I’ve written a couple of posts about how the clothes these characters wear have been well designed to contribute to their personalities and positions in the show. As one of my previous posts suggested, we know who each character is, and something about their character traits, by seeing the clothes they wear.
An awareness of how we project an image was recently the subject of an article in the Washington Post. What I most care about in this article is the reference to mythmaking through the connection to clothing. They comment that putting an outfit together is “a visual storytelling,” and that “mythmaking is in the details.” As I am most fascinated by studying the methods of storytelling, this aspect of clothing makes me perk up. Of course, TV and film are visual media, and the costumes are, therefore, essential to the story.
In some cases, the clothing choices in this show seem to undercut the character. Although Morwenna dresses herself in a variety of colors, and an overabundance of accessories and patterns that appear to be a sign that she is fanciful and informal, her clothes do not coincide with her actual reliability and sensibleness. Mrs. Tishell is, of course, identified by her neck collar, but also with her pastel cardigans and her black stockings and church appropriate shoes, yet she is very unstable and unpredictable. I would guess that these women are dressed in this manner as a deliberate subversion of how to read their clothing.
The woman who is the best dressed in town is Louisa, and this has been true for many series. I consider the choices they made in this series for what Louisa should wear as compared to those she wore last series and earlier ones quite planned and important to her character. I admire her clothes and compliment the costumer who selects them. I also think they have a purpose.
What sort of story are they telling us when it comes to Martin and Louisa’s clothes? We have already identified Martin’s suit and tie as his armor; his means of protecting himself from being associated with the majority of the townspeople, elevating himself above them, and feeling some sense of security. We have to acknowledge that, as a professional, he would be more likely to wear something more formal to signify his status and to show his respect for his patients. In S8 we see his hesitancy to give up that status, and protective shield even while contending with his suspension from practicing medicine. There is no taking off the tie or jacket for an instant, whether he’s staying at home with James or taking a walk to buy a fish. (At the same time, his unrelenting habit of wearing a suit and tie is also meant to be funny, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.)
In the case of Louisa, her clothes have projected the many phases of her development as a character and mate to Martin. In the early series she wore much more exposing clothes and much more casual ones. She actually wore jeans a time or two, and one of her early outfits seemed to be a camisole that was also a bustier. Louisa’s choice wasn’t anything approaching Edith’s in later episodes, but we could imagine that she wore this much more feminine and provocative top because she was trying to be alluring.
But as their relationship developed and she became more associated with him, her clothing switched to skirts and dresses almost exclusively. (We do see her wear pants in S8 during the sailing scenes and when she dresses like a pirate.) In S7, when they were struggling in their marriage, her clothes and hair became more severe IMO. In S8, we get a greater variety of colors and patterns again as well as many dresses and skirts with pockets. Now you may think that pockets are of little importance, BUT pockets in women’s clothing has been a topic of conversation in the fashion industry. To some degree the concern is how to provide women with the same sort of convenience men have for carrying valuables without carrying a bag. To this end there have been some articles that address the way pockets in women’s clothing have to be functional, fashionable, and form fitting. Not only that, but when we look at the history of pockets, we find that “in the mid to late 1800s, as women were fighting for liberation, pockets were introduced to clothing. Pockets represented independence.”
Throughout S8, I was more aware of Louisa having pockets in most of her dresses and skirts and of putting her hands in her pockets more frequently. This may just be a personal choice by CC, but I see it as a sign that despite her renewed commitment to the marriage, she wants to retain her independence. Thus, we have those scenes in which she asserts her ability to make decisions, as in the daycare arrangement, going back to school, and in buying the car with her own money.
For a couple whose home is so small, I am always wondering where Louisa stores all of her clothes. She rarely wears an outfit more than once, and she rarely has worn outfits from the previous series in the next one. The only constants of her wardrobe are her pocketbook, her watch, and what looks to me like a signet ring, which she wears on her middle finger of her right hand. The ring itself has some meaning when worn on the middle finger. It can symbolize “structure, balance, conscience, and order,” all traits that Louisa would want to be associated with.
I have to admit that the colorful clothing often worn by the three women mentioned here also reflects the scenery and gives the scenes a brighter look. Nevertheless, when it comes to selecting clothing for each character, a lot more thought goes into it than whether a certain color is appropriate for the setting. The style and particular features of the clothes each character wears subtly influence how we respond to them and to their role in the story.