After watching the beautiful BBC adaptation of Normal People I felt utterly compelled to write a blog post about it. Instead of writing about the story itself, which, don't get me wrong, I have done a hundred times via Watsapp, Instagram DMs and to my patient husband.. I wanted to instead write a post focussing on Marianne's wardrobe to pay homage to how it was brought to life so beautifully on screen. When you love a book you can't help but build up an image of what the characters look like, down to their mannerisms and what they wear. Like most people, I did this to great detail when I read Normal People, because the book invites you to inhabit the psyche of the two main character Connell and Marianne through Rooney's very particular writing style, allowing you intimate access to who they are.
So, when I heard that Normal People was being adapted I was immediately curious and a little worried as to whether the physical appearances of both characters would fit what most of us had made up in our heads. In order for the story to be accurately played out on screen it had to hit the spot visually. Of course its not about clothes, but the fact that the clothes are brilliant just shows what an amazing job they did with bringing this book to life. The characters grow throughout the story and its those subtle details portrayed through changes in personal style that are addressed so well by the amazing costume designer Lorna Marie Mugan.
Marianne's outfits in the first few episodes are just as I would have imagined. A series of oversized knitwear, dungarees, cut-off vintage jeans and a messy bun which serve to accentuate her seemingly uncaring demeanour and naivety. The way they both dress in these scenes has a real nostalgic feel to them, being from pretty much exactly the same generation as Connell and Marianne I thought her denim skirt, cami top and cardigans perfectly encapsulated the early noughties sixth form summer wardrobe.
The scenes in Italy were without a doubt my favourites in terms of outfits, partly because we are all dreaming of a summer in Italy right now and all the summer outfits that go with that, but also because of how beautifully it was shot. The scene where Connell finds Mariannes hanging washing in the golden afternoon light wearing the perfect A-line sun-faded gingham shift dress, is pure effortless perfection reminiscent of Jane Birkin in the 70s.
Don't even get my started on the simple, black spaghetti strap dress she wears when her and Connell cycle to the local town and eat gelato in the sleepy piazza. It has a modern day Audrey in Roman Holiday to it and perfectly personified that easy and carefree holiday wardrobe full of light, airy throw-on dresses and makes me instantly nostalgic for halcyon summer days.
Her style in Italy is a real contrast to the early scenes in Sligo. We see her style mature from youthful and casual to sophisticated and elegant in flattering linen and long, vintage-style dresses. When Marianne returns to Sligo during University we see her style slip back into a similar youthful appearance, representing her loss of identify due to how alone and alienated she feels at home.
“a corduroy jacket over a dress, her hair pinned back. Her hand, holding the cigarette, looks long and ethereal in the light." This is how Rooney describes Marianne from the perspective of Connell when he first sees her again at the house party at Trinity. The way she looks and acts at University contrasts with how we (and he) saw her in earlier episodes, she seems more confident and relaxed. She is admired by other students for her style, beauty and intelligence, something that no one with the exception of Connell has ever afforded to her before.
I love her wardrobe at University, its simple yet chic, billowy silk shirts, oversized collars, velvet blazers and boho jewellery. It feels very french in the way its seems thrown together almost effortlessly but with the upmost elegance. I also think they've done an amazing job of capturing the style of the time. The book was based about 10 years ago which was exactly when I was at university, the style isn't drastically different to now but its those subtleties in the costume design that makes you feel that its not quite set in present day.
This blog post wouldn't be complete without a tribute to the viral sensation that is, Connell's silver chain. Connell's chain is actually only briefly mentioned in the novel by Joanna, Marianne's best friend at Trinity. She refers to it as "Argos chic" as an emblem of his working class roots but it isn't anywhere near as prolific as its become after the BBC adaptation. Who knows why we are all so obsessed with the chain, but its definitely caused a reaction..
If you haven’t watched Normal People, it's available now on BBC iPlayer or Hulu in the US.