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Fleabag dressing: how the Phoebe Waller-Bridge character became a style inspiration

For all its gleeful bad taste, Fleabag has become ridiculously chic. The second series opened with Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the ladies’ loo of a smart, Ivy-ish London restaurant, wearing a truly excellent black evening jumpsuit. Clean-lined and long-legged with the kind of dramatically wide, daringly deep neckline that requires good posture and tape and a leap of faith, but is totally worth it. Instantly obsessed, I lost an hour that night, attempting to “source” said jumpsuit. I thought it might be the London label Galvan, which makes excellent jumpsuits and has dressed Waller-Bridge before, but it isn’t. I found someone on Twitter who thinks she bought that jumpsuit from Topshop in Manchester two years ago, at which point even I had to admit the fashion trail had gone cold.

Sixth-former chic and that unmistakable Mitford bob. Photograph: Luke Varley/BBC/Two Brothers

Fleabag is not an obvious style icon. Most of the time, series two so far sees her continuing to dress like a gawky sixth-former who no longer has to wear uniform but hasn’t really figured out what to wear instead and so ends up somewhere between a fifth-former and her middle-aged mum: girlish pinafore shapes, denim jackets, lots of opaque tights, lace-up shoes, stripy T-shirts, slightly A-line skirts in an officey above-the-knee length, half-empty tote bag bumping against one hip as she hares down the street. But none of this matters, because Waller-Bridge is one of those people who is glamorous in a way that transcends clothes. She is bewitching and beguiling. That unmistakable Mitford bob. The wide mouth made for lipstick. The supermodel height (5ft 11in). And let us not forget, in the age of Emily Maitlis, that Waller-Bridge has been nailing side-eye since 2016.

Kristin Scott Thomas in Fleabag. Photograph: Luke Varley/BBC/Two Brothers

The cans of gin and tonic with which Fleabag bonds with the hot priest are a nice touch, because cans of gin and tonic are her generation’s chardonnay. But even the undeniable (sorry, God, but it’s true) chemistry with the hot priest was overshadowed by the glorious scene in which Fleabag shares a flirty martini with Kristin Scott Thomas, a pairing that instantly knocked Lily James and Alicia Vikander’s Comic Relief wedding off top spot in this month’s sexiest potential lesbian encounters. Scott Thomas, in a powder-blue pussy-bow blouse, peg-leg dove-grey trousers and an oversized check blazer, was a cameo of shaken not stirred, martini-strength chic, but just one of a procession of fabulously dressed women over 45 in the supporting cast. Olivia Colman, peerless as the passive-aggressive wicked godmother, appeared to be channelling Gucci with her bright turban-headscarf for her and hubby’s engagement dinner. Fiona Shaw, as Waller-Bridge’s therapist, accessorised chic grey cashmere with this season’s It accessory, a silk foulard knotted at the throat.

Channeling Gucci: Olivia Colman. Photograph: Luke Varley/BBC/Two Brothers

For all her straight-talking, Fleabag is as much an enigma as that other Waller-Bridge creation, Killing Eve’s Villanelle. Is anyone else squinting at the necklace she wears, trying to figure out if it is an initial pendant, and therefore a clue to her name, which presumably isn’t actually Fleabag? The first scene of the new series, which saw our heroine wiping blood from around her mouth as calmly and serenely as if she were blotting her lipstick, framed Fleabag as closer to Villanelle’s sociopathic cherubim than we have ever seen before. The third episode opened with our heroine’s naked shoulders rising out of a bubble bath, movie-star style, as she flicked through the bible.

Waller-Bridge sparkles in Galvan at the Golden Globe awards, 2019 Photograph: David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

Off screen, Waller-Bridge has made some high-level fashion connections. Elizabeth Saltzman, who dresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Saoirse Ronan and last week was ranked as the 12th most powerful stylist in the world by Hollywood Reporter, is on board. For the Golden Globes, Saltzman dressed Waller-Bridge and the two Killing Eve actors in gowns by female designers, with Waller-Bridge in a foxy Galvan red sequin dress. “It was a real collaboration with both Elizabeth and Phoebe,” Galvan’s Katherine Holmgren tells me. “Phoebe loved that the red sequins looked – in Elizabeth’s words – like red-hot oil.” For other appearances, Saltzman’s styling for Waller-Bridge has had a tomboy edge. See: a navy velvet Bella Freud trouser suit, for the launch screening of the new Fleabag. “That’s my go-to: let the woman be louder than the dress,” was how Saltzman described her philosophy to Hollywood Reporter. Not that I can see that ever being an issue for Fleabag.

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