It's impossible to make a list of the most influentially fashionable television shows in the last two decades and not include "Gossip Girl": The costumes, dreamed up by maestro Eric Daman, kept us talking just as much as the constantly-escalating plot lines did. Was there anything more covetable than Blair's wardrobe of Marc by Marc Jacobs dresses, or Serena's bag collection that ran so deep she never once repeated a style? These were teenagers who literally wore haute couture on the streets of Paris, people!
As great an impact as the show had on our personal style, it created just as much of a buzz for fashion brands. Getting a spot on one of the show's stylish characters could — quite literally, in the case of some labels — make an entire business happen overnight. We're already starting to see these wheels turn again with "Gossip Girl" 2.0, before a single episode has even dropped.
There's perhaps no one fashion item, no accessory, greater tied to the "Gossip Girl" legacy than the humble headband. Once those hair pieces began showing up perched on Blair Waldorf's immaculately-curled head, they sparked a kind of style revolution. Where before, a simple headband might have served as a utilitarian item for pulling hair back to wash one's face or disguise a bad bang grow-out, from 2007 on, they became a fashion statement — all because of "Gossip Girl."
"I started my collection in 2005, and when I started, it was hard to get people to wear headbands that were anything other than something super basic," says designer Jennifer Behr, whose designs were a staple on the show. "It was first time that fashion had really embraced headbands as a fashion statement and as something that was fun."
Originally, Daman was buying up Behr's pieces directly from New York City retailer Henri Bendel. (RIP.) But then Eva Chen — then a fashion editor who served as one of fashion's greatest connectors — linked her up directly with Daman, and the brand began sending things to set directly, even making custom designs when asked.
Blair wore Jennifer Behr for some of the show's biggest moments, including her series finale wedding to Chuck Bass. And the designer remembers seeing the near-immediate results.
"The sales for those pieces would skyrocket and they would stay high; it wasn't like the next day, it would drop. They were saying high for months afterwards," Behr says. "People were looking very specifically for the things she wore on the show."
Her headbands were so central to "Gossip Girl" that Behr has reissued select styles several times since the original ended, including a $4,000 gift set in 2012, a scalloped crystal style once in 2017 and a bridal hairpiece for the brand's 15th anniversary in 2020. "I think a lot of women that were in high school in 'Gossip Girl''s years, like 2007, which is now 14 years ago, they're getting married now — and even outside of weddings, they are our customer now as adults as well, which is cool," she says.
(It's worth noting that the Blair Waldorf-headband connection is so strong that even as the hair piece experienced a renaissance in the past five years, headlines crowed about the "Gossip Girl" queen-approved accessory, long after the original series went off the air. Talk about a fashion legacy!)
Nanette Lepore's designs were also featured regularly on "Gossip Girl," with her colorful and embellished pieces appearing on multiple characters. She'd already been in business for nearly two decades by the time it debuted in 2007, but still, she credits the costumes for helping elevate her profile even higher.
"The boom of my company was so tied into that moment in time, and 'Gossip Girl' I'm sure pushed that up a lot," she says. "It was better than being on the pages of a magazine. It was doing for my business what editorial would have done 10 years earlier."
For Lepore, the show cemented the shift in how people were consuming fashion. Rather than looking to the models in glossy magazines, they wanted to see how "real people" might wear pieces from the runway, and the characters on "Gossip Girl" served as modern style icons for her customers. Though she says she didn't fully realize at the time what an honor it was to be featured — she was still raising her daughter, who was too young to watch the show — in hindsight, she believes it impacted the entire industry.
"What I think it did for people was make them feel more free about their own styling and make young girls more excited to experiment with fashion," Lepore says. "And it was a moment in American fashion where we were just coming into our own. I think that all these things came together to really push American fashion into a boom."
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There's one designer who was in the unique position of having her entire business launched because of its appearance on "Gossip Girl." Back in 2007, Abigail Lorick was just starting to work on her first label, Lorick, when assistant costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack put her up to serve as the ghost designer behind Eleanor Waldorf's on-screen fashion line. Lorick went in for a meeting with her Spring 2008 collection, and the producers fell for her "preppy and bright" designs. The rest, as they say, is history.
"It was huge. Everybody wanted to talk about it, and wanted to see the collection," she says. "It was just such a fun story for people to write about, and kind of an anomaly because shows hadn't really done anything like that before. We got so much press from it, and it was amazing — it was a huge opportunity. I think it also helped get us into Barneys and into Isetan in Japan; it really helped propel the business in such a [big] way."
Lorick would work with "Gossip Girl" throughout its run, lending her sketches and fabric swaths to serve as backdrops in Eleanor's fictional studio, and loaning her collections out for major moments in the show. That fashion week sabotage that takes place backstage at a Waldorf runway early in season two? All Lorick's real designs. Lorick even had a few cameos in the series. ("I was the assistant to Eleanor, which was also fun," she says, adding with a big laugh, "I don't think acting is my thing.")
With her label essentially making its big debut on screen, Lorick was able to launch her line with a baked-in audience. And because producers had fallen for her real-life designs, she didn't even have to tweak her process to keep them coming back for more, which means she never felt saddled by the expectations of being the "Gossip Girl" designer. "It was always a huge plus, and fun. It was always great for me," she says.
These days, Lorick is making sustainable swimwear under her new label, Ansea. Even though the pieces are a far cry from the buttoned-up looks of the late aughts, the "Gossip Girl" legacy continues to give her a boost.
"I always have it on my resume, and people love to talk about it, but I don't know how much of that has played into my actual roles and what I do in the day to day; all in all though, all of the press and the wider reach, for sure, has given my career a positive impact," she says. "I don't think you can always dive in granularly to fine-tune exactly how that happened, but it definitely did."
In one very high-profile case, the show quite literally served as inspiration for an entire collection: When designer Anna Sui was tapped to work with Target for its Designer Collaboration series back in 2009, she was asked to pick a muse, and she chose "Gossip Girl."
"When I was in Asia last year, all the young girls kept asking me about the different locations in New York City where the characters from 'Gossip Girl' live," she told WWD at the time. "I liked the idea of creating a collection reflective of each characters' style, sensibility and unique approach to fashion. By combining the elements of art, city, spirit, punk and glamour, we created a collection that exudes New York City fashion."
The resulting collection was packed full of characters' style signatures, from Jenny's rock'n'roll vibes and Vanessa's Brooklyn boho ease to Blair's prim, bow-bedecked collars and Serena's uptown-downtown mix. Pieces from that collaboration were even re-released as part of the retailer's celebration of the 20th anniversary for its designer collabs, proving that the influence of "Gossip Girl" has a long reach. (And, full disclosure, I appeared alongside Sui in the campaign for the re-release, nbd.)
It remains to be seen if Upper East Side teens will be rushing out to copy Audrey Hope's oversized sweater and tights or pairing bike shorts with school uniforms à la Julien Calloway, but signs so far are promising. Daman has already noticed that items featured on fan Instagrams are selling out, telling Fashionista: "I don't know if that's direct or indirect, but it is an odd phenomenon that most things that are being ID'd are suddenly sold out or no longer available."
And on Wednesday evening, just ahead of the new show's debut, American label Monse presented its Fall 2021 collection, which was inspired by early paparazzi images from the set of "Gossip Girl" 2.0, at a "Gossip Girl" 2.0 premiere party. The brand made extra samples to send to the show, and they're banking on the appearance leading to a sales boost. "As soon as we saw Jordan wearing our sweater, we immediately increased our production units," Renee Prince Phillip, Monse CEO, told Fashionista. "We're definitely hoping to sell a lot more. It hasn't shipped yet — it won't ship for another couple of months — but we're definitely hoping for a great impact."
Regardless of whether HBO Max's "continuation" gives fashion the same boost, the legacy of the first lives on through secondhand sites like Poshmark and eBay, where superfans buy and sell items first seen on Serena and Blair over a decade ago — in some cases, maintaining better archives than the designers themselves. ("I have seen some of that, and it's interesting," Lorick says. "I have a few Lorick things, but like the backless dress, I wish I still had that.")
Though the original designers don't benefit from resale, it continues to keep the legacy of their brands alive, especially in the cases of those like Lepore and Lorick, whose eponymous labels are no longer operating.
"I hear all the time from people, 'Oh, I wore you to my 18th birthday, or when I had my first job interview,' and now it's the same way with 'Gossip Girl' — they'll be like, 'Oh, Serena had that sequin sweater on for that big event that happened in 'Gossip Girl,'" Lepore says. "I think there's something that was nice about having the imagery of my fashion ingrained in people's memories with that show, because there were so many great fashion moments. It was high-fashion moments, too. It felt like it was really styled and really perfect."