Flight of the Conchords: cowboy yokes, animal shirts and leisure suits make for perfect costuming

Bret and Jemaine in matching leather suits over Stetson shirts
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Flight of the Conchords is a blast from the past that harkens back to an even earlier past in its costumes. This is the second in a series on underrated costume design in 2000s television. Genevieve Nardella reports

Something surprisingly important about 2000s fashion was its 1970s influences.

Halter tops, sparkles (both glitter and sequins) and denim (in every way imaginable) were huge again, and both could be found both in the hottest shows and on ordinary people.  

However, ’70s fashion inspiration (even in its 2020s revival) seems mostly limited to womenswear. Aside from some minor elements, like the aforementioned denim and the occasional vest, 2000s men’s fashion was preoccupied with the 1960s.

Mod influences reigned supreme, as all the garage/indie guys rocked their longer hair and slim silhouettes. Of course, that was what was popular at the time, and those that didn’t fit that mould went in a different direction with their clothing choices.

Enter Flight of the Conchords. 

Flight of the Conchords: cowboy yokes, animal shirts and leisure suits make for perfect costuming
Murray (left) and Jemaine, suited up.

The hilarious comedy duo of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie had their own HBO sitcom in the late 2000s, and it’s delightful.

Flight of the Conchords (FOTC) is strongest in its first season, but the second has its share of highlights, especially the episode Unnatural Love. Its centrepiece, the gorgeously self-deprecating Carol Brown, is among the group’s strongest songs, and it’s deservedly acclaimed.

The show boasts a great list of directors including Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame and Taika Waititi, who directed four episodes including the series finale. 

As for the clothes featured in the show, the series is yet another example of perfect costuming according to character.

The two leads are New Zealand ex-pats trying to make it big in New York, but their niche appeal and “outsider” personas hold them back from success. Their music calls back to many musicians and eras, incorporating ’80s synthesizers, 2000s club beats, ’60s-style folk guitar and even a bit of French into their songs. However, their style is all ’70s. 

Flight of the Conchords: cowboy yokes, animal shirts and leisure suits make for perfect costuming
That 70s Show.

The show is packed with casual wear in earthy tones and synthetic fabrics, referring to a fashion industry that was tired of psychedelic colours and excited about the invention of new materials.

Even the band’s slightly more formal manager Murray (Rhys Darby), seems to be taking fashion cues from Ron Burgundy. 2000s TV was no stranger to ’70s fashion, and That 70s Show (1998-2006) comes to mind. However, this show was a period piece (set in the era itself) while FOTC used old styles in a modern setting to communicate the characters’ awkwardness. 

Strong Western influences often made an appearance in the show’s costuming.

During the 1950s, a lot of fashion called back to the Old West, with bolo ties, boots, jeans, Stetson and checked shirts, vests and fringe popping up on celebrities, men, and boys.

The ’70s saw a revival of these items and although both members wear them, Jemaine’s closet is packed with this style. He often wears a jacket featuring a detail that appears on many Western-style shirts: a yoke. It’s fairly subtle, but it’s an awesome detail that speaks to the 1970s’ own nostalgia for the ’50s. 

Flight of the Conchords: cowboy yokes, animal shirts and leisure suits make for perfect costuming
Jemaine in his yoke jacket, with Bret and Murray.

Bret’s style skews ever so more modern; he isn’t afraid to don a hoodie once in a while, while Jemaine’s outerwear takes its cues from leisure suits. 

This attention to detail ensures that the series doesn’t fall into the trap of just making its leads dress the same. While they’re a duo, they’re their own people. While Bret wears his comical animal shirts, Jemaine is free to rock a denim blazer. 

An honourable mention—as far as fashion content goes—must be given to New Zealand Town, episode 8 of season 2. During the episode, this exchange occurs between Jemaine and Dave: 

Dave: “Usually, you wear clothes from the ’70s.”

Jemaine: “They’re not from the ’70s – they’re from New Zealand.”

Dave: “Isn’t that the same thing?”

Flight of the Conchords: cowboy yokes, animal shirts and leisure suits make for perfect costuming
Jemaine in his denim blazer and Bret in his Buck Country jumper.

Aside from this dialogue being a great summary of the show’s style, it accompanies a new look for the group. During and after the song Fashion is Danger, Jemaine and Bret abandon their typical fashions for over-the-top ’80s flash, if only for a little while.  

Flight of the Conchords is known more for its musical comedy and quirky awkwardness than its fashion, but it deserves to be heralded for its approach to throwback style.

Even when Bret and Jemaine deviate from their typical look, it’s apparent that they’re most suited to the side of 2000s fashion that wasn’t afraid to get groovy.