It always feels like summer in Bon Temps, the fictional Louisiana town where HBO’s vampire-themed series True Blood is set (Season Two premieres Sunday, June 14). There, residents are attired in outfits appropriate to the sweltering supernatural South: Muscle tees, short shorts, virginal white sundresses, and tank tops pulled over heaving bosoms. Waitresses at the town’s bar and grill look like a local version of Hooter’s girls, the men who frequent the place wear working man’s plaid or faded T-shirts and jeans.
Forget Dracula and Anne Rice, because there’s nary a pleather-clad, lace collared or corseted Goth in sight (Sorry, Goths in Hot Weather). Instead, the vampires in Bon Temps are just like us. They inhabit the town openly, having recently “come out” to humans thanks to the invention of synthetic blood (“TruBlood”), though they’re not always welcomed by some of the god-fearing residents. Vampires like Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), an ex-Confederate soldier trying to redeem his bloody past, are keen to go mainstream and only invoke their vampireness out of necessity when fulfilling their basic life (or undead) functions—feeding (on faux blood), sleeping (in a darkened underground hovel) and sex, a carnal frenzy that is akin to a sensuous feast with benefits.
“It’s not really a show about vampires, it’s a show about a small town where vampires are now living,” says True Blood costume designer Audrey Fisher. “In fact, they are just like humans, not like these creepy Goths. That’s kind of the point, that they’re not vampiring. It’s been fun to show the evil inside without it being so obvious.”
Small-town girl Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a telepathic waitress, plays the prototypical innocent girl testing the waters of passion stirred by 174-year-old Bill, so her look falls somewhere between sweet and sultry—one part Doris Day, in sweater sets and full skirts, and one part beachy pinup, all cleavage and legs in hot pants. Bill’s a conservative man himself, looking like a sepia-toned photograph in the flesh, though his signature henley shirt, always unbuttoned at the top and skintight, and his tormented stares provide plenty of allure for a hell’s belle in the making.
“Sookie’s trying to maintain the attraction to an old-fashioned guy like Bill—he would find it attractive if she still had that ladylike manner,” says Fisher. “It sets her apart from that trashy look of cutoffs and itty-bitty tank tops.” Which is to say, it’s a look that distinguishes her from pretty much everyone else in the town.
If “trashy” represents the unpretentious, safe mainstream in Bon Temps, then glamour, when it occasionally appears, invariably indicates a moral compass pointing toward the darker end of the spectrum of good and evil. The same way that vampires were vilified in Season One of the show as immoral sexual deviants (yet with no obvious outward signifiers to indicate them as such, this makes them all the more frightening), in Season Two, conspicuous wealth is considered an affront to small-town values and regarded with just as much suspicion. It’s no coincidence that the good guy, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), owner of the bar and grill where Sookie works, wears non-threatening cowboy attire of jeans, silver belt buckles and Western-style plaid shirts. He’s the John Wayne of the joint, protecting Sookie from the dark-clad Bill, who glowers like a gunslinger in vaguely militaristic dress, and battling it out with Mary Ann, a social worker who inexplicable lives in a mansion, drives fancy cars and dresses like a Beverly Hills housewife.
In True Blood, like in any good summer entertainment—or summer wardrobe—the terms are relatively simple to parse: Appearances can be deceiving, yes. But in this sizzling Louisiana town, you are also what you wear, because you aren’t wearing that much.
Renata Espinosa is the New York editor of Fashion Wire Daily. She is also the co-founder of impressionistic fashion and art blog TheNuNu and a sometimes backup dancer for "The Anna Copa Cabanna Show."