Practically Everything Celeste Wore on “Big Little Lies” with Our Scattered Thoughts on What it All Meant

Posted on April 12, 2017

Time for installment number two in a series, darlings! And in a way, it’s the biggest, most important one of them all. We’re not sure we’d argue that Celeste was the story’s “main” character, but so much of the major plot drivers centered around her life, her decisions, and her relationships, right up to the climax, in which her life, her decisions and her relationships all exploded in front of the rest of the characters, demanding that they react to it.



As we noted when we talked about Madeline’s wardrobe, costume designer Alix Friedberg is doing very good work by not being remotely subtle about what she’s trying to say about each character. Think of Pat Field on Sex and the City. It’s roughly the same approach: rendering a small group of women in such highly consistent, unsubtle-to-the-point-of-obvious character-defining costumes that you feel you know them like good friends with an astonishing quickness. The only reason BLL doesn’t invoke the same kind of “I’m a Miranda!” “I’m a Charlotte!” response in the audience is because SATC was aspirational fantasy and BLL is about the complicated interior and exterior lives of women. You may want her house (GUILTY), her wardrobe, and maybe even a no-strings chance to fuck her husband, but this isn’t the kind of tale that makes you cry out “I’m a CELESTE!”

Anyway, our point is this: Like Madeline’s wardrobe, Celeste’s is very simple, very consistently rendered, and says something fairly obvious about her life, if you know what you’re looking for.


You could make the argument that appearances matter very much to Celeste and that, like Madeline, she places a great deal of value on her own attractiveness. But unlike Madeline, Celeste doesn’t dress for attention or to be noticed. She is always impeccably turned out in expensive-looking clothes that are highly coordinated with each other, but she eschews most colors and tends to keep herself as covered as possible.



This choice manages to draw huge distinctions between Celeste and the other two women. Madeline dresses to show off and gain eyes on her. We’ll get to Jane in our next installment, but she basically dresses like a depressed person without any money. Celeste is somewhere in between the two. She needs to feel attractive and show an image of coordinated control like Madeline, but she tends to dress in a “don’t look at me too long” manner that evokes Jane’s style.


In fact, she works as hard as she can to ensure that in most of her public outfits, she shows only her face (with her hair brushed forward and in bangs, so as much of her can be obscured as possible) and hands and wears little in the way of color or print to draw attention to herself.


Impeccable, neutral coverage is Celeste’s style brief.


This is, of course, both a symbolic choice as well as a practical one. Celeste wears sweaters because it’s cold. Celeste covers herself up constantly because she’s covered in bruises she’s trying to hide. Celeste dresses in neutrals because she doesn’t want to gain the wrong kind of attention or have anyone ask too many probing questions about her. She lives in a self-created space of neutrality, forever trying to keep the boat from rocking.

Which is why that need to remain covered and neutral isn’t just a public style choice for her. She dresses that way around the house, too.

Again, she can’t have the boys seeing her wounds.


And she lives in constant fear of setting him off. Staying covered up and neutral is her vain attempt to create a safe space in her life.


And it is rendered with a rather jaw-dropping consistency. This is one of those “If only we’d seen the signs” things rendered in costume form. These ARE the signs with Celeste.


It’s also notable, given how much Celeste remains covered throughout the story, that she has quite a few nude scenes, sex scenes and lingerie-wearing scenes. These tend to draw a sharp contrast against her constant modesty when dressed and allows two very important themes to make their way to the surface: That she is insanely vulnerable in her husband’s presence and that most of their intimacy is a performative act for her. These scenes of nudity and overt sexual expression stand out so much because in EVERY OTHER SCENE, Celeste tells us through her clothing that she needs to be covered, be neutral, and be safe. Not a woman pulsing with sensuality, but a woman trying to remove it from her life as much as possible.


We have to say something about her suit here that is going to sound like a value judgment but isn’t meant as one. She looks great. But to us, what stood out is that her suit isn’t quite of-the-moment stylish. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it tends to underline the back-of-the-closet nature of her paused career. Note again that it’s very covered up and neutral, but note also that she’s quite uncharacteristically showing her legs. Again, a subtle point about how this moment, this action and this costume are all helping her open up her life a little and consider the possibilities.

It’s why she figured “fuck it,” and went for the really cute and sexy dress for her next meeting:

Still neutral, but a lot more revealing than her usual wear; short sleeves, a V neck and an above-the-knee hem. She’s opening up – and he didn’t like it one bit.

But nothing was more revealing – in every sense of the word – than what Celeste wore to her therapy sessions; something she religiously refuses to wear in any of the other parts of her life:

A print. A busy, focus-pulling print.


And she will continue to wear them through most of the therapy scenes, including ones of increasing color. Until the point and the message cannot be denied:


“Please SEE ME sitting here.”


She does try to fight it at times, which is indicative of her own emotional struggle.


But it’s notable once she makes the decision to change her life how subtly declarative her clothes start to become. She’s taking that need to be seen that blossomed in her therapist’s office and allowing it to keep growing in her daily life.



And her choice of Audrey costume is slightly ironic, because we have no doubt she conceived it and put it together before she made the choice to leave him. It speaks of her need to be seen as beautiful, but also her need to not draw too much attention to herself simply because it was likely to be the most repeated costume of the night. There’s a reason she and Jane both wore versions of this costume. It helped illustrate the dark connection they have with each other as the mothers of Perry’s children and the victims of his rage, but it also spoke of class differences as well as personality differences between the two women. Note how covered she is.

As we noted in Madeline’s entry, the final beach scene didn’t make some sort of unlikely leap in the costumes of the characters even though they were all in different places emotionally than they were at the start. We think the point of this is to note that they are all, deep down, the same women they’ve always been, just with a bit more self-knowledge and some much improved relationships. But there is one notable difference. Celeste may be on the beach wrapped in neutrals like we’ve come to expect from her…

But she’s literally uncovering herself at the end.



[Photo Credit: HBO Stills: Tom and Lorenzo, HBO]

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