Welcome to our TV Fashion column, where TV Ate My Wardrobe‘s Emma Fraser discusses the trends in television apparel. This week: Why the women of HBO’s Big Little Lies decided to have Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Strands of pearls, a black Givenchy frock, matching long black gloves and an updo complete with a tiara is perhaps the quintessential go-to Audrey Hepburn look. The centerpiece of the Big Little Lies finale was the much talked about Trivia Night with a Hepburn and Elvis Presley theme, and this Breakfast at Tiffany’s ensemble was worn by two characters at the heart of the story. Costume designer Alix Friedberg has told us all we need to know about these women through the clothes they wear over the course of this excellent mini-series and the choice of Audrey attire goes one step further in telling the bigger story through costume.
Spoilers for Big Little Lies‘ series finale to follow
Big Little Lies shows off levels of wealth through the opulent properties in which many of the characters reside; incredible views and closets that are bigger than my apartment are a key indicator that money is not lacking. There is one exception to this rule, though, and Jane’s modest home mirrors her modest wardrobe. Designer brands dominate the majority of the costuming no matter if you are a CEO like Renata (who has the most luxurious collection of fringed sweaters and business attire) or if you’re doing the full-time mom thing while also giving back to the community through Avenue Q as Madeline is. Madeline’s got the Burberry trench, Oscar de la Renta sweater and Roland Mouret frock, but there’s also a bit of J. Crew and Kate Spade mixed in with the high-end items.
Meanwhile, Jane has a bag she got from Target as Friedberg mentions in this interview with Racked that she carries everywhere and a collection of plaid shirts/hoodies that are clearly not splurge items. So while the other women are very much about the things you see on the pages of Vogue and probably come from a monthly Net-a-Porter spree, Jane is much more relatable than aspirational. Bonnie’s got the whole boho vibe going on and this sets her apart from her husband’s ex even though they clearly have a lot of wealth. Celeste like her best friend Madeline also has a lot of labels and she’s more prone to gorgeous cashmere sweaters and long floral dresses; covering up the bruises inflicted on her by Perry.
Out of the core group of women three opt for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, while the other two go with My Fair Lady. These are two classics in the Hepburn oeuvre and while the black Tiffany’s frock is by far the most obvious; the ties that bind these two women go way deeper than signature Holly Golightly. Early in the finale Ziggy finally admits who has been hurting Amabella and Jane tells Celeste the truth about her son’s violent tendencies. Instead of turning on her friend, Celeste takes this information and with the knowledge of his father’s abuse, she sets her final plan in motion. But first, they have to get through this fundraiser. Holly Golightly and her iconic look unite Celeste and Jane visually while also pointing to their shared abuser. It is also worth noting that in the police interviews both Celeste and Jane match in their black attire with Renata and Madeline in black with florals. A shared version of a traumatic event brings unity through image.
I’m all for picking a costume from your closet and a black frock is something most have on hand, so there is also an element of “use what you have” when it comes to this Holly Golightly getup. For Celeste it is likely that hers is Givenchy, just as it was for Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the pearls are real and the tiara is probably a present from Perry from one of the many occasions he said sorry through flowers and gifts instead of getting actual help. The whole look drips of money and while the dress is not an exact replica of Hepburn’s it oozes extravagance while also showing off parts of Celeste’s body that she has previously covered with cardigans. Jane’s black frock is the most we have seen her dressed up since the flashbacks to the night of her sexual assault.
Pointing to Madeline as the influence behind this choice is not a surprise. There is an element of a fresh start to her night as she is also bringing a date. Her costume ‘pearls’ and jewels are a fraction of the cost of Celeste’s and her black dress is shorter than both Hepburn’s and Celeste’s, showing her younger age and the fact that this is a nod rather than a copy of that look. Of course, her new BFF would pick the most iconic look from Hepburn’s film archive and neither Jane nor Celeste would be upset to see someone else in the same costume as them.
This is of course not the case for Madeline who goes for a more obscure Holly Golightly moment and one that does a good job of showing Madeline’s proclivity for being at the center of everything while also revealing her current headspace. The men’s shirt as a dress is provocative and it is paired with the Tiffany blue sleep mask that matches the one worn by Hepburn. There is the addition of pink stilettos because there’s no way Madeline is going barefoot except when she’s had too much to drink and needs to run away from her guilt. Talking about the ‘mean reds’ and how they are different from the blues, Holly explains in Breakfast at Tiffany’s that this is the feeling where “suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.”
For Madeline, she doesn’t know why she is trying to blow up her own life and instead of running to Tiffany’s as Holly does in a moment of the ‘mean reds’, Madeline instead turned to director Joseph for a three-month affair to fill the void in her life.
The gathering of the Audreys outside the party is about finding a place of sanctuary; Madeline from her guilt, Celeste from Perry and Renata to say sorry to Jane after finding out that Ziggy has not been hurting her daughter. Bonnie stands watching from afar after seeing Perry head this way after witnessing an altercation between the leather-clad Elvis and his wife; she is concerned, but also very much on the outside of this particular social group. Jane is there in the capacity of consoling her spiraling friend, but she is about to find out that Ziggy’s father has been in much closer proximity than she could’ve ever expected.
Aside from the one Funny Face black turtleneck/pants ensemble – also from the excellent costume party vein of things that are already in your closet – My Fair Lady is the other main source of central character costume threads. The wearer of the Funny Face look is Tori, Joseph’s wife and Madeline’s affair-accuser, the latter being what is tipping Madeline over the drunken edge. The black/white imagery and Madeline’s exposed legs in comparison to Tori’s covered-up take on Hepburn also does a good job of putting the women at odds as wife and former mistress.
My Fair Lady provides a visual narrative of how hard Renata tries to fit in with the other moms while also alienating herself as she has gone all out; there is no way any of this comes from her pre-existing collection of designer threads and it is likely custom made. In terms of best costume, Renata wins hands down as Eliza Doolittle attending Ascot opening day, but you can also see how much she has tried and this plays into all her fears about being a good mom and her reputation. The resolution of the Ziggy/Madeline/Max is actually handled incredibly gracefully by all the women involved; sincere apologizing, a call to find a solution to this situation and a lack of playing the blame game. Even Madeline has some positive words for her forever frenemy Renata as she points out through her slight slurring that she’s a “compassionate soul” for coming and finding Jane to admit her error.
And what of the other Eliza? The one who is the cool mom of the non-Amy Poehler in Mean Girls variety. Bonnie’s got the sultry Elvis Presley performance down and she manages to look contemporary in her Eliza at the embassy ball sparkling gown. This is when Eliza’s plan in becoming a proper lady is successful (unlike her behavior at Ascot when she gets far too into the race – the social etiquette horror) and this night is when Bonnie is welcomed into this group.
In fact, Bonnie saves the day and even though it is four on one with the Audreys against Perry, he is still strong enough to really threaten Celeste’s life no matter how hard the other women are trying to stop him. He throws Madeline off like a rag doll and this level of rage is terrifying. Bonnie comes running with the bottom of her dress in her hand so she doesn’t trip and pushes him away from Celeste at speed; Chekhov’s staircase comes into action. It also turns out that Perry’s son Max has not only assaulted Amabella but also pushed Bonnie’s daughter Skye down some stairs. The mirroring here is hard to ignore.
Jane doesn’t get her version of the revenge fantasy she has been playing over in her mind by using the gun under her pillow to shoot her rapist for what he did. Instead, the closure that is found comes from the group; secrets are shared and kept between them and women who were once at odds with each other now find comfort and respect. Dressing up as Audrey for the night is over and they’re back to the hoodies, fancy cardigans (with arms that can now be bare) and sweaters that probably cost a month’s rent. Cutting between the animalistic attack by Perry and how they responded to this with a happy beach scene kind of feels like a revenge fantasy in a way because of the fancy dress element as no one looks entirely like themselves despite their costumes leaning into certain personality traits. Everything is heightened despite the reality of the situation.
The Audreys versus an Elvis; bringing down the fake sideburn wearing monster in pearls and dresses fit for the races and embassy balls.
Emma Fraser is the creator of TV Ate My Wardrobe and spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion and costuming; Abbi and Ilana’s Broad City style, the wigs on The Americans and Mindy Lahiri’s pajamas are just as vital as talking about ’90s, ’00s teen shows. Emma has a MA in film and television, and she probably holds Angela Chase responsible for this path. You can find her on Twitter @frazbelina.