Just a bit more about the clothes

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.

17 thoughts on “Just a bit more about the clothes

  1. Amy

    I never much think about clothes (on TV or elsewhere), but I did like what they had Louisa wearing this season as compared to last season. She definitely looked softer and prettier all season long. I have to believe that was by design. The red shoes versus the black/brown shoes were themselves a sign of a happier, more upbeat person.

  2. Kathy

    One quick thought – I noticed that some of Morwenna’s clothing this series was less revealing than in previous series – perhaps an attempt to gradually have her clothing move from that worn by the village girls to a more serious “professional”. She also was a bit more assertive to the doc. I am looking forward to seeing how her character develops next series

  3. Kathy

    btw, I enjoyed your thoughts on pockets in women’s clothing. I am a big pocket person and won’t even consider a pair of pants without pockets .. and I was thrilled last year to find a winter parka with an inside pocket – wish more women’s outerwear had inside pockets.

  4. Amy

    I also thought that Morwenna was wearing somewhat less flamboyant clothing. She often wore a denim jumper—hardly professional looking, but not as crazy as some of her earlier outfits. She also looked embarrassed wearing that awful bridesmaid dress in E1. I also enjoyed her character this season and thought that the depiction of her relationship with Al was very sweet and realistic.

  5. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    It’s kind of funny to think that what we see Morwenna wearing now is toned down to the point that it strikes us as less flamboyant. I remember Jessica Ransom saying in an interview that she is always curious to see what her outfit will be for each episode. I think she’s just as shocked by the selections and we are. There used to be an animal theme to her clothes – you know, cat faces, leopard prints, etc. That isn’t as prominent this series.

    I have to say that her clothes are so dramatically opposite from either Martin or Louisa that I have always thought Martin would have said something to her about them, or Louisa might have instructed her on appropriate clothing for an office. On the other hand, Martin’s run in with Elaine and the town’s reaction to it might have deterred him from going anywhere near that subject. I suppose as long as the person out front gets the job done, she can look like Pauline or Morwenna and get away with it.

    She is emblematic of the difference between the folks in the town and Martin, and he’s been the one to adapt even if we now think Morwenna is beginning to move in his direction a little. She really has come a long way considering she arrived totally without experience and has now become a sort of minister without portfolio. Unlike Pauline, she’s never taken any courses to improve her status in a medical clinic, but she assists often and knows what to do in an emergency. Very resourceful of her, right? It will be interesting to see if they decide to build up her character somehow.

  6. Amy

    Morwenna is one of my favorite characters. I think they have done a good job of showing her growth in a gradual and believable way. And her affection and empathy for Martin has always been so touching—when she assures him that Louisa will return in S7 and the look on her face when Louisa does return, you know how much she cares for and understands the doc. And even when she ribs him about his manner, it is always good-natured, and he takes it that way. I think in many ways Morwenna is the stand-in for the viewer—the person who sees Martin in a fuller way than even Louisa does and can laugh at him and cry for him. That’s why I find the scene in S8 E4 so poignant—her plea for him to help her mother because “I work here.”

    And as I said, I think they’ve done a good job portraying a “normal” relationship between Morwenna and Al. They talk to each other in a caring way—he comforts her about her mother, she encourages him to take a chance on the pub, they show affection and intimacy. In fact, they show with Al and Morwenna exactly what seems off between Martin and Louisa. They’re showing us they know how to portray a loving couple (without getting into R-related matters)—they’ve just chosen not to do so with M & L.

    And one of my favorite scenes in S8 is the scene when Morwenna’s parents show up and Al is in her robe. That made me laugh. Al is embarrassed, but Morwenna doesn’t let her parents make her or Al feel bad.

    BTW, overall in re-viewing S8, I am not as down on it as I was in watching it the first time. Maybe it’s because my expectations have been lowered and I know what NOT to expect, so I can focus on what is there and see more positives than I did the first time through. It’s still not up to par with earlier series, however.

  7. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I agree that Morwenna has turned into someone who understands Martin well and can generally manage him. On occasion they have some knowing eye contact to communicate with each other that approaches what he and Louisa have. On the other hand, Morwenna has to turn to Louisa for help with Martin sometimes, and that’s important because otherwise it would look like she has a closer relationship with him than Louisa has.

    I would interpret her comment “I work here” as indicating that she feels entitled to getting special treatment due to her having proven her trustworthiness and demonstrated her loyalty through her efforts to make the office efficient and organized. She is well aware of each patient’s medical problems and has never spoken about them to anyone. It’s one thing to revert back to the confidentiality between patient and doctor clause when it’s an outsider and quite another when it’s someone you have a trusted relationship with.

    She and Al are good together and she has had to accept his lack of success without bailing on him. He almost has as bad a reputation in town as Martin insofar as being a loser. He’s sort of the nice guy loser while Martin is the offensive guy who is off putting to many.

    I guess the series can grow on you, but I have to say I recently looked back at some of my posts from 4 years ago and I was astounded at how I could argue they developed a strong arc for each series that S8 did not have at all. For example, I wrote about S3 and 4 (especially 3) being an interrogation of what family means. It was easy to find a significant coherence throughout and within each episode. That’s what I miss now, and was a sign that they had really thought things through previously.

  8. Amy

    I agree about the lack of an overriding story arc, though I am now seeing at least more continuing themes than I did initially. I still think this series was about the challenges parents face in balancing career and family, Louisa being the focal point for that issue. But her classmate Tina was another one struggling with that issue, and even the Toby/Dr Sims story was about parents who spend too much time away from their children. Related to that theme was the question of what impact these parenting choices have on children—whether it was taking a child to daycare, letting a sick child go back to school too soon, leaving a child to travel too often, or providing a child with a pet. These questions came up in almost every episode—even with Morwenna when she reproached her parents for putting their church mission before their family or Mrs T saying that she regretted not spending more time with Clive rather than with her shop.

    So I do think there were issues raised that create a theme—not done as artfully as in the past nor written as well, but they’re there, IMO.

  9. Kathy

    Amy, very perceptive comment about the family theme and the effect it has on children. For the most part, I have completely enjoyed series 8 and wasn’t disappointed at all. But I have been too busy to actually spend much time watching it this year to think about it in depth. I hope to have a little more time come the first of the year. But I will definitely keep your observation in mind when I do.

  10. Brendan

    I’ve notice over the Doc Martin series how Louis’s wardrobe has changed. She used to wear pants and jeans, but in s7 & 8 she is always in a dress. I’m curious on why the show decided to change her clothing. Perhaps she is conveying type of sophistication, or she becoming more cosmopolitan?

  11. Santa Traugott

    The wardrobe design is part and parcel of what makes the series so appealing to me, i.e., the care and craftsmanship that goes into every element of the production. I have the feeling that all the elements — set design, wardrobe design, shooting angle, shot selection — are skillfully selected to contribute to the story-telling, almost as much as the dialogue and acting.

    I think Mrs. Tishell’s clothes are great. They perfectly fit a very proper, somewhat stodgy, middle-aged woman, and it’s doubly delightful that beneath this disguise is a woman who is just barely certifiable as not insane. Her character wouldn’t be as much fun without this disguise — if she were disheveled or unconventional in clothing choices, she wouldn’t be as much of a joke.

    I don’t quite get why Morwenna’s dress choices have to be quite so wacky, but maybe it does help with the contrast of her being basically sensible and competent. It makes the joke work better. BTW, speaking of animal themed clothes that she wears, there’s a great shot in late S6, where she comes upon Martin in the consulting room, with his shirt off, doing some kind of medical test on himself, and her t-shirt features a suprised animal with huge eyes. She looks flaky, but she’s really grounded.

    I love Louisa’s wardrobe. I think they have made her wardrobe more sophisticated over time, which fits with her growing status as headmistress and wife of the town’s doctor. But it always has strong, clean lines, usually bright colors, while being intensely feminine as well. I think they fit her character perfectly. And they also fit her setting — we wouldn’t expect to see a headmistress in a small village with really trendy clothing choices. She has only made one horrendous costuming choice, and that is a frilly sort of greenish-white dress that she is wearing in Season 1, where she is trying to persuade Martin to take a ticket for the village dance.

    I think it is the case, that in England, women are somewhat more likely to wear skirts than they do in the U.S., where these days, I almost never see a woman in a dress (maybe I need to get out more).

    Kate Kennedy’s site, PortwennOnline, has photos of every single costume that Louisa and Martin have worn (don’t know if it’s fully updated to S8).

  12. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Amy, your suggestion that there is a theme of women balancing career and family seems to me like a gallant effort on your part to find something that has a potential to qualify as a theme. I wish I could agree. My problem with it is that there is no time when anyone brings up that issue in any sort of discussion of substance. There is even an opportunity for it to come up when Louisa tells Martin she wants to study child therapy, but Martin never mentions how much he had always thought she should be at home with James more. In fact he acts concerned that she might regret leaving her headmistress job.

    The other examples are also never developed into anything once the incident and episode end. For them to be meaningful to me, and to the story/plot, we would expect the subject to raise its head at some point. A theme should not be so opaque as to require such deep interrogation and more than one viewing.

  13. Amy

    I admit I may be digging. But I am not sure the other themes we’ve seen and discussed were ever fully discussed in the show either. In fact, since most conversations between the characters in the show rarely last for more the two to three minutes if that, I think we’ve always been filling in gaps and interpreting and interpolating to find the deeper layers. On the surface, the show is a pleasant dramedy about a doctor with a blood phobia and his love for the local headmistress of the school, and my hunch is that’s how most viewers see it. All the issues we’ve discussed like whether people can change, what it means to be normal, etc., have hardly been themes that were obvious on my initial viewing anyway.

  14. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Wow, do I disagree with you on that! How many times have there been conversations about Martin needing to change, whether it’s possible for people to change, etc., etc. between Martin and Ruth, Ruth and Louisa, Martin and Joan. The same is true with happiness and whether Martin is normal. When it comes to a discussion about family, if you reread my post on the definition of family you’ll see all the references to family I quote.

    We have gone off on our own in terms of psychoanalyzing Martin, but most of the posts I’ve written have resulted from particular comments made throughout the show by the main characters.

  15. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I wouldn’t want to burden you with that! 😜

    I suppose by writing these posts I have cemented some things in my memory. At least that seems hopeful for my future prospects with dementia!

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