meIt’s hard not to hate the characters of The White Lotus, the HBO show set in a fictional luxury hotel chain in Sicily for its second season. They are rich and almost all attractive, and yet miserable; an unbearable combination. Each week, viewers jump between who is the most insufferable guest. Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), the Gen Z assistant to Tanya, Jennifer Coolidge’s impeccable “psycho” boss, is at the top of many viewers’ lists. Fresh out of college, loud and addicted to social media doomscrolling, she feels relatable, if a little confused. Does he get his share of vitriol too? Portia’s wardrobe.
From the outset, Portia’s outfit makes her look out of place. Against the grandeur of the hotel he wears a knitted sweater vest covered in swans, paired with uncomfortable length denim shorts. Her look goes even further when she’s seen alongside her employer, Tanya, who’s wearing a fitted floral print dress by Dolce & Gabbana. Portia wears a backpack while Tanya carries the same bag throughout every episode, a bright pink Valentino shoulder bag with a noticeable gold logo.
Many of Portia’s pieces seem to be found on Depop or charity shops. Her sweater vest is from popular Instagram brand House of Sunny, a cord-dyed sweatshirt that reads “No Problem” is from Aries while she could have made her beaded jewelry herself. While this seems pretty typical of Gen Z, who are aware of where their clothes are made and care deeply about the environment, something about their looks just isn’t right. Also: Why was she wearing a sweater in the Sicilian sun?
TikTok pages for you are flooded with instructions on how to achieve the “clean girl” aesthetic: dewy skin, a sleek ponytail, and a capsule wardrobe that reflects it. Take Matilda Djerf, the wildly popular 25-year-old Swedish influencer with enviable hair (she has over 2 million Instagram followers) who couldn’t look past Portia’s loud and chaotic wardrobe. Portia doesn’t have simple staples, the beiges and neutral tones that you can match with anything. It has contrasting elements and seems to just put them together. This is how she got her signature look, worn the first time she meets Jack (Leo Woodall) in the hotel bar: a zebra-print bikini and a Technicolor bolero.
So why is she dressed like that? One answer is that it is a fictional show and these are costumes chosen by a costume designer. Then there’s the divide between accuracy and what works on TV. Compared to the show’s other female characters, particularly Daphne (Meghann Fahy) and Harper (Aubrey Plaza), who while not much older than her seem to dress according to the resortwear section of high-end brands, she is the antithesis of luxury. Although the clothes Portia wears are not cheap (both the House of Sunny and Aries pieces are over £100), they suggest that she is the one who works for someone rich.
Unsurprisingly, people on social media (myself included) have been analyzing what women wear for years, but barely mentioned men. Albie (Adam DiMarco), Portia’s fling at the start of the trip, is also fresh out of college, but his outfits haven’t sparked the same outrage. When men don’t have their tops off, Hawaiian shirts and pool shorts get pretty boring. Maybe we are not talking about them because there is nothing to say?
If you’re the product of a purported digital native generation, whose style derives from TikTok trends, since when did the algorithm spit out ill-fitting clothes with clashing colors and patterns? The answer is that it isn’t, but the lack of a distinct style is basically the point.
Portia’s dress sense seems a little off and you get the idea that she might feel that too. She doesn’t know herself yet. Her crochet fisherman hat and pearl choker make her feel fun and free, but she also tries to scream, a little too loud, I’m not like you.
He is at that crossroads in life where the structure of education has disappeared and he is left with the prospect that working for someone like Tanya could be his future. It’s something that a Gen Z viewing audience will be able to relate to. So, she uses her clothes to try to assert herself, to show that she’s different in some way (even if her actions suggest otherwise) in a “pick me up” kind of way.
So what should I wear? If we saw her in a neutral Skims dress (the brand owned by Kim Kardashian), Portia would look more obviously Gen Z, but it wouldn’t really suit her character. She may not look typical of her generation, but when she’s wrong, she doesn’t feel like her either. As for jumpers in the heat, that’s bad packaging.