How SKAM successfully navigates the intersections between fashion and identity

Kelsey Barnes /
Apr 4, 2018 / Opinion

It would seem like SKAM is heading for world domination.

The Norwegian drama launched in late 2015 and follows teenagers at a Oslo high school as they navigate the perils of adolescence. Sound familiar? Sure. But SKAM’s approach to storytelling is unlike anything else on-screen. Rather than airing episodes weekly, short 3-6 minute scenes, text conversations, and social media updates from characters are posted in real time on the SKAM website. Vanity Fair hailed it as ‘the future of television’, while similar adaptations are being developed in countries from France to the USA.

Fans and critics alike have applauded the show for its depictions of sexual assault, mental health, sexuality and self-worth, while also celebrating it for different kind of successes, such as how the characters’ personalities are conveyed through their clothing. It’s through these intersections – fashion and identity – where we see the four main characters (Eva, Noora, Isak, and Sana) and their change in personal style as they navigate the issues and themes prevalent in the series.

The two major themes of the show revolve around the notion of belonging, with all four lead characters trying to determine who they really are. The first season focuses on Eva, her lack of an identity outside of her relationship with her boyfriend, and how she copes with being ostracised by her old friends. Her style is reflective of this as she mimics her boyfriend’s skater style – beanies, baggy plaid shirts, backpacks – as a way to fit in. When she becomes friends with girls outside of her relationship who support her, she gains confidence with who she is and this is conveyed further through her style. Rather than completely changing her clothes to what her friends are wearing, she mixes pieces like colourful dresses and jackets with beanies and plaid shirts, finding an identity that is entirely her own.

Moreover, fans fell in love with Noora, who has an unshakable confidence and a knack for the witty comeback. The stylists of the show use her clothing to create her character as someone who seems strong and polished. However, this quickly begins to change and unravel as she deals with the aftermath of an implied sexual assault. She isolates herself from everyone, she struggles to get out of bed and get dressed, and she questions everything about herself due to her hazy memory – because she doesn’t know whether the assault really happened or not. When Noora confides in her friends during Norwegian Constitution Day, she’s in a dress that she deems ‘ugly.’ It’s fitting that one of the strongest and – from the outside, at least – most put-together character is wearing something that she deems ‘ugly’ as she shares her brokenness with her friends. Shortly after, during a visit to the doctor that determines that she wasn’t assaulted, we see her strength again as she confronts the man who implied they had sex and did take nude photos of her without her consent.

Isak, the lead of the third season, is feeling isolated due to his own internal conflict. He’s dealing with coming out and the subsequent ramifications, while having internalised homophobia. According to SKAM’s stylist, his fashion is meant to be “laid back and dirty”, due to leaving home at a young age after being unable to cope with living with his family. We see him hide behind his hoods and beanies, usually looking unsure and unconfident. At a pivotal moment during season 3, Isak dodges a kiss from Even (his love interest), as he is clearly still learning how to be comfortable with who he is. As Isak comes out to his friends and begins properly dating Even, we begin to see him bloom. They move in together, playfully kissing and leaning against one another in front of Isak’s friends. As a result, Isak finally looks settled and visibly confident in his identity.

Sana, a devout Muslim girl with sharp judgement and a strong loyalty to both her faith and her friends, feels like an outcast in her all-white friend group, her school, as well as in her ‘faithless’ country. She begins to feel even more isolated when her once undersanding friend group are unable to comprehend her faith and choose to befriend an other group who have been racist towards her. We see a stark contrast between how Sana is dressed in all black, in comparison to the other girls, who are all white and dressed in bright clothing. Later, once her friends come to better understand her devotion to her faith, Sana feels embraced and accepted. During the series finale, every character joins Sana’s home to celebrate Eid Mubarak, where we see a glowing and confident Sana in a bright pink gown.

Since SKAM has been such a large influence on how storytelling in television shows will be told in the future – both through issues and topics that are relevant to teens today and through the depiction of real teens – it will be intriguing to see how other countries adapting the show tackle these issues and well-loved characters. If they manage to equal the nuance, we’ll all be in for a treat.

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Words by Kelsey Barnes

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