The Quiet Fashion Revolution In The Real Housewives of New York

The Real Housewives of New York have given so much to the world: Dorinda Medley’s “Not well, bitch” catch phrase; Ramona Singer yelling “Elegance and class! Where did it all go?” while dressed in Holly Golightly-ready pearls and a little black dress; Bethenny Frankel, to name a few. So, when the new cast of the franchise — now entering its 14th season — was announced back in 2022, it promised to deliver fresh air to a show plagued by 2000s socialites, near-royalty members, and the occasional Candace Bushnell appearance. 

The show — out July 16 — includes cast members Sai De Silva, a New York-raised content creator; Erin Lichy, a luxury real estate agent; Jessel Taank, a fashion publicist and brand consultant; Ubah Hassan, model and philanthropist; Brynn Whitfield, a communications specialist; and Jenna Lyons, former J.Crew creative director and founder of eyelash company LoveSeen. Lyons was perhaps the biggest surprise in the bunch. As The New York Times later noted, Lyons is an “unlikely housewife.” Not only is she the first-ever gay cast member in the franchise’s history, but Lyons has built a public persona that’s far from the drama-ridden world of the Bravo show. 

Moreover, with her high-low mix of ball gown skirts and denim shirts, Lyons’ style is worlds apart from the glamorous, label-flashing fashion often seen on The Real Housewives. “The producers and Andy have been really supportive of me being myself,” Lyons tells Refinery29. “The show has had a very distinct look and feel, historically. It still does have a very classic, sexy, very sparkly look, it’s just not who I am.”

Since premiering in the early 2000s, Housewives fashion has grown as wild as the on-screen storylines. What started as a reality TV show depicting the lives of ultra-rich women in Orange County, California, has evolved into a glitzy universe with elegant dresses, monogram sweatsuits, and plenty of metallic heels. It’s rare to see housewives appear on reunion shows without a few extra pounds of feathers, sequins, or rhinestones (The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Erica Girardi wore a tiara-looking hair comb with a mirror-embellished mini dress by Retrofête for the show’s season 12 reunion). Meanwhile, opening sequences are often color-coded to match the franchise’s aesthetic. Salt Lake City, for example, has stayed with an icy palette of silver, black, and pale nudes throughout its three seasons to match the region’s snowy landscapes.  

But, with the RHONY reboot, the sartorial rules have been thrown out the window — or, at least they’re starting to shift. Sure, the official cast photo features some heavy silver metallic pieces, which is not a grand contrast between the rest of the Housewives universe. Sai De Silva is wearing a bodycon dress and Ubah Hassan is in a cut-out gown. There’s also Brynn Whitfield in a pearl-encrusted top and maxi skirt, while Jessel Taank is wearing a black gown with embellished cut-outs. But then quiet disparities appear. Erin Lichy is wearing a black strapless mini dress, sober by Housewives standards and Jenna Lyons is in a white cropped shirt and black trousers, about as far from the franchise’s sartorial playbook as you can go. 

When the show’s opening dropped last week, the all-black looks were kept in line with past seasons, yet there was still a fashion spin that pushed against the sartorial stereotypes created by the franchise. Lyons sported a black suit with an asymmetrical tube top and matched them with sneakers, a shoe rarely seen in Housewives history. De Silva replaced the expected dress with a corset and a leather pencil skirt, giving a high fashion twist to Housewives glamour. Taank kept her look in line with the official all-black New Yorker uniform via a long-sleeve maxi dress that was only heightened by gold accessories, like the Manhattan skyline on a dark night.

It’s perhaps the first peek at a Housewives franchise that is looking to evolve the very concept it’s championed for decades. I say this to people all the time, and I guess this pertains to fashion as well, but we’re all very different,” Lichy tells Refinery29. “I think what’s interesting about that is there’s going to be something for everyone.”

But what does that mean fashion-wise? “Sometimes my style can be on trend and the next minute it can be something that is only out of my comfort zone,” De Silva says of her fashion choices in the show, which include a velvet black strapless dress with asymmetrical neckline and a denim corset-like top. For Lichy, the transition to television has been about giving viewers a more relatable version of the New York lifestyle. “I don’t know if it [my style] changed that much for me just because professionally I have to look good anyway when I’m showing apartments,” the real estate agent says, adding that there are also moments when she looks like “a bum.” Meanwhile, Lyons says: “My looks are far from sparkly and I’m definitely not naked.”

There’s a quiet insurgence within the fashion choices in the show, and Lyons is its leader. One of Lyons’ confessional looks, for example, features her wearing a neck tie and pearl necklace, exhibiting just how much her presence in the show is changing Housewives standards — at least, fashion-wise. And the rest of the cast seem on board with following her lead. “This is definitely a new era,” says De Silva. “We’re just being ourselves, and this is a completely different show.”

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