How Clothes Can Make A Character: Style On Screen

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[Written by Eliza Robinson]

[Image Credit: CW Television Network]

Fashion is a central theme in Gossip Girl. Clothes are used to highlight the characters’ personalities and quirks, and it is through fashion that we can track the evolution of Blair Waldorf from privileged mean girl to empowered business woman.

Blair first graces the screen in a lacy black dress that hangs loosely on her body. Her fashion designer mother comments that if Blair wanted to wear one of her designs, she should have gotten it fitted properly. In the pilot episode, Blair isn’t yet presented as the queen bee of the mean girls. At this point, she is a lost girl trying to find her place; this is emphasised by the clothes she wears. Blair is caught between two worlds: the status quo of high school life, and the chaotic world of near-adulthood.

Blair has two distinct styles in the pilot. Her school uniform is neat and pristine, whilst the other girls wear their buttons undone and ties loose. This look is continued when Blair goes to meet Serena, and wears a black turtleneck shirt. The emphasis of Blair’s style is on modesty, and she wears clothes that cover her up to the neck. When she isn’t dressed like this, she is in lingerie, trying to seduce her boyfriend, Nate. Blair hasn’t yet learnt to wield her sexual power, and is ill at ease in the light pink, gauzy lingerie. Her sexuality, at this point, is performative; a last-ditch effort to keep her fragile grip on power. This is emphasised by the contrast of her ‘sexy’ outfits with her usual ‘modest’ style.

It’s not until Episode 7, after being rejected by Nate again, that Blair comes into her power, and lets herself experience what she later terms her “deviant” side. Blair goes to Chuck’s burlesque club, in a mint-green dress buttoned up to the neck, where she tries to escape her humiliation. Chuck challenges her to go up onstage and dance. Blair slowly unbuttons her dress, and strips down to her slip onstage. She fingers the string of pearls around her neck, and looks Chuck straight in the eye with a knowing smile. In stripping off her dress, Blair has also stripped off her controlled, good-girl persona, and society’s expectations of who she should be.

This use of the pearl necklace sets the trend of accessories as a mode of self-expression. Blair’s style changes over the course of six seasons, but the power she finds in accessories is consistent throughout. Necklaces are a theme in her relationship with Chuck. What begins with the pearls is continued when she uses the act of fastening a necklace to seduce him, knowing he has a weakness for the nape of her neck. In the final season, when Blair and Chuck have promised themselves to each other, but cannot yet be together, she wears the engagement ring he gave her on a chain around her neck.

Blair’s style is further defined by accessories in the form of her signature headbands. They are also worn by her minions, and represent the power she holds as queen bee of her school.

The most surreal moment of Gossip Girl is the sight of Blair Waldorf wearing jeans, a grey hoodie, and an “I <3 New York” t-shirt. Blair is a runaway bride, on her way to annul her marriage. After arriving at the airport in her wedding dress, she has to dress down to blend into the crowd. For a character whose power comes from her privilege, money, and style, this outfit should be a liability. But Blair Waldorf is Blair Waldorf, even in jeans. Her power doesn’t come from the clothes she wears; the power of the clothes comes from her. Blair knows who she is, and she knows how to dress for her personality. When she isn’t dressed as herself, her identity doesn’t fade away.

After years of struggling to balance her dark side and her career aspirations, Blair discovers her dark side is where her talent comes from, and designs a fashion line for school girls, complete with her iconic headband. Blair has been plagued by anxiety that she peaked in high school and is now irrelevant. But she transforms this weakness into her strength. She takes something that is quintessentially Blair, and turns it into a business. In doing so, she successfully marries her dark side with her aspirational side, and balances these warring parts of her nature. She does this by realising her personal style has value. Through her love of fashion, Blair Waldorf learns to love herself.

[Image description: Characters Blair and Selena from the TV series Gossip Girl. They stand next to each other laughing. Blair on the left is wearing a light grey beret and a red patterned dress, she has long brown hair. Selena on the right is wearing a wide-brimmed pale tan hat and a lilac coloured blazer, she has long blonde hair. The background is blurred out trees and branches in a park.]


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