Kittens, this week’s Feud Style will be a drag EXTRAVAGANZA! Ryan Murphy served old Hollywood legends on a silver platter to fans of that sort of thing, restaging some legendary backstage face-offs and onstage antics at the Academy Awards ceremony of 1963. The results made for some eye-popping visuals, but because 75% of this episode’s costuming was of the historic recreation variety, it’s less about the semiotics this time around and more about simply enjoying the spectacle.
But you know us. We have to wring at least a little meaning out of things. This wasn’t an episode that was working on a lot of complex and nuanced levels, so the costume design didn’t either. Any motifs or themes to be found this week tended to be repeats or fairly basic statements about characters.
Of course the message here is bold, declarative and focus-pulling. Joan will not be ignored and she will get everything she wants out of this meeting. She’s a colorful force of nature; a unified and coordinated orange bolt of lightning. Note how there’s almost no variation in shade. Part of that comes down to the styles of the time, which tended to be much matchier than they are today, but it also serves to make her look formidable and unyielding.
Note also that this is basically a warm-weather version of the usual Crawford armor. She’s ditched the fur trim for a fuzzy hat.
And here the costume design serves to show the vast differences in the lifestyles of these two women. As per the usual, when she’s home, Bette’s in natural, woodland tones of dark green and brown. Note how the red stripe of her blouse mimics the blinds on the windows, placing her firmly within this space as its resident. Just as Olivia’s Pucci-style dressing gown plays well with her more elaborate, more Euro-flavored surroundings.
But when it comes to glamorous loungewear, no one could come close to Miss Crawford’s game:
Because doesn’t everyone walk around their house in heels and a caftan in the middle of the day? And probably drunk to boot? Miss Crawford, living the high life.
This is an example of oppositional costuming, much in the same way the scene above with Olivia and Bette is. It’s about drawing very sharp differences between two characters using as much shorthand as possible. Joan is billowing, large in her personality and in the shadow she casts; colorful and bold, but swanning around in loungewear. Hedda is a mass of color and pattern, tightly constricted and constructed. A constant nervous energy of clanking jewelry and quivering feathers in opposition to Joan’s slow fuchsia wave.
And again here, with the oppositional costumes. Joan is in a pale floral caftan, all leisure and sunlight and California; the very picture of a fading movie star. Geraldine is dark and high-collared, cinched but still practical; the very picture of an intellectual stage actress in New York. Joan is age and Geraldine is youth. The irony is that age is rendered in bright natural colors and youth is rendered in funereal black. But that played well with the undertone of the scene. Geraldine pitied Joan, but also thought she was vaguely ridiculous.
What’s interesting is how that script gets flipped when Joan goes to see Anne Bancroft:
Joan’s in her Crawford armor and Anne’s the one in pastel loungewear. What’s interesting here is how this scene perfectly mimics the one in the pilot, when Joan went to see Bette backstage at Night of the Iguana. She got what she wanted then and she got what she wanted here. The armor still works.
Here’s Bette getting ready for the Oscars: A vanity, one makeup queen, and a ratty old bathrobe.
That is not Miss Joan Crawford’s way. NOT AT ALL:
HIGH DRAG, bitches. Note how even Joan’s bathrobe is more luxurious than Bette’s.
To be honest, from here on out, it’s all spectacle, drag and historic recreations. It deserves to be spotlighted for the beauty of the designs and the nearly perfect mimicry of the original fashions, but we’d be torturing you if we tried to come up with any deeper meanings.
Joan really did dress like a silver Oscar, down to having silver powder applied to her hair. While her actions here went down in Hollywood history as one of the most petty campaigns in Oscar history, we prefer to focus on Joan’s superior understanding of image and red carpetry. This kind of strategic thinking; this use of fashion to sell an image and send a message, is exactly what the modern red carpet is all about.
As for Bette and Olivia:
These are fairly exact recreations as well. From a costume design perspective, they’re a godsend, because all three women wound up in the same scene together. Imagine if two of them were in black or two of them in white. The final tableau was Black and White looking on in disgust as Silver stole the spotlight. Costume designer Lou Eyrich couldn’t have asked for a better color story:
What a fantastically directed and acted sequence.
The rest of the episode was simply Hollywood history porn for superfans:
All of which are close recreations of original footage and photographs from the night:
— Tom + Lorenzo® (@tomandlorenzo) April 3, 2017
What’s not quite clear about the staging of this scene is that she went and got her own Oscar after she put Bancroft’s on the nightstand. It’s hers we see in her hand as she places it next to someone else’s. It’s like she had to justify all the crap she pulled and all the empty feelings she’s currently experiencing by reminding herself that she has her own Oscar.
What’s also notable here is that Joan has been in that outfit for at least 15 hours now and she looks as perfect as she did when she walked out the door. Alone and bitter, but flawless to the end.
[Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/FX – Stills: Tom and Lorenzo, FX]