Today I’m wearing an outfit that, to fans of Doctor Who, will look overtly inspired by Peter Capaldi’s interpretation of the title character. To non-Whovians it’ll look, perhaps, quite dandy and fashion forward – more at home in London, Paris, or New York than on the rainy streets of a rural town in Lincolnshire.
Interestingly, my obsession with Doctor Who fashion started with my introduction to the show. The first episode I watched was David Tennant’s first ‘proper’ outing as the 10th Doctor, 2006’s ‘New Earth’, the start of series two of the revived Doctor Who.
I was instantly obsessed with, not only the show as a whole, but the Doctor’s look. The effortless use of a slim fit suit, long coat, and knackered old Converse made him look deliberately anti-fashion. This was something that blew my tiny mind and inspired me to adopt certain aspects of his style into my everyday wardrobe – much to the delight of my fellow school pupils who saw anything out of the ordinary to be something entirely hilarious.
What started as a Tennant inspired look of Converse and loose ties soon turned to tweed
jackets and ankle boots as Matt Smith took over the mantle. Interestingly, I wasn’t the only person to adopt this style as the show moved forward. It had been reported in British press soon after the costume reveal that sales of bow ties had surged to a whopping 94% due to Smith’s young/old aesthetic.
Furthermore, the 11th Doctor is often thanked for almost single-handedly saving the tweed trade and revitalising an age old British industry.
Why then, is the Doctor still seen as something eccentric, quirky, or sometimes downright unfashionable? All of the actors to play him clearly care about their own dress sense and infuse an element of this into the character. For the mainstream media, bow ties, trainers with suits, battered leather jackets, and beyond may seem a little different to the status quo, but for a programme about a centuries old time travelling alien, that seems to fit the bill…
Not only has the Doctor pre-empted fashion trends, but each incarnation has also embraced the style of the present day for when his tenure was aired.
The first two Doctors seem to be less fashion conscious and more costume oriented; that is to say, they’re dressed in deliberately anachronistic or eccentric fashion – they’re meant to look out of place. However, from Jon Pertwee onwards we see a deliberate stylisation in the Time Lord.
The velvet jackets, Chelsea boots and ruffles all speak to the time in which Jon Pertwee was the Doctor – the early 1970s saw a return to neo-Edwardian opulence and dandyism. The use of costume helps Pertwee’s third Doctor look eccentric, but still deliberately on trend – this wasn’t a grumpy old man any more; here was a hipper Doctor for the more fashion savvy generation.
Moving forward to Tom Baker’s run on the show, the classical British tailoring mixed with a professorial quirkiness spoke to the Bohemian boom of the mid 70’s. This led to a generation of fans dressing in such a way that they’d be at home in Greenwich Village or Shoreditch. The style championed by Baker, though definitely out there, is as easily wearable today as it was in the 1970s – the true test of style is timelessness.
As Doctor Who moved forward into the 1980s there’s a definite shift from forward-thinking style to acknowledging the past and embracing the English charm at the heart of the show.
The rose-tinted spectacles used to find a look for Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor sees a return to the Edwardian influence with a healthy dose of Cambridge preppiness added for good measure. Again, though a quirky look overall, elements of the fifth Doctor’s look remain classic to this day – just look at the immense popularity of cricket jumpers – a garment which is trotted out every spring and autumn by designers such as Jack Wills, Joules, and Crew Clothing.
The sixth Doctor’s look is, perhaps, the only incarnation of the character with a look so deliberately hideous that it cannot be imitated without looking like a clown. This was a mindful move by the show-runners to help show this new incarnation’s alienating qualities. While a good idea on paper, many still truly hate the costume worn by Colin Baker in the show, most notably Baker himself.
Baker has actually gone on record as saying he’d campaigned for a costume more similar to Christopher Eccleston’s pared down outfit than the rainbow nightmare he was forced to sport. Baker was, at the time, incredibly well dressed and must’ve been frustrated to have to wear a costume that not only looked bad, but felt out of character for the performance he gave.
Once again the seventh Doctor embraced a 1940s influenced version of classical English tailoring; the details of his costume are many but harmonious and, overall, gives a unique, quirky, yet timeless version of an intellectual adventurer – a look that Smith would later reinterpret with his take on the Time Lord.
The eighth Doctor’s initial costume is exactly that; a costume the Doctor finds shortly after regenerating; I’d imagine this is a result of the American contingent trying to find a look which referenced the past and made it clear to foreign audiences that the Doctor was an eccentric. While this costume was only seen on screen it did, unfortunately, become synonymous with this incarnation of the Doctor until he appeared on our screens again in a more battle-scarred version in ‘The Night of the Doctor’.
The outfit worn by Paul McGann in the mini-episode is much more in keeping with the eighth Doctor’s personality and features an interesting mix of modern comfort and vintage fashion. While perhaps one of the least wearable looks the Doctor has sported, parts of McGann’s style can be easily adopted without looking garish.
Following the series revival the ninth Doctor’s stripped back and simplified look shows the mindset of the early noughties; less interested in affectations and more geared towards comfort, practicality, and simplicity. The ninth Doctor’s look was met with mixed reviews but is now accepted as one of the most interesting and unusual outfits worn by the Doctor – the lack of frills means that Christopher Eccleston’s performance really shines through and allows fans to adopt a look which is both timeless and comfortable without feeling costumey.
Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor is another interpretation many people complained looked too simple and boring. Following Matt Smith’s truly eccentric wardrobe, Capaldi’s look of a simple white shirt, cardigan, mid-length coat, and Doc Marten style boots was initially met with scepticism.
That said, one only has to look at how popular the style has become; many people have adopted this as a favourite look to cosplay and the his adoration for the ‘air tie’ (when one buttons one’s collar without wearing a tie or bow tie) is a very fashionable detail indeed.
Further to this, Capaldi himself is clearly very clothes-oriented in his everyday life and his own personal style has influenced the Doctor in several ways; most fans are aware that the (in)famous holey jumper worn by the 12th Doctor in various episodes originally belonged to Capaldi’s everyday wardrobe.
The more the Doctor, and the actors playing him, embrace the styles and fashions of the times we live in, and the more they allow their own personalities to shine through the costumes the more well-loved and well-remembered they are. The Doctor is a cultural icon, as synonymous with Great Britain as tea and crumpets – for centuries England has been a world leader in fashion, style, and tailoring and it makes sense that the Doctor should reflect this.
While there have been missteps along the way and while not every outfit is easily transferred to everyday life, the Doctor clearly keeps his finger on the pulse of fashion… and fashion often seems to take cues from the Doctor.
Perhaps the men’s fashion and Doctor Who have a silent yet symbiotic relationship where one cannot truly exist without the other? They both seem to reference one another in a back and forth that makes it difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins, and perhaps that’s why the Doctor can blend in no matter where in time and space he finds himself – timelessness, quality, and comfort are of the utmost importance for any man, Time Lord or otherwise.