The Powerful Hidden Meaning Behind Eric’s Wardrobe In Sex Education
Costume designer Daniella Pearman says his identity is reflected through his clothes.
Spoilers ahead for Sex Education Season 4.
Before Sex Education officially bids its viewers adieu, it promises to leave on a high note — sartorially, that is. And that’s thanks, in no small part, to its costume designer Daniella Pearman, who signed onto the Netflix project for its fourth and final season.
In Season 4, which premieres Sept. 21, the Moordale kids have entered a new phase of their (sex) education: Cavendish Sixth Form College. The Cavendish students influence Eric to come into his identity and, in doing so, spread his sartorial wings. “It’s kind of, ‘Wow, I can be who I want to be and dress how I want, and there’s safe places to be who I want to be’,” Pearman tells Bustle.
However, the more Eric embraces his queerness (as represented by loud, vivid, peacocking clothes), the wider his identity chasm becomes. And that, Pearman explains, is directly represented through his wardrobe. “He does become more confident in how he dresses, which is a stark difference to how he feels he has to dress when he goes to church,” she says.
In addition to Eric, costuming for Maeve and even Otis visually clues viewers in on where each character stands in their narrative arc. Pearman says that with Maeve (Emma Mackey) “going to this university on scholarship to be studying with older students ... we did want to show that maturity through her costume.”
Below, Pearman talks more about styling characters to represent their internal growth.
How did you go about designing for the new kids at Cavendish?
[Cavendish College is] very forward-thinking, very green, very sustainable, very tidy. All the Cavendish lot were wearing sustainable clothes, stuff that was remade from recycled fabrics. We had a wardrobe for the [supporting artists] with quite a mix of stuff. We reused it each time on different people to look like they were clothes-swapping. I really tried to use smaller, more independent, sustainable brands where we could.
How do the new characters’ styles influence the original cast?
When [the Moordale kids] first get to the new college, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) becomes friends with the coven quite quickly. As Eric gets to Episode 3, there’s a turning point where the coven takes him to an amazing queer party, which opens up his eyes. They have an amazing try-on session and he goes up in there with so much confidence and love. After that, it’s kind of, “Wow, I can be who I want to be and dress how I want, and there’s safe places to be who I want to be.”
He does become more confident in how he dresses and how he wants to dress, which is a stark difference to how he feels he has to dress when he goes to church. So it’s kind of exploring what he’s going through with the dress he’s in.
Otis (Asa Butterfield), on the other hand, doesn’t really change because he doesn’t forge those friendships that Eric’s forging. He’s kind of transfixed with this conflict between him and O, he’s still mourning Maeve being away, and he’s looking after his mum and his little baby sister. So he’s not had a chance to evolve.
[With] Maeve going to America, she’s going to this university on scholarship to be studying with older students. So we did want to show that maturity through her costume — but keeping the essence of what Maeve's style was, kind of just grow it up a bit. And we changed the vintage jacket she wears, it's just a bit more of a mature style.
Jodie Turner-Smith also joins the cast as God. How did you go about dressing her character?
That was an amazing, amazing opportunity. She has different looks because God is morphing into all these different characters that Eric is bumping into and influencing [him] in his decisions. We had a homeless God. There was one that [was] in a hoodie and nicks his phone. And we had fisherperson God. So we had a few different looks for her, which was really good fun.
For the main God, we collaborated with designer Harris Reed. [He and Phoebe Briggs, the atelier’s Brand Director] were really excited about collaborating because they’re big fans of the show. And his designs totally fitted this amazing godlike character.
If you had to choose your favorite look from the season, what would it be?
The Harris Reed one was amazing. I think Eric has a few iconic looks that I’m really chuffed with. And his queer party look is incredible. He wears an amazing kilt we had made for him. He just rocked it. He rocks anything, but he looked incredible.
Also, I was a massive fan of the look he has in the fundraiser at the end in Episode 8. He wears an amazing vintage knots and crosses sequined jacket, which I just found in a vintage store in Manchester and I was like, “I've got to get that on someone.” And then I was like, “Who else but Eric?”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.