In focus

Claudia Winkleman’s tartan goth Traitors style shouldn’t work – but it does

On paper, Winkleman’s idiosyncratic ‘Traitors’ wardrobe shouldn’t make sense – and yet it’s TV fashion gold. Katie Rosseinsky explores its unique appeal

Tuesday 09 January 2024 11:31 GMT
Winkleman’s ‘Traitors’ style is countryside chic with a twist
Winkleman’s ‘Traitors’ style is countryside chic with a twist (BBC)

Is my wardrobe crying out for a kilt? It’s not a question I thought I’d ask myself. But then I didn’t reckon on the Claudia Winkleman effect. In the second episode of The Traitorssecond season, the presenter strode into the breakfast room wearing a tartan pleated skirt in shades of green and navy, and I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since.

In theory, Winkleman should’ve appeared like she was cosplaying as a bagpiper or harking back to an old school uniform. And yet she didn’t – she looked incredible. But the presenter has form for pulling off looks that perhaps shouldn’t work, but undeniably do. Think of the eye-skimming full fringe. The thick eyeliner. The orange tan. If the rest of us tried to recreate this signature style, it’d probably raise eyebrows, or lead to pointed comments about whether we’d been on holiday recently. For Winkleman, though, it’s part of her unique appeal, making her one of the most recognisable women on British telly. She’s even joked that her distinctive look helped her build her career: “I used to get work because if you couldn’t remember a name, they’d say ‘That weird one with a fringe,’” she told The Times last year.

The first series of The Traitors debuted on BBC One back in December 2022, and became an unexpected ratings smash, pulling in an average audience of 5.4 million viewers per episode; overall, it clocked up 34 million viewers on BBC iPlayer. Winkleman is certainly a massive factor in its colossal popularity, and earned a Bafta for best entertainment performance for her presenting role (her fourth nomination and first win).

Yes, the backstabbing, betrayals and mind games that contestants ended up embroiled in made for addictive viewing – but so did Winkleman’s English heritage meets fashion-forward panto villain style. Dreamedup with the help of her long-time stylist Sinead McKeefry, who studied fashion at Central Saint Martins under the legendary tutor Louise Wilson and has previously worked at The Face magazine, Winkleman’s Traitors look reflected her new guise as the goth lady of the manor. Swapping the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom to stalk the corridors of a castle in the Scottish Highlands meant that sequins and smiles were out; in their place was knitwear so oversized it constantly seemed on the verge of engulfing the presenter (or at least teaming up with her famously vision-obscuring fringe to swallow up her face completely). The overall aesthetic was a clever “mixture of country style and dark glamour”, with a dash of Scandi noir (that’d be the jumpers) and TikTok-favoured dark academia, says Jennifer Richards, fashion academic and research tutor at the Royal College of Art.

Also on the agenda were tweed blazers and argyle checks, pussybow blouses and Barbour jackets, accessorised with an array of faintly villainous fingerless gloves (all the better for rubbing her hands together in glee when it all kicks off at the round table). Oh, and most of these outfits also looked good with a dark green hooded cape thrown over them, when Winkleman was communing with her “traitors” (ie the players tasked with eliminating their fellow contestants from the game, while pretending to be 100 per cent “faithful”) in the dead of night. Throw in the TV star’s heavy rings of eyeliner and trademark radiant fake tan (she once told The Mirror that she “feel[s] better when I’m orange” and has claimed that she used old tea bags and Bisto granules to get the glow when she was a cash-strapped student), and you have a look that definitely does not make senseon paper. And yet Winkleman pulled it off with aplomb every time – and made us want to dress like the mysterious owner of a haunted country pile, too. 

Winkleman has previously cited former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld as a style icon. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then,“her Traitors wardrobe perfectly blends a Parisian effortlessness with the structure and substance of haute countryside looks,” according to Krishan Parmar, a celebrity stylist who has worked with stars like Vicky McClure, Anita Rani and Lashana Lynch. Quiet luxury, he adds, has been a huge trend over the past year (in no small part thanks to Succession’s Kendall Roy and his obscenely priced baseball caps) “and Claudia has nailed this … but instead has tailored it to her surroundings in the Highlands”. Jennifer Richards agrees, pointing to Winkleman’s emphasis on “classic tailoring and timeless pieces” while she’s on the job. But while some of Winkleman’s clothes are from high end brands like Saint Laurent, she notes, they “can be easily replicated through simple silhouettes and high street dupes” – which makes them all the more appealing for those of us operating on a narrower budget. Similarly, McKeefry often finishes off these looks with accessories from high street brands, which “are far more accessible pieces for anyone to own”, adds Richards. 

The sartorial bar was pretty high for season two, but Winkleman and McKeefry have risen to the challenge. The first three episodes, which landed on iPlayer last Wednesday and played out on consecutive nights on prime-time BBC One, have been a real treat for fans of the presenter’s idiosyncratic fashion. 

Unique: Winkleman and her stylist Sinead McKeefry have created TV fashion gold (BBC/Studio Lambert/LLARA PLAZA)

So far, her outfits have spanned the high-low spectrum, from a £749 double breasted coat by luxury label Holland Cooper, previously worn by the Princess of Wales, to a pair of red leather fingerless gloves from Amazon. She’s teamed fair isle knits with checked trousers tucked into wellies – heritage brand Hunter is her usual go-to – like an impeccably turned out Mr Toad from The Wind in the Willows. (I assume that Winkleman wouldn’t be particularly fazed by this comparison, seeing as she previously summed up her season one Traitors look as “Princess Anne meets Ronnie Corbett meets Madonna when she married Guy Ritchie” – she and co-conspirator McKeefry know the value of an eclectic reference point). And her evening looks have had “a bit of a rock and roll edge”, like “the pairing of Dr Martens with her signature leggings and Saint Laurent blazer combinations,” notes Holly Macnaghten, a celebrity stylist who has worked with the likes of Bridgerton actor Regé-Jean Page and Everything I Know About Love star Emma Appleton. “It’s those slightly off-beat pairings that I think she and her stylist have really nailed.” 

Perhaps the biggest talking point, though, has been one standout outfit from episode two, when Winkleman wore a green mohair kilt from Scottish brand Brora (the one that inspired my feverish internet searches last week) with an oversized khaki cable knit sweater from the Japanese menswear label Kapital, a brand that is “quirkier in its approach” than her usual Traitors fare, says Richards. On each elbow was Kapital’s bright yellow smiley face logo, in lieu of a traditional leather patch. 

Unexpected: Winkleman’s looks often have a twist, like the smiley-face elbow patches on this jumper (BBC/Studio Lambert/LLARA PLAZA)

It immediately felt like a classic Traitors Claudia look: countryside chic, with a fresh spin. “I love how her looks this season feel totally location appropriate with strong nods to Scottish heritage throughout … but are all given a modern twist that feels cool rather than cosplay,” says Macnaghten. Viewers were obsessed too. Since 3 January, when the episode arrived on iPlayer, luxury fashion site Mr Porter has seen a 98 percent lift in searches for Kapital versus the previous week, with sales nearly doubling too. The khaki jumper sold out completely on the site after Winkleman wore it on the show, but it’s still available in brown. 

What’s particularly appealing about Winkleman’s Traitors look is that, as Macnaghten notes, it never feels like fancy dress – and although it’s full of nods to her Scottish backdrop, you can still feel her personality shine through as she leans into the show’s knowingly camp feel. “There is a playfulness to it – the pussy bows, the smiley faces,” says Parmar. “They prove that her style is serious, but it’s also about having fun.” A fashion icon who doesn’t take herself too seriously – no wonder we’re 100 per cent faithful to Winkleman’s style.

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