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Thursday, 14 February 2013

Womenswear and The Hour.

Previously:  Bel Rowley and Freddie Lyon & Menswear and The Hour.

As a kind of doomed swansong for The Hour's recent cancellation, here's the third and final part of my series of costume posts.

Marnie is absolutely the classic stereotype of 1950s womanhood. In season 1 she doesn't get much to do, but by season 2 Hector's terrible behaviour has shaken her up enough that she transforms into what I can only really describe as a 2010s-style ultra-femme liberated woman. Probably my favourite detail of this was the fact that she clearly had an affair at some point, but it was so subtle that we'll never really know who with. With any other character I'd dismiss this as meaning they didn't have enough time to include it onscreen, but with Marnie you know that it's because she's just so damn discreet -- unlike Hector, whose affairs are all an unmitigated disaster and end up splashed all over the tabloids.
Marnie dresses like confectionary every day of her life. She's terrifyingly put-together, at first because she's a rich young aristocrat and has nothing else to do except look good, and later because she'll be damned if she'll let things slide just because she's done the unthinkable and got herself a career. I particularly loved her super-coordinated pink swirling skirts and aprons for when she was appearing on television -- in black and white. In some ways Marnie can look a little cartoonish because of her permanent glossy smile and carefully arranged layers of brightly-coloured skirts and petticoats, but the fact is that the fashionable colour palette in the 1950s was a lot brighter than nowadays. Meaning that oddly enough, Marnie's candy-coloured costumes are actually more realistic than Bel's skin-tight businesswear.

Sissy is a relatively minor character, but her costumes are so good she draws the eye whenever she appears onscreen. To me, Sissy looks a lot like a modern woman dressing up in retro/vintage styles, because she's so incredibly on-trend while still wearing the kind of widely available working-class clothes that show up in vintage stores in the 21st century. Marnie's brand of femininity is such that she wears pretty much nothing but frothy, full-skirted dresses, which is actually a look that shows up at weddings and upper-crust social functions even today. Essentially, the idea of what we think of as super-feminine formalwear has not really changed in about sixty years. Sissy is part of the next generation of fashion-conscious girls, following inner-city London trends, going to mixed-race nightclubs and moving in with their boyfriends before they get married. Sissy wouldn't look out of place in Camden in 2013.
Freddie's wife Camille is kind of the flip side of Sissy. They're both very modern, young and trendy, but Camille represents the hipster (in the old sense of the word) beat-generation side of 1950s pop culture. She wears men's sweaters and is a member of the fledgling Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She and Freddie live in an unfurnished flat in a neighbourhood run by a Rachman-esque slumlord. Camille's main role in the show is to introduce some conflict into the Bel/Freddie story, so we only ever really see her in a negative light. I suspect they gave her less screentime on purpose, because the more we saw of her the more likely we'd be to empathise with her. She moved to another country to be with her husband, but as soon as they arrived he transformed from a cool, poetry-loving bohemian into a BBC workaholic who clearly has some kind of ongoing thing with his female best friend. Really, Camille is better off without Freddie.
It's difficult to pick out a favourite character from The Hour because everyone is just so brilliant, but if I had to choose one I'd go for Lix Storm. I can't even just call her "Lix", it has to be LIX STORM all together: the coolest name for the coolest lady. In season 1 she was mostly a side-character, providing pithy commentary and drinking at two in the afternoon ("Whisky is God's way of telling us he loves us and wants us to be happy."), but her season 2 plotline with Peter Capaldi's Randall Brown was one of the most gripping aspects of the show
Lix has some of my favourite character-based costume design on the show. She dresses in a purposefully masculine way, to the extent that some of her suits are a direct analogue for menswear. In a show full of well-written female characters, this isn't the two-dimensional indicator of tough womanhood that it might've been in another show. Instead, it's a nod to her backstory. In her role as a kind of surrogate mother/mentor figure to the younger people at The Hour, Lix is the voice of experience -- and the voice of the past. She's a war reporter who was on the ground, alone, during the Spanish Civil War. And unlike Bel and Freddie, she can remember WWII from an adult perspective. Lix's dress-sense is stuck in the 1940s, when for practical purposes womenswear fashions skewed more towards masculine styles. Even though she's working in an office in central London in the 1950s, she's still dressed as an on-the-ground reporter ten years in the past.
If we're going to get over-analytical here, I'd say that in the offices of The Hour, Lix, Bel and Sissy represent three different generations of women in the workplace. Similarly, we see three generations of womenswear on the show. Lix is the practical wartime woman, wearing a limited selection of simple, durable shirts and trousers, whereas Marnie is the postwar New Look woman who dresses as girlishly as possible in reaction to the clothes rationing and utilitarian styles of the 1940s. Sissy and Camille are both edging towards the 1960s, with Sissy representing the working-class trends that would rule the later decades of the 20th century, and Camille representing the counterculture.

Previously:  Bel Rowley and Freddie Lyon & Menswear and The Hour.

Petition to save The Hour.


  1. I have a question that is not related much with costume but more about the name. I'm an Asian ESL and am not familiar with Christian or occidental names so I hope you could help enlighten me. I know Bel would stand for Isobel or Isabel (right?) But what's the usual full name for Lix, Sissi and Marnie?
    p.s. I love Lix Storm best too!

    1. Sorry for jumping in, but Lix's full name is Alexis. Marnie can be a given name or short for Marnan.

  2. I don't actually know what Lix would be! Elizabeth, maybe? As for Sissy, it's probably short for Cecilia. Marnie is an actual name, I think, but it may possibly be a shortened version of a more unusual first name that we don't know...

  3. Thank you so much for the reply!

  4. I think 'Alexis' was confirmed for Lix, though it was only mentioned once, or seen on a prop or something. Either that, or it's really pervasive fanon?.

  5. Interesting post! I would point out that it's heavily suggested that Marnie's lover was Alistair, her producer on the tv show. It's never explicit in the way Hector's affairs are but I think it's a nice foil to the workplace affair Hector was prone to.

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  7. Great discussion about costume. I like it.
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