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Monday, October 8, 2012

Season 3, Episode 20: Cliff's 50th Birthday

This episode depicts Cliff celebrating the milestone of half a century of life. The story begins with the doctor and his wife in bed, discussing what they will do for the occasion and deciding to have two parties: one with the children, and one with Cliff's adult friends. Planning starts to get kind of sad when it's tough for him to think of people to invite, especially since everyone he mentions is someone Clair vocally dislikes. When this soiree eventually happens, there are only five guests. As the night progresses, Clair is forced to reconcile with a man who went through a messy divorce with one of her friends while Theo takes care of the former couple's 12-year-old daughter.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Mel Winkler
He does eventually leave the couch, don't worry.

Three of the five party guests are never addressed by name, but they speak and wear clothes, so I'll include them in this entry. Above is Mel Winkler, who had picked up a handful of film and television credits before this appearance and who has continued to act regularly since then, though mostly as a guest star on the small screen or in minor parts on the big screen. Nothing from his IMDb page jumped out at me as something you'd have recognized for sure. He's sporting a classic three-piece suit, which is tough to critique appropriately without some serious up-close examination. Suits, unless they deviate absurdly from the norm, are judged on minute tailoring decisions, and you can't usually eyeball them unless something is way out of place. From what we see of this guy, he looks well put together: the simple light gray is invigorated by the winey red accents, and overall the fit seems right. If forced to question him, I'd say that Tim Gunn recommends that socks match the trousers rather than the shoes, and I'm inclined to defer to his judgment.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Carmen De Lavallade
She looks like the kind of lady who says "pizzazz" regularly.

The suited man's wife, who also goes unnamed, is portrayed by Carmen De Lavallade, who had by this point already made a significant name for herself as a dancer with Alvin Ailey, the Metropolitan Opera, and in several films. As well, she earned acclaim choreographing her own pieces. Her lithe, compact frame is accentuated by this fluid, flattering dress: the wrap at her waist tapers everything well at the slimmest point on her body, while the light fabric wisps around her like air to highlight the grace of her movements. By opting for translucent sleeves, she gets to tease her arms without losing the formality of a wrist-length garment. The golden print helps lighten things, but I'm not sold on so much black for her. Especially when paired with the tight bun, it has a funereal feel to it. Cliff's not that old. This same frock in a jade green or rich amethyst could have really nailed it.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Omar Torres
The whole joke is that he has an accent. No, really. He talks funny, get it?

Poor Hector gets the short end of the stick: though we at least get to hear his name, we barely get to see what he looks like, let alone what he's wearing. Omar Torres, the actor, had previously appeared in one film, 1986's Power starring Richard Gere, Julie Christie, and Gene Hackman. Since this show, he has only acted once more, in a 2004 Argentine thriller called Leviat├ín: El juego. I wish I had more to go on as I consider his clothing. The grayish yellow of his shirt is reflected in the stripe of his tie, which unifies things neatly. Otherwise, he's delivering gray pants and a black blazer (I was leaning toward deep navy for some reason, perhaps because of the blue in his tie, but I'm reasonably sure it's black), and everything seems to be in working order.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Gates McFadden
What would Fashion It So have to say about this?

In another Star Trek crossover, Gates McFadden steps in as the last of the no-names. You're probably familiar with her as Dr. Beverly Crusher if you're familiar with her at all. The costume department was apparently having a weird day when she came in for her fitting, because this outfit would make more sense on the Starship Enterprise than it does in Cliff's living room. While the saturated, shimmery green works well for her, the construction is just a nightmare. The pants are at least sized correctly, but come across as goofy because of how strange the top is.  It's tough to tell if the bottom seam of her blouse is asymmetrical or if it's just hanging oddly. Sleeve length is also a concern here. Even if everything is measured correctly, the slouchiness of the shirt makes the horizontal lines look imbalanced: when there's an extra six inches of fabric in every direction, it's hard to keep a garment properly centered on one's shoulders, you know? Then we've got that terrifying lace ruff on her collar. It's just unbelievably bad. And in case you weren't already thinking she looked like a Christmas tree, she went ahead and dangled an ornament from her neck on a ribbon just to make sure. Not a winner, Gates, I'm sorry.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Mark Douglas Turner Ward
Speaking of pizzazz, this guy's got it.

This is Mark, a man for whom Clair has no love. She expertly throws shade in a manner that lets him know he's under fire without making the party uncomfortable, and he soldiers on like a pro. Douglas Turner Ward, the man playing Mark, had previously appeared with Bill Cosby in the 1971 film Man and Boy. His resume is populated with as many theater credits as screen appearances, including one Tony nomination. Since I've already discussed the virtues of a gray three-piece suit, there's not much I can add about his current wardrobe, except to say that I think the paisley of his tie is rather loud and a hair silly. Something simpler in a cool blue to match the handkerchief in his pocket would have been optimal, I think.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Ellen Ashley Thompson
Cliff and Clair would never have allowed their daughters to hang out alone
with high school boys at this age.

Last in our parade of guest stars is Ashley Thompson as Mark's daughter Ellen. After this, she pops up as a nameless student in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, then in a TV movie called Time Well Spent, and then I guess stopped acting. Though she is only 12 in comparison to Theo's 16, Cliff spends an uncomfortable amount of time trying to get his son to consider this child as a romantic prospect. No, really, there's a long conversation about it. But getting back to the point of this blog, I think she's doing OK for her age in terms of clothes. I'm always happy when someone decides to eschew neutrals entirely: forget the black and beige, she's going for aqua and coral. There's nothing to indicate that either of these garments fit her at all, but she's taking chances with her palette, so I'll give her credit for that effort.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Rudy Keshia Knight Pulliam
Even when she's wrong, she's right.

This is one of those outfits that makes me think Rudy has begun dressing herself. The prevalence of pastels is so cloying, it could only have happened because someone let her child brain loose on a closet full of clothes. In terms of storytelling, I like that she's wearing a skirt that clearly came from a dress-up closet or Halloween costume or something. Her dad is having a fancy party, and she went with a ball gown. It's an adorable concept, really. Also, her party hat is oddly well coordinated with the rest of her look. How did that even happen?

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Vanessa Tempestt Bledsoe

Vanessa spends this episode lurking in the corners and on the fringes, making it difficult to capture her outfit. Luckily, the whole thing is a hand-me-down from Denise, who wore it in episode #1.14.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Theo Malcolm Jamal Warner
He doesn't bring me flowers anymore.

Remember how I said that I love when people avoid neutrals like beige and black? No, Theo? You don't remember that? You'd rather continue to depress me by donning dull tents in lieu of respectable attire? Fine. We're still in a fight.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Denise Lisa Bonet
If there weren't a party, she might still have worn that hat.

Denise is, as usual, thinking differently about the concept of a formal party. Though she's technically wearing a dress, it has a tough, rustic feel to it. Plus, that appears to be a sweatshirt underneath, which is flat-out never dressy. Nonetheless, I applaud the blue-gray and true gray combo. There are a couple key details to point out, though.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Denise Lisa Bonet
Secret genius revealed.

The dress is weirdly short in the back, revealing that it's more of an apron. In this light, I have to wonder if she's drawing from a medieval or Viking inspiration (you never know with this one). While I normally wouldn't care for unevenness in a hem even as an intentional flourish, I love that she uses it to reveal unexpected short pants and black stockings, pairing a tomboyish choice with an accessory steeped in feminine sexuality. It's a genius move. Next, take a look at that necklace. She wore it last week, too, and I was intrigued by it, but didn't get a good enough shot to actually critique it until now. My guess is that it's another cultural appropriation, though I couldn't guess at its origin. It's some sort of leather pouch secured by several straps around her neck. The amount of fuss involved in the construction makes it look almost like a safe: it's what a locket might be if a locket took half an hour to open. She must keep the souls of her enemies in there or something.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Sondra Sabrina Le Beauf

Sondra takes aim at territory similar to Denise's, but misses the mark considerably. Like her sister, she's toying with a vintage men's look, but her application of the concept is more clownish than alluring. Check out the shoulders of her jacket: they slump down in an A-line like a skirt for her chin, an effect that is only exacerbated by the buttoned top button of her white shirt. The shirt, by the way, is not tucked in, which cannot be condoned. I'm also dubious about that crystal slung around her neck, which reeks of a month-long New Age phase that she won't shut up about. I kind of dig the satiny finish and subtle pattern of the deep blue suit, but the high-water pants are dodgy. Further, she covers the area below her ankle with white athletic socks, which should not under any circumstances be worn outside of athletic engagement. I was on the fence until I saw that, and then everything was ruined. Sorry, Sondra. I'm trying to throw you a few compliments here and there, but you need to give back.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Clair Phylicia Rashad
Still finding her sea legs, apparently.

That hat is amazing. Only Clair Huxtable could find a party hat like that. Her outfit for Cliff's first celebration starts off well. The turquoise blouse and gold belt make a knockout pair, and the khakis make a serviceable foundation to show off the top half. Nothing revolutionary, but a nice ensemble. But then she hauls out that plaid work shirt and everything goes to pieces. I mean, what even is that? Is it supposed to be a jacket? Is it one of Cliff's old flannels? The lapels make it seem like a blazer, but the fabric looks too thin for that. Whatever it is, it's making a mockery of my sweet Clair and I can't tolerate it.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Phylicia Rashad
Getting closer.

Of course, by the time the adults arrive for the real party, she has put on something more fabulous. I know that nothing about this should be considered fashionable, but I can't help but revel in it somehow. Half the enjoyment is in the fact that she has a matching red opalescent blouse and harem pants. That's just gutsy. What really needs to happen though is that we need to start from scratch on that blazer and reconstruct it several sizes smaller, because the fabric and print make it look like upholstery at this scale. If it were a smart little tailored number, it would be so cute. I feel like this is the fourth or fifth time recently that I've had to ask why someone's clothes have so many buttons, so I guess that was a trend in the late '80s, but honestly, there are a million fasteners running down her front and it's overdone. At least she had the good sense to roll with that excess by flaunting lots of big, gold jewelry to round out the look.

Oh, and now is as good a time as any to mention that Clair's age is never discussed in this episode. The show has previously established that she and Cliff went to college in the same year, so it stands to reason that Mrs. Huxtable is either about to turn 50 or already has. I'm just keeping that number on your radar because it'll come up again.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Cliff Bill Cosby
Looking wistfully into the live studio audience.

Cliff gets three outfits this week (This is the opening scene in which they discuss his invite list; she was in a bathrobe, which is why her half of the conversation didn't show up in this entry.) He looks great in a deep, almost violet red, and this not-quite-plaid color-blocked shirt is phenomenal, especially underneath the teal suspenders. As for the pants, I wondered for the first time while watching this episode if those cargo pockets might not be pockets at all. Something about the construction of that flap makes me think that it's sewn on merely as a decorative element. There are no seams or anything below it to suggest that you might actually be able to hold something in that area of the slacks. Maybe I'm wrong, but it was interesting to notice.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Cliff Bill Cosby sweater
Serving face. And hat.

His first birthday getup is an episode #2.24 repeat.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Cliff Bill Cosby
Pretty fancy for a man who only has five friends.

And finally, a suit. As I said before, you only really comment on suits when you can gauge the tailoring more closely, or when something is brazenly wrong. The latter has happened here. I've occasionally seen buttons on jackets placed just below each nipple (I'm sure that's not what they're intended to evoke, but the comparison is right there), but that tends to happen on double-breasted suits that have more buttons overall. Since this coat has only three visible buttons, the two with no use seem more blatantly out of place. Especially since they're so shiny, they distract horribly from what could otherwise be a nice look. It's no longer en vogue to put so much rigmarole on a formal piece: the idea is to have sleek, clean lines. Nice tie and pocket square, but there are improvements to be made.

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  1. I don't know why I remember this tidbit, but it's established at some point that Clair is younger than Cliff, they met in high school I believe, and there's an episode where it's mentioned that she didn't attend her Senior Prom bc he had finals at college and couldn't come home to take her, therefore she's a year or two younger than Cliff.

    1. Yes, in the first season of the show, Cliff and Clair are the same age. At some point later on, she becomes younger than him, and how much younger is a sort of shifting quantity. I think at one point Vanessa says something about Clair being four years younger. I love finding these little inconsistencies.

  2. I was going to make the same point as Anon up there...

    So instead I'll point out that buttons as a decorative element were definitely a thing in the late 80s-early 90s. Eventually it exploded, and buttons ended up on hats.

    I won't show you pictures. You might cry.

  3. About Denise's necklace: Lisa might have loved that piece, because I've seen wearing it in a lot of photos beyond that show.. oh and I love that apron-dress and everything that goes with it!

    1. The plot thickens! I'll have to search for that in other pictures now.