Empire is a show that’s soapy, dramatic, and fun. Of course, with a show like this, the costuming is going to come into play. Thankfully, the show takes a pages from Dynasty and Mad Men, especially if go by Tom and Lorenzo’s expert analysis of those characters’ closets.
The Empire characters say a lot about themselves through their clothes, so let’s see just what they’re telling us.
Lucious is very much a cross between a ’70s pimp or drug dealer like Youngblood Priest in Super Fly, vintage Berry Gordy, and “New Money” businessman like P. Diddy. His main goal is to show you that he’s got money. Cookie’s often the one that’s dressed to feel like she’s out of time a little, but Lucious is also straddling the line in his own way as well, what with those extravagantly patterned scarves and even that blowout he had in the pilot. But because he mixes up the ’70s looks with current day business suits, he manages to play to his past as a gangster and his present as a 21st century man on the come-up.
The outlier in this gallery is that photo of him wearing a plain maroon shirt and khaki jacket. Since he’s at home, it’s clear that home is probably one of the few places he feels as much like himself than he’ll allow himself to be. I say “allow” because he doesn’t actually allow himself to be “normal” a lot. He’s always running from his past at every turn, even when he’s not at the office.
Did Cookie miss the style evolution that happened between the 20th and 21st centuries? Of course. Her getup when she got out of prison confirms that, since people only wear dookie earrings ironically now. But Cookie will always have a bit of “1994 roughneck” in her system, as well extreme drama, which comes out in the garish animal prints, amazing hats (especially that beautiful and extravagant hat she wore to the funeral), capes and furs. She updates her look a little bit, but she’ll always keep a bit of her original ’90s style.
Andre is a pill, and his pill-like quality is shown in the amount of suits he has. Of course, if Andre wasn’t Andre, one might think that he’s just a guy who always has a suit on, but the fact that Andre always does have a suit shows that he feels most comfortable when he’s hiding who he really is. His suit is his armor, and he can hide his kinks, betrayals, and bipolar disorder from the world. All he wants us to see is that he’s a businessman and the son that’s the perfect choice to take over the surface. At least on the surface.
Save for the funeral look, which is the most he’s looked like a person with an opinion, Jamal stays in neutrals, mainly grays. It’s clear his gray and blue t-shirts are meant to show us that he’s the brother whose comfort zone is the background. Until Episode 3, he never showed any initiative to go after Lucious and the company because he lacked the confidence, thanks to Lucious being a horrible father and all but disowning him because he’s gay. All of the brothers are expressing their lack of self-worth in their clothes, but the other two are being peacocks about it, fronting to the world to hide their insecurities. Jamal, on the other hand, is just wearing his insecurities as t-shirts. Take a look at this picture just to see the dynamic between the brothers:
Of course, you could also argue that Jamal is being the most brave by embracing his insecurities . If anything, a gradual change in clothes will show that he’s using his bravery to be himself to develop the confidence he sorely needs.
As we’ve seen from Episode 3, Hakeem is just as troubled as his brothers and father. He does not have it all together. But, because he’s a young rapper and also benefits from his father’s favoritism and is the youngest son (i.e. more spoiled than the other kids) Hakeem expresses himself through what’s popular with a lot of young rappers: the “I Get Chedda All Day” look—gold chains, eye-catching, urban patterns and graphics, leather accessories and details, and tons of graphic shades. Even in his funeral wear, Hakeem still has to have an eye-catching gold zipper detail to show everyone he’s ballin’ like that.
This look shows how immature he really is and how he’s not besting the game—the game is besting him (especially the part of the game called Camilla).
Anika is a funny bunny. Anika, now better known as “Boo Boo Kitty,” fits her self-described “debutante” roll. I’m sure all debutantes aren’t shallow and money-grubbing, but Anika fits the stereotype of a debutante great. She’s all image. Thankfully, she’s got some smarts behind the image, but image is always very important to her. If she’s polished, then she feels at ease. Her focus on image also reflects on how she’s willing to turn a blind eye to Lucious’ treatment of Jamal. Anything that’s off the Empire brand is a no-go for Anika, even if she’s being morally irresponsible. Anika’s penchant for solid colors, sleek silhouettes and perfect makeup scream “poise” and “posture”
The only real question mark is the denim ensemble she’s wearing in the pilot. Of course, pilot costuming isn’t always indicative of the season’s costuming, but even still, Anika is in one color scheme and focuses more on the complete image rather than individual pieces.
More fashion/character analyses are coming up shortly. What do you think so far? Give your opinions in the comments section below!