The style icon everyone is talking about wears drab flannel shirts with flat shoes and crumpled jeans. She has frown lines and dark roots. She might wear mascara if she’s going out to eat but if she’s going to work she doesn’t bother. As a Pennsylvania detective in Mare of Easttown, the Oscar-winning actor Kate Winslet bucks the trend for high fashion on the small screen that has given us a string of glossy shows such as Succession, Queen’s Gambit and Halston, with a character whose unvarnished realness has hit a nerve.

A grizzled detective with a complicated personal life; a naked female corpse; a sleepy small town squirrelled with secrets. The set-up of HBO’s hit show, Mare of Easttown is familiar TV fare, but the transformation of serial Vogue cover star Kate Winslet into Mare Sheehan provides an unexpected plot twist. Nowhere to be seen are the blow-dries of Big Little Lies or the silk blouses and velvet coats of The Undoing. Instead, the first episode sees Detective Sheehan dressed in nondescript denim and sack-adjacent plaid, one woolly-socked foot up on her kitchen table, drinking a bottle of beer while using a bag of frozen oven chips as an improvised ice pack for a sprained ankle.

Dressing for comfort and utility: Mare of Easttown.
Dressing for comfort and utility: Mare of Easttown. Photograph: HBO

Winslet told the Collider entertainment website that at 45 she is “pleased and also proud that it’s my right to just look like shit on screen now … I don’t have the face or the body that I had 20 years ago, and that’s really OK.” This is classic self-deprecating Winslet; on screen she portrays Mare much more subtly. Winslet is still beautiful – and when it comes to Saturday night, Mare has a choice of dates to pick from – but Mare doesn’t prioritise her looks. She dyes her hair (you can tell by the brassy blonde lengths), just hasn’t got round to having her roots done. She doesn’t have Botox and her skin has a realistic wintry pallor. “It was very challenging to make Kate Winslet not look like Kate Winslet, because she’s so stunning,” costume designer Meghan Kasperlik told the Awards Daily podcast. “But I did a couple of fittings with Kate and as soon as we got this really generic T-shirt on her – a shirt that wasn’t appropriate for Hollywood standards and that Kate would never wear – it helped her feel the character.”

The Easttown of the show is a world where people dress for comfort and utility. Shopping trips are for essentials – pretzels and Rolling Rock beer – not for outfits. Loungewear means a faded T-shirt you barely remember buying and pyjama bottoms that have lost their top half. Sound familiar at all? After 14 months spent either in lockdown or its anxious shadow, many of us recognise this mindset. The clock has stopped and so the notion of new trends feels hypothetical, to put it kindly. The show is set in the immediate pre-pandemic world – Mare has a smartphone, and a vape – but the drab clothes and unshowy cars give it an out-of-time mood. It could be the 1980s midwest of Hill Street Blues, or the 1990s north-west of Twin Peaks. Time seems to stand still.

There were no Vogue tear sheets or vintage movie posters on Kasperlik’s mood board. She spent time in local convenience stores, taking photos of people “running in to get stuff on their way to work, or picking up a soda in their pyjamas”. Her proudest moment on the show was when a freelance costumer brought in to assist her couldn’t tell who was in the cast, and who were local extras. To stay true to the low-voltage aesthetic of the show, with many scenes shot outdoors at night or in dowdy interiors, she used texture rather than colour to add interest to Mare’s wardrobe. Cue lots of brushed flannel shirts, and puffer vests layered under waxed outerwear.

There is a scene from an early episode in which Mare finds herself holding a canape she doesn’t want to eat, so she wraps it in a napkin and slides it behind a sofa cushion. Not ideal – but, for anyone who has gone a little feral during lockdown, perhaps a little more relatable than it would have been in 2019. Mare’s life is one where bad things happen, and yet she keeps on getting the job done, keeps on putting one foot in front of the other. She might not be polished, or perfect, but she’s something better than that – she’s one of us.

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