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, February 27, 2012

Season 2, Episode 14: Vanessa's Bad Grade

My favorite part of this project is coming across an episode where fashion is a central plot point. This week, for instance, the title suggests that we're going to hear a lot about the D that Vanessa got on her big test. Most of the story, however, focuses on her agonizing efforts to build the perfect outfit for the school dance. Robert has already seen all her sweaters, and Denise has the perfect one but won't let her borrow it. This is one of the earliest points establishing Vanessa as the rule-breaker of the family. All the kids get into trouble eventually; Theo even gets arrested. But I feel like Vanessa is most frequent in her efforts to test the limits, as we see tonight when she hides her bad grade from her parents and takes a sweater from her sister's room after being denied permission to do so. Such drama!

Grimace's little brother.

Robert shows up twice this episode, but spends the vast majority of his time sitting at the kitchen table. We'll critique his shirts, I guess. He deserves props for that lavender, and for the confidence it takes to rock a full Lionel Richie haircut. But this garment is so big that it creates its own shoulder pads. Unless he's planning on gaining 50 pounds in the next ten minutes, I'm not sure where the impetus to wear this came from.

He's wearing a map of the mall. You are here. Style is somewhere else.

Remember when big, colorful watches were a thing? Robert's obviously very proud if his. Anyway, this is his look from the big dance we've been hearing so much about. I see what he was trying for: the pattern is eye-catching and would be especially seductive to a girl like Vanessa, who knows her way around a print. That hint of electric blue from his undershirt is just right; the hue fits well with the cool palette and looks great on him. There's no denying how ugly this shirt is, though. Can't beat around the bush, son. It's just no good.


Those pants are probably the same ones from episode #1.9 and definitely repeats regardless. This shirt feels old to me as well, but I can't find it in any of the previous episodes. I think I'm just growing numb to all the chunky plaid. Against the gray trousers, this top looks pretty washed out, but I love the interplay between that infrequent neon purple stripe and the shade of the suspenders (which first appeared in episode #1.7). Also, I know the suspenders are hanging because it's early and Cliff hasn't quite finished getting dressed yet, but that straps-around-the-ass look is all over recently. Dudes love almost wearing suspenders. I don't care for it myself; it seems like such a double affectation. "This recently resurrected fashion device? I don't even care about it enough to put it on all the way." I get it, recent art school graduate. You're not trying at all. Sure.

Cliff is really tired during this episode. So, so tired.

This sweater was first seen in episode #2.7. It's nice with a lighter shirt beneath it, but blue isn't exactly the right call. It's tough when the top layer has so many competing elements: how do you match your other clothes to this? It's like rhyming with orange.


Clair also starts off with a repeat, also from episode #1.7. The earrings are from last week, but that beaded necklace is all new. It gives a whole different vibe to her outfit; there's something a little earthier about a swarm of tiny beads as opposed to gold or pearls. I'm so taken with the way they just cascade out of her dress when she bends down to get Rudy's bowl. Also, her hair looks a little more composed today. It's not just a big cloud, it's really styled. This should happen more often.

She's whistling while she lurks.

This getup is tough to assess because it's around only briefly and obscured by that big purple coat the whole time. I'm pretty sure it's a repeat of last week's citrus jacket and maroon dress, though.

Don't cross this pink. It won't be pretty.

She spends the second half of the episode pissed, but she looks fantastic. The moment she walks in the door, you know she means business. You'd better be in the top percentile of all humankind if you expect to pull off that much neon pink coat. Underneath, she's more subtly delicious. As a mom going out to a movie, she's casual and comfortable, but her choices still let you know that she has style. The chenille tunic is another one of those pieces that sounds disastrous, and truthfully I'd be inclined to hate it on someone else, but the rich pink and black contrasted with the paler turtleneck somehow work for me. She's reveling in those textures by putting something big and frayed over a much softer foundation. It could be slimmer, but again, she's aiming for easy and breezy, so I'll let it go.

As a side note, the thematic analysis in the show's dialogue was sort of a mess. Clair's pseudo-intellectual deconstruction of a foreign film sounds like what a fourth grader might think smart people sound like. Could they honestly not have found a film student somewhere in New York to give that a second look? Just wait until we get to the episode with the book club, which is even worse. Of course, I'm using my English degree to make this, so maybe I'm not in a place to judge.

Denise spends the entire episode fed up.

And now, another admission of fault. Last week, I said that Denise's outfit was a verbatim repeat of her look from episode #2.10. That was a half-truth. This look is a direct repeat; last week was the same gray pieces paired with a new pink sweater over it. She can, it seems, never have too many sweaters on at once. Anyway, I apologize for the oversight. But for real: why is this combo the one that keeps popping up? Is the neutral knitwear just easier to sneak under the radar than her wilder stuff?

Why so serious? Seriously, there's no need for all this stank.

In another episode #2.7 repeat, Denise throws down the same blue pants we saw in her Dr. Seuss outfit. This lighting gives us a better look at how shiny they are, but I think it's the same pair. Up top, she's sporting a matching-and-yet-not-matching navy patterned fleece. I kind of thought we had gotten out of the woods with these near misses, but old habits die hard with the Huxtables, I guess. Anyhow, this outfit is pretty lazy by her usual standards. It's too dark and lifeless. Granted, she's just moping around at home examining the contents of her closet, so I guess huge strides forward in fashion aren't truly necessary. I'd prefer it, though. My job is more interesting when everyone pulls out all the stops every time.

I never really comment on it, but Rudy is an adorable name.

I think it's great that Rudy is mirroring Denise here. In fact, she's sort of showing Denise how it's done. "Oh, hey, by the way: this is what you were aiming for with that drabness you're serving."

He looked better in other caps, but a derpy face from him is so rare that I had to keep it.

Well, at least this is new, even if it's not pretty. Theo's sweater reminds me of an Atari game, or maybe a TV test pattern, or a visual representation of Morse code or something. For all I know, he's broadcasting a secret message on his torso. If he is, it's a note begging us not to judge him too harshly for wearing a split-front mock turtleneck. That collar is just shameful. It's clear that there is a shirt beneath this sweater, but unclear what it might look like. His pants are unremarkable. You know, for an episode with so much clothing, it's amazing how little I have to work with so far. Unimpressive, family. Step up your game!

His pants are wide enough to carry a spare set of legs, just in case.

The pants are an episode #2.5 repeat, but the shirt is both new and interesting. It's masquerading as a standard chunky plaid. At first glance, you'd be tempted to call it black and white (at least, I was), but if you linger a little longer, you'll see that it's really blue and a sort of off-white or light beige. Then the subtle pink stripe comes into focus and changes everything. He also has a little bit of a mandarin collar going on, which further bucks expectation from the lumberjack-y initial impression. There's a subversive, layered quality about this shirt that appeals to me. It's like one of those Magic Eye pictures where you're seeing a blur and then all of a sudden it's a fashion triumph. Or, like, a duck carrying an umbrella or something. Well done, Theo.

Next time, take the shirt out of the bag before you put it on.

Vanessa is the star of this show, with three outfits, two plot arcs, and her name in the title. She starts off in comfortable territory, delivering a complex print topped by a garment that looks like it came from the irregulars bin. The shirt is lovely, really: the depth and movement of the red and black paisley are so unique. But the other thing... well, it's definitely knit. And it's overalls-ish, but a skirt instead of shorts at the bottom. And the bib starts right at the bottom of her boobs, which isn't a great idea. Is this like in The Lorax when the Once-ler made a thneed and it was just whatever you wanted it to be? I assume Vanessa sits in her room all day inventing garments that didn't exist before. "They're hooded shoes, guys! Don't they go great with my one-sleeved skirtlet?" Oh, and that indigo sucks next to the red in her shirt. Yes, even though there's clearly indigo in the shirt. I don't care, I hate it.

Also, if you look really closely at the wide shot, you can see a pin on her right side: it's those wings from episode #2.10. Was there a budget cut this week? Are we raising awareness for recycling?

Your honor, I present Exhibit A.

More old news! This is her beloved paisley shirt first seen in #2.7, worn with her opening credits skirt. I will say that the silhouette here is far more flattering than I would have anticipated. Another detail worth pointing out is that in this scene, Vanessa is going through her sweaters to decide what to wear, and yet one of her options is Denise's, or at least was back in #1.12. There are a lot of gray areas around sweater ownership lately. If Clair weren't such a good litigator, Vanessa might have made a case for herself based on a few key pieces of evidence.

Good outfit for a date. Bad outfit for a lady-on-lady cage match.

And finally, the garment in question. You have to admit: nothing we've seen Vanessa wear previously would have finished the outfit off quite as well as this aubergine cardigan. I'm a little bit on her side here. Denise clearly borrows stuff from others (beyond last week's snag from Aunt Sarah, she is called out in this very episode for taking Cliff's clothes) and wasn't wearing this particular sweater tonight. In fact, she didn't even have plans . Meanwhile, her little sister has a date and a killer outfit. Keeping the sweater is entirely a power play. Lame. Don't be jealous, Denise. Vanessa rocked this sweater, let her have her moment of glory.

This ensemble really plays to Vanessa's strengths as a stylist. She's got her bright solid foundation with the matching Kermit-colored leggings and turtleneck. Then she offsets the tight solids with a baggy, peacock-patterned shirt. The whole thing is controlled by the richness of the purple and the bulk of the wool. It's such a great look. I can't hate. Obviously, she was still in the wrong, so verdict for the plaintiff here, but the law isn't the same as justice.

I can't snark on this.

Because this episode aired shortly before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1986, it ends with the family gathering around the television to watch a rebroadcast of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. The historical reference is really obviously shoehorned into the plot without any real relevance. (I'm pretty sure he never mentions borrowing your sister's clothes.) It also seems a little late in the night for this to be happening: Rudy had already gone to sleep and was woken up, Vanessa has been to a school dance and fought at length with Denise, Cliff and Clair are back home from a movie... it's got to be at least 10:00, probably 11:00. But whatever, the real joy here is watching people react. Let's rate the Huxtables on a scale from 1 to inspired.

Tempestt, you're in the frame. You know that, right?

Vanessa's pretty blank here. Denise might be thinking, but it's also possible that she's smelling a fart.

What did you eat last night, dude?

Oh yeah, Denise is smelling a fart. Squeeze, Theo.

Even that bear is more expressive than Vanessa.

Cliff is bringing the somber pretty well, but the winner (as in all contests at all times) is Clair, who is just radiating pride and understanding and even a weird sexual vibe. She looks like an entire gospel church is dancing down the aisles of her heart. Oh, and little sleepy Rudy is just the darlingest.

Well, that about does it. As usual, let's cap things off with a friendly mugging. GIVE ME YOUR MONEY! No, but really, you guys have been exceptionally generous, and it is appreciated. If you liked this entry (or previous entries; many of them are quite good if I do say so myself) then I hope you'll consider donating a dollar to the cause. Until I think of a better reward for your contributions, all I can promise is a personal thank you from me. But it'll be a really nice thank you, I swear.

Bet you can't wait until next week. Here's hoping they don't just all wear the same stinky clothes again. There's laundry in the basement, people! Do you know how rare that is in New York? It's like installing a gold-plated toilet. That's how rich.

UPDATE 2/27/12, 11:00pm
I know I didn't do my usual thing where I pair a character's clothes with a current runway trend. I was kind of hoping that someone would throw down an Oscar gown that related to something seen above, but my searches have left me empty-handed. I have to accept that this episode was not relevant to this year's Academy Awards red carpet. I did, however, decide that of all the dresses, the one below looks the most like something Vanessa would wear:

This is Lucy Walker, nominated this year for her documentary The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossoms. I almost chose Natalie Portman's polka dot ensemble, but this bold print sort of speaks to me as something that Vanessa might rock. And I guess it's not miles from her purple paisley shirt. So there you have it.


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  2. Actually, the relevance of MLK is very high. At the time this episode ran, there was no MLK day - the FIRST observance was not until just days after this showing.

    1. Amazing! I had no idea. Thank you for the update.