We’ve wrung all the meaning we can out of the cinched florals of Madeline and the cocooning neutrals of Celeste, so it’s time to move on to Big Little Lies’ own Wicked Witch of the West herself, Renata Klein.
If your back is up over that description, just stay with us on this and we promise we’ll pay it off without sounding like misogynist assholes. We think.
There are two things that set Renata’s wardrobe apart from those of the women around her. First, she tends to be more dressed up than the average Monterey parent in almost every situation. This underlines two things about her status: that she is among the wealthiest of the residents (her clothes, including the above coat, tend to look way more expensive than almost anyone else’s) and that she is not just a working mom, but an A-list executive. She can’t just be dressed for work; she has to be dressed to the nines for it. In Renata’s world, power and status are openly delineated by surface details, which is why she assumed the humbly dressed Jane was Madeline’s au pair.
It’s notable that the two most dressed-up women outside Otter Bay Elementary every morning would appear to be Renata and her nemesis, Madeline.
The second thing that sets Renata’s style apart from the other characters is its consistent focus on shape. Note the unusual volume and hemline on her coat; the way it changes the shape of her lower half to make it different from anyone else’s. Renata always casts a different sort of shadow; always has a noticeable silhouette:
It’s flared legs, or padded shoulders or cardigans worn as capes or sometimes just a body-con top and pair of pants, perfectly set off by Laura Dern’s tall angularity. Unlike Celeste with her layering, Jane with her shapeless hoodies, or even Bonnie with her flowing shapes, Celeste always has a clearly, sharply defined silhouette.
There are two other things you may have noticed from looking at the above collages.
One is that Renata loves herself a big ol’ belt. It’s the most consistently deployed item in her wardrobe arsenal. It goes hand in hand with her need to have a slightly more extreme silhouette than anyone else. It also tends to underline the bigness of her personality. Renata’s got so much raging inside her that she needs giant belts to rein her in. It also plays nicely as a counterpoint to Madeline’s love of thin little belts.
The second most consistent thing about Renata’s style?
She practically LIVES in black. Extreme silhouettes, big belts, broad shoulders, points and angles, all in black, black, black, in almost every costume. That is all clear shorthand for a Villainous Woman character. Renata Klein, Wicked Witch of Monterey.
This is, of course, meant to be ironic. As we get to the end of the story, we can see that Renata is nowhere near the horrible woman other characters believed her to be. On a practical level, Renata probably wears black because it makes her serious and imposing for work or because she doesn’t want to think about what matches or because she’s just the type of person who loves to wear black. But on a symbolic level, it works to make her appear sinister through the eyes of the other characters. Renata was never a witch, but through most of the story, that’s exactly how everyone saw her.
Even when she’s trying to be fun, she’s still in black, providing a notable silhouette, and covered with predators. The message in Renata’s clothing for the first three quarters of the story is all about her being a dangerously angry character who simply isn’t like the other women.
Note that when she does add color to her black ensembles, it’s almost always touches of red and purple; colors of rage and passion.
But then the final quarter of the story kicked in and suddenly, we were seeing a softer, lighter side of Renata. Literally:
Still about the black, the silhouette, the belt and the bold details, but the soft whiteness of that fringed sweater, and the way it fairly quivered with her own frustration and outrage that her daughter was being terrorized, showed a different take. Still full of rage, but it’s the much more understandable and relatable rage of a mother desperate to protect her daughter. She’s not a hundred percent likable here, since she tended to make Amabella feel like crap for her own victimization, but this was still a softer approach, and really, the first time in the story you got an inkling that she wasn’t the bad guy.
This was the scene where the reality of this character became evident. It’s not about the silhouette or the sharpness. There’s no big belt or even much black to be found. Just a woman in an everyday outfit, fed up and tired. It’s the only time we see her in blue jeans and it’s one of the few outfits that isn’t tightly belted or just plain tight on her. She’s not “performing” Renata.
Here, though, she’s back in black with characteristic angry splashes of red and purple. It’s the only floral we see her wear, and in typical Renata fashion, it’s a dark and angry one. But again, there’s a softness to it, simply because it isn’t some shoulder-padded suit or wildly flared jumpsuit. And while this represents the anger and darkness in her, the dialogue makes it clear that what she’s really feeling is loneliness and rejection by the other women in the community. Understandable, relatable anger. A witch covered in roses.
Her trivia night costume is both hilarious and highly revealing (as all the trivia night costumes were). Renata being Renata, she chose one of the more expensive and elaborate of Audrey Hepburn costumes; one with an extreme silhouette and large, bold details, as is her preference. It’s boldly white, however, which signals her transition from villainous character to outright heroic one in this scene.
Note the black and white stripes.
And note how they are picked up again in her final costume. Note also the fraying quality of the sweater, which speaks of a looseness and a sense of letting go in her formerly tightly wound personality. Of all the women in the final scene, her costume represented the most personal growth because it’s the most different from how she was dressed throughout the story. As for the stripes, they could serve as a reminder perhaps of the dark sides of her personality, but we tend to think they’re a reminder of the night she made her best friends and learned how to become a friend herself
[Photo Credit: HBO – Stills: Tom and Lorenzo, HBO]