Normal People: A Review of Mariannes Outfits
The wait is finally over. FYI this article will include spoilers so come back later if you are in the middle of watching, or haven’t yet read the book.
The highly anticipated novel, Normal People by Sally Rooney, has been brought to life in a mini series released onto BBC III iPlayer last Sunday. The series has been perfectly separated into 12 episodes that are under 30 minutes. If you are like me and were counting down the days until its release, this was a nerve-racking wait because in anticipation of how the characters would be brought to light, and whether or not the series would do the book justice? My opinion, it is as very good, if not better.
Watching the series reminded me of how much I fell in love with the novel. I consumed the book in under 2 days and the tv series in under 24 hours. The stories centres around the two protagonists, Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron (brilliantly played by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal) as they form a special bond that begins at the end of school, until the book ends when they are in their last year of university. This coming of age romance will conjure up emotions and memories that may have a Pandora’s box affect, by allowing yourself to become invested in Marianne and Connell's complicated love you are ultimately opening up a trove of feelings that you may have thought you had locked away.
A big part of what makes the series so gripping are the characters development through the four years that we follow them. Normal People portrays the way that class difference pushes away Marianne and Connell from being together, when they are so clearly mean’t for each other. Connell goes from the popular football playing teenager in his normal working class school in Sligo, Ireland, to becoming an outsider once he arrives at the prestigious university, Trinity, Dublin. The power dynamics shift and Marianne appears to blossom once she arrives at Trinity, even though she was picked on by her peers at school, but, finds that all the quirky and odd tropes that made her stick out then are what allows her fit in to university life.
Most of the reviews that you will find online by mainstream news outlets will discuss the incredibly realistic and tender sex scenes that have left viewers feeling in awe, but also like intruders, or the class difference between the Marianne and Connell (which I have briefly touched on). Normal People explores the human condition through intense physical and intellectual connection, and also without any huge plot twist or Hollywood theatrics. We are able to connect with the characters as they present life through a lens that mirrors what we have experienced - such as friendship, family, and first love. I could go on and on about the beautiful way Rooney and directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald captured the best thing that has arrived on our TV screen in years, however, I have been dying to talk about Marianne’s wardrobe.
Returning to the theme of class, clothes play an important role Marianne's character development, as she is fortunate enough to be born into a middle class family and she has the disposable funds that allow her to elevate her style throughout the years, while Connell’s wardrobe goes from tracksuits at school to jeans and t-shirt at university.
In an interview with i-D, Daisy explains that one of her favourite parts about making the show was getting to work with Lorna Marie Mugan, the costume designer, to build Marianne's wardrobe. Lorna scoured thrift stores and collected vintage costumes all over Ireland to find looks that would fit Marianne’s quirky, laid-back sensibilities and could also be used to age her throughout the series.
If we look at the first three episodes that cover the year that Marianne and Connell are at school, they spend the majority of this time in their school uniform, however, when we see Marianne outside of school she is dressed in laid back casual wear. She wears her hair in a messy bun, and dresses in predominantly slouchy knitted jumpers paired with jeans, dungarees and grey sweats. Her clothes are not being worn other than out of comfort, allowinf the viewer to see her as a school girl and nothing more.
Marianne tries to fit in at school once hers and Connell's relationship begins behind closed doors, here she joins Karen, Rachel and Lisa to help them sell tickets for an upcoming fundraiser. She is dressed in a skin tight black dress and wears her hair down in curls, she appears slightly uncomfortable and is wearing much more make-up than we have previously seen on her. She is dressed in similar outfits to the other girls and starts to receive unwanted attention with her change of appearance.
Once Marianne leaves school and starts Trinity we see her style completely change and come into its own. She starts wearing luxurious fabrics like velvet and silk, pairing them with chiffon blouses and accessorising with scarfs and drop down earrings. Marianne is wearing rich colours like maroon, red and deep blue to heighten the outfits with parts of her personality coming through. She has transformed from the uncomfortable school girl into a confident young woman. Daisy explains that in, "early Trinity, she (Marianne) really tries to dress up and be different, but as she ages, she stops needing to be so out there and feels comfortable to wear clothes that fit and feel good”. I adore Lorna's use of velvet blazers with different blouses, and the repetition of outfits, proving that Marianne is like you and I and doesn't have a new outfit every-time we see her, other than a few staple items.
I know I am not alone in this but one of my favourite episodes has to be number eight when Connell join's Marianne and friends at her villa in Italy. After my friends and I had watched the episode we were furiously messaging on our Whatsapp chat about how much we loved Marianne's dresses (particularly the black one). We first see her in a short simple cut 1960's style dress that feels like the most perfect airy outfit for a hot weathered holiday. The second dress that captivated me was the black spaghetti strap midi dress (its become iconic, naturally) that is reminiscent of something you can find on Reformation (sadly I wasn't able to find out where these dresses were from). The figure caressing dress is clearly not only perfect for cycling but for lounging around and eating ice-cream in, and has captivated everyone's desire to walk around barefoot, or slip on a pair of white Superga's and go on holiday. Although this trip looks picturesque, in reality Marianne is clashing with Jamie (her then boyfriend) and struggles to hold up appearances. This perfectly portrays how Marianne makes an effort to hold herself together regardless of what is going on in her life, and this is evident in her outfits.
Marianne's year in Sweden brings a bit of scandi style to the series, with cashmere ruffled turtleneck jumper, chunky black boots and the most amazing coat you have ever seen. She is away from Connell during her year abroad and is struggling with the inner turmoil that she allows to surface in the form of sadist sex. When Marianne arrives in Sweden she is wearing a wonderful multi-coloured polka-dot chiffon dress paired with matching earrings, however as we watch her withdraw from herself the colours disappear from her clothes, and instead are replaced with muted tones of beige and black.
Finally when Marianne returns to Dublin there is a poignant conversation she has with her best friend Joanna:
Joanna: "Did we become 50 years old and get married without noticing?”
Marianne: “Maybe, I actually love it.”
Joanna: “Do you think our first year selves would hate what we have come?”
Marianne, “I think first year me would have been amazed, look at her she is actually content, wow”.
We are witnessing Marianne at her happiest and in her own words she actually is finally 'content', and again, this is clearly reflected in her outfits. We see a mixture of references from the previous years of Marianne style combined into one, there is more colour - we see a printed skirt that is not only vibrant but one that differs from her go to polka dot pattern. She also wears her staple roll-neck top, knitted jumpers, but then there are also sparkles, and it is clear that the clothes that she is wearing are a true reflection with how comfortable she is feeling in herself as she finds herself with Connell once again. In her interview with i-D, Daisy comments that, "when the outfit feels right you can adopt the physicality much more easily, because your clothes kind of dictate the way you navigate the world.” Although Daisy is referring to Marianne and her approach to interpreting the character through her shift in styles, this is also rings true with how we navigate the world through the clothes that we wear.
The New York Times commented that, "through Marianne, the show depicts the complexity of a young man’s sexuality with empathy, even avoiding some of the book’s tendency to pathologize her desires. Onscreen, the tone of Marianne’s intimacy is an effective shorthand for communicating her state of mind as we meet her at a new point in her life, similar to the way her outfits and hairstyles change." Lorna perfectly depicts this unconscious connection that we all have with the way that we dress, and the way that our clothes are able to portray exactly how we are feeling, our desires of how we want to be seen, and ultimately our growth as a person.
Normal People has made me fall in love with Mariannes style evolution and personal growth, but it also reminds us to call the people closest to us. It reminds us that we should tell them how much we love them and how we are here for them. During these scary times, Normal People has done so much for my soul in terms of capturing emotions that are unrelated to the worry of the pandemic. It has been the most beautiful and mesmerising escape into a world that is also complicated, but in a wholesome, yet fascinating way. The show has left me yearning to go to the pub with my friends, travel to a large villa in the north of Italy, but mainly to embrace the people I love. So if you haven't watched this exquisite series, I warn you do so at your own risk, because you will become utterly and wholly captivated by it.