We tossed around all sorts of clever little titles for this series of posts, from “Big Little Lies Style” to “BLL Style” to “Lies Style,”and even to “Monterey Mommies” in a fit of 3 am screencapping mania. In the end, we settled on the kind of title that needs no explanation whatsoever, which makes the previous fifty words of explanation pretty unnecessary, come to think of it. Oh, well. Here we are, darlings; getting a bit of a late start because as per the uzh, these projects always take more time than we think they will when we first dream them up, but ready to dive in. Which we will do, starting…
The thing about the costume design of Alix Friedberg on Big Little Lies is that it’s both very basic in its themes, character points and motifs, and also completely explained by Friedberg herself in several interviews and companion pieces to the show. The costume design was very much a major factor in the show’s success and in its ability to tell stories about these women.
In other words, Friedberg’s work is as clear as a bell on each of the characters. As obvious as a heavy musical sting. Please understand that when we use words like “basic” and “obvious,” neither of them are value judgments. Look at how clearly Madeline stands out in all of the above scenes; how focus-pulling she is. Not just because of the deep colors found nowhere else in the scenes, but also because of the bold floral print and the very structured, fitted, high-heeled, leg-baring style, which no one else is wearing. The points being made about her through the costume are very obvious and the way those points are being made (legs, flowers, color) are very basic, in a way that works both on the surface and subconsciously.
Now watch it repeat:
Color, flowers, legs, heels.
Color, flowers, legs, heels.
Colors, flowers, legs heels.
When you look at Madeline in comparison to the other women in the story, and when you take into consideration the differences between her story and some of the others, her costumes make perfect sense. We’ll get into all of the other women and their costume designs in future installments, but Madeline’s speak of someone who needs to feel attractive and desirable, but also needs to feel in control, at the center of things, and as close to perfect as possible. It’s a sexy, cinched, bold,somewhat rigidly enforced form of femininity. And repeats in even in less obvious instances or when you can’t see the whole of her outfit:
It’s a look that’s both very controlled and in a strange way, an attempt to be controlling. If you show a unified, rigidly enforced version of yourself to the world at all times, you can maintain an illusion of invincibility.
But that’s not to say Madeline Martha McKenzie is stuck in a style rut. She’s got a series of very specific looks and styles. Her “Public Mom” look tends to be what we just outlined. Her “Private Mom” look, however…
Tends to be somewhat simple and a lot more basic in style. She ditches the layering, the belts and the floral prints for more practical wear, but it’s notable that she still likes her clothes to be fairly body-con.
She is fairly obsessed with her own looks, as well as her placement in the hierarchy of beauty in Monterey, constantly proclaiming Celeste her better, but also making sure to place herself high on the list.
At home, her sexiness isn’t terribly overt, but it’s still there, rendered in simple shapes and basic colors:
A body she’s proud of, and a constant need to feel attractive by showing it off, while maintaining a marriage that appears to be fairly devoid of sex.
Basically, it’s an explanation of her affair in costume form.
Which isn’t to say Madeline’s some sort of total sexpot. If anything, her style brief would appear to have “cute” at the top of the list in every iteration of her style:
And she sure does seem to love a black sweater over a cute blue skirt. Again, there’s this sense of her having a fairly rigid set of particular looks that she just repeats over and over again in her attempt to maintain a veneer of perfection and to play a variety of roles in her own life.
This includes her “supporting the arts/I’m a terrible wife and mother” look of knee-hi boots, tights, a sensible cardigan and a camel blazer:
It’s her “Humble Madeline” look.
Which is a slight variation of the “Madeline Seeking Answers” action figure:
Note how it’s still some variation on legs, flowers, colors and heels.
And she appears to have a limitless number of blue blazers, blue skirts and floral tops.
Even at the end, it’s notable that she didn’t go for the High Lady version of Audrey Hepburn for her costume. She once again chose something cute and leg-baring, utilizing blue and pink as its main colors. It was her own look translated. Sexy, cute, and rigidly enforced to the end.
What’s interesting to note is how the final scene, which represents so much growth for these characters, largely has them dressed according to their established motifs. Madeline is pink, low-cut and layered, a beachy echo of her Audrey costume. We think if you take their looks in total, the final scene shows that while they’ve been through something and it changed the way they related to each other, they are still the women they’ve always been. Just a little more aware of who they really are. Madeline will probably always want to maintain her looks, be seen as cute, and show the world the best version of herself she can, but she’s not as rigid or attention-seeking about it.
[Photo Credit: HBO – Stills: Tom and Lorenzo, HBO]