I was recently interviewed for this Racked piece by Lauren O’Neal on the fashion of Betty Cooper as styled on CW’s Riverdale (versus her comic book legacy).
Since no normal person would write—or think—this much about a fictitious heroine’s costume design, please enjoy.
Archie’s Tomboy Cutie
Because Archie Comics were dirt cheap, I used to pick them up at the grocery store and whip through them on the car ride home or while I was supposed to be unpacking groceries. I grew up with a stack of Archie comics as high as my Babysitters Club collection—they were my go-to read between longer novels. Much like BSB’s squeaky-clean, obnoxious environmentalist Dawn Schafer, I vibed hard for Betty Cooper.
Betty was a serious student who wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, whether it was volunteering as a candy striper, competing in school sports, doing yard work, or fixing up cars. She was also a dedicated diarist, and as someone who chronicled their misspent youth to an embarrassing degree, I related to her fondness of journaling the mundanities of Riverdale life.
Betty effortlessly pivoted on her tomboy aesthetic whenever she hung out with Veronica—I’d estimate about 80% of Betty and Veronica’s plot lines involve shopping excursions, much to the vexation of Daddy Hiram Lodge.
In the comics, Betty Cooper is a real babe, inside and out. Her thick blonde ponytail is fringed by deliciously fluffy bangs that frame her thick, cat-eyed liner.
She alternates between pigtails, top knots, and ponytails throughout the comics, but her real staple is a healthy, full-bodied pony.
In the 80s and 90s, Betty wore heaps of bellbottoms—jeans, cords, polyester with pleats—often with a chunky clog. She pairs slouchy sweaters with even slouchier socks.
Betty wears outfits with a playful spin; colourful overalls with ring-tee crop tops and kerchiefs (which has permanently convinced me to keep trying to make kerchiefs happen, even though they’re never going to happen for me), loose white oxfords with hot pants and pan boots, slim-fitting crewnecks tucked into high-waisted jeans.
Her footwear consists of ballet flats, booties, white sneakers, and slouchy riding boots, as opposed to Veronica’s all-weather preference for stilettos. You can imagine Betty wiping axel grease on her jeans, slamming the car hood down, ruffling her bangs, tightening her ponytail, and running off to babysit in any of her outfits.
Betty and Veronica could be sporting Bavarian dirndls in one storyline and Diane Keaton hat-driven ensembles in another… a parade of crocheted bikinis with bizarre translucent coverups, or beat poet turtlenecks with funky-junky sunglasses.
I can’t even.
Their fashion was always changing and always on trend, if not incredibly ahead of its time.
The full page pin-ups were always my favourite feature of Archie Comics, because they were essentially a series of character sketches—they turned Betty and Veronica into America’s best dressed women.
I didn’t give a damn about Archie—his sole existence was just a reason for them to keep buying clothes.
Her outfits really highlight her playfulness above all—many of Betty’s outfits incorporate clashing primary colours, insane patterns, and excessive layering with tights, jackets, and knee high socks.
Because Betty and Veronica’s outfits draw from so many eras, it never feels like you’re staring into a dusty time capsule.
Riverdale’s Ratchet Betty Draper
On Riverdale, Betty is portrayed as an Adderall-popping perfectionist who rarely lets her hair down, literally or metaphorically. It’s been ten years since I was a teenage girl, but I can’t imagine it’s easy. If Betty is still supposed to be the girl next door, she certainly doesn’t dress like it. The show has gone to great lengths to show us the interchangeability of the Cooper women’s wardrobes, even putting Polly in one of Betty’s sweaters in one episode.
Betty doesn’t look so much like the girl next door, as she does the helpless girl pinned under her mother’s thumb, forced to wear clothing so baggy and shapeless that it fits her pregnant sister.
Let’s not even talk about this disaster.
Betty is defined by lukewarm pastel sweater sets, forgettable pan collars, and severe ponytails reminiscent of the glued-down hairspray techniques of stage moms. She has the most ill-fitting undergarments of any major character I’ve seen on television.
“Save my boobs”
She lacks any interesting embellishment—minimal brands, frills, embroidery, or distressing. Often, the most interesting elements of her outfits boil down to the braided weave of her crewnecks. The closest Betty comes to statement dressing is in a recent episode, where she wears a thin grey sweater with a gold Basquiat-inspired crown. It is a rare departure from her usual uniform of sad pullovers.
Betty wears a signature piece of jewelry—a small silver key on a delicate princess-length chain. Is this just sentimental teenage jewelry, or a sloppy red herring to the central mystery of the show—that Betty Cooper is the key to it all?
On the show, Betty is portrayed as having a quiet strength with a darkness inside. None of that is evident in her wardrobe. In terms of characterization, she has an unquenchable curiosity and a desperate thirst for knowledge that makes her do bad things… and also makes her the perfect baby journalist for the Blue and Gold student newspaper.
So why is she dressed like a court stenographer when she could be wearing desert boots, trenches, and no-fuss highwaisted jeans with interesting washes?
If she’s going to act like a badass, at least toss her a distressed brown leather jacket once in a while. Instead, we get a lamb solving mysteries in sweaters that say dry clean only.
Betty’s capsule wardrobe looks like an ill-fitting assortment of Eddie Bauer sweaters, Contempo Casual tops, and funky button-ups markdowns from Sears in play-it-safe colours.
This is the worst fitting bodice I’ve ever seen. It can’t be comfortable for her boobs. It also looks like my aunt’s bedroom.
Each character has been given a colour palette just doesn’t work for them.
Veronica’s colour palette all wrong. Camila slays in green.
Betty’s an All-American Girl™ Forget the lame pastels & put her in the primaries!
Stop putting Cheryl in red + plaid. She was born to wear nudes & neutrals!
They’ve stuck Betty in pastels (but unfortunately, not Millennial pink) to convey a sense of soft strength, naivete, and modern femininity.
This sweater is gross.
So gross I want to cry.
Without any shadow of a doubt, comic-Betty crushes Riverdale-Betty. All of the characters on Riverdale suffer from poor costuming. The designers want the show to look timeless, so they’ve deliberately made the choice to avoid trendy, branded clothing, but they’ve only gone about it halfway.
Kind of like this Pan collar.
Instead of trying creating a throwback vibe by mixing vintage pieces with well-made basics, the show looks like it aired in 2005 with staple pieces culled from Smart Set, Reitmans, and other Middle American mall brands.
I can’t remember the Betty of the comics dressing like Reggie’s golf-loving stepmom.
A Crack Theory about Riverdale’s Colour Palettes
Riverdale is sponsored by Covergirl so there are tons of amusing product placements throughout the series. I was watching episode 11 at 2am one night and did this crazy thing:
See you in season 2.