We’re back for the penultimate look at the costumes of Feud: Bette and Joan, but we’ve gotta say, we struggled with this week’s entry. First, because so many of the costumes worn this week, such as the one worn by Susan Sarandon above, are recreations of the original costumes worn by the actors as they shot Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Oh, and can we say? Having to type out the title of the movie several dozen times in the last few weeks has us totally supportive of Joan. It really doesn’t need the ellipsis.
Anyway, we very much appreciate costume recreations ’round these parts. They require a specific skillset and an eye for making modern materials and techniques look period-accurate, as well as an understanding of how to interpret B&W costumes for high-definition color. But we can’t use them as a discussion of symbols, motifs and themes very well. Their sole purpose is to look as much as possible like other costumes.
The other reason this episode made for a poor costume discussion? There was only one theme:
Bitches Broads in Bathrobes. And dear God, do these two ladies have a lot of them.
In fact, it is THE most persistent costume theme in the entire series, which makes perfect sense. Given the lifestyles of the two main characters (aging movie goddesses), as well as the settings in which they do their work (film sets), there would almost have to be a ton of scenes in which they appear in bathrobes, nightgowns and lounge wear. Costume Designer Lou Eyrich has made the smart, if fairly unrealistic choice, to bestow on each woman seemingly dozens of dressing gowns and bathrobes to cycle through. Most people – including aging screen goddesses – would have no need for this many robes in their lives, but if they were to be limited to a more realistic or practical number, we’d be watching them wearing the same costumes in scene after scene. Better to go with a heightened Hollywood reality, where Bette Davis favors ratty old bathrobes – and seems to have one in every color of the rainbow. Joan, of course, favors satin robes or robes with some sort of feminine detail, like quilting or a scalloped collar. Note the choice to put Joan in an uncharacteristically plain robe when she wakes up drunk and abandoned on set. It plays into her disheveled state of mind and it also draws a sharp contrast with the glamorous film costume she’s wearing underneath it.
And speaking of loungewear, note what happens to Joan in scenes where she is specifically dealing with or talking about the repercussions of her actions on her career:
Her pajamas and robes get very colorful and shimmery. In each case, when juxtaposed with the dialogue of the scene, her costumes make her look both glamorous and frivolous. A pampered movie star taking her demands a few steps too far.
Before we move on from the pajama and loungewear game, special attention must be paid to Miss Olivia DeHavilland.
That one really knows how to lounge around the place in style. Notice how she matches the room so well, she’s practically camouflaged in it. A visual representation of how hard Aldrich is going to have to work to dislodge her from that couch.
Moving on to Joan’s other, much milder motif this episode, the “Never Let Them Forget How Ill You Are” lab coat:
In each case, it visually ties her to a reminder of her supposed illness; both the nurse pushing her wheelchair onto the set and the white walls, nurses’ uniforms and doctors’ lab coats of the hospital scene. We like to think of this as Joan knowing full well the value of a good costume when you’re playing a scene. It’s her version of a hospital gown.
Pauline’s costume makes for a bold, feral counterpoint to Joan’s pale role-playing, but we found ourselves fairly distracted by how odd it was. A pantsuit/pillbox hat combination wasn’t really much of a thing in the sixties. We’re sure someone could find a shot from Vogue or Butterick, but it’s kind of an odd choice for a young woman of this time.
Bette, for her part, was living a Life in Orange this episode:
It made for a nice “fire and ice” thing when facing off against Joan in that conference room. And when Olivia showed up in a rich teal suit, it comes off as more of a complement to Bette’s orange. Other than that, it tends to set Bette as a buzzing distraction in almost all of these scenes -which was the point of most of them; the rest being scenes where she’s complaining about or rebuking Joan in some way. Orange is simply her “I fucking hate Joan Crawford” color.
[Photo Credit: FX – Stills: Tom and Lorenzo, FX]