A character like Jane represents a special challenge for us because we’ve found that when we discuss the costumes of characters who aren’t envisioned or presented as aspirational on the surface, it can sound like we’re discussing the everyday clothes of the many, many people in the world who dress exactly like her. In other words, we can divine whatever meaning we want out of the hundred-thousand-dollar wardrobes of characters like Madeline, Celeste and Renata, but when you start going after a girl’s hoodie, you better come correct, we’ve learned.
We’ll just say this: being a bitchy red carpet commentator is so different from what we’re doing here that we’re not just wearing a different hat when we write these posts; we’re several rooms away from our BRCC hat. To say, for instance, that Jane’s clothing represents her depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and tight financial status (which it does) is not to say that you, in your plaid shirt, jeans, hoodie and Chucks, are any of those things.
Just as Madeline’s florals represent her need for feminine perfection, Celeste’s neutrals represent her need to create a cocoon of safety, and Renata’s witchy blacks represent how the rest of the women saw her, Jane’s normcore clothing, which also indicates her youth relative to the other women, has heightened meaning when it serves as costume rather than as a real person’s wardrobe.
Let’s start with the plaid motif, since we’ve already posted a couple of examples.
It’s not just that Jane wears plaids with the same consistency that the other women wear their motifs (flowers, neutrals, blacks), to help instantly define her in that Carrie-Miranda-Samantha-Charlotte manner of costuming that Big Little Lies costume designer Alix Friedberg tends to favor. It’s also notable to look at the kinds of plaids she’s wearing. We’re not talking Burberry here. We’re not talking cute plaid skirts or sassy plaid scarves.
We’re talking lumberjack shirts.
This speaks instantly of her economic status in comparison to the other women. Plaid work shirts are costume design shorthand for “working class,” which, in this version of Monterey, means “poor.” She’s literally wearing her financial status on her sleeve. Then again, so are all the other characters.
Like Celeste, she tends to remain covered up in most of her scenes. The reasons are similar, but their emotional states are different. Celeste remains covered for practical reasons (to hide her bruises) as well as for the emotional reasons of needing to feel safe and protected. It’s an ongoing coping mechanism for Celeste. A way for her to navigate her life.
With Jane, it’s neither of those things. It’s a physical expression of her post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. She was violated and she has never gotten over it. She admits that in the years since, she pretty much lost any sense of desire or sexual expression. Celeste covers herself to protect herself. With Jane, there’s more of a sense that she doesn’t really feel connected to her own body anymore.
Except when she’s running. Part of the reason it’s so obsessive for her is because it’s the only time she seems to allow herself to exist physically and not feel ashamed by it. She exults in her body when she runs. Even if it comes across sometimes like she’s punishing it, at least she’s acknowledging it. Notice the uncharacteristic bloom of green in her costume.
We don’t mean to say she’s covered up in some sort of weird way in her style. Everyone in Monterey is wearing sweaters and jackets in most of the scenes. It’s just that her costumes, taken as a whole, show a fairly rigid brief of no short sleeves, no shorts, no skirts, high collars, and a jacket or hoodie over it.
And if maybe that doesn’t necessarily read “depression and PTSD” to you, perhaps the fact that she lives most of her life in shades of gray will make that point:
It’s her most pervasive motif. Grays for depression and plaids for poverty. With an overall need to be covered up that speaks of her PTSD.
Like we said, we approach a discussion like this with caution, because it can very easily sound like we’re saying women who wear hoodies or gray or plaid shirts are all demonstrating that they’re poor and depressed, which is not the case. Jane is depressed and she is at the very least economically challenged. These are the ways to shorthand that for the viewer, especially in a setting where everyone else is in much more expensive, much more coordinated ensembles. Taken collectively, and in comparison to the others, Jane can be read as someone who doesn’t care about how she looks and even actively works against caring about it sometimes.
When she finally opens up a little and decides to go on a date, suddenly we see her in a dress for the first time (in the present). That’s not notable in a real-world sense, since a lot of women her age would sport a dress for a first date. But again, taken in context with everything else we’ve seen about her, it represents that sense of living in her own body again. After all, it’s not just a dress, but a really short one with short sleeves and a V neckline. Like Celeste’s nude dress when she went to her second meeting, it’s a leap forward on several fronts at once.
The tights and boots set her apart as younger than the other women, not to mention far less likely to be sporting high-end items.
But even with this first toe in the waters, her Trivia Night costume was a bit of a surprise:
We could say that this was the most romantic, sexy look she wore in the whole series, but that might seem like an obvious one to make, since you pretty much can’t dress up like an Audrey Hepburn character without looking at least a little romantic. What’s notable here – aside from the fact that she chose the same look as Celeste, who shares a dark sisterhood with her that they’ll both discover later that night – is how she chose to interpret this look. The real Breakfast at Tiffany’s costume was neither as short nor as low-cut as this dress. You could take it as a demonstration of her growing desire for Tom or her willingness to pursue a more romantic, sexual life for herself. And we do, on one level. But on another, we think it serves as a dark reminder of the most important costume she wears in the whole story:
We see this cute little cocktail dress again and again and again during the story, until it becomes a totem for her trauma. It’s a shock each time we see it, at least partially because we never see Jane in a color at any other time and we never see her show this much of her body, not even when she’s running. To see her skin is to see her violation, just as to see Celeste’s skin is to see her vulnerability. To see her in a brilliant color is to see how much her trauma took from her, when put alongside the drab gray wardrobe she sports now. It’s why the Audrey dress feels a little shocking. It serves as the perfect shorthand to remind you of this dress, so that when she stands there in front of Perry and makes that silent connection to her own rape, you find it that much easier to come to the same revelation. A cute little sleeveless cocktail dress on Jane is a vivid reminder of her rape, even if it’s only on a subconscious level.
As we noted before, that final beach scene isn’t necessarily loaded with costume revelations. Celeste and Renata got to show some growth in their final costumes, but for the most part, we see these women as we’ve come to understand them:
So yes, she’s still in a hoodie and plaid and pants. She didn’t hit the lottery, after all. And boy, would it have felt like a huge betrayal of her journey to depict her in some floaty, floral sundress or something. This is right. She is who she is; she’s been through what she’s been through. But she’s got a group of friends now and she can roll up her pants and enjoy the sun on the beach instead of obsessively running through her revenge fantasies on it.
[Photo Credit: HBO – Stills: Tom and Lorenzo, HBO]