It’s not often a TV channel can be credited with creating its own fashion “look” but, in the case of Fox News, fashion and style have become central to the broadcaster’s brand. The almost identical blonde, blow-dried hairstyles, worn with short sheath dresses and stilettos by the channel’s female anchors are also a key feature of Bombshell, Jay Roach’s biographical film, which opened in UK cinemas on Friday.
The film centres on accusations of sexual harassment levied at the former chief executive Roger Ailes by Fox News employees, while also depicting a toxic workplace culture imbued with sexism and secrecy.
Meanwhile the film’s wardrobe plays a crucial role in conveying its themes, with Bombshell’s costume designer, Colleen Atwood, having watched “tons of news footage” to ensure accuracy. This is a world where women bow to the male gaze.
Atwood’s recreation of the channel’s wardrobe reveals an array of similarly shaped dresses, push-up bras, control pants and heels. Charlize Theron, playing the anchor Megyn Kelly, is confined to tailored dresses and heavy makeup for her scenes at the studio, in stark contrast to her out-of-office looks.
According to Juliet Huddy, an anchor who has worked on shows including Fox and Friends and the Morning Show, the film’s fashion is “spot on”. “They absolutely got our appearances down perfectly, from the lip gloss to the clothing,” Huddy says. “The executives … understood the simple fact that TV is a visual medium, and the [viewer] demographic was overwhelmingly male. Hence, amping up the attractiveness level of on-air female talent by making them look like they were walking off a catwalk and into a studio. Glam but elegant.”
Courtney Friel, another former Fox News presenter and the author of Tonight at 10: Kicking Booze and Breaking News, says the network provided clothes as part of her $5,000 (£3,800) annual wardrobe allowance from brands including Diane von Fürstenberg, Milly, Chiara Boni and Karen Millen. “The Fox News woman is very put together. She’s professional, sexy and borderline pageant girl,” she says.
A preference for dresses and skirts is especially pertinent considering the channel’s infamous transparent desks, thought to have been installed to offer a better view of the female presenters’ legs.
Although ubiquitous, the apparent Fox News uniform is unofficial – something Bombshell’s anchors stress in the film. Fox News has also denied that presenters are given a dress code. Yet this does not mean presenters were necessarily given free rein over their looks.
“I was told ‘no pants’,” says Huddy. “I was pulled off the air and suspended for a few days because I wore a – what I thought was cute – denim jacket. We learned really quickly what was OK.”
Friel says she thinks she wore trousers twice on air in her six years at Fox News. “The legs needed to be featured,” she says. “And no orange. Roger Ailes hated that colour.”
The film follows the story of the real-life presenter Gretchen Carlson, who filed a lawsuit against Ailes for sexual harassment in 2016. Her character in Bombshell, played by Nicole Kidman, says in the film that the women presenting the news are encouraged to “dress the same so that we all remember that we’re replaceable”.
According to the fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell, this may not be the only reason women self-subscribe to unofficial workplace dress codes. “The sheer number of studies investigating the way a woman’s appearance might impact her career path is enough to tell you that sadly, compared with men, women have to jump through additional hurdles (or outfits) to climb the career ladder.”
Forbes-Bell describes the film’s scene in which an anchor switches to trousers as being “akin to a symbolic bra-burning” and says that, despite some modernisation, the rules of workplace dressing often remain steeped in sexism.
“The fact that some airlines still require female flight attendants to wear skirts, coupled with the [UK] government ruling that companies can force women to wear high heels, is evidence that this type of inequality is still rife,” she says.