And now to wrap up our deep dive on the costumes of each of the characters of Big Little Lies (Madeline, Celeste, Renata, Jane) with the least developed of all of the main characters, but the one who had the most highly defined style. In fact, before you scroll down, go ahead and picture everything you’re going to see in the screencaps below. We bet if you watched this show – and especially if you watched it more than once – you’re able to conjure up a nearly dead-perfect memory of Bonnie’s costumes. Go ahead. Do it.
Did you picture a drapey, NoCal, hippie-chick boho style with Afro-Caribbean undertones?
Of course you did. Like all five of the main characters, Bonnie’s style is very defined and very consistent. But because so many of the other characters dress like typical upper-middle class white women, Bonnie’s style tends to register all the more strongly. That serves her character well; first because she’s not particularly well defined throughout the story, so the costumes help a lot.
Second, there is a constant sense of her being “othered” by many of the women, partially because she’s a woman of color and partially because she’s a middle-aged man’s hot, younger second wife. Regardless of her race, Bonnie was going to be looked at with some suspicion by this crowd, but her race helps inform the costume choices that underline that status. In order to sell that idea of her as a figure of suspicion, her youth, her body, and her lack of traditional western feminine style identifiers (no glossy straight hair, pencil skirts, or much in the way of heels or makeup in this corner) are all played up.
To support this point, let’s get to her second most pervasive style brief:
Of course it’s perfectly understandable for a fitness instructor to be spending her days in tight, body-revealing clothes. But again, it serves to underline her youth and her status as a sexual threat to jealous women. Like Renata’s Wicked Witch of the West costume motif, a lot of Bonnie’s costumes tend to underline not just who she is, but how other people see her. Note that even a lot of her fitness gear has a boho style to it. Note also that her tops tend to be more complicated or focus-pulling than they necessarily need to be, drawing your eye to her chest and abs.
Ironically, at the moment when she is most “othered” by the community and most seen as a threat to the marriages of its women:
She’s all sweatered up. We take that to mean that it doesn’t really matter what she wears; a hot young second wife is always going to be seen as a threat to some of these women.
It’s interesting to note that Celeste, Madeline, Jane and Bonnie all had costume motifs centered around being covered and uncovered, and what it meant for each woman when she was. Madeline: a need to be seen as attractive. Celeste: a sense of vulnerability. Jane: a reminder of her rape. And now Bonnie: the Salome or temptress.
But she made two rather sharp departures from her norm; the first one being very telling and the second, something of a mystery to us.
This is the most conventional (for this version of Monterey) outfit she wears in the entire story. All of the wild prints and sexy drapey-ness is gone. Her hair’s up tight. She’s in a very Madeline-like bright color. The only concession to her usual style is the large jewelry. She’s trying her best to meet Madeline halfway during this dinner and she knows she has to tell her news that’s going to make her explode (almost literally, all over the table). She’s toned down all the signifiers that tend to set the white wives of Monterey off.
But try as we might, we can’t really draw much of a line between her character and this costume, easily the most glamorous one at the party and largely considered one of the most glamorous ones Audrey Hepburn ever wore. Bonnie’s whole style is anti-glamour and her storyline doesn’t necessarily track with the movie version of this costume, which represented Eliza Doolittle’s final progression from guttersnipe to High Lady. Sometimes, you just have to shrug and figure a character just wanted to get her glamour on, whether you expected her to want to or not. As we said, Bonnie’s not well-defined enough in the script to make too many suppositions about her. Maybe she’s more vain than she comes across. Maybe she harbors a surprising princess fantasy. Maybe she wanted to make all the other bitches there eat it.
What it does manage to do is serve as the most unlikely outfit in which to commit a shocking act of killing. If you didn’t read the book, you never saw it coming, and this highly incongruous look underlines that perfectly.
Like most of the main characters, her final scene did not have her in a costume that represented some sort of change or growth on her part. But we’d argue that, of all of them, she’s the one least in need of demonstrating any change about herself. One thing Bonnie always had over all the other women in the story was a supreme self-knowledge. She didn’t ever come across like a woman lying to herself or the world about anything or worried about how the world saw her. Bonnie didn’t need to change because she was always the most well-adjusted out of all of them. And in fact, that total lack of change is her triumph, in a way. She didn’t change one thing about herself but all of these women were forced to change the way that they saw her.
[Photo Credit: HBO – Stills: Tom and Lorenzo, HBO]
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