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 previous entries in the series here.
Throughout the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, protagonist Rebecca Bunch’s whirlwind narrative – leaving her lucrative job as an attorney in New York to follow her one-time summer camp crush Josh to his hometown of West Covina, California – was conveyed and underscored by recurring motifs in her wardrobe, both in everyday life and in the show’s musical numbers.
Chief among these repeating themes were various vivid shades of blue. Bright blue represented Rebecca’s infatuation with Josh (it was the very first colour we saw him in) and soon became Rebecca’s signature colour as well, as documented in the first entry in this series.
At the end of season one, Rebecca and Josh finally became a couple, and one would expect that blue would remain the overwhelming colour in Rebecca’s wardrobe. It therefore comes as a shock to begin the second season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend without a stitch of blue in sight:
“I’m Just a Girl in Love”, which replaces the blue-dominated opening theme of season one, immediately sets the stage for one of the dominant colour motifs of season two: vivid shades of red. As we see later in the season, red has its typical associations with romance but comes across as the colour most associated with Rebecca’s past and her innermost thoughts and emotions. “I’m Just a Girl in Love” is more about Rebecca (“I can’t be held responsible for my actions!”) than it is about her feelings for Josh.
This carries over into the very first in-episode musical number of the season, “Love Kernels”, which further emphasizes the red motif while introducing another motif: the colour white.
In “Love Kernels”, red is associated with a need for reassurance and perhaps an underlying sense of desperation as well. White, for Rebecca, is associated in season two with an old-fashioned, romantic take on relationships; note the frilliness of her white dress when compared to the more streamlined, modern dresses the women around her are wearing.
When Rebecca wore white in season one, it was typically found in unfussy, often starkly modern tops and dresses (a theme returned to in season three). Note also that Josh and Rebecca’s relationship is symbolized in “Love Kernels” by the stark contrast of Rebecca’s red dress and Josh’s informal white tank top:
Intriguingly, both red and white largely occur in musical numbers this season and very rarely feature in Rebecca’s real-life wardrobe. Compare this with season one, in which bright blue regularly feature in the clothes she wore. By contrast, in season two, the colour red is either part of uniforms or in related but distinct shades:
The same goes for white, which we see most prominently featured in real life in the frilly white minidress Rebecca wears when she bids farewell to her on-off partner Greg, who departs West Covina for his hometown. Rebecca’s romantic dress, framed in golden light, plays into the familiar trope of lovers saying farewell at airports and contrasts the accompanying musical number’s bittersweet lyrics.
The overall absence of red and white from Rebecca’s real-life wardrobe suggests that these colours more closely belong to the fantasy world she creates for herself through musical numbers than her everyday life. These colours represent emotions she’s either trying to work through or, as the season finale suggests, possibly suppress.
The colour blue – more specifically, bright blue – remains an important part of Rebecca’s outfits in season two. During the first half of the season, Rebecca grapples with her attraction to both Josh and her on-off lover Greg, manifest in several imaginary sequences and musical numbers in which she’s dressed in bright blue:
Josh and Greg also appear as imaginary figures after Greg leaves West Covina and Josh breaks up with Rebecca over a pregnancy scare. Rebecca and Greg are notably linked here by dark blue clothing:
As Emma Fraser of The Observer notes, “Greg challenged Rebecca and very much seemed to be on her level both intellectually and neurotically (their downfall)”. Rebecca seems drawn towards – and averse to – romantic partners who match her level of intellectual and cultural sophistication. This becomes even more evident when she meets highly-educated lawyer Nathaniel later in the season.
Rebecca finds herself at a standstill now that Greg has left and that Josh is in a relationship with his new girlfriend Anna. Rebecca bonds with Josh’s previous ex-girlfriend Valencia and begins to mimic her breezy upscale California boho style (albeit in a very upscale form; that top Rebecca’s wearing costs almost $130 and she’s sporting $60 sneakers from Nordstrom). CXG costume designer Melina Root notes that Rebecca “tends to copy whatever the next girl is wearing”, and this is fully evident here.
As much as Rebecca wants to get over Josh, the frilly elements and light blue and white colours of her top suggest she really just wants to get him back. Light blue is once again associated more with Josh than with Rebecca herself. This becomes even more apparent when one considers the clothes Anna wears:
Almost all of the outfits Anna wears during her and Josh’s brief relationship, both in real life and during musical numbers, are bright or pale blue. Josh even wears a blue shirt when he’s thinking about Anna. While Anna might be the exact opposite of Rebecca (and Valencia, to some extent) in almost every way, it’s communicated to the audience that Anna really is just a rebound girlfriend and that Josh will eventually fall back in love with Rebecca.
But back to the colour blue for a moment. It was understood throughout season one that blue (specifically, bright shades of blue) was associated with the relationship between Rebecca and Josh, but it seems that bright blue is a symbol of Josh’s relationships with other current girlfriends as well (at least ones with whom he finds he’s compatible; Valencia and Josh’s eventual breakup was telegraphed throughout season one by their clothing). We see in this in a pivotal scene where all of Josh’s present and past girlfriends are in the same room:
After Anna breaks up with Josh, he and Rebecca rekindle their relationship, a development marked by the sudden reintroduction of vivid blues into Rebecca’s wardrobe. The two have a full re-enactment of Rebecca’s “West Covina” number, but this time, Josh is at her side; her fantasy has become reality. Rebecca’s in the same outfit she wore in “West Covina”, and Josh is in almost exactly the same shirt he wore when he ran into Rebecca in New York in the pilot.
Rebecca and Josh subsequently dress in matching pajamas in an almost artificial sky-blue. Whenever Rebecca wears this bright blue colour, it typically reflects some sort of idealized fantasy sequence she imagines for herself.
It isn’t long before Rebecca is brought out of the ‘bubble’ she’s created with Josh. Enter Nathaniel Plimpton III, Rebecca’s new boss at the law firm and someone she immediately has an attraction towards, even though Nathaniel and Rebecca hate each other at first sight. Fraser notes that Rebecca’s wardrobe “shifts to purple and pink when [Rebecca] steps out of [her] love bubble” with Josh, as first seen in the water park outfit Rebecca wears when she unexpectedly meets Nathaniel at work for the first time:
She and Nathaniel contrast not only in the formality of their outfits but in their colour palettes; Nathaniel is in standard black-and-white business attire apart from his dark blue tie.
This purple-pink colour scheme is reprised in the Vera Wang dress Rebecca wears for dinner with Josh’s family later that night: which itself calls back to the dress (top right) Rebecca wore when Josh left her after a pregnancy scare earlier in the season.
The Vera Wang dress also incorporates Rebecca’s trademark blue, but it’s still a very confused dress, with a colour combination associated with uncertainty about Josh and Rebecca’s relationship. Rebecca keeps getting distracted by thoughts of Nathaniel during dinner with Josh’s parents that night; the dark blue in her dress might even call back to Nathaniel’s tie earlier that day.
Nathaniel happens to be in the same restaurant as Rebecca, Josh, and his family. Nathaniel has incorporated hints of pink and purple into his outfit, via his tie, and his blue suit and shirt also link to Rebecca’s outfit. Melina Root is quietly brilliant at communicating changes in the relationships between characters through the clothes they wear. Rebecca still has a very antagonistic relationship with Nathaniel — she attacks him in the conference room the next day, after all — but Nathaniel has warmed up to Rebecca, at least a little, though he’d never admit it to her in person.
Rebecca’s budding feelings for Nathaniel are set aside when she and Josh visit Scarsdale, NY for a cousin’s bar mitzvah. Recall how Rebecca and Josh were signified in their very first scene together by the colours red and blue, respectively. Now that they’re together, they’re identified by those colours again, both in reality and in Rebecca’s fantasy life:
During the celebrations in Scarsdale, Rebecca wears a purplish-pink floral dress that nonetheless provides a recurring motif throughout these episodes. This particular shade of purple continues the motif of Rebecca’s confusion about her relationship with Josh (and perhaps her feelings for Nathaniel, as well):
However, in one of the pivotal moments of season two, Josh proposes to Rebecca just as she’s about to have a breakthrough with her therapist, Dr. Akopian, following advice from a rabbi (played by Patti LuPone) in Scarsdale. Rebecca comes close to realizing that even though she’s together with the man she moved to West Covina to be with, she’s still unhappy, and that the true reason behind her unhappiness just might be her own psychological issues.
Rebecca has never worn clothing in this vivid deep green jewel tone before. One could deem this a colour she wears when she has a genuine breakthrough; she wore a green wrap dress the last time she visited Dr. Akopian’s office, in which she sought advice about her feelings for Greg. While that green dress was covered in the visual equivalent of static, this deep green tone is clear and declarative. It’s a colour she seems to have picked up from LuPone’s rabbi. Dr. Akopian’s turquoise pendant and the deep green accessories around her office further suggest that it’s tied to Rebecca having revelations about her mental health.
Then, of course, Josh proposes to Rebecca, she excitedly says yes, and all that progress flies out the window. Rebecca shows off her engagement ring at work the next day; she’s in a teal dress that is closer to blue than the dress she wore when she was about to have her breakthrough.
A plot contrivance then finds Rebecca and Nathaniel unexpectedly becoming infatuated with each other; Rebecca wears a purple dress, trying to avoid Nathaniel at work, but the two end up kissing in a stalled elevator. As with his previous appearances, Nathaniel’s tie matches the colour of Rebecca’s dress:
This leads to the duo’s wry musical number together, “Let’s Have Intercourse”, and we immediately see how different Rebecca and Nathaniel would be as a couple, compared to her relationship with Josh or Greg. Rebecca’s once again in a red dress and her lover is in white, but Nathaniel’s in a dress shirt and sleek black bowtie rather than the tank top Josh wore in “Love Kernels”:
Rebecca has a tendency to fall in love (or convince herself she should be in love with) men who she feels either lack or exceed her intellectual capabilities. Nathaniel is her match intellectually and would probably be the sort of partner she’d have if she had remained in New York.
As Rebecca plans her wedding, which she has engineered to happen in only two weeks’ time, she finds herself full of insecurities and turns to a random deliveryman named Patrick (played by Seth Green) for reassurance.
Once again, Rebecca’s in a bright red dress; this time, however, she’s on her own, and we come to realize that this truly is the colour that represents Rebecca’s innermost emotions. As with her pivotal solo number last season, Rebecca’s dress in “(Tell Me I’m Okay) Patrick” is a heightened version of her real-life outfit at the time.
She does in fact reassure herself that marrying Josh will solve all of her problems (including issues with her long-absent father, who has agreed to attend the wedding), and as she sings about her confidence, she’s once again in teal:
When it comes to Rebecca’s wedding day, we see the culmination of the “white means frilly romanticism” theme present throughout the season: Rebecca in a couple of frilly white outfits, including her wedding dress:
But we once again return to Rebecca and the colour red. In the season finale, we learn that Rebecca was forced to leave Harvard Law School and finish her law degree at Yale because she fell in love with a married Harvard professor who had promised he would leave his wife for Rebecca. After he rejected Rebecca, she set his house on fire, was charged with several offences, briefly institutionalized and put on medication.
We have all three of the season’s colour themes in this one shot. Rebecca’s in a frilly white bridal veil and a crimson Harvard sweater. Robert’s in dark blue, a colour we now realize represents not only Rebecca’s relationship with Josh but her relationships with men she believes she’s in love with, overall.
Also, it might be a stretch, but consider the colours of the crests of Harvard and Yale:
Red represents Rebecca’s personality and the path she’s carved out for herself. Blue represents the expectations placed upon Rebecca by her parents, the people with whom she’s in relationships — and, ultimately, the expectations Rebecca places upon herself.
The season ends with Rebecca surrounded by her bridesmaids and closest female friends, most of whom are in very dark blue. This particular shade could tie into Rebecca’s memories of Robert, which only come to the surface on her wedding day.
In “Love Kernels”, Rebecca was in a frilly white dress surrounded by women who ignored her and offered no support when she questioned her relationship with Josh. Here, she’s in a similar dress and surrounded by women who support her, even after Josh leaves her at the altar.
Season two has been a complicated and tumultuous journey for Rebecca, one reflected by her constantly changing wardrobe and its large palette of colours and tones. Through her choice of clothing, both intentional and unintentional, Rebecca has come to realize important truths about herself — and her wardrobe in season three continues to reflect and develop these revelations.