Palm Royale Fashion: Clothing Masks Reality on the Apple TV+ Show

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Photography courtesy of Apple TV+

The new series from Apple TV+ explores the wealthy — and duplicitous— world of Palm Beach. And fashion plays an integral role.

Warning: Contains minor spoilers for episodes 1-4 of Palm Royale.

They say clothing can tell you a lot about a person, but in Palm Royale, the new series from Apple TV+, it actually tells you literally nothing. Set in 1969 in Palm Beach, Florida and based on the 2018 novel Mr & Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel, the series follows Maxine Simmons (played by Kristen Wiig), a down-on-her-luck transplant via Tennessee and Georgia. Maxine is trying to find her way into the group of elite women that run the east coast enclave, comprised of Evelyn Rollins (Allison Janney), Dinah Donohue (Leslie Bibb) and a host of other women. Her way in? The Palm Royale beach club.

Shortly after scaling the wall of the elite club and sidling in the back door, a detained Maxine pleads her case to stay, emphasizing everything the storied institution has come to symbolize. “The Palm Royale represents safety in a rapidly changing world,” Maxine says. “Embodying that which is sacred; refined companionship, sanctity, and [a] deep heart conviction that beauty is not dead.” It’s a poetic framing of a club that, from the outside looking in, appears perfect, but as both Maxine and viewers will come to realize, is as a facade covering up the secrets and scandals in Palm Beach.

And the Palm Royale fashion does the same for its characters, with its sorbet swirl of patterns and textures splayed across 1960s silhouettes masking people’s true intentions — and realities.

Photography courtesy of Apple TV+

You see this right off the bat with characters like Janney’s Evelyn and Bibb’s Dinah. Meant to be the epitome of class in Palm Beach — both have been voted Volunteer of the Year, after all — Evelyn and Dinah lean into the classics with their clothing. Dinah, the wife of a sketchy ambassador, is often seen trotting around the club in cream shift dresses. channeling Jackie O as a way of conveying her class and social standing. Meanwhile, she’s having a longstanding affair and is madly in love with the Cuban tennis coach at the club.

And even feminist store book owner Linda (played by Laura Dern), isn’t 100 per cent authentic in how she presents herself either. Her love of loose denim, earth tones and turquoise cover up her own dirty little secret: She also comes from Palm Beach’s elite. (Along with her other, more deadly secret, to boot.)

Photography courtesy of Apple TV+

Despite the importance of the Palm Royale fashion, it’s ironically only when the women are unclothed, wrapped in towels in the club’s sauna, stripped of their sartorial trappings and at their most physically vulnerable, that they first allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable — or at least truthful. And in the world of Palm Beach, truthful means harsh. Relaxing after a round of tennis with Dina, Dina’s husband and Dina’s lover (it’s complicated), Maxine is confronted with what the women of Palm Beach *really* think of her, when Evelyn details that everyone assumes she trapped her husband into marriage with a fake pregnancy.

It’s a slap in the face for the former pageant queen, who, despite a chilly welcome, is still trying to see the best in her new set of friends; but it also serves as one of the most transparent moments at the start of the series, with Maxine and and her would be friends exposed for who they truly are.

That isn’t to say that the characters have to be naked for their intentions to be clear. Because if Palm Beach has taught us anything, it’s the harder you try to fit in, the more you’ll inevitably stand out.

Photography courtesy of Apple TV+

When we first meet Maxine, shortly after she’s scaled the back wall and finessed her way into the club, the club members can tell she didn’t come in through the front door, and she’s informed that her drink of choice (a Grasshopper) will be charged on credit. It’s not necessarily because of her small-town Tennessee accent or her almost toxic pageant-girl positivity (she is, after all, a three-time beauty queen), but rather what she chooses to wear. While the It girls of the Royale are donning designer, Maxine is always just a step behind the times, wearing girly (and sometimes almost infantile) Lily Pulitzer-style minidresses and kerchiefs that signal country bumpkin rather than society debutante.

It’s an apt depiction of Maxine’s own naïveté when it comes to the world of Palm Beach. Not to mention the fact that she’s running around town with a Gucci clutch from *gasps* the 1960s, something her new BFF Dina quickly shares is a dead giveaway. After asking if Maxine has enough money to afford the $30k club fees, Dina notes: “Your clutch is from Gucci’s 1960 collection. It’s lovely, certainly quality, but I’m sorry to say it gives you away.”

Photography courtesy of Apple TV+

There are, of course, two reasons for this: The fact that, as a recent transplant, Maxine can’t afford the designers du jour, and the very important fact that — at least in the first several episodes — she’s pilfering all of her outfits, jewels and bags from a comatose relative, Norma Dellacort. “Why don’t you have anything from this decade?” an exasperated Maxine asks the family matriarch, all before she borrows — and pawns — some of her priceless jewels (she’s going to buy them back eventually, she says, don’t worry).

This scrappy introduction is also what makes Maxine’s inevitable, if rocky rise, in the society ranks so exciting, and is symbolized through her own subtle yet impactful style evolution. As Maxine slowly finds her place among the society set and understanding the inner-workings of wealth, she maintains some of the youthful and naïve energy she brought from the South, setting herself apart from the deep purple and stark white preferred by her peers through saturated citrus colours.

By the time Maxine invites the ladies over for cocktails in episode three, decked out in a tangerine caftan (seriously to die for), it’s hard not to feel like she’s figured out this whole sophistication thing and come into her own.

Of course, this Palm Royale fashion evolution is once again a mask that only goes skin deep. Yes, Maxine is now rocking an Evelyn-esque outfit, a sign that she’s become more self-assured, but viewers know the truth. Her new designers clothes? She can’t actually afford them. Her chic cocktail hour? A haphazard fête thrown together with a $400 order of seafood, a budget table scape from a friend and hosted in a mansion she doesn’t actually live in. Or own.

As Palm Royale’s costume designer Alix Freidberg noted in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, despite adopting some of the trappings of the elite, Maxine is never fully able to get there — her sun hats *just* a little too wide, her skirts just a tad too short and her eagerness just always a bit too visible to ever truly fit in.

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t going to stop trying. Which means ever better — and more flamboyant — outfits to come. Here’s hoping.

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