After her father sits her down in an ice cream parlour and asks what she’d like to order, 34-year-old Margot insists that she has other plans and must leave in five minutes. Mere seconds later, however, she adds: ‘I’ll have a butterscotch sundae, I guess.’ This is quintessential Margot Tenenbaum: the enigmatic, brooding playwright from Wes Anderson’s 2001 cult classic, The Royal Tenenbaums. Brought to life by Gwyneth Paltrow, Margot’s blunt bob, distinctive kohl-rimmed eyes and *that* Fendi mink coat have earned her near-icon status in the annals of on-screen fashion. One of the film’s most memorable shots sees her step off a bus in slow motion, wearing her signature pieces: mink, baby pink gloves, earth-toned loafers, Hermes Birkin bag, red hair barrette and Lacoste striped polo dress. 

"Margot’s famous ensemble has been immortalised in the yearly round of Halloween costumes"

Karen Patch, the costume designer for the film, was famously given the simple instruction by Anderson: ‘Don’t shop anything - make everything!’ As a result, each character’s wardrobe is filled with custom-made, unique pieces; Lacoste reportedly didn’t sell striped polo dresses at the time, so Margot truly debuted the model. In an interview with Elle, Patch reveals that her inspiration for Margot’s style came from the costumes in The World of Henry Orient - Val, one of the film’s two teenage protagonists, dons a mink coat out around New York City.

It’s fitting that Margot’s quirky art-student-meets-librarian chic be inspired by the precocious and brilliant Val, since 11-year-old Margot is pictured in precisely the same coat-cum-dress ensemble as her older self. By age 12, the child prodigy and somewhat literary genius will have written her first play and taken up smoking. By 14, she will have escaped her boarding school, and by 19, spoken her marriage vows for the first time, before a string of flings in her twenties. Her made-up eyes, cigarette perennially in hand and glamorous fur coat hint at her rebellious past and encapsulate her aloof, uncompromising edge - hard to miss in her deadpan humour, vacant expression and indifference towards her marriage and her moribund father (‘I hear you’re dying’, she remarks when paying him a visit). Conversely, her signature bob, hair clip and the persistence of her adolescent wardrobe manifest an endearing air of wide-eyed innocence and of child-like vulnerability – on full display when she tentatively and trepidatiously confronts romantic feelings towards her adopted brother. These sartorial trademarks are also in keeping with her juvenile tendencies and infantilization by others; she spends six hours a day locked in the bathroom watching television and hides her 22-year smoking habit from her family. Margot is neither innocent nor unworldly, however; she complains of a sort of mid-life depression, whilst the titles of her plays include ‘Nakedness Tonight’ and ‘Erotic Transference’. Her long coat and thick gloves, able to conceal her cigarettes and her prosthetic finger, act as a shroud that is consistent with her enigmatic and secretive nature. The schoolgirl preppiness tinged with cynicism and defiance, therefore, is more than just an aesthetic contradiction in Margot’s iconic outfit; it speaks to the very contradictions and complexities of her character. 

Margot’s famous ensemble has been immortalised in the yearly round of Halloween costumes, but has also given me an appreciation for my own staple outerwear. Unlike Margot’s Fendi version, I doubt I’ll ever see my long (faux) fur coat on a runway, but I can now value it in the way that Margot does: as a reassuring, protective and somewhat secretive layer, drawing attention away from the clothes worn beneath. I’m also the (proud? Unsure) owner of a number of Margot-esque pearly barrettes, schoolgirlish hair clips and diamanté slogan pins, an accessory trend that experienced a true renaissance on autumn 2019 runways and has since been endorsed by the likes of Alexa Chung and Dua Lipa. My own love-hate relationship with my sometimes-kitsch, sometimes-infantile hair clips aside, we can certainly take a lesson from Margot in how to make her longtime hair accessory of choice look understated and unapologetically chic rather than distracting and childish.  

And it appears I’m not the only one who has taken a style lesson from the Tenenbaum sister; the nostalgic essence of Margot was omnipresent on autumn 2015 runways. A mink coat almost identical to Margot’s on the Gucci catwalk and camel-toned bourgeois outerwear at Miu Miu led WWD to label her the season’s muse. But nowhere was the homage to the melancholic playwright clearer than at Lacoste; one look involved a matching sky-blue tracksuit set in the tone of Margot’s polo dress (and a nod to Chas Tenenbaum’s tracksuit sets), matching headband (reminiscent of Richie Tenenbaum’s Fila headband), and long camel-coloured fur coat slung over the shoulders. It screamed vintage store meets upscale athleisure; book club meets country club. Vogue picked up on another small nod to the world of Margot Tenenbaum on Gucci’s spring 2017 runway; Margot’s zebra-covered bedroom wallpaper was a featured print in Alessandro Michele’s 2017 menswear show.


Mountain View

Read More: “But you don’t look gay”—icons and representation

Margot, therefore, has found fans amongst fashion’s upper echelons and humble followers alike: her indifferent, nonconformist elegance has been appropriated by the runways precisely (and ironically) because of its apathy and effortlessness. Her timeless outfit and apparent lack of style evolution, bestowing upon her a sense of literature-student preppiness in her maturity, is a testament to her own depth of self-understanding, but also gives us no reason not to continue inhabiting the sartorial world of our own adolescent selves. Does her wardrobe bring us any closer to uncovering the mystery of Margot? In the Tenenbaum sister’s own words: ‘I couldn't even begin to think about knowing how to answer that question.’