The Costume Design of “Sharp Objects,” Part 4: “Cherry” and “Falling”

Posted on September 05, 2018

It’s the final stretch of story as everything starts getting crazier and more confusing by the minute. All the costume design motifs are brought back out to re-examine, twist or darken in some way (so if you haven’t read the preceding posts establishing all those motifs, now’s your chance to catch up). Let’s get to it.

Women in White wander the woods:

Deploying a corridors-of-the-mind structure that’s now become familiar for this series, Camille has a couple of visions of dead girls inside a flashback to her time searching for Amma. The Woman in White is used to represent a lot of things, but right now, for Camille, she represents death.

Much of the series from now until the end will play out all of the costume design motifs in the story. As we noted previously, costume designer Alix Friedberg takes the established motifs and turns the dials up or down on them throughout the series until by the end, one very well-established motif explodes in both prevalence and meaning. Right now in the story, she’s kind of fiddling with the dials a bit on all of them. Pardon our repeated use of the sound-mixing metaphor but a lot of this kind of visual analysis works best if you take something of a synesthetic approach.


There’s a growing sense by this point in the story that things are getting increasingly off-kilter. You can see a bit of that reflected in the costumes, as Amma embraces a darker, blue-er color scheme (still with the pink bra sticking out)…


As Jackie’s wild florals and tiger print caftans start fading into swirling and muddy messes of color as she struggles with the truth and the increasing sense that it’s about to be discovered …


And as Adora makes the shocking choice to leave the house wearing pants. Things are just starting to feel more and more off.


As a not-inconsequential aside, the flashback of teenage Camille in her cheerleader uniform reinforces how costume and color motifs can arise out of dialogue and story points. Camille looks at the cherry pie her mother encourages her to keep eating and flashes back to this moment from her childhood, when she modeled her first cheerleader uniform, prompting her sister to call her a cherry and her mother to take it further and call her plump, a memory to which present day Camille reacts with disgust. This costume-based character moment is then picked up and expanded on, utilizing cheerleader uniforms as the binding motif:


Camille notices the stripes (put a pin in that) on Ashley’s uniform and that image reminds her of the hair ribbons she wore when she was a cheerleader, leading to a flashback to a scene where her peers are mean to her and the results of her cutting get discovered. In a later scene the one friend she reconnects with tells her that she’d noticed at the time that Camille had cut “cherry” into her thigh, which caused the bleeding her peers assumed was her period. “That made sense,” her friend reminisced. “We were so shiny. Luscious on the outside. But on the inside there’s that dark, hard pit.”

Just as the virginal/bridal image of the Woman in White tends to rapidly cycle through somewhat disturbing imagery (raped virtuous woman, child-stealing ghoul, mass-murderer, row of dead girls) in this story, the image of young teen girls and the slang term for their virginity is compared to blood and humiliation. There’s a sense that all the traditional tropes of femininity have soured for Camille. From brides to cheerleaders to sweet-as-cherry-pie, it’s all pain to her. This isn’t to say that Camille’s in pain because she’s not ladylike enough; just that the source of all her pain is a woman who is obsessed with old-school femininity and all its tropes. She didn’t carve “cherry” into her thigh as some sort of protest against patriarchal norms of femininity. She did it because that’s what her mother called her. Costume design and color motifs that not only underline the story, but help to propel it.

Back to the source of her problems:


Note that even when she’s feigning practicality by wearing pants, she makes the somewhat ridiculous choice to wear white ones to go visit a puddle of pig shit. Note also that she doesn’t get so much as one molecule of porcine output on her. Adora’s relentlessly immaculate and performative femininity wins again.

We don’t think the pink floral blouse needs much more discussing. It’s the most well-established costume motif in the story.


Here’s Alan, the perfect husband, doing Adora’s bidding in a pink shirt and white pants to match hers exactly; the emasculated flipside of Richard’s dark and sweaty version of masculinity. Not that you’d ever catch us declaring that there’s anything feminine about a man in a pink shirt. The point here is that pink is a well-established motif about Adora’s suffocating influence and to whom she bestows her love. This is why we keep coming back to the point that Camille doesn’t hate traditionally feminine tropes so much as what they’ve all represented for her. She sees a man who is nothing but a mouthpiece for her mother’s wishes and so she sees a man dressed just like her mother.

Note that Camille, being upbraided by her stepfather as if she were a child, is suddenly sporting one of the persistent motifs of her childhood costumes: stripes. She’ll continue to wear them throughout a rather disturbing bout of regression.


From hanging out by the pool with a bunch of horny teenagers …


To replaying old personal dynamics with her high school mean girl cohorts …


To a night spent partying with Wind Gap’s teen population in a drug-induced haze. In this sense, the colorful costume design motif of her childhood; the one that originally represented her defiance and sense of freedom, turns dark (literally) as Camille fruitlessly (pun intended) tries to relive that part of her life when she was a cherry.

This regression triggers another, even darker (metaphorically speaking) one in Camille’s life:

Adora, thrilled to have two unwell daughters (in white) under her roof and under her care, switches from pinks to blues, returning to the blue cardigan motif we pointed out last time, when she berated Camille for being a willful and defiant child, and again when she enacted violence on herself as a way of shutting Camille down. Just as we first met an Adora toting a cocktail that matched her nightgown, the truth of Adora’s illness slowly becomes more obvious as she dresses to match the blue glass bottle full of her daughter-sickening concoction. We don’t make this connection lightly.


It will repeat with rigid consistency from here to the bitter end. Not just the motif; the costume itself. Put a pin in that.

A look at Jackie, before everything changes:

It’s not a surprise to us that she’s wearing such a vivid, almost chaotic pink floral while acknowledging the extent of Adora’s crimes. Camille sees her as complicit in her mother’s crimes (whether fair or not) and the persistence of Adora’s signature costume design motif makes perfect sense in this scene.

One final doom-laden bit of costume imagery to chew on:


We noted that her attraction to Richard was partially signaled by the relative similarity of their costumes. Note that John is essentially dressed like a male Camille, taking the similarity much further. They bond over their shared darkness and joke about their dead sisters before crashing into each other in the worst way possible. What we think is kind of darkly notable here is that Camille, about to sleep with a teenager, thereby completing the regression she’s been experiencing these last two episodes, is not sporting the stripes that signaled that regression. The partying and socializing with teenagers was part of her attempt to recapture something, but this thing with John is entirely different; more fatalistic in nature. Like she’s trying to connect with a doomed man because only the doomed can see her for who she is.

Once again, ending on a cheery note and a reminder to come back tomorrow for the final analysis, in which the dial gets turned up to 11 on one of the most persistent costume motifs in the series.


[Photo Credit: HBO – Stills: HBO via Tom and Lorenzo]

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