If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the first episode and working your way forward. Of course, that's entirely your call.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Season 1, Episode 8: Play It Again Vanessa

Vanessa plays the clarinet for the first (and I believe last) time in this episode. The family worries, rightly, that she will sound terrible at an upcoming performance. Her medium-grade interest in and aptitude for woodwind instruments serve mainly as an excuse to bring in guest star Dizzy Gillespie as her instructor, Mr. Hampton. The Huxtables discuss music more than they discuss clothes, and someone with a stronger background in jazz should consider starting a sister project exploring the family's relationship to song. Not me, just someone. I'm here to parrot what I hear from reality show judges about fashion.

We may as well start off with Mr. Hampton, since he's famous and all.

He believes the children are our future.

He's making an effort with the patterns, but there's just so much gray here. His sweater, shirt, tie, and hair even are all the same color, give or take an accent. The uniformity makes the hint of yellow at his neck stand out, but he's a big dude, so a thin tie with some bright shapes on it is hardly making a dent in that sea of neutrals. The striped cardigan would be OK separately, but it's misused in this situation. Matching all your clothes is how you dress when you're a child. "I'll wear my red shirt and my red skirt and my red shoes. It's an outfit!' This is how we know that Rudy's parents choose her looks, because seriously, she's killing Mr. Hampton. Charming primary colors, bold shapes on the sweater vest, bow tie: this isn't a walk-off, it's a bloodbath.

Next month, he'll wear this when he plays Dick Halloran in P.S. 138's
stage production of The Shining.

Mr. Hampton regains a little ground at the recital. The stripe on the coat prevents it from being dull, but similarly avoids showiness. His shirt is a little retro, but the relative boldness of the styling is subdued because of the plain, crisp white. Since the rest of the look is fun without being wild, he gets away with the big medallion. Huge jewelry like that is generally inadvisable on a man, but this gives a sense of his personality. We're talking about an old-school jazz musician with a soul patch, after all. Not every man should be taking style tips from Don Draper. (On the other hand, if you're in doubt, Don Draper is generally a better role model than Dizzy Gillespie where wardrobe is concerned.)

She lost her court case. Probably not because of the outfit, but still.

See that face Clair is making? That's how I feel about her jacket. It's far too dark to be worn with a black skirt, and those shiny details are atrocious. I assume that the intention is to suggest formality, for instance drawing on the styling of a tuxedo pant, but the effect is unpleasant. She must have grown up in a warm climate because she hasn't the faintest idea how to layer.

Her life is a parade of unacceptable outerwear.

Once the blouse and skirt are free of their shackles, the outfit is much more successful. The tonal range she's working in is well-worn territory by now: something in the rich blue-to-purple family on top, simple black on the bottom. If you're going to do it, though, this is how you do it. The fit of that skirt is impeccable. It's the kind of item where you parade yourself in front of the mirror after you put it on because you're so pleased with how hot you are. The shirt rounds things out nicely, mostly because the waist is a complete victory. The snugness and asymmetry make it interesting and flattering, and then the looser cut above that keeps it from looking provocatively tight overall. It's not perfect (that full-frontal shot shows that it's sagging a little questionably on the sides), but it's a commendable effort. I'm also fond of the big locket worn over the shirt, under the collar as if it's a tie.

What is she making that feeds five people but only requires 
those three vegetables?

Later, she wore an almost-matching apron, presumably just to bother me. It worked.

The concert was nothing to smile about. ACTING!

Like a proud mother, Clair dressed up for Vanessa's recital. Again, she looks good in purples, but she's getting way too comfortable with this palette. I'm still holding out for change. This is edging toward fuchsia, which makes it interesting, but these outfits are becoming a study in the law of diminishing returns. The only sitcom mom who gets to wear the same thing every day is Marge Simpson. Ignoring the chromatic rut, this is a win in my eyes. I'm especially partial to that neckline. Her hair is up, but it's still big. It could read Southern matron, but something about the rest of her choices just makes it confident and awesome. I support the enormous gold bracelets and almost wish she would have gone even further with the earrings (though again, this is a child's musical performance, so maybe it's best not to overdo it). The way she's holding her purse suggests that there might be a beautiful chunky black belt behind it, but alas, this is not the case. I would have loved it if she had gone there. Her clutch is only masking more purple fabric. Still, a good showing from Mrs. Huxtable overall.

Standing out without even standing up.

Theo pulls through again with another ensemble that I would wear. Or at least, I would make out with a guy who was wearing this. The skinny jean is everywhere right now. I shouldn't be surprised to see such a stylish denim in this show, seeing as half the stuff being worn right now is an '80s throwback, but somehow I expected more horrible acid washes and neons and fewer smart-looking pieces of which I'd be actually covetous. That shirt is also wonderful. The chunky squares and rectangles work with the slightly baggier fit, and the shades of pink are killer. I'm totally sold on this one.

If only you had thought this hard about your sweater.

But of course, he follows that success with a repeat of this gross sweater. The close-up even yields some new insight into just how bad it is. For instance, there appear to be two collars, doubling the amount of meatloafy cotton around his chin. There's also a small pocket hidden in the blue stripe on his chest. I'm sure he uses it to hold things all the time. At least yesterday's jeans still look good on him today.

Action shot!

He's barely shown during the recital, and the one full-length shot of him is a pan during which small children carrying instruments are walking past the camera. This is also Denise's only appearance in the episode, so the above blurry captures will serve as your sole visual reference for both outfits. Anyway, Theo has let me down again. The drab green is bad enough by itself, but against a silver-and-maroon tie it's unconscionable. And then a navy blazer on top of that? No. We need to start all over. He's found the worst possible melding of prep and grunge. It's like Kurt Cobain was given a paint-by-numbers picture of Carlton Banks and this is what came out.

Denise, on the other hand, might have my favorite look of the week. That electric blue goes better with her skin (and with the color black, for that matter) than anything else we've seen. The plaid is right, the length is right, the collar is right. She goes simple on the accessories, just a chunky black earring, because she knows that the dress is a lot. I'd love to see her stand up in this because I have questions about the tailoring, but I'm going to assume that it's slimmer from the hips down and then baggy around the chest and shoulders, which is OK by me. You were cheated, Denise. Such fierceness deserves more screen time.

Oh, while we're looking at those images, let me make it clear that I'm not going to review everyone featured on camera. It's simply not worth it to go through every item of clothing in the show. "So, the lady behind Denise has a solid powder blue turtleneck that's not too bad..." Forget it. I don't want to write it and you don't want to read it.

While we're at the recital, though, can we talk about what Rudy is wearing?


It's a tent made from her grandma's sofa, with a clashing red collar accent that I just can't fathom. This is the face of a child traumatized by her own outfit.

He seems befuddled by that shirt. Me too.

Cliff begins the episode looking casual yet strange. I will say that I like seeing someone wearing a blue shirt with something other than a black pant. The cream is a much better counterpoint. The shirt itself isn't particularly stylish, but I'll give it points for being interesting. There's something almost cubist happening with the stitching that gives it a unique texture, and I think those might be enormous pockets on the front. It's tough to say exactly what's happening without getting up close and examining the garment in person, but if it's that confusing, then it probably shouldn't be part of your everyday attire.

First, there was beigeness. Then, there was mismatched faux argyle.

Now here, friends, we have a truly exciting find. This is the kind of thing that gets a student of Cosbology out of bed in the morning. I wouldn't go so far as to call this the first Cosby Sweater; it conforms too closely to modern standards of taste to truly qualify in that illustrious category. On the other hand, this is a clear evolutionary step between Cliff's formerly stately choices and his future ventures into knitted mayhem. That hint of orangey-brown is what tips this one over the edge. As he introduces more colors and busier patterns, he sets in motion a process that will have cultural ramifications for decades to come. By planting the seed of the first Cosby Sweater, he is giving life to future stand-up comedy routines, hipster theme parties, and even this very blog. You are witnessing the Big Bang woven out of yarn. Isn't it beautiful?

The Huxtables always look meanest when they know their look is busted.

I'm displeased. Each of these pieces by itself is a good choice, but none of them work together. It's like everyone in the costume department had to pick one item without consulting anyone else. The pants and blazer are doing that close-but-no-cigar thing that I loathe. The red plaid shirt is nice, and could conceivably be worn with either the coat or the slacks, though not both. But then that teal sweater comes in and just ruins everything. It clashes with positively 100% of the other pieces he has on. I was tempted to make a case for the sweater and jacket living harmoniously, but that's not really going to happen, either. It's a wreck.

So, all that's left is Vanessa.

Yes, I called you chunky and then took a screencap of you eating.

Looks like we've lost control of our hair again. Really, by now we should have just shaved her head. Is she too young and round-faced to rock the Solange Knowles? The rest of the look is cute enough, with fun, well-coordinated colors. The sweater is a little weird. What do we call that, a sleeveless cardigan? Mostly I take exception to the placement of that belt. Vanessa is not the slimmest of the Huxtable children, and this does nothing to mask that quality. I'm not hating on the chunk, I'm just saying you have to know how to dress it.

Not even Dizzie Gillespie can save you.

I'm not going to fault her for sticking with the pinks. Again, though, the vest is bulky in all the wrong ways. The denim skirt has a similar frump factor. I'd be completely disappointed if it weren't for those tights, which are just glorious. They're only a part of this outfit as a result of brute force, but placed somewhere they actually belong, they have almost infinite potential. I'm sure many people would look at her getup and assume that the purple plaid was the only thing not working, when in fact it's the only thing she got right.

I love that she's looking directly into the camera. ACTING!

This one is so flat-out bonkers that I have to adore it. I mean, we're working with a base that's so simple that it looks as good on Tempestt Bledsoe as it does on Elaine Stritch: black shoes, black stockings, black tie, white Oxford shirt. Well, actually not an Oxford: looking closely at the area near the tie, I can see pleating or ruffling suggesting perhaps a tuxedo shirt. Still, nothing extreme. But then she goes and throws on a... is that... I mean, are we looking at a sweater vest dress? We are. So much love for the audacity of that move. I especially like the way that the neckline cuts to just below the ribcage. The brick red with black stripes is delightful. There's no hate to be had here; it's all wonderful.

How does that make you feel, Vanessa?

Aw? How can I continue to tear down such a sweet girl?
I'll find a way.

Good. We'll end there, then, without even mentioning that ribboned headband.

See you all at episode nine.


  1. Your paragraph about the Cosby Sweater Big Bang is priceless. Love this so much!

  2. I am inexplicably delighted by this blog. Please be my personal fashion advisor forever. x

  3. Anna, I will consider the offer.