After five years on air, The Americans firmly cemented itself as one of the best yet most woefully under-appreciated shows on television. The period piece about Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two KGB spies stuck in a fraught, arranged marriage who surveil (and kill) for their motherland while posing as upper-middle class D.C. suburbanites—with two American children who are none the wiser along the way—has snagged loads of critical acclaim and a handful of Emmy nominations here and there.
Still, the series has lacked the same viral success of other prestige dramas. The Americans is instead the type of show people say they’ve “heard great things about,” and in fact, its reputation has been so entwined with its lore that the show has become a punchline. In an episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, when Artie has to prove he isn’t a zombie (long story), he says, “You know you’re in the golden age of television when you take a show like The Americans for granted.”
While The Americans is largely one long, dark suspense thriller that deals with murder, politics, and complex relationships, one element that brought viewers a little brightness were the disguises worn by Elizabeth and Philip in various missions. These facades—whether they were one-offs or associated with recurring alter-egos—not only helped the couple gather information and maintain their covers; they also doubled as fan fodder. There were jewel-toned blazers, acid wash monstrosities, perms from hell, and suits that looked identical to the kind your uncle rocked in old family photos—all quintessentially ’80s. Now that the show is over, as of Wednesday night’s series finale, let’s pay homage to some of its most iconic disguises.
Elizabeth’s tenure as a prospective Mary Kay saleswoman is easily a fan favorite. In an interview with Racked, The Americans costume designer Katie Irish called this look the “anti-Elizabeth.” The trendy hairstyle, chunky jewelry, and bold ’80s coloring were at absolute odds with Elizabeth’s typically demure style. Also, Patty was just a great alter ego. Sure, befriending fellow Mary Kate consultant Young-Hee in an attempt to gain access to and later blackmail her husband was enormously fucked up (especially if you believe, like I do, that Elizabeth truly liked Young Hee), but the look was strong.
Philip’s role as Clark Westerfield—an Internal Affairs investigator who ends up marrying his informant Martha, who is a secretary at the FBI—is a wild ride from start to finish. The costume designers did a great job making Philip an absolute square. His blonde toupee is a tragedy, his glasses are dorky, and his shirts are a little too crisp. He’s a lot like that episode of SpongeBob when SpongeBob decides to act “normal.”
Elizabeth wore the hell out of this wig during the first couple of seasons and automatically became a dark, mysterious beauty who was frank and cut to the chase whenever she rocked it. Honestly, she kind of looked like a more conventional Elvira Mistress of the Dark.
This look popped up a couple of times in the early seasons of The Americans: once when Philip beat up a creepy, grown-ass man who was flirting with his teenage daughter, and later when he pretended to be a janitor and stole some classified data (and, uh, killed a random researcher who spotted him to boot). Anyone else think he looks like Matthew McConaughey in True Detective?
It took six seasons for Elizabeth’s most frumpy ’80s look to come to fruition. But we got there with flying colors through Stephanie, the home care nurse who nurses the ailing wife of an American nuclear-arms negotiator. As Stephanie, Elizabeth perfectly absorbs the homeliness that the costume invokes, and she did it so well that I almost forgot that she was a brutal murderer. It’s tough work making Keri Russell not look like an absolute babe, but the shapeless fleece sweaters, sweatpants, and stringy hair did the trick.
Honestly, I always forgot that this alter ego was named Jim. I always called him Scumbag! Philip, because this character is literally just a grown man who ends up getting in a relationship with a girl named Kimmy, the teen daughter of a CIA agent. He’s scuzzy to the core, and it’s emphasized by his tinted sunglasses and long shaggy hair. Philip is the absolute definition of Stranger Danger in this get up. He would probably drive a maroon van, too!
The stylish bob, the monochrome wardrobe...Brenda would have been one of the sleekest looking fashionistas walking down the streets of New York in the mid-’80s. It’s like if you used the stretch tool on Edna Mode from The Incredibles.
Multiple articles and fans have referred to this as Philip’s goth look. I disagree: This look is less goth and more Ramones reject. Philip looks like the member of The Ramones who couldn’t keep up with the punk lifestyle or something, or just got tired of saying “hay ho” and “ba ba ba ba” every damn night. It’s just an exquisite, A+ wig. Also, shout out to the juxtaposition of this look and the “God Bless America” mural:
I’m just a sucker for shoulder pads and glasses??? And when Elizabeth manipulates men in the sack???
This is an underrated look that doesn’t get enough love, but the combination of that tweed jacket, tightly buttoned Mao collar blouse, and the weird milkmaid braid and bang combo was weirdly gorgeous? It was also one of the few disguises that required Elizabeth to be a bit meek.
You know, even though this was just a one-off costume during a mission in Kansas, Philip has regularly embraced cowboy paraphernalia throughout The Americans’ run. He tried on cowboy boots in the very first episode, in later seasons got into square dancing, and has often grappled with his admiration of American life. But that’s another essay for another time. Mostly, Philip looks cute in a cowboy hat.
I call this Elizabeth’s hot dirtbag look. The acid wash jeans and the athletic jacket with the auburn wig make Elizabeth look like someone who will beat you up at the arcade and get mad about losing an earring in the scuffle.
I mean, is this the best costume Philip has ever worn? No. Am I weirdly attracted to it? Hell yeah.
Runner-up for the most frumpy look Elizabeth has ever rocked, but it’s miles behind her Stephanie alter ego. Still, that mullet...you have to give this look credit for that fucking mullet. Also, she looks like someone who would call the cops on a black family having a barbecue in the park. Perfect.
I peep a red shirt. He could totally pass as a Rajneeshee cult member, right?
The hair and sunglasses are killer, perfectly straddling that early-’80s line where your wardrobe was still mostly super late ’70s.
Philip becomes disillusioned with his work as a KGB operative pretty early, but you’d never know it from the Season 1 episode, “The Clock.” In an attempt to bug a politician’s office, Philip and Elizabeth poison the son of the politician’s nanny. They try to get her to help plant the bug, but she’s pretty damn scared and uncooperative. While this disguise isn’t the most interesting, it ended up being one of the scariest because he’s ruthless when he rocks it. Also...the mustache is kinda scary.
This is our first introduction to Elizabeth and the many disguises to come, and it remains one of her best looks. Elizabeth playing a fun, flirty blonde is always a fun ride because it’s the antithesis of her character.
I love when Philip and Elizabeth are working matching costumes as a part of a paired alter ego. In Season 5, the couple absolutely rocked these airline pilot and flight attendant looks.
Does she or does she not look like she would be the protagonist in some cyberpunk paperback book from 1986? Also, this was her friendly face before she shot an innocent woman in the head.
Okay, they look like regular schmegular office drones right? But wait!
UTILITARIAN GUN HOLSTER ON THAT THIGH!!!
All I have to say is...whose uncle is this?
I’m sorry, can we please talk about the leather accents on that damn jacket? What about the cowboy hat. Oh, and the creepy tinted sunglasses indoors? Absolute cornball perfection.
There’s nothing particularly exciting about this look. But it’s one of the few where they’re meant to be a couple with a singular disguise: Normal fucking people. Not Russian operative, just a normal-ass couple walking around D.C. in the mid-’80s. Elizabeth’s blonde bob really works with that coat, and while Philip’s flesh beard is a bit off-putting, he’s rocking that sitcom dad sweater well.
Let’s end this with the finale disguise, the last costume we see Philip and Elizabeth wear. The FBI is finally on their tail and the disguises are meant to make sure they look as little like their FBI Wanted sketches as possible. But I’d like to think that the lack of glamour in their parting looks was a deliberately bleak commentary on the years they have ahead of them in Russia, potentially unable to ever see their children ever again. Okay, now I’m crying.
So long, The Americans! It’s been real.