There's a reason Portia dresses *like that* in 'White Lotus'

It's hard to look away from any of the characters on this season's installment of HBO Max's fan-favorite series "The White Lotus." But since the second season's release, eyes have been increasingly set on Portia — a Gen Z character whose wardrobe is just as chaotic as her personality.

Haley Lu Richardson, who plays Portia, says this is on purpose.

“Portia is consumed by TikTok and ‘the discourse’. So we thought it would make sense that she is trying hard and that she follows the mishmash trends,” Richardson told W Magazine. “She makes bad choices and is lost, doing a random job, so whenever we got her dressed, we tried to tell this story in the clothes, too.”

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Portia is the misguided and jaded assistant to Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), who's on holiday with her husband at the White Lotus in Sicily. When Tanya occasionally and haphazardly relieves Portia of her duties (we're using this term loosely!), she can be seen breaking the heart of another naive vacationer at the White Lotus, Albie, or getting tangled into nefarious situations with her British lover, Jack — but mostly, wearing truly confusing (and, dare we say it, bad) outfits.

If you feel iffy about Portia's 'fits, you're not alone

Fans have noticed that Portia, who is highly unsure of herself, wears clothes that reflect the state of her well-being. Throughout the season, she's seen wearing some fierce combinations of patterns, like her rainbow-striped half-sweater and a zebra print bathing suit, a sweater vest with swans on it and a rippled-print, neon purple and pink pantsuit with space buns that loudly screams Gen Z core.

These sartorial choices, which read as costumes more than outfits, are intentionally chosen to help further the dissection of Portia's character — and it's certainly working.

Haley Lu Richardson as Portia in 'The White Lotus.
Haley Lu Richardson as Portia in 'The White Lotus.

Richardson told W that she got offended when she read an online comment that said "White Lotus" costume designer Alex Bovaird put her in "the ugliest s---," and continued that the outfits (however psychotic they may be) are carefully selected by her and Bovaird for each episode to ensure they capture the character's lack of direction.

Fans of the show have no issue expressing their feelings about Portia's wardrobe, comparing the character's fashion efforts to those of Jojo Siwa and a young Lizzie McGuire.

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But Portia’s outfits aren’t solely receiving hate — some viewers are defending her wardrobe. One "White Lotus" fan tweeted: "scared to say this but I never actually realized Portia’s outfits were bad until people started saying they were. I thought her clothes were cute"

Porti wears a purple sweatshirt with the caption
Porti wears a purple sweatshirt with the caption

Portia's outfits speak to a wider, generational theme

Love or hate Portia's threads, there's no denying that her outfits symbolize a bigger theme at hand — and an issue that afflicts not just Portia, but also the larger and more general population of Gen Z.

"She talks so much about not wanting to be a part of the social media verse, not wanting to be controlled by that,” Richardson told W. “But the sad irony is, she is so deep in it, so controlled by it. She couldn’t throw away her phone if she was paid a billion bucks."

Without generalizing too much, it's safe to say that Gen Z certainly adopts a keen interest in micro-trends that spawn from resources like TikTok, just as Portia clearly does in "White Lotus." Portia reflects a type of person you probably know in your life, too — someone who embraces micro-trends and ephemeral cultural norms solely for the sake of having seen them on social media.

Another significant example of someone akin to this behavior is Zoey Deutch's character Danni in the movie "Not Okay," which premiered last summer on Hulu. What Portia and Danni share in fashion sense (bucket hats, ugly sandals, argyle sweaters, e-girl highlights), they also share in personality (confused, misguided, unsure of themselves.) Sensing a pattern?

Portia and Tanya share a scene. (Fabio Lovino / HBO)
Portia and Tanya share a scene. (Fabio Lovino / HBO)

Richardson says that, if viewers don't like Portia, they should ask themselves why.

"I would challenge people to find some sort of understanding for her,” Richardson says. “And also, if they can’t—ask themselves why they despise her so much. Is it because they know someone like her and that makes them uncomfortable? Is it because they have similarities and that makes them uncomfortable? I think that’s what this show is all about: making people reflect on their own lives.”

This article was originally published on TODAY.com