Everyone is talking about Russell T Davies’ It’s A Sin right now. The powerful five-part series follows a group of young men as they leave their homes for the bright lights of London in the early ‘80s. Finally able to embrace their sexuality, they arrive just as the HIV/AIDS epidemic hits the country. We watch as the characters’ lives – and the lives of their friends and families – are turned upside-down by the then-unknown and widely misunderstood virus; witnessing the effects and accompanying fear, stigma, prejudice and, ultimately, death that surrounds them and the entire LGBTQ+ community.
Here at HLN we laughed and cried in equal measure as we watched – as it seems did countless others. Critics across the board have praised the show and viewers have taken to social media in their droves to share the impact the series has had on them.
Discussing the fashion of the period, then, may seem little a frivolous focus when thinking about the altogether more serious subject matter the series covers. But fashion does play a huge role throughout the series – it runs alongside each character’s personal development as they find their way in the world as young gay men and is showcased in poignant moments, such as the AIDS NEEDS AID slogan t-shirts the characters wear to protest the government’s lack of support, research and funding of the crisis.
Clothing’s importance in self-expression is cemented in the first episode, as Roscoe Babatunde (Omari Douglas) chooses to escape the home of his homophobic parents – not via an upstairs window, as suggested, but rather by defiantly strutting downstairs donning his sister’s patterned mini skirt, crop top and lilac headscarf. In contrast to his previous brown-checked shirt and jacket, when he breaks free from his families constraints, finds his friends and lives as his true self, we see Roscoe in a series of iconic outfits that include a playful denim romper, studded chokers and leather jackets, bleached jeans and muscle tees – often paired with a sweep of brightly coloured eyeshadow.
There’s no doubt It’s A Sin is influencing our wardrobe choices right now, according to fashion search engine Lyst. Requests for acid-wash jeans are up 60%, sleeveless T-shirts have increased by 29% and chokers by 32%. We’re calling this “The Roscoe Effect”.
Roscoe’s eclectic wardrobe choices are shown in stark contrast to now universally-loved character Colin Morris-Jones (Callum Scott Howells): a timid young man who arrives in London from Wales to train as a tailor on Savile Row. In both his clothing and his life, he shrinks into the background – not yet confident in his identity as a gay man. As well as becoming a part of the Pink Palace’s friendship group, he is taken under the wing of tailor Henry Coltrane (Neil Patrick Harris), whose own queerness is showcased in flashes of sharp style throughout his own outfits.
Further demonstrating the power fashion can have for a cause, after the airing of It’s A Sin, Lambeth Mayor Philip Normal – the first openly HIV+ person in the UK to hold the office of Mayor – partnered with HIV charity The Terrence Higgins Trust to create a series-inspired La! T-shirt, with proceeds from sales going to the charity. After just three days, the tees had helped raise over £40,000.
It’s A Sin shows us main character Ritchie’s relaxed approach to style – all casual denim and loose shirts – unless he’s onstage with best friend Jill, where they peacock in shiny white blazers and pink neck scarves. He sadly is required (as was the case for many LGBTQ+ people at the time and since), to tone down his wardrobe when not in safe spaces. He has to lie about his sexuality, for example, in order to obtain a mortgage. Roscoe, too, is constrained by the ‘norm’ twice in the series – once in a suit for his sister’s wedding, and then to appease his Tory MP sugar daddy (Stephen Fry). Sadly, this is one of the lesser evils queer people have had to face.
Alongside the many political, economic and social changes seen in the ‘80s, the era truly broke the mould when it came to fashion. The fearless style mavericks that would have influenced around the time of It’s A Sin include icons Madonna, Grace Jones, Princess Diana, David Bowie, George Michael, Prince and Blondie. So if you’d like to bring some of their bold ‘80’s style into your wardrobe today, lean towards flashy prints and oversized silhouettes, hints of neon and pieces with statement shoulders. Since there was a whole host of style tribes in the defining decade – from leisurewear lovers to fans of puff-ball dresses and pastel power suits – there’s a part of the era that’s right for everyone.
As well as on-screen in this must-watch series, we have recently seen the ’80s trends nodded to on the catwalks of Saint Laurent, Vetements’ and in Off-White’s Princess Dianna-inspired collection. Style staples from the era are still so relevant to our current wardrobes – just think of pastel hues, polka dot and hound tooth prints, leather and denim, acid wash jeans with band tees, and any item with an oversized collar. So, whether you opt for glam-rock or go Dynasty-inspired. the following buys will help you bring an 80’s flair to your current outfits.