@everyoutfitinlivingsingle pays respect to the Black style legacy of the iconic 90s show
The ultra-fashionable sitcom has a second life on Instagram, finally receiving the appreciation it couldn’t get from mainstream media at the time.
When Living Single first aired in 1993, it quickly established itself as a staple of Black television. The brainchild of screenwriter Yvette Lee Bowser, the show detailed the lives of a group of friends living in Brooklyn as they dealt with all the ups and downs of city life as young adults.
Featuring Queen Latifah and Erika Alexander amongst its title cast, viewers immediately took to the show’s cast of personable characters. At the core of these vivid personalities were distinct senses of style, which artfully reflected the intricacies of each character. Legendary costume designer Ceci (who also famously worked on Sister Sister and A Different World) took on advice and worked collaboratively with the cast to craft the characters’ enviable on-screen looks, which inspired generations of emulators for decades afterwards.
23-year-old Fabiola Ching had been a long-time lover of Living Single and, in 2018, decided to begin documenting its fashions through a digital screencap archive. “I re-watch the show at least three times a year, so it was only fitting,” Fabiola says. “My eyes are always roaming up and down the characters' outfits and around the apartment. There’s a lot to take note of when you watch it, so you’re almost compelled to take a picture.”
The account, @everyoutfitinlivingsingle, also exists to credit Yvette's production where it hasn’t been honoured by the mainstream. Living Single has long been clouded by controversy regarding the appropriation of its format. Allegedly it served as the inspiration behind mega-hit sitcom Friends. According to cast members, in the months after Living Single’s launch, NBC verbally expressed interest in the show -- it was one of the highest-rated programmes on FOX. By 1994, the network had unveiled Friends, instantly raising eyebrows with its comparable characters, New York setting and similar core story.
Since then, the Living Single cast members have been vocal about observed similarities with members sharing candid commentary on the journey of the two shows, and how their creation was pushed out of the limelight, receiving considerably less marketing and promotion budgets. To some, the Friends and Living Single story remains an example of the ongoing effects of whitewashing in popular media, in particular, how it tends to relegate Black stories to the sidelines. But fans like Fabiola are working hard to make sure the creativity and brilliance of the show doesn’t go unappreciated. Here, we caught up with Fabiola about her enduring love of the show, its style highlights, and its rich and complicated history.
What do you like best about the style and costume design on the show?
It’s intricate, colourful, communal and very fun. The details are insane -- like Kyle’s frequent nods to Moshood, Khadijah’s collection of HBCU merch, Sinclair’s tight-ass skinny braids. The way certain pieces of jewellery get shared amongst the cast so you can see the female characters wearing the same piece in different episodes, like they really do live together! And the times we see Max with her braids in an up-do and her undercut peeking out; it was insane seeing her wearing this look in the office with a staunch suit-set. I’ve always been obsessed with strict-ass women so seeing that for the first time made me want to shoot out of my body.
Which character do you think is the best dressed and why?
I’m very partial to Maxine Shaw because her suits are as sharp and blunt as she is as an attorney, but her non-work clothes are muted whilst being fun, homely, lax, and boyish -- the way she is when she’s at Khadijah’s. However, I have a special place in my heart for Khadijah because she’s the ultimate soft butch heartthrob in her jerseys, key necklaces and silver jewellery.
Why do you think the style on Living Single has resonated so much with people online even today?
While style is generally cyclical, I think the style and context in the show is something timeless and can be referenced whenever. But I don’t know what other show has shown young Black 20-somethings in this very light, airy, fashion-filled atmosphere. The looks are fun and true to their time, every character in the show has a style story that they stick to, and the dialogue and dynamics sort of rely on these looks. They’re not just wearing clothes that are trendy, they’re giving you something you can feel.
What are your thoughts on the controversy between Living Single and Friends?
It’s not so much a controversy as it is a fact, right? I don’t think there’s anything to be discussed except how the cast and crew of Living Single should be compensated with reparations, maybe from the Friends cast since they like to act like they didn’t know. They should be given the flowers that they deserve, perhaps in the form of a spin-off show about Max and Khadijah back in their college days being rude to men, but that’s just an idea!
While Friends has received large mainstream recognition, Living Single is often regarded as a cult classic in comparison. What are your opinions on the difference in recognition the two shows have received?
It’s unfair because one’s deserving and the other’s simply not on par, but what can you do? Besides, when I’m on streaming sites I go straight to the cult section because most of the mainstream shit is bad, so really who’s losing here? I’m glad that as of this year, more people have hit me up to tell me how much they love this show and how they can’t believe they didn’t know about it. I don’t know what can be done about the past, but today you’re not allowed to ignore good things made by Black people unless you want to repeat history.
Do you think Living Single has adequately received its dues in terms of appreciation from viewers? Would you say your account serves as a way of correcting its erasure in the mainstream?
I know that those who watch the show appreciate it and I’m hoping that the account serves as a way to adequately honour it. But there’s always more we can do, and more thanks we can give. I’ve been thinking about interviewing Ceci herself, some of the set designers and crew who contributed to the overall look of the show, but I think archiving is a good place to start.