I'm Obsessed With Succession's High-Stakes Fashion Choices and Their Hidden Metaphors
When perpetually bewildered Cousin Greg makes it to his first day on the job at the Waystar Royco skyscraper in Succession’s season 1, Tom Wambsgans confronts him with some brutal questions, “Forgive me, but are we talking to each other on the poop deck of a majestic schooner? Is the salty brine stinging my weather-beaten face? No? Then why the fuck are you wearing a pair of deck shoes, man?”
Yes, that dialogue tells us a lot about Tom (yikes) but it also throws a gauntlet down for Easter-egg-hunting viewers: look out, the fashion on this show is important.
Inside the world of the Succession, fashion is incredibly important to the characters since one wrong move will get you booted as an interloper in their high-stakes sphere.
Outside of the world of the show, the characters’ fashion is important too. Their personalities, their intentions, and their current (mostly fraying) state of mind bleed into the characters’ wardrobe and become visible metaphors that carry the story farther. Read on for some of my favorite costume details and the secret meanings behind them.
Kendall Is Bad at Business, as Demo-ed by his Lanvin Sneakers
Kendall Roy, played by Jeremy Strong, unwraps a pair of calfskin Lanvin sneakers while being chauffeured through Manhattan traffic. He’s going to a meeting in hopes of partnering with a hip, buzzy start-up that helps struggling artists pair with high-end art buyers. “Oh, fuck yeah,” Kendall says, pleased as punch from his black car as he peels back the tissue paper to reveal the $500+ sneakers and put them on. It’s all he needs to impress these cool, downtown kids. Or not.
Moments later, the meeting begins and it’s instantly clear that Kendall doesn’t get it. He paces around the office tossing out buzzwords and weird promises in his cool sneakers, while everyone else is professionally dressed and acting like reasonable human beings. He’s misread the room. Again. His corporate swagger and fresh-out-of-the-box hypebeast sneakers are superficial markers that can’t hide the fact that he has no idea what this startup company needs, wants, or how to win them over. “I got these sneakers on the way down here because I thought . . . you’d all be dressed like fuckin’ Bjork, and I wanted to make an impression,” he says, eventually. “So, I’m a jackass.”
Ultimately, the sneakers serve as a metaphor for Kendall being bad at business and bad at people. Whatever room he’s in-and this is true for his entire existence-he will forever have the most expensive shoes, but also the crippling inability to read the room. Try as he might, Kendall just cannot escape his money or his cringe.
Tom's Wardrobe Never Lets You Forget How Hard He's Trying
Shiv’s husband Tom Wambsgans (played by Matthew Macfadyen) is deeply infatuated with the Roy family power and wealth, but remains an outsider. He does his best to fit in and earn the cruel patriarch Logan Roy’s affection, but is instead constantly belittled, mocked, and thrown under the bus by his in-laws (and, often, his wife).
In an interview with Variety, Succession costume designer Michelle Matland explained how Tom’s on-screen wardrobe reflects that outsider status. “He’s just not an equal, on so many levels, to the people that he’s competing with. It feels almost like a competition for him,” Matland said. “And he’s a very bright man. But he was not brought up in a household of great wealth. He was not educated the way they were. And so, he is a posturer. And there is a level of a facade on him where the clothes are, it’s like Dressy Bessy, you know? It’s laid on top of the person rather than worn organically like he owns it.” Tom’s boardroom style is, on paper, similar to Kendall and Roman Roy, but add on his “Dress Bessy” details of polished shoes, perfectly ironed shirts, gelled hair, and matching his tie to his pocket square. All those subtle details become an amalgamation that telegraph his otherness. Sure, he’s wearing a suit but not like a Roy would wear a suit.
One “Tom” piece that neatly sums up Matland’s point is the Moncler extra-puffy vest he wears in an episode that takes place inside a mountain top resort at a conference for billionaires. Puffy vests have, strangely, become symbols of power for businessmen, but in a sea of black padded vests, Tom’s version is extra ostentatious. “One of the decisions that we made, for example, was when we did the big conference. There are eight million puffy vests in the world; his, of course, has to have the patch that says Moncler or whatever. He can’t get past that because those identifiable markers on the price tags are the things that make him comfortable.” By buying an expensive, flashy version of the puffy black vest, Tom thinks he’ll fit in but, in reality, that try-hardness only makes him stand out more.
By the way, Matland does have a theory about the popularity of those vests on their white collar fans. She told The Ringer, “I think they wear them because they make them look tougher than they actually are. These are guys who never played football. The vests are something that make them feel bigger than they physically are.”
Shiv's Power (Struggle) Suit
One of my favorite Shiv outfits is this gorgeous, plaid suit she wears in episode eight to take down her new rival-for-CEO, Rhea Jarrell (played by Holly Hunter). Shiv wears businesswear almost exclusively, but rarely does she appear in a full suit set and, even then, they’re only rendered in neutral, monochromatic shades of cream, gray, or black. Since we mainly see her in sharp blazers, pressed trousers, and silk button downs in neutral palettes, this loud and printed suit is screamingly different-a visual indicator she means business.
And, truly, wouldn’t you be terrified if Shiv Roy was out for your blood and wearing this suit?
Shiv's Entire Style Transformation
Speaking of Shiv (played by Sarah Snook), her series-long fashion transformation is a metaphor for her alignment with the Roy family business and her increasingly intense ruthlessness.
In season 1, we meet Shiv as the rebellious and (gasp!) liberal Roy. She wasn’t working anywhere near her father, instead working in DC for the Democratic presidential hopeful, a Bernie Sanders-esque character Gil Eavis (played by Eric Bogosian). Season 1 Shiv had long, romantic waves in her hair, silk blouses, warm jewel tones, and one of chunkiest, coziest sweaters I’ve ever seen.
As Shiv moves closer to the family business, her style changes. She chops her hair to a sleek and serious bob, her pantsuits are plentiful, the color drains from her palette, and when she wears a gown again, it’s more Bond-villain-sleek than princess-lovely. Can you imagine Season 3 Shiv wearing anything like Season 1 Shiv’s chunky, cozy sweater? She’ll never wear anything like that ever again, now that she’s on her Dad’s team. She’ll forever be in the boardroom compromising her morals in fabulous body-con turtlenecks.
Cousin Greg Is an Unqualified Outsider
Ah, beloved underdog Cousin Greg. What would the perpetually clueless Cousin Greg do without the Roy family name?
Our very first impression of Cousin Greg shows us how deeply unqualified he is for just about any job; and is a metaphor for just how far outside the family he stands. While Kendall and Roman live in Waystar Royco board rooms in their $5,000 suits, Cousin Greg first appears to fuck up his job as a costumed, Pluto-esque character in one of the family’s theme parks. He’s literally shrouded in (and vomiting on) the trappings of the Roy family business. Sure, Cousin Greg could stop getting high in parking lots and get a better career, but he chooses to take the easy job that his Mom’s famous last name will easily get him. His unearned job at the amusement park will turn into another unearned job at the Waystar Royco Manhattan offices and then an unearned ascent as he bumbles his way upward, hanging on to his (slightly) more qualified Roy cousins.