Nearly two decades after its original run, the beloved American sitcom “Frasier” has been resurrected by Paramount+, and the actor Kelsey Grammer slipped right back into character with all the charm that endeared him to audiences throughout the 1990s.
In the original show, which first aired in September 1993, the character Frasier Crane, a radio psychiatrist, navigated the delicate balance between his blue-collar father, who had worked in law enforcement, and his academic brother. A product of Harvard and Oxford, Dr. Crane possessed a deft understanding of the nuances of elitism, even if he was unable to fully fit in. Beneath his veneer of sophistication, a profound yearning for acceptance simmered — one that was often expressed in his clothing choices.
Dr. Crane wore knitted vests, striped button-down shirts, paisley ties, and brown cap-toe derbies like those made by the New England shoemaker Alden. It was a look imported from Britain and popularized in the United States through elite shops like Brooks Brothers, who dressed blue-blooded WASPs, privileged Ivy League graduates, and members of the professional-managerial class for much of the 20th century.
Over time, Dr. Crane’s wardrobe sustained subtle modifications: his lapel notch drifted southward thanks to the pervasive influence of Giorgio Armani, for example, but his aesthetic remained tethered to the lifestyles of Boston Brahmins and blue-blooded intellectuals.
In the 2023 reboot, Dr. Crane has undergone a more profound makeover. Having spent the last few decades in Seattle, he returns to Boston to reconcile with his estranged son, Frederick. But life in the Northwest has changed him — a shift indicated by his outfit when arriving back in Boston: trim, Italian-made jeans, APL’s Techloom Wave sneakers, and a sleek, high-collar jacket with snap buttons. Later, he’s outside his son’s apartment in a plaid shirt (no tie) and a quilted wool vest, much like those favored by current-day finance and tech bros. His updated wardrobe evokes the “quiet luxury” of high-end Italian brands often seen on HBO’s “Succession.”
That such a fastidious character would opt for trim jeans and sneakers, not to mention a backpack (albeit a high-end leather version), has left some devoted followers questioning the show’s wardrobe department. Rebecca Alter, a staff writer at Vulture, posted on X, formerly Twitter, that seeing Frasier Crane in jeans is “so perverted it’s honestly disgusting.” On a subreddit dedicated to the show, one user posted, “The costume department just doesn’t understand how Frasier dresses.”
But these wardrobe choices were meticulously considered. Producers Chris Harris and Joe Cristalli wanted the audience to get a sense of how Dr. Crane had evolved since they last saw him.
“In the intervening years, Frasier has had some big successes. As Kelsey described, ‘He’s unbuttoned the top button of his shirt a little bit,’” Mr. Harris said.
Meanwhile, though some of Dr. Crane’s aspirations remain unchanged, elite attire has undergone a transformation. “He’s changed with the times, and times are now more causal,” said Lori Eskowitz-Carter, the show’s costume designer.
Dr. Crane’s contemporary wardrobe skews less highbrow and more middle-class because the wealthiest, most powerful people in America (men like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tim Cook) now dress almost indistinguishably from their employees. Their status is telegraphed not through bespoke suits, but through modes of consumption for which there is no imitation (mansions, private security and luxury cars).
In the 1980s, cultural capital may have meant being able to “pass” at a “Paris Review” soiree and hold a conversation with a fusty George Plimpton about art and literature. Today, it’s, “talking about Danish restaurants with Chris Sacca on his private plane,” said David Marx, author of “Status and Culture,” a book about how our pursuit of status shapes our cultural consumption and production.
“Crane’s clothing evolution is a very accurate marker of how aspirational taste in the United States has changed in the last 40 years,” Mr. Marx said. “New money today dwarfs old money. You could I.P.O. your tech start-up and make more money than any trust fund kid would see in their lifetime. Old money’s influence on society today is incredibly weak, so the original set of aesthetics associated with that group has been detached from power and now exists as pure fashion.”
The newly introduced character of Alan Cornwall, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, channels the original Frasier style. Dr. Cornwall is a lazy Harvard professor who wears brown corduroy jackets finished with leather-wrapped buttons, Shetland V-neck sweaters, wool neckties, English cardigans, and brown leather shoes. His silhouette is dated — the jackets are a little more padded, a little longer, and a little fuller across the shoulders — as opposed to the trim and short suit jacket Dr. Crane wears to a gathering for the Founder’s Society, an elite club of Harvard faculty. They’re friends, but they’ve got different aspirations. Dr. Crane still aspires to ascend the social hierarchy, while Dr. Cornwall already has and can focus on malt whiskeys and his cat.
Perhaps Dr. Crane would have looked more stylish in a slightly updated version of his original wardrobe — trimmer sport coats worn with whipcord trousers, suede tassel loafers, and merino turtlenecks — which would have earned him praise on men’s wear blogs. But like them or not, $250 knitted sneakers are more accurate than gabardine and cavalry twill for the 2023 version of his character. The world has changed — and so have the strivers.