As she gains power, her outfits become more and more sterile. Where did things go wrong?
Of all the questionably dressed and terribly behaved characters in Succession, nobody has undergone appearance-based scrutiny quite like Shiv Roy.
The youngest child and sole daughter in the Roy family, played by Sarah Snook, has become the sartorial centrepiece of the HBO drama, which doubles as a case study of the ultra-rich. As she and her brothers fight for power within the media conglomerate Waystor Royco helmed by their father Logan Roy (Brian Cox), her tailored suits, neutral colour palette and streamlined silhouettes have become a standard uniform, inexplicably void of personal expression.
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Case in point: the fourth and final season of Succession premiered on March 26, and Shiv Roy spent the episode in a simple brown pantsuit. More specifically, costume designer Michelle Matland put her in a blazer layered atop a bodysuit and drawstring pants. As it turns out, this subdued look is the culmination of Shiv’s rocky emotional arch.
Back in season 1, Shiv is the outlier of the Roy children. She’s working for a progressive political campaign and has seemingly no interest in the family business. Her long, wavy red hair complements her warm autumnal wardrobe, and she wears oversized sweaters, ponchos and statement patterns.
When she does dress up, it’s similarly lax: partly buttoned-down blouses for corporate attire and pin-up vintage hairstyles with bold lips for high-brow family events. Day-to-day, her penchant for soft hues and comfortable fabrics make up a distinctly informal — if not sometimes messy — personal style. At this point, she seems to be the only one in the family with morals, and unlike her brothers, her appearance is peppered with personal touches. Until it isn’t.
Succession season 2 sees Shiv Roy go from looking vaguely approachable to utterly untouchable. She’s now in the running to take over her father’s billion-dollar business, and this newfound corporate competitiveness is mirrored in her outward expression. Her loose waves are chopped into an angular bob. Her shapeless sweaters are traded for chic turtlenecks and monochrome grey pantsuits. Although decidedly muted, her clothes get more expensive as she opts for Ralph Lauren, MaxMara and Armani. She’s competing as a woman in a male-dominated environment, and with her gender deemed a downside by her father, there’s an intentional touch of masculinity infused into her wardrobe.
As the story progresses, her style mimics the show’s air of cutthroat ambition. There’s an antiseptic bluish tinge that covers the corporate office environments. Everything feels cold, washed out and uncomfortable. When it comes to fashion, any mark of personal expression is seen as a weakness. (A recognizable brand logo or pattern is basically blasphemy.) The point is not to stand out, but to suppress. And this is evident with Shiv’s constant belittling of her husband, Tom, who does not come from the same generational wealth. The more she rises through the ranks of Waystar, the worse this relationship becomes.
Take season 3, when Shiv is deep in vicious family-business conflicts. Her monotonous suits act as an armour of strength, but her inner dissatisfaction emerges in notable moments. While in Italy for her mother’s wedding, for instance, Shiv looks purposely out of character in a revealing turquoise halter dress. “Through her clothing, she is not-so-silently signalling her sexuality and frustration with her relationship to Tom,” Matland told W. And by the end of the season, Tom betrays her by telling Logan about her plans to form a coup against him.
Cut to season 4, and Shiv Roy is arguably the most miserable — and powerful — version of herself yet. In episode 1, she and her brothers win a tense bidding war against their father over a major acquisition. It’s a business triumph, yes. But deep down, Shiv is unhappy.
From afar, the aforementioned brown outfit fits her impenetrable powerful image. But thanks to details like an expandable waistband and stretchy top, it’s a little different. Towards the end of the episode, Shiv reveals she doesn’t have access to her full closet because she’s staying in a hotel while separated from her husband. When she briefly goes home to pick up some clothes, she trades her blazer for a creamy white cardigan as she and Tom agree that their marriage is over for good. This cozy garment is something season 4 Shiv would likely never wear at work, but in a moment of private vulnerability, her soft side comes out.
As she enters season 4 battling against her father and feeling more alone than ever, Shiv Roy’s sense of style is vague, forgettable and purposely elusive. To her, personal expression doesn’t matter, because people don’t really matter.
Is there any redemption for Shiv yet? We’ll have to keep watching to find out.