ version of Bub, the docile, soldier-eating zombie from 1985’s Day Of The Dead, complete with broken neck shackles.
3. The Flash’s comic book costume didn’t just find its way into The Big Bang Theory in season one, episode six “The Middle-Earth Paradigm,” it’s also referenced in t-shirts repeatedly worn by Jim Parson’s character, Sheldon Cooper. Repaying the favor in The Flash season one pilot is the character of Cisco Ramon, played by Carlos Valdes, who appeared in a Sheldon and The Big Bang Theory-referencing “Bazinga” shirt.
4. Look closely at the costume worn by Theon/Reek at Sansa’s wedding to Ramsay Bolton in Game Of Thrones season six episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” and you’ll see that, minus the cloak clasps, it’s the same one Robb Stark wore to the Red Wedding in season three episode, “The Rains Of Castermere.” Sophie Turner confirmed that it was indeed the same costume at 2015’s SDCC, used “Just to make it that little bit more brutal”.
5. For Sansa Stark’s season three wedding to Tyrion Lannister in Game Of Thrones, the character wore a dress embroidered by Michele Carragher with images allegorically depicting her story so far on the show. Look closely and you’ll see a Stark direwolf being dominated by a Lannister lion, a lion with a Baratheon-like crown, representing Joffrey, and a further lion stamped onto the back of her beck, “representing how the Lannisters now have total ownership over this girl who was once a Stark,” as Carragher tells it here.
6. Breaking Bad fans know that nothing on the show is accidental. Even the colors worn by characters as the seasons progress are strictly regulated to cohere with particular points in the story. There are deliberate homages all over the dialogue, production design, cinematography, music and costume, all helping to tell the story of a man going, in the oft-repeated phrase of Vince Gilligan, “from Mr. Chips to Scarface.”
So when fans spotted Saul Goodman wearing an open-necked red shirt and white jacket combo in season five episode twelve, “Rabid Dog”, the reference to Al Pacino’s Tony Montana was clear. Not to mention Jimmy looking at his bruised face and asking whether his injuries will leave a scar…
7. It didn’t escape Alias readers watching Netflix’s Jessica Jones that the superhero costume Trish made in episode five “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me,” is a copy of the “Jewel” costume Jessica wears in the comics. Krysten Ritter’s perfectly delivered response? “Jewel is a stripper’s name. A really slutty stripper. And if I did wear that thing you’re going to have to call me Camel-Toe.”
8. Halloween episodes are an obvious route to TV and film homage for a series (see Community’s many movie and television-referencing creations, from Batman to Beastmaster). This lovely bit of fan-service from Castle season 2 episode “Vampire Weekend,” though, has to be our favorite.
What did Nathan Fillion’s Castle decide to dress as for Halloween in 2009? A “space cowboy”, complete with Mal Reynolds outfit and a Firefly-alike moment in the score (this blog tirelessly notes the many Firefly references to be found in Castle).
“Didn’t you wear that, like, five years ago?” asks daughter Alexis, “don’t you think you should move on?”. Never!
9. This one’s escaped nobody, but deserves a mention all the same. Ingrid Oliver’s Doctor Who UNIT scientist character, Osgood, who first appeared in fiftieth anniversary episode “The Day Of The Doctor,” wears costume items reflecting the Doctor’s past regenerations. First there was the Tom Baker scarf, then a Patrick Troughton/Jon Pertwee/Matt Smith-referencing bow-tie, then in “The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion” a copy of Sylvester McCoy’s question-mark patterned knitted tank top and of Peter Davison’s question-mark collared shirt.
10. Similarly obvious but nevertheless a neat detail was the repeated use of a red jacket on a blue shirt in Tom Welling’s Clark Kent costumes for Smallville, clearly foreshadowing his eventual Superman costume.
11. When Rhys Darby appeared in The X-Files revival episode “Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster,” his character Guy Mann was wearing an outfit that will have rung bells for fans of Kolchak: Night Stalker. The straw-hat, knitted tie and pale striped suit was a deliberate nod to the costume worn by Darren McGavin in the 1970s series, which The X-Files creator Chris Carter has long referenced as an influence. Writer Darin Morgan explained to the New York Post, “I just thought it would be funny to have the guy dressed as Kolchak because he was basically the inspiration for Fox Mulder.”
This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK in March 2016.