Are Portia’s Outfits on The White Lotus Good or Bad?

At the beginning of last night’s episode of The White LotusTanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge) calls her Gen-Z assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) with an invite to go to Palermo on their new friends’ yacht. “You’ll need to pack some cute things. Do you have cute things?” Tanya asks. “Yes,” Portia responds. That is debatable.

Over the past few weeks, Portia’s style has quickly become one of the show’s most hotly-debated topics, notably on Twitter. (Seriously, search “Portia White Lotus” and you’ll find nothing but critique.) Meanwhile, no outfits have sparked this much contentious discussion among Vogue’s fashion news team this year.

Tanya McQuoid  and Portia .nbsp
Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge) and Portia (Haley Lu Richardson). HBO

In short, the outfits are chaotic and clearly algorithmically informed. Each piece looks like it came from a #sponsored post on TikTok, whether the beaded phone chain she sported in the last episode, or her chartreuse nail polish. “Bad hip California young person working a job they hate,” is how fashion writer André-Naquian Wheeler described her style. She mixes prints with abandon, and almost everything is accessorized with chunky square sunglasses. You can see the inspiration: Emma Chamberlain and her maximalist style certainly must have been on the moodboard. But since every individual item feels like it’s grasping at a trend, when you put them all together, there’s little discernible personality beneath.

Portia in a printed dress and a scrunchie.
Portia in a printed dress and a scrunchie.Fabio Lovino/HBO

A few of Portia’s greatest hits? A short-sleeved cropped rugby shirt with a drawstring hem, paired with green slouchy pants that also had an elasticated waist and a crochet bucket hat. A zebra-print bikini top worn with a spacedye crochet bolero and white mom shorts. A matching bandeau and flared trousers set in a spacey, blue print, which she paired with space buns and square-toe, lug sole platform boots. “The fashion is bad but perfect. I don’t even think it’s bad though,” fashion writer Christian Allaire said after the premiere of episode four. (He retracted the second sentence after watching episode five and the aforementioned blue set.)

Bad but perfect. Contributing editor Liam Hess pointed out that there are two questions to ask here: are Portia’s outfits good? And is the costume designer doing their job well? The first question is, ultimately, subjective. I could imagine a less frazzled, more self-assured character pulling them off. (See: Lucia and Mia’s ability to make the outré imminently desirable.) The latter question is arguably more important, and also easier to answer: yes.

Portia and Tanya
Portia and TanyaHBO

Alex Bovaird designed the costumes for seasons one and two of The White Lotus, and already proved herself adept at dressing Gen-Z with the first season’s disaffected, too-cool-for-their-own-good Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O’Grady). As Bovaird told Vogue last year: “I know that people of that generation tend to buy a lot more clothing from thrift stores…. They kind of dress in a random, haphazard way…. They are aware of themselves but also consciously doing a little bit of a Man Repeller thing.”

Portia seems to be taking the same approach, but less successfully. This could be because she, as a character, is more lost than Olivia and Paula are—or at least pretend to be. While Portia has captured the attention of two men this season, she spends the majority of her screen time in the early episodes complaining about the free Sicilian vacation she’s stumbled on. (Yes, Tanya did tell her to stay in her room, but that limitation fell away pretty quickly.) Richardson herself told Vanity Fair that, “as the episodes go on, you really see just the angst and the misery and the bit of narcissism and unawareness and lostness that Portia has.”

Portia and Jack
Portia and Jack (Leo Woodall)

It only makes sense, then, that her clothes should reflect this, becoming a colorful, splashy front for her malaise. “Beneath her Gen-Z snark, Portia is deeply unsure of herself—what she wants from her career, which guy she wants to sleep with, where she should eat her dinner—so it only makes sense that her style would be equally chaotic,” Hess says. “The outfits might be bonkers, but it somehow feels perfectly Portia.”

It also feels perfect for someone deeply entwined with the miserable, narcissistic, socially inept Tanya McQuoid. “In a way, Portia dresses just as outlandishly and frivolously as her boss, Tanya, who she claims she is so different from, but mimics her same mistakes,” senior lifestyle writer Elise Taylor says.

Portia and Jack
Portia and JackFabio Lovino/HBO

It’s true. Portia looks down on her boss, but the two are more similar than either would like to admit. Tanya dressed like Monica Vitti—consisting of a pink floral dress, pink headscarf, and oversized shades—in order to live out her La Dolce Vita dream on the back of a Vespa. Are Portia’s Spice Girls-esque bandeau and flares any less of a costume?