“California, Here we come!” It’s been 10 years since we heard the opening ode to the immortalized teen drama, The O.C., and yet the song still stirs up a lump in our chest. It was summer of 2003, when 26 year-old Josh Schwartz launched his fledging series – making him the youngest showrunner in network history.
The self-referential soap opera introduced the rest of the world to the private and pampered conclave of Newport Beach and the sarong-clad millionaires and trust fund kids that would dominate our pop culture for the next ten years. The O.C. captured the zeitgeist of the early aughts and all the archetypes that populated the privileged high schools of Southern California. What’s an adolescent drama without a jock, a nerd, a princess and a bad boy? But just as each character was more than just a checked box, so were the fashions and styles that embodied each cast member.
It was an innocent time; when argyle sweaters from Abercombie and Fitch were the epitome of fashion and class and it was socially acceptable to pair drawstring chinos with Chanel at will. Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) had enough Chanel bags to host her retrospective and she refused to buy into the whole “backpack” thing when it came to school accessories.
Her feminine style was always understated with a layered set of boho necklaces and a pair of sensible flats. No really, girl even paired haute couture with some hippie sandals to prom. We get it… you like to keep things casual. Then again, she is 5’9. While Marissa was certainly the clear trendsetter of the show and the proto-Blair Waldorf with her passion for accessories, her kryptonite would prove to be belts. One could make a drinking game with how many cringe-worthy belts were worn both by Marissa and her BFF, Summer Roberts. If you came of fashion age during the early 2000’s, you probably owned a macramé or scarf belt or two that you’ve since burned.
Speaking of Summer, Rachel Bilson still manages to look like her perky teenaged self to this day. Summer may have transcended her spoiled and shallow set-up, but her wardrobe still screamed Miss Popular. We loved Summer, but she was the unfortunate scapegoat for some of the worst trends of the time. See: cargo skirts, halter tops, peasant blouses, terry cloth everything, scoop necks, must we go on?
As the lovable and neurotic nerd on the show, Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) was the thinking woman’s heartthrob and appealed to those who preferred their teen crushes with a sense of humor and not so much brooding angst. Clad in an endless supply of straight-boy polos, Original Penguin and ironic t-shirts, Seth rarely appeared out of his uniform except during Chrismukkah. While Seth had the geek-chic look perfected, Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) was a horse of a different color. As the scruffy, outsider from Chino with a record, Ryan was committed to wearing his ribbed, white tank tops and leather jacket. Made with one part James Dean and another part Dylan McKay, Ryan dressed the bad boy part to a T.
As for the adults – it was a mix of form-fitting MILF fashions on Julie Cooper, stylish work wear for Kristen Cohen and a whirlwind of Eat, Pray, Love tunics. If Sandy Cohen’s eyebrows could be considered a fashion moment, they would be on display at the Met Costume Institute until this day. Though the fashions look dated now, no one can deny their place in television history or forget the Marc by Marc Jacobs sundresses we all lusted after.