It’s hard not to hate the characters in The White Lotus, the HBO show set in a fictional luxury hotel chain in Sicily for the second season. They are rich and almost all attractive, and yet miserable; an unbearable combination. Each week, viewers jump between who the most insufferable guest is. Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), the Gen Z assistant to Tanya, Jennifer Coolidge’s impeccably played “psycho” boss, is top of many viewers list. Just out of college, whiny and addicted to doomscrolling on social media, she feels relatable, albeit a bit confused. Also receiving its share of the vitriol? Portia’s wardrobe.
From the outset, Portia’s clothes make her look out of place. Against the grandeur of the hotel she wears a knitted sweater vest covered in swans, paired with awkward length denim shorts. Her look jars even further when viewed alongside her employer, Tanya who wears a tight fitting floral printed dress from Dolce & Gabbana. Portia uses a backpack while Tanya carries the same bag throughout each episode, a bright pink Valentino shoulder bag with a noticeable gold logo.
A lot of Portia’s pieces look like they were found on Depop or from charity shops. Her sweater vest is from the popular Instagram brand House of Sunny, a tie-dye sweatshirt reading “No Problemo” is from Aries while she could have made her beaded jewellery herself. While this seems quite typical of Gen Z, who are conscious about where their clothes are made and care deeply about the environment, something about her look is not quite right. Also: why was she wearing a jumper in the Sicilian sun?
TikTok for you pages are flooded with instructions on how to achieve the “clean girl” aesthetic – dewy skin, a slicked back ponytail and a capsule wardrobe that reflects this. Take Matilda Djerf, the incredibly popular 25-year-old Swedish influencer with enviable hair (she has more than 2 million Instagram followers) who couldn’t look further from Portia’s loud and chaotic wardrobe. Portia doesn’t have plain staples, the beiges and neutral tones that you can pair with anything. She has contrasting items and seems to just put them together. That’s how she achieved her signature look, worn the first time she meets Jack (Leo Woodall) at the hotel bar: a zebra print bikini and Technicolor bolero.
So why is she dressed like this? One answer is, it’s a fictional show and these are costumes chosen by a costume designer. Then there’s the split between accuracy and what works on television. Compared with the other female characters on the show, particularly Daphne (Meghann Fahy) and Harper (Aubrey Plaza), who though not much older than her seem to dress according to the resortwear section of high end brands, she’s the antithesis of luxury. Though the actual clothing Portia wears isn’t cheap – both House of Sunny and Aries pieces cost over £100 – they do suggest she’s the one working for someone rich.
Unsurprisingly, people on social media (myself included) have spent ages dissecting what the women wear, but have barely mentioned the men. Albie (Adam DiMarco), Portia’s fling at the start of the trip, has just finished college, too, but his outfits haven’t sparked the same outrage. When the men don’t have their tops off, the Hawaiian shirts and pool shorts get quite boring. Maybe we’re not talking about them because there’s nothing to say?
If she is the product of a digitally native generation she purports to be – whose style stems from TikTok trends – since when is the algorithm spitting out poorly fitting clothes with clashing colours and patterns? The answer is, it’s not – but her lacking a distinct style is basically the point.
Portia’s dress sense seems a bit lost and you get the idea early on that she might be feeling that, too. She doesn’t really know herself yet. Her crocheted bucket hat and pearl choker are what make her feel fun and free but also try to scream, a little too loudly, I’m not like you.
She is at that crossroads in life where the structure of education is gone and she’s left with the prospect that working for someone like Tanya might be her future. It’s something a Gen Z audience watching will be able to relate to. So, she uses her clothes to try to assert herself, to show that she is somehow different (even if her actions suggest otherwise) in a “pick me” sort of way.
So what should be wearing? Had we seen her in a neutral Skims dress (the brand owned by Kim Kardashian), Portia would look more obviously Gen Z, but it wouldn’t really have fitted her character. She might not look like she’s typical of her generation, but in getting it all wrong, she doesn’t feel like she is either. As for the jumpers in the heat, that’s just poor packing.