Shouldn’t a show about the world of beautiful and affluent Cape Town teenagers and their prestigious high school actually have them, you know, look the part? Blood & Water, Netflix’s 2nd African Original, set me up for a teen drama in the sordid world of the upper class with all their secrets, schemes and scandals and, well, I was set up.
Blood & Water follows Puleng Khumalo as she finagles her way into the prestigious Parkhurst High to find out if “genuine influencer” and star swimmer, Fikile Bhele, is actually her abducted-at-birth sister. Pretty much your girl-next-door, Puleng gets to see what life’s like on the side of the tracks where kids hire bouncers for their mansion parties, party on school nights and whose parents make sure they want for nothing.
While I really admired the show’s overall production quality, the cast is pretty mid (though there are some fantastic performances) and the story is only interesting enough, I want to talk about how the costume design really let it down.
Firstly, Fikile Bhele? It Girl? Where?
In the finale, Puleng says to her maybe-sister: “you’re not who you think you are”. Girl, I could’ve told you that in the pilot. When we first meet Fiks, the show wants us to know so bad that she’s That Girl. She’s beautiful, she’s charming and everything just comes easy to her! But she’s at her own birthday party in a really simple black sequined minidress, two tiny rose hair clips and some muddy, dark eyeshadow with craft store gold glitter just thrown under the brow?
The first time Fikile and Puleng hang out together socially is also the last time the wardrobe delivers on making her stand out. Puleng’s wardrobe throughout the series is perfect, even the way she styles her braids does such a great job of affirming and showing us her character. She rightly fades next to Fikile’s bold patterns and sparkles.
But then things get wack.
For the rest of the show, Fikile dresses like a Factorie mannequin. She’s meant to be the star of the show yet she always looks like a fire alarm interrupted her shower. She hardly ever wears make-up and when she does, it’s
bad not good. Everyone believes a rumour that she spends fortunes on weaves but we only ever see in that one, tired wig. No one attempts to elevate her looks with accessories either. No handbags or jewellery beyond small studs or hoops, just vibes.
Secondly, those uniforms are so uninspired
All of the school uniforms were made from scratch and it does not show. They could’ve just gone to literally any uniform supply store and then stitched the Parkhurst crests onto them. Why go through all that trouble and not use the uniforms to further characterisation? I can’t buy that they wanted realness because those fitted blazers, high hemlines and thigh-high socks would not fly at a real school.
The characters spend 80% of their screen time in uniform at school, making it pivotal to the show’s overall look and feel. But beyond Reece’s black bow tie instead of the regulation crossover, KB’s (I think) Stan Smith’s instead of Toughees and the few students with honours blazers, it’s all so… well, uniform. It doesn’t have to approach Gossip Girl ridiculousness but it should at least help us differentiate the main cast from the crowd and one another (Elite manages this balance the best of all teen dramas in my opinion).
There’s definitely something to be said about how South African schools use uniforms as the socio-economic equaliser, one of the characters running for Head Girl mentions it actually. But the show also keeps telling us that the most privileged kids get special treatment (otherwise, what is the point of Wendy, the little revolutionary, who wants to fight the system by… *checks notes* tearing down a fellow black girl student?). Why not drive the point home by letting the main characters deviate from regulation? These kids have some of the best lumbar support I’ve ever seen from a classroom chair and not even one person opts for a handbag instead of a backpack?
There aren’t any South African designers on these supposed rich people
Honestly, Fikile might actually be her mother’s daughter because they’re both disappointing. Mrs Bhele is the most powerful parent on the show but she can’t buy a closure for her sew-in?
This show has a Netflix budget and Netflix marketing and they couldn’t rustle up some high-end local designers at least for the richest women? David Tlale, Thula Sindi or Fabrosanz would’ve been great for the mom who for some reason can’t even shop in the nice department stores like Woolworths. And for such a bold, aggressive character she hardly wears any striking colours or prints.
KB is rapper/skater in 2020 but no one has told his wardrobe
His house is the best one we see – his bedroom features a magnificent beachfront view – and we’re supposed to believe he wears jorts to go see the girl he likes? No, no, no ma’am. No turkey, no ham. No.
I mean, I already wrote KB off as a charming loser after he makes that fake-deep comment about how lost his generation is and then rapped Puleng’s poem back to her like he did something, but I don’t think the show intentionally meant to make him look like undesirable. But in the skate spark scene, a place where he apparently spends so much time, he’s outdressed by all the extras. He’s a young black rapper and he doesn’t even wear a nice watch? Just a single gaudy chain and Vans. Which is so weird because the actor, Thabang Molabo, dresses exactly like what the KB character should be in real life.
There are some nicer choices, however, like Zama’s hairstyles and everything Rheece wears. It’s just not enough for me to not consider this whole show a write-off, sartorially anyway.
Let me know how you found anything and everything about the show and let’s get into these silly outfits! Stay safe, stay home and stay sane!