While I’m waiting for a much more significant post to be completed, I thought that comparing how Edith is dressed to how Louisa is dressed in S4 would be a good way to point out how clothes can be used to define a character, especially since TV and film are such visual media.
Here we have two strong, independent women who are brought together through their association with Martin Ellingham. Edith, the former fiancee and med school colleague, and Louisa the former fiancee and love obsession who returns pregnant following a couple of nights of intimacy. Both women have known ME in the biblical sense, or at least we know he’s seen them both naked. At some point both women decided they didn’t want to marry Martin, but Edith went on to pursue medicine, and even surgery, like Martin (and got married briefly), while Louisa continued her profession of school teacher and decided pregnancy was her future plan. In S4 we get the contest between them magnified by their skirmishes due to Louisa having chosen to be followed in Truro and Edith being the obstetrician who takes her case. The stage is set for fireworks and we get them, but in an understated way — and the clothing they wear contributes substantially, if subtly.
Apart from Edith’s bright red spikey hair and lack of any curvaceousness, she is almost exclusively dressed in dark, severe clothes. We are already predisposed to dislike her because we root for Martin and Louisa to be together, then they create a woman who lacks sensitivity for her patients and misdiagnoses both diverticulitis and SGA (or small for gestational age). (Admittedly she could have been using the SGA diagnosis as a way to elicit the information about Martin and Louisa’s sexual history. She should do a differential diagnosis and she has no business asking about the date they last had sex.) She knows the situation between Martin and Louisa and still pursues him, a decision that is disconcerting at best. On more than one occasion, Edith schemes to manipulate Martin to distance himself from Louisa and from Portwenn. Sadly for her, his disdain for some of his circumstances is overshadowed by his sense of duty to Louisa as well as his genuine love for her. Edith’s clothes accentuate her masculinity despite her impractical shoes. She is primarily dressed in slacks with a vest and jacket and man-collared shirt. In fact, in S4E7, Edith and Martin are nearly dressed identically: Edith wears a blue and white striped shirt under a black vest and slacks while Martin wears the same sort of blue and white striped shirt under his dark suit. Dressing them alike insinuates that in addition to being a surgeon who went through medical school with Martin, Edith is too similar to him (or too masculine) to appeal to him as a love interest.
She wears a dark dress with tan polka dots on two occasions, and at the conference, she puts on a white, ruffle front blouse with her trademark black slacks. This time her ruffled blouse is reminiscent of Louisa’s blue ruffle front dress she wears walking to the baby shower when Martin sees her on his way out to meet Edith. It’s almost like they’re begging us to determine which woman looks better in ruffles and, in my opinion, they weight it decidedly towards Louisa. The last time we see Edith is after the conference when she barges into Martin’s last day of seeing patients. She’s back to wearing a pin-stripe vested suit with grey blouse and unwilling to believe that she has lost the battle for any amorous attention from him.
Meanwhile, throughout S4 Louisa wears many flowered dresses with cardigans of various bright colors: white, red, yellow. Or she wears a variety of other feminine outfits, including a blue and white striped sailor style top with bow when she makes the trip to the hospital for another check up. Of course, a pregnant woman has plenty of curves and looks about as feminine as possible. Often people say that pregnant women have a certain glow about them and Louisa reflects that throughout this series. There is a major contrast between how each of these women behaves, and their clothes contrast significantly too. We see two assertive and self-assured professional women clash in terms of how their appearance represents who they are. Edith may hold the upper hand in that Louisa is dependent on her care, however, Louisa is the one carrying Martin’s baby and there’s no way for Edith to change that fact. (Unfortunately, we also may be seeing how female doctors feel they must dress in order to achieve respect in a masculine dominated profession as opposed to the latitude allowed women working in what is perceived to be a feminine profession.)
There are two standoffs between Louisa and Edith — one when they meet for the first time at the hospital and Louisa is wearing a green floral dress; next when Louisa has an ultrasound and is wearing the sailor top. I particularly like the first confrontation between them because Edith tries to belittle Louisa and Portwenn and Louisa gives as good as she gets. The second time, Louisa has fallen part way off the bed in an effort to get a better view of the ultrasound scan when Edith appears. Not only is this funny, but also it puts Louisa at a disadvantage. Most of us feel at a disadvantage when talking to a doctor anyway. In this case, Louisa is particularly compromised as Edith’s patient. She has to rely on Edith’s judgements as well as expect her questions to be appropriate. But Louisa is always self-protective and does her best to deflect Edith’s personal inquiries. To me it looks like Edith is somewhat surprised to learn that Louisa and Martin had sex more than once, and I would think Louisa got some pleasure out of telling Edith their intimacy wasn’t just a one night event.
In the realm of clothing, S4 is a really good example of how it can be used to augment the interpersonal interactions of a scene. I hope I’ve made a stronger argument for the importance of how clothing functions. The wardrobe for each character is a distinguishing feature before they say a word. We could just look at the clothes of most of the characters on “Doc Martin” and know, without seeing their heads, who they belong to. More than that, though, two female characters with somewhat similar temperaments can be dressed totally differently and still appear self-reliant. But, really, is there any doubt that Martin would find Louisa a more attractive choice after we see these two women together?
Originally posted 2014-11-08 14:16:14.