Sex Education, the hit British teen dramedy, returned to Netflix on Thursday with its fourth and final season, bringing the students of Moordale Secondary School to a whole new place, literally. In Season 3, Moordale was sold to developers, and a new school—along with its sustainable, artsy, free-form aesthetic—has now entered the picture: Cavendish College.
Cavendish seems to have it all: there’s an indoor slide; daily meditation, silent discos, sound baths, and yoga for mental health; and each student gets a tablet, tote bag, and reusable water bottle. “It’s like Amsterdam,” marvels Otis (Asa Butterfield). “But in space,” adds Eric (Ncuti Gatwa). It’s a gossip-free zone, and the school motto is: Why be mean when you could be green? “Well,” remarks Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood. “This is different.” That’s an understatement.
Gossip is integral to the show from the beginning, when Adam (Connor Swindells) exposes Otis as a “sex freak” to the whole school after seeing his mom, Jean’s (Gillian Anderson), sexual paraphernalia collection scattered throughout their house. Jean is a professional sex therapist, so for a teenager, Otis has an exceptional grasp on all things sex. He starts an underground sex therapy clinic at school with Maeve (Emma Mackey), and the rest is three seasons worth of history.
Season 4 finds the beloved Sex Education characters—Otis, Eric, Aimee, Maeve (who is studying at a fictional Ivy League college in the U.S.), Ruby, Jackson, Viv, Cal—somewhat adrift in their new surroundings. Cavendish isn't fully ideal: As Isaac (George Robinson) points out, they’ve got enough money for a meditation room, but not for an elevator that works—a serious accessibility issue for a student in a wheelchair. And as sixth form students, 16 to 18 years old, they’re starting to wonder about the real world beyond the classroom.
At first, they “look like little fish in a big pond,” says costume designer Daniella Pearman, who joined the show for the last season. They are the aliens in this Amsterdam in space—not in an isolating way, just in a way that feels, well, different. To create their costumes for the final season, Pearman focused on the delicate balance of preserving the iconic looks of characters that audiences have come to know and love, while helping them evolve into their fullest selves.
“If you take time to look at how people are dressing, it's not just going to a shop on the high street and dressing like a mannequin,” Pearman says from Manchester. “People style it out how they feel confident, and that's what we wanted to come across. Especially with the journeys of all the characters: They're growing up, they're finding themselves, they're becoming young adults.”
Read on to see how Otis, Eric, Maeve, and Aimee—some of the earliest characters introduced in Sex Education—say goodbye in style.
The spotlight has shifted a bit off of the one-time protagonist and Sex Education’s story is now equally weighted between a dozen or so of the formerly supporting characters. Fittingly, Otis’ wardrobe doesn’t change significantly.
He keeps his instantly-recognizable neapolitan bomber jacket, which gets splattered with baby spit-up. (In fact, the costume department had to make a second, identical jacket after that scene was filmed, carefully dyeing the fabric into its trademark colorblocked pattern.)
Otis doesn’t care too much about what he looks like this season—at least not toward the beginning, when his single mom has an 8-week-old baby on her hands. Between the stress of becoming a de facto second caretaker, starting at a new school, and more than one conflict with his close friends, he doesn’t have a ton of time to think about personal style.
Aimee—who was sexually assaulted in Season 2—has seen perhaps the biggest change, both in reclaiming autonomy over her body and in how she expresses herself sartorially, especially in a show in which costumes grease the narrative wheels. This season opens on her testing out a new vibrator and logging her experience in a pink notebook titled “My Healing Journey,” covered in whimsical iron-on patches, in true Aimee fashion.
She’s experimenting, in more ways than one. As she moves through healing, she shuffles through looks. There’s a Brigitte Bardot-inspired pinafore dress with knee boots and a red jumpsuit paired with a beret in art class, which she’s decided to take because she’s reading a book that says art can help process trauma.
“She's definitely gaining confidence and maturity in how she wants to express herself as a woman,” Pearman says. “And she does that through the way she dresses, as well.”
Aimee leans into art class, but struggles with what, exactly, she’s trying to communicate. That is, until a certain pair of dark blue flare jeans resurfaces. These were the pants she was assaulted in, and she can’t seem to throw them away. She puts them on and photographs herself doing everything from taking a bath to singing karaoke to eating ice cream. “Sometimes it feels like—even when I’m doing something I love, like eating ice cream—it feels like I’m still wearing them,” she says. “Like it never goes away.”
In the finale, she sets up a self-timed film camera at the bus stop she was assaulted at and proceeds to have a solo photoshoot. She strips off the jeans for the leggings underneath, carefully lights the jeans on fire, and starts gently dancing in her bejeweled jacket—at first cautiously, then with a quiet confidence.
“All these different looks we had for her to get to that point where she burns the jeans,” Pearman says. “And she gets that point where she goes, ‘I don't quite know who I am, but I'm getting close, and I'm more confident, and I'm going to burn these jeans, and I'm going to experiment as much as I want.'”
The true style star of Sex Education, as loyal viewers know, is the exuberant Eric Effiong. He’s recently returned from a family trip to Nigeria—where he tried to reconcile his queer and cultural identities—and brings that experience with him to Cavendish. On the first day, he’s sporting an aqua romper suit in a Nigerian print (new) and his favorite Picasso bomber jacket (old).
He, too, has a pivotal wardrobe moment. “The Coven”—Aisha (Alexandra James), Abbi (Anthony Lexa), and Roman (Felix Mufti)—is technically comprised of Cavendish’s sixth form student reps, since the school is student-led. But they’re also the cool, queer kids, and they take Eric under their glittering wing.
The Coven dresses Eric up for a queer club night. Freshly bedecked with a matching choker and harness set, a yellow plaid kilt, and heeled, painted boots, he ascends the steps like Cinderella into a drag ball. After that point, Eric is now part of the world he yearned to be in, and his personal style reflects that.
He must balance this newfound look, though, with the spiritual journey he goes on throughout the season. His family is deeply religious, and he wrestles with whether or not to get baptized into a space that doesn’t fully accept him as he is. In church, we see a stripped-down, makeup-free, more conservative version of his usually effervescent outfits.
“Which then leads up to the confidence he has of saying, 'This is who I am. And if this is not what you want, then I don't want to be part of that world,’” Pearman says. “The way he dresses and the people he's now mixing with have given him that confidence to decide what he wants and where he wants to be.”
At the tail end, though, Eric decides he wants to be a pastor—a queer, inclusive one this time.
In the first episode, there’s a flash of a fan favorite: Maeve’s trademark fringe leather jacket. But Emma Mackey, the actor who plays Maeve, was eager to shift away from that look and toward an updated sensibility that speaks to her character’s new life in America and growing maturity.
“We wanted it to look like she'd been to a thrift shop with her new friends and picked out a couple of key pieces,” Pearman says. “We wanted to give her a bit more of a mature feel to it, but not change the Maeve aesthetic that had already been established.”
So she gets a new vintage leather jacket, one that feels a bit more mature in its cut and style. Her Doc Martin-type boots become vintage cowboy boots (much more American). Later in the season, the death of her mother, Erin (Anne-Marie Duff), forces her to grow up too quickly. Maeve is still Maeve, but she’s older now, and more ready to take on the world.
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