I last wore a white lab coat in high school chemistry class [redacted] years ago. Suffice it to say, I didn’t consider the shapeless, heavy-duty, bunsen burner-singed garment a future fashion staple. Enter Brie Larson as Elizabeth Zott in Apple TV+’s Lessons in Chemistry to change my mind. The humble protective clothing receives a long-overdue, dazzling TV makeover courtesy of the cooking show-within-the-show.
Adapted from Bonnie Garmus’ monster smash novel, the series begins in the 1950s. Fledgling chemist Elizabeth has gone from working at the prestigious (and male-dominated) Hastings Research Institute alongside the love of her life to a grieving single mother struggling to pay her bills. The week prior, Elizabeth’s career took an unexpected turn when local TV producer Walter (Kevin Sussman) offered her a hosting gig on a new cooking show, Supper at Six. However, she is not ready to trade her knitwear, plaids, and pants for a cinched-waist, TV-ready wardrobe to teach homemakers how to expand their dinner options—while giving husbands someone to lust over.
The bright studio lights of local television don’t fit her plan to continue the work she started with the now-deceased Dr. Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman), so she initially turns Walter down. Picture-perfect housewife frocks are not in her future. For one, she isn’t a housewife; Elizabeth’s aesthetic, personal, and ambition don’t tick the stereotypical boxes of the era. Who says a lab coat can’t replace the cutesy half-apron? Why can’t that look be injected with a little glamor?
While Elizabeth doesn’t always adhere to the rules, costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier utilizes the midcentury sartorial playbook without compromising Elizabeth’s personality or aspirations. Now, Lessons in Chemistry, Gordon-Crozier and Larson’s fourth collaboration together, joins the likes of Mad Men, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Queen’s Gambit on my list of TV shows with the most covetable attire from this period. (Also surging on that ranking recently: another current period series, Fellow Travelers.)
As with the novel, this adaptation has myriad appealing factors. Swoony romance? Check! Tale of resilience? Check! Culinary inspiration? Check! But one thing the show has over the novel is a lead character that I unabashedly admit has already influenced my wardrobe. I need all of Brie Larson’s clothes from this series. (And, yes, I’m being greedy; Gordon-Crozier has said Larson has upwards of 12 costume changes per episode.) Let’s take a tour of my new fall closet.
Welcome to my sweater vest era co-sponsored by Larson’s Elizabeth. Yep, I am leaning all the way into the classic garment that has long signified the nerdiness of its wearer and, in more recent years, has been embraced beyond its dusty granddad reputation. Case in point, Selena Gomez’s Mabel Mora sported this style in Only Murders in the Building’s Season 3 premiere, with costume designer Dana Covarrubias turning to Little Shop of Horrors’ dorky hero Seymour (Rick Moranis) as the influence behind the sleeveless knitted choice. And have you seen the knits worn by Jonathan Bailey as adorable and naive Tim Laughlin in Fellow Travelers’ swoony gay love story (costumes by Joseph La Corte)?
Fashion employs an “everything old is new again” approach to most trends, including the humble sweater vest. It is a signifier of a specific time, like the early 1950s in Lessons in Chemistry, while still showing distinct traces of the preceding decade. I can’t see a brown or green knit tank top and not think about a WWII setting—Jeffrey Kurland’s work on Dunkirk and Barry Keoghan’s sweet character is one example. It suggests a certain level of seriousness, so Elizabeth’s taste is not out of character. Now, if you turn the color dial to bold red, Mona May’s definitive Clueless costume design springs to mind. A sweater vest has been far more playful in recent decades, and Lessons in Chemistry captures its practical and covetable appeal.
In the lab, Elizabeth’s knitwear becomes her work uniform under her lab coat, setting her apart from the male chemists and impeccably dressed women in the typing pool. And her sleeveless knits aren’t only for business hours. Elizabeth’s array of argyle, mixed patterns, and graphic prints are part of her off-duty styling, including vintage pieces sourced by the costume designer. While making notes about the plot, I also made a mental list of all the combinations Elizabeth pairs these garments with for future reference—including her array of jeans and patterned slacks.
“Are those pants? Why is she wearing pants?” is a question laced with a horrified tone that someone asks about her choice of TV attire in a future episode. Considering sponsors were not thrilled that Mary Tyler Moore wore capri pants on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the early ’60s, Elizabeth’s daytime TV trousers are revolutionary. Yes, even though Lucille Ball was already wearing pants at the start of the previous decade in I Love Lucy’s debut season. If anyone is keeping score, I have previously taken inspiration from Ball and Moore’s classic sitcom clothing.
Heading into fall with this much inspiration is TV kismet. Elizabeth’s entire closet offers a variety of casual and dressier options to borrow from, simultaneously adding texture to the chemists’ evolution even before TV stardom comes calling.
By the time her series Supper at Six is the hit we glimpse in the first episode’s opening, her work outfits are more glamorous, but still call back to the style she clung to when she was a lab tech. Gordon-Crozier expertly plots Elizabeth’s arc, weaving shades of green as her anchor color throughout.
I was especially envious of the pinafore-style top Elizabeth wears in the Hastings cafeteria when sampling her 78th attempt at perfect lasagne. (Yes, I will attempt the official recipe this fall.) And that’s not to mention the various plaids. Given that the first TV character whose closet I wanted to raid was Claire Danes as Angela Chase in My So-Called Life, that the look also works so well in Lessons in Chemistry underscores the timelessness of this ubiquitous pattern. Whether ‘90s grunge, mid-century work and leisure wear, or contemporary flourishes on And Just Like That and Only Murders, plaid is a language that speaks volumes no matter the decade.
Lab Coat Couture
Elizabeth’s style is established across the season’s first half, from the green theme to her penchant for pattern—sometimes both. By the time she says yes to hosting Supper at Six, she has already come up against several piggish men, so she has zero qualms objecting to the restrictive caped sleeve floral frock and delicate pink sheer apron the production team suggests she wear. “This dress is obscene, and I need my lab coat,” she tells her producer, Walter. Walter isn’t the issue, but his boss Phil (Rainn Wilson) wants Elizabeth to be little more than “big hair, tight dress, homey set.”
The lab coat goes against this mandate, but this isn’t about shapelessness. “It has more surface area than an apron. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t cook in a lab coat,” says Elizabeth about her preference. Gordon-Crozier takes the humble, oversized garment and adds some razzamatazz that lets Elizabeth’s personality shine and makes for great television—both in the world of the show and as a Lessons in Chemistry viewer.
Opening the premiere with a Supper at Six green-trimmed lab coat ensemble teases what will come, tapping into Miss Zott’s signature shade. Bespoke lab coats are a niche business, but this couture element nods to fashion houses like Dior without compromising Elizabeth’s sense of self. A forthcoming Mod-adjacent belted number with bold buttons and dark piping made me shriek with delight when it first appeared. One dazzling “E” collection choice that has already been unveiled in promo materials is a festive special with a sparkling green sequin collar that belongs in my closet. As someone with the same first-name initial as the Supper at Six host, I am convinced the monogrammed “E” is made for me. Though I would probably wear it as a coat rather than something to cook in—it is too pretty to deal with the mess I make in the kitchen.
An inspirational and aspirational message is baked into Lessons in Chemistry. Costume designer Gordon-Crozier offers an attainable approach to fall fashion with a dollop of fanciful cooking couture in Elizabeth Zott’s clothing for a tasty sartorial result.