It’s fitting that style icon Jenna Lyons’s biggest controversy during her inaugural season as a Real Housewife of New York is fashion-related. No, we’re not talking about the time she chided castmate Jessel Taank for wearing visible Alexander Wang and Balenciaga branding at the same time. We’re talking about the uproar among some fans over Lyons’s choice to wear jeans to this season’s reunion taping, as revealed online this week (though the actual reunion episodes won’t air for weeks). The way certain corners of the Bravo-obsessed Internet are reacting, you’d think they were Fox News anchors who just saw Barack Obama in a tan suit. Few things are off limits from Bravo’s cameras, but apparently denim at a reunion is where they decide to take a stand in the name of decorum.
For those uninitiated, (almost) every season of Real Housewives ends with a handful of reunion episodes where the women hash out the drama in front of Bravo kingpin Andy Cohen, often while wearing overly opulent dresses. (Think: so many sequins, feathers, and beads that a Miss Universe finalist or RuPaul’s Drag Race contender might blush.) Housewives reunion fashion is about as far as you can get from the current ‘stealth wealth’ trend, to say the least. Then again, these women usually aren’t cast because they specialize in subtlety on any level.
Lyons, the former creative director of J. Crew, a Met Gala veteran, and fashion confidant to the Obamas, has thus subverted the idea of what a traditional Real Housewife is since she joined the cast of RHONY in a complete reboot of Bravo’s former flagship franchise. She’s openly queer with a well-established career and public profile, and isn’t especially known for drama. In fact, Lyons’s very fashion sense underscores the differences between her and the other ladies. While Lyons has never shied away from her own take on feathers and sequins (she once called sequins “the new black”), the way she wears them is just about as far away from reunion fashion as one could get.
It makes sense that she’d put her own stamp on dressing for the episodes—apparently, though, she went too far for some.
Lyons paired a closely cut blazer with a mesh shirt underneath with, yes, jeans. From a New Yorker’s perspective, this does seem like an appropriate way to cut the difference between Housewife reunion spectacle and respectable Manhattan chic. Look at her shoes, for example. They’re covered in crystals (ostentatious!), but they are from Dries Van Noten (chic!).
In fact, her outfit looks like something the sanctified New York style icon Fran Leibowitz—known for her consistent uniform of Brooks Brothers suiting up top and jeans and cowboy boots below—would wear to a Housewives reunion. It’s also, notably, quite in line with the style Lyons has carved out for herself all season long.
Yet, the network formerly known as Twitter has filled up with complaints.
“Jeans at a reunion is a no-no in MY BOOK. Idc if Anna Wintour herself required you to wear them,” wrote one user.
“Chop! She been wearing the same outfit all summer and now into the fall. It’s not giving fashion. Jeans at a fucking reunion? This isn’t 2009, season 1,” added another.
“She’s Jenna Lyons so she should know better. THIS AIN’T IT,” chimed in yet another.
And on, and on, and on… Lyons herself even took to Instagram to highlight a comment telling her a reunion isn’t an “American Eagle campaign” with a string of laughing emojis. “Yes I wore jeans and I’m not sorry,” she added.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion on Lyons’s outfit (or whether or not she’s a good fit for the program, for that matter), but it’s the idea that jeans are somehow not appropriate for a basic cable reunion taping—like it’s some holy space!—that gets us. We’re not exactly breaking new critical ground here by lightly pointing out that some fans use The Real Housewives as a vessel for casual misogyny, eagerly judging and deriding cast members if they don’t like their particular brand of over-the-top feminine performance. Deriding a women’s wardrobe for being inappropriate is one of the most basic forms of misogyny in the book.
We’ll save you the “cerulean sweater”-level spiel about how denim and the humble blue jean have been hot items on some of the biggest European runways right now (yes, even Haute Couture), because it seems Lyons’s choice is more important than simply being on trend. It’s clear some Housewives fans have used fashion as a proxy for dictating how a woman ought to look. It’s as if they view these women as cartoon characters who need to abide by certain rules. But by simply showing up in jeans, Lyons has rejected all of that.
“The thing I’m struggling with is, I had an identity attached to my work and my accomplishments, and I’m very careful—I don’t want my identity to become wrapped up in the show,” she told The Cut earlier this year. A true style savant understands the power fashion has in shaping our identity. And if Lyons wanted to assert herself as something altogether different from Bravo expectations, she certainly chose the right outfit.