The fascination around Quinn’s wardrobe does bring up a larger point: Dressing for reality TV presents an interesting challenge for today’s casts. Unlike scripted shows, there is still often little to no budget for wardrobe, let alone clear direction for what one should wear for the cameras. Yet, there is still an expectation for stars to have a look. As a result, reality TV has really developed its own style genre over the years. With no rules, the fashion choices on reality have grown to such insane levels today, that wardrobe now serves as a character in itself—the more deranged, the better. Entire reality shows have evolved playing off this appetite for outrageous style: Series such as The Hills, The Rachel Zoe Project, America’s Next Top Model, and Next in Fashion all pride themselves on having high-fashion “characters.” Quinn is only one of many reality stars who have profited off taking risks. But, this hasn’t always been the case.
Reality’s Humble Roots
Reality TV’s evolution from trashy, guilty-pleasure viewing to becoming a high fashion playground has been a slow burn. While Big Brother is often thought to be the first modern reality show, An American Family, produced in 1973, was the genesis of the genre and documented the lives of a “regular” American family for seven months. Two decades later in the ’90s, reality found its footing by capturing people’s normal, everyday lives. Shows such as The Real World took over mainstream TV ratings with its real-life ensemble crew, a concept that would later take off in the 2000s, with similar shows such as Big Brother.
In the ’90s, MTV’s House of Style offered a high-fashion perspective on the genre, lending a glimpse inside the glamorous lives of supermodels, starring catwalk stars such as Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Claudia Schiffer. The appetite for fashion reality TV continued to grow in the 2000s. On the first season of The Simple Life in 2003, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were plucked from Beverly Hills and placed on a farm in Arkansas; the city girls captured American’s attention by milking cows in matching Dior bags, Von Dutch hats, and Juicy Couture sweatsuits. They styled their out-of-place ensembles during a time when reality TV was still very much organic and unplanned. In the years that followed, however, reality began shaping its own genre—and the production value raised as a result. In other words, stars were afforded external teams to craft their perfect, on-screen looks. Stars weren’t just being born, like Hilton and Richie were. They were being created.