Unordered List

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Good Wife 3x10: "Parenting Made Easy"

Previously: A Fan's Introduction to Costume Design.

The Good Wife, as well as being very entertaining and probably the most grown-up show on television, contains some subtly excellent costuming. I haven't posted about it before because the clothes are just one aspect of a show that's brilliant overall, but like many aspects of TGW's quality they crept up on me.

This post requires a little backstory, but no major spoilers for the latest episode (3x10). Earlier in the season Alicia ( lawyer and titular "Good Wife") was told to hire a new junior, a choice narrowed down to two young women. Caitlin had a good resume but came across as a little frivolous, and Alicia clearly found it easier to relate to the more serious-minded Martha. However, Alicia was told to hire Caitlin anyway because she was the neice of one of the senior partners.

Because TGW is a show with three-dimensional adult characters, this didn't result in sulking or infighting. Although Caitlin wasn't Alicia's first choice, they've ended up with a good professional relationship, with Alicia even mentoring Caitlin to a certain extent. This week, though, showed the return of Martha, opposing them in court alongside Alicia's longtime rival, Michael J. Fox (!).

From left to right: Alicia, the client (an English professor played by Jennifer Carpenter of Dexter fame), and Caitlin. Alicia is wearing one of her billion skirt-suits and Jennifer Carpenter looks as much like an English professor as you can make someone who is both smoking hot and best known for playing a foul-mouthed ex-Vice-cop, but Caitlin's who I want to talk about.

I'm never 100% clear on the relationship between women's officewear on American TV and women's officewear in American reality. Do high-flying lawyers wear that many slinky dresses? Maybe. After all, who else can afford them? Anyway, Caitlin's dress looks great, but that's mainly because she's slim and beautiful -- it's quite a plain dress in fact. It goes down to the knee, up to the neck, and has almost a full sleeve. Any complaints about its suitability can be attributed to straight-up body policing, in my opinion. But now let's take a look at what Martha's wearing:
She looks like a member of the clergy. No! She looks like she's wearing one of the super-repressed Thought Police uniforms from the Christian Bale/Taye Diggs/Sean Bean masterpiece that is Equilibrium*.
Because calf-length tailored robes make hand-to-hand combat so easy.
Now we've seen Martha, Caitlin seems like a childrens' TV present by comparison. Her dress is a bright colour! She even seems sort of unprofessional now because, you know... her forearms are exposed? And check out the accessorising as well: Martha's hair and makeup are relatively severe, whereas Caitlin has loose blonde curls and a delicate yet very visible gold necklace on over her dress, all shorthand for prettiness and femininity. Part of the reason for this, I think, is so viewers can instantly clock the two characters as the ones who were competing in an earlier episode, and to indicate their conflicting personalities. Later on their outfits tone down a little, with Martha in a more conventional dark suit and Caitlin in some Legally Blonde-esque maroon tweed:
See? I told you Michael J. Fox was in this show!
Once the audience know Martha and Caitlin on a less superficial level, they no longer need to dress like caractures of themselves. But they still maintain their personal style, with Caitlin as the girlier of the two and Martha sticking to severe black.

I've written before about my love of the underestimated-bimbo character in popular culture (for example, Patricia Arquette in True Romance), and have been watching the unveiling of Caitlin's character with great interest. With typical TGW wit and balance, this episode was neither a subversion nor an affirmation of the stereotypes Martha and Caitlin represent. Caitlin performs well in court, but retains the overly friendly and sorority-girl-ish mannerisms that cause people to make assumptions about her (sometimes accurately). Martha is rather smug and academically competative, but isn't the clear-cut academic career-woman the show might have made her -- she doesn't let the case devolve into a personal conflict, and calls for help when she needs it. Maybe the character traits that set them apart will serve them well later on, though. In TGW, most lawyers have some affectation or idiosyncrasy they habitually use to their adventage in court, and if Martha and Caitlin are to succeed they'll probably have to harness whichever easily-judged quirk they were born with.

One final thing about Caitlin's dress:
The most important thing in this photo is the back of Alan Cumming's perfect haircut.
This picture is from an earlier episode, and I'm pretty sure Caitlin's wearing the same blue dress (plus matching belt). It looks a little darker here, but that could just be down to lighting. If it is the same dress, kudos to the design team for giving Caitlin a specific outfit that she wears to court. Even if she's rich enough to buy a whole bunch of expensive clothes for work (entirely possible), she's still far younger than Alicia and it'd be unrealistic for her to never repeat an outfit. I find it very believable that a newly-employed young lawyer at a prestigious firm would agonise over finding the perfect court outfit that balances style, affluence and professionalism. Either that or Caitlin's a preternaturally accurate uniform-dresser.

*Equilibrium note: I can never decide which scene is better -- the one where Sean Bean reveals that poetry reawakened his previously-blocked emotions, the one where Christian Bale fights Taye Diggs and you kind of expect them to end up making out, or the one where Christian Bale proves he's human by rescuing a puppy and then staring at it quizzically for like fifteen seconds straight?


  1. Jennifer Carpenter looks as much like an English professor as you can make someone who is both smoking hot and best known for playing a foul-mouthed ex-Vice-cop

    Lol, stereotypes. In my entire academic career I have only had one English professor who dressed somewhat like this and she was a at least 50.

    I'm amazed that you've put together a post about The Good Wife's costumes without mentioning Kalinda's boots and leather jackets - normally all that anyone can talk about! But, yes, I think that overall the show's costuming is good and realistic. Diane is generally the most interesting, I feel. She gets to wear a lot of mixed separates and statement jewellery. They also do some subtle differentiation between Peter and Will that is nicely handled.

  2. The puppy scene is like 100% what makes Equilibrium for me:

  3. well... it's really just this episode. and kalinda's style may be super recogniseable but it's not really very meaningful? it's just "short skirt because i don't have to work in the office all day, suckers".

    diane gets the best costumes, for sure. I LOVE DIANE. i think she might be my favourite character, but only if i remove my alan cumming-tinted specs. I ADORE ELI GOLD. and his barely-suppressed rage outbursts. and his hair. and his extremely fitted slimline suits. but anyway, diane is beautiful and has the most amazing laugh.

    idk, i had a few fairly professorish professors. not all of them, but a lot. but i guess i did do a fairly old-fashioned humanities degree, in england.

  4. "whoa, sunrises are colourful and people are human" -- this just made me imagine how amazing this film would be if it starred keanu reeves. as in, keanu transforming halfway through from Matrix!keanu into stoner!keanu, once he'd gone off his Prozium. AMAZEBALLS.

  5. Personally, I'm sort of impressed by how you didn't get into the whole "the colors Alicia wears are directly indicative of her sex life". By impressed, I mean...I'm slightly obsessed.

    Also, doesn't Martha look a bit like she's stepped out of Star Trek: TNG?

  6. The possibilities...too gruesome to even contemplate.

  7. lol, the clothes in star trek tng never fit that well. and were way more 90s. maybe if you put like a pound of eyeshadow and some desultory headridges/ear-fins on her and added some type of gigantic hideous "cultural" broach-thing?

    well... the post was basically just a small one about martha and caitlin. i can't be bothered doing a proper TGW post, to be honest. i did love her angrily throwing her camisole in the bin in this episode, though!

  8. too BEAUTIFUL, you mean.

  9. diane is beautiful and has the most amazing laugh

    Oh yeah, the best laugh.

  10. Oh, now this is awesome. Everything about TGW is just so sleek and subtle, I love it <3 It's honestly the only show I actually notice the costuming and set design in (although, that is probably because I spent an inordinate amount of time going through the DVD extras). I just love how the characters are embodied w/r/t their makeup, clothing, etc.

    also, alan cumming's haircut is definitely perfect.

  11. sometimes, TGW is the "alan cumming's haircut show" for me. <--- probably a problem. ://

  12. Just because I love shameless acts of self-promotion, here's my review of the latest episode:

  13. Probably the puppy scene--no, no, definitely the puppy scene,

  14. I came here for the Avengers posts (by way of googling pictures of Cap), and I love every post. :D I love the notes you make on everything and how the tiny details play into the subtext of what the character is saying/doing/being. Also, visual shorthands for characterization cues, that is something I forget to think about consciously, and never has it been more clear-cut than in this Good Wife example! I have REALLY enjoyed all your insights. And, it appears we have very similar movie tastes! (....I'd have to go with the puppy scene, but I really do love the ripping of the film off the window to see the sunrise. And the chill of seeing the children spot and point out people whose microemotions betray them. Or the scene with the music. I could go on, I absolutely love that movie, and it is so vivid and sharp in my mind, despite my only seeing it twice.)

    Random movie recommendation (that I'd be interested to hear your costuming-based insights about) that is both apocalyptic and Christian Bale: Reign of Fire. All humans on earth are living underground and in hiding, from dragons that came out of nowhere and took over the earth (by feeding on humans and breeding inexplicably fast, faster than humans could successfully resist against). Lots of ashes, fire, coal, underground caves... Naturally, the movie's colour palette is pretty depressing, all charcoal and greys and black. I don't remember the costumes specifically, so maybe that means the costuming was more or less successful. (Except for Matthew McConaughey's, he has never looked more strange before or since! From what I remember, though, it was definitely true to his character.)

    Thank you for all your posts, these are all bookmarked and recced, and I will be keeping my eye out for more!