Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Costume Analysis looks at the costumes worn by characters on the musical comedy-drama series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and how their outfits reflect both the narrative of the show and their own conflicts and desires. You can read the first entry in the series here.
After Rebecca alienates Josh Chan — the man for whom she moved across the country from New York to West Covina, California — with her increasingly complicated denials and lies, she takes on a case that she hopes will redeem herself in Josh’s eyes. This case happens to involve restoring hot water to his apartment building, an endeavour in which she enlists her coworkers at her law firm to help with.
The Music Man—inspired number in which Rebecca convinces the apartment building’s residents of their plight finds Rebecca in what we’ve identified as her “work colour” — a deep but vibrant reddish-pink bordering on maroon — and partly in the same outfit she wore on her first day at the firm.
This time, she’s wearing a complete pantsuit in the same colour, and the accompanying white blouse helps her stand out amongst the washed-out colours of both the building and its tenants. She’s in full-on lawyer mode here:
Rebecca soon discovers that a company has been redirecting water from nearby communities to the city of Los Angeles, and the case becomes a high-profile lawsuit requiring more time spent with Josh. When she first meets him in the firm, she wears a blouse in the colour both she and the audience have come associate with him: blue.
Whether conscious or not, what she wears in this meeting echoes her outfit in NYC when she unexpectedly met Josh back in the pilot. This ensemble is more casual, with the jacket exchanged for a sweater, her hair isn’t straightened-out, and her blue dress is swapped for a low-key and sexier version. It’s nonetheless impeccably put-together; notice the black nail polish:
Compare this with the print worn by Rebecca on her disastrous date with Josh the night before. Her outfit in this meeting is likely how she wants Josh to see her, and Josh is wearing a plaid shirt that echoes the colours she’s wearing; they’re united for a common cause.
The company hires Rebecca’s childhood nemesis Audra Levine as their lawyer, and the ensembles both women wear in their initial stand-off feature some of the deliberate costume design in the series so far.
Audra is wearing almost exactly the same outfit Rebecca wore as a New York lawyer, with some changes made to reflect Audra’s sleek, uncompromising style and personality. She’s the “new old Rebecca”; she even has the lucrative position Rebecca turned down at her law firm when she moved to California. (A couple of readers of last week’s column noted that Audra is not only wearing a similar outfit, she has the same hair and makeup as “New York Rebecca” as well.)
Rebecca, on the other hand, is in a highly uncharacteristic shade of pink, a shade (and dress) that largely serve to highlight how different Rebecca’s outlook has become since she moved to California. The colour of her dress is picked up by Josh’s shirt, Darryl’s tie, and to a lesser extent Paula’s top. (Also note that Rebecca’s open-toe flats contrast Audra’s black pumps.)
One might imagine that the outfit Rebecca wears to represent the case in court is what she’d wear back in New York, but the addition of a thin belt calls back to the outfit she wore when meeting Audra in the firm:
Notice again how everyone’s coordinated to some extent while staying true to their individual personalities.
Audra wins the case; Rebecca elects not to use illegally-obtained information that could’ve swung the verdict in her favour and delivers an impassioned speech praising her friends and fellow citizens. In a subsequent scene, Josh kisses Rebecca in the empty courtroom (as a heartbroken Greg, who’s just realized his feelings for Rebecca, looks on), and Josh’s blue shirt is overwhelmingly the focus here:
In the following episode, “Josh Goes to Hawaii!”, Rebecca learns that Josh has mixed feelings about her, as he’s still in a relationship with Valencia. Rebecca, who is facing some feelings of guilt after being awarded the key to the city of West Covina earlier, realizes that she could be “the villain in my own story”:
The line “I told myself that I was Jasmine, but I realize now I’m Jafar” not only nods to the Disney film Aladdin but reflects the costume design in the musical number and the season finale.
Rebecca’s red-and-black themed outfits echo the iconic costume worn by Aladdin villain Jafar. Rebecca is seen in her ‘work colours’ (a black pantsuit with a maroon top), and a bright red blazer over the white top she wore in real life during her self-berating Barbra Streisand homage earlier this season. Furthermore, notice how the hints of pink in Josh’s shirt (the one he wore in the law firm when facing off against Audra) are recontextualized next to Valencia’s bright pink sweater.
Perhaps most importantly, the vivid shades of blue Rebecca wears when she’s associating with Josh – blue is worn by Princess Jasmine in Aladdin – suddenly feel more like a persona than a manifestation of her true self. This also pays off in the season one finale.)
The next few episodes find Rebecca beginning a relationship with Greg (unbeknownst to anyone else) while Josh and his family prepare for the wedding of his sister, which occurs in the season finale. Greg has been alternately portrayed either as Rebecca’s foil or as her ideal partner, with the duo’s outfits slowly pointing toward the latter. This all changes at the wedding reception, when Greg reveals his uncertainty about entering into a relationship with Rebecca, a development reflected in their clothing. They couldn’t be less alike:
The wedding reception is where the motifs and dynamics built up and developed over the course of the first season come to a head. As Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna notes:
Something we’re really exploring in the finale is the role of fantasy in her life, and how much she wants things to conform to some very neat love narrative that she can recognize. Real relationships are not like that; they’re messy and they’re complicated. She wants something that’s “prince and princess” because that allows her not to engage with her own issues. She sees, and is always seeing, Josh as that perfect prince figure. In this episode, he really comes through for her in a way that Greg does not.
Rebecca’s in a Disney princess costume turned up to eleven — one that, with its shoulder straps, echoes the two most significant outfits she’s worn all season — but it doesn’t feel out of place among the metallics and vibrant shades worn by other women at the reception (especially Josh’s mother Lourdes, wearing a sparkly silver jacket). Josh is wearing a barong, the traditional men’s Filipino costume. Valencia doesn’t fit in at all:
Once Valencia reveals that she’s been steering Josh into proposing, and Josh reveals that he’s fallen in love with Rebecca, the two end their relationship. Then Josh spots Rebecca across the hall and texts her to meet him outside.
The next we see Josh, he’s removed his barong and is wearing a black jacket instead. Rebecca and Josh’s costumes now become an inversion of what they were wearing when they met on the streets of New York. Black clothing represents confidence and certainty on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; no wonder Rebecca immediately falls for Josh in this moment:
Josh takes Rebecca to a spot overlooking West Covina, confesses his love to her, and the scene becomes an obvious homage to the Aladdin number “A Whole New World” as Princess Jasmine (er, Rebecca) escapes on a magic carpet with Aladdin (er, Josh) — all the while underscored by a ballad performed by Lea Salonga, the voice of Jasmine in Aladdin. This could all be painfully on-the-nose, but the moment is so sweeping and grandiose that it works.
Throughout the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the show utilizes tropes and signifiers found in romantic comedies and other films into its narrative and costume design – partly to subvert these familiar motifs, but mostly in the service of presenting the highly flawed Rebecca as an ideal (and idealized) heroine to the audience. “One Indescribable Instant” is when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend truly achieves this goal.
Of course, the romance of this moment somewhat dissipates when Rebecca confesses to Josh that she moved to West Covina to reunite with him. This development will inform the narrative of season two — and particularly the clothes Rebecca wears as she and Josh enter into a relationship. We’ll look at what Rebecca wears in season two next time.