Fashion Was My Favorite Character In Normal People

Eliza Huber
Normal People — Episode 8 – Episode 108 — It’s the summer holidays and Connell (Paul Mescal) and Niall (Desmond Eastwood) arrive at Marianne’s (Daisy Edgar-Jones) family house in Italy. The obvious chemistry between Connell and Marianne causes friction with Jamie (Fionn O’Shea), despite Connell’s evident happiness with his girlfriend Helen (Aoife Hinds), who he clearly misses. Peggy (India Mullen) cooks the group a lavish meal but tensions run high. During dinner, Jamie drinks too much and picks a fight with Marianne. Connell breaks it up and attempts to soothe Marianne. Marianne stays in Connell’s room that night to get away from Jamie. They talk and almost kiss, but Marianne puts a stop to it before it goes any further. , shown. (Photo by Enda Bowe/Hulu)
Normal People — Episode 8 – Episode 108 — It’s the summer holidays and Connell (Paul Mescal) and Niall (Desmond Eastwood) arrive at Marianne’s (Daisy Edgar-Jones) family house in Italy. The obvious chemistry between Connell and Marianne causes friction with Jamie (Fionn O’Shea), despite Connell’s evident happiness with his girlfriend Helen (Aoife Hinds), who he clearly misses. Peggy (India Mullen) cooks the group a lavish meal but tensions run high. During dinner, Jamie drinks too much and picks a fight with Marianne. Connell breaks it up and attempts to soothe Marianne. Marianne stays in Connell’s room that night to get away from Jamie. They talk and almost kiss, but Marianne puts a stop to it before it goes any further. , shown. (Photo by Enda Bowe/Hulu)

I’m a firm believer that in order to truly appreciate a book-to-screen adaptation, you have to have read the book first, spending hours (if not longer) imagining exactly what each character looks like, and then handpicking the actors you’d most like to see play them. I also like to dream about their clothes (it’s no wonder I ended up covering fashion). 

I do this with all of the books I read. But out of all the books I’ve consumed over the last few years, none have been torn apart and sartorially scrutinized in my head quite as intensely as Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel Normal People, which was recently made into a BBC television show and premiered on Hulu yesterday. 

Upon hearing that the novel, which was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, was headed to a TV near me, my mind went straight to the clothes. Would Marianne’s dress for the Debs fundraiser look as much like this Paco Rabanne chain-mail mini dress as I’d imagined? 

Normal People — Episode 8 – Episode 108 — It’s the summer holidays and Connell (Paul Mescal) and Niall (Desmond Eastwood) arrive at Marianne’s (Daisy Edgar-Jones) family house in Italy. The obvious chemistry between Connell and Marianne causes friction with Jamie (Fionn O’Shea), despite Connell’s evident happiness with his girlfriend Helen (Aoife Hinds), who he clearly misses. Peggy (India Mullen) cooks the group a lavish meal but tensions run high. During dinner, Jamie drinks too much and picks a fight with Marianne. Connell breaks it up and attempts to soothe Marianne. Marianne stays in Connell’s room that night to get away from Jamie. They talk and almost kiss, but Marianne puts a stop to it before it goes any further. Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones), shown. (Photo by Enda Bowe/Hulu)
Normal People — Episode 8 – Episode 108 — It’s the summer holidays and Connell (Paul Mescal) and Niall (Desmond Eastwood) arrive at Marianne’s (Daisy Edgar-Jones) family house in Italy. The obvious chemistry between Connell and Marianne causes friction with Jamie (Fionn O’Shea), despite Connell’s evident happiness with his girlfriend Helen (Aoife Hinds), who he clearly misses. Peggy (India Mullen) cooks the group a lavish meal but tensions run high. During dinner, Jamie drinks too much and picks a fight with Marianne. Connell breaks it up and attempts to soothe Marianne. Marianne stays in Connell’s room that night to get away from Jamie. They talk and almost kiss, but Marianne puts a stop to it before it goes any further. Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones), shown. (Photo by Enda Bowe/Hulu)

What about the dress she’s wearing when Connell arrives in Italy to find her hanging laundry in the yard? Rooney describes the frock as a “white dress with a halter-neck” that “looks immaculate.” Unlike the Paco dress, no specific designer came to mind with this one. I wish one had — I would’ve already bought it. Instead, I immediately thought of a dress that Mischa Barton wore on The O.C. in episode six of season one. Hers was blue with tiny white polka dots, a halter neck, and a knee-length silhouette. If it were white and eyelet, Marianne would be the one wearing it.

Don’t even get me started on Marianne’s outfit for the party at which she and Connell meet again for the first time at Trinity. In the scene, she’s described as wearing “a corduroy jacket over a dress, her hair pinned back. Her hand, holding the cigarette, looks long and ethereal in the light.” Rooney later depicts the dress as longish, gray, and capable of making Marianne look “narrow and delicate.” Immediately after finishing the book for the first time, I went out and purchased a dress that is eerily similar. 

Last week, when the TV adaptation’s premiere date began creeping up on me, I started to feel nervous, like maybe all the outfits that I’d consciously put together in my head wouldn’t quite live up on screen, that fashion wouldn’t have been made a priority in production. After all, Marianne and Connell’s story isn’t about clothes, not even remotely. My worries, however, were quelled within seconds of episode one’s first scene: Marianne combing through the hallway at school, her uniform exactly as I’d pictured it — maybe even better. 

The show’s Emmy nominated costume designer, Lorna Marie Mugan, also created the ensembles for Peaky Blinders, a series in which the only thing better than the clothes are Cillian Murphy’s piercing blue eyes. Naturally, she threw herself into this role, too, creating exactly the kind of normal wardrobes that you’d expect for a story such as the one that plays out in Normal People. So, sadly, there won’t be any straight-off-the-runway moments. But, that makes sense for what the show is, so I’ll get over it. Marianne didn’t show up to a nightclub in small town Ireland wearing Paco Rabanne. Because, why would she? However, in a later scene, she did wear a chain link dress and scarf combination that was reminiscent of Paris Hilton’s (and then later Kendall Jenner’s) silver cowl-neck mini dress from her 21st birthday party.

Normal People — Episode 3 – Episode 103 — The night of the Debs is approaching and the girls at school have organised a fundraising event. Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has been asked to help and is out of her comfort zone. At the club, one of Connell’s friends Karen (Niamh Lynch) does her best to show Marianne some kindness but Rachel (Leah McNamara) behaves coldly towards her. The evening turns sour, when one of the boys’ older friends gropes Marianne. She leaves the club, upset by the incident and Connell (Paul Mescal) offers her a lift home. Marianne stays over at Connell’s house and bumps into Lorraine as she leaves the next day. Connell becomes anxious when his friends tease him about Marianne, suspecting they’ve guessed about their relationship. Fuelled by anxiety, Connell makes an unexpected decision that hurts Marianne and causes a rift between him and his mother, Lorraine (Sarah Greene). Marianne withdraws from school, causing Connell intense guilt. Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones), shown. (Photo by: Enda Bowe/Hulu)
Normal People — Episode 3 – Episode 103 — The night of the Debs is approaching and the girls at school have organised a fundraising event. Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has been asked to help and is out of her comfort zone. At the club, one of Connell’s friends Karen (Niamh Lynch) does her best to show Marianne some kindness but Rachel (Leah McNamara) behaves coldly towards her. The evening turns sour, when one of the boys’ older friends gropes Marianne. She leaves the club, upset by the incident and Connell (Paul Mescal) offers her a lift home. Marianne stays over at Connell’s house and bumps into Lorraine as she leaves the next day. Connell becomes anxious when his friends tease him about Marianne, suspecting they’ve guessed about their relationship. Fuelled by anxiety, Connell makes an unexpected decision that hurts Marianne and causes a rift between him and his mother, Lorraine (Sarah Greene). Marianne withdraws from school, causing Connell intense guilt. Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones), shown. (Photo by: Enda Bowe/Hulu)

Thanks to Marie Mugan’s delicate precision, scenes from the novel that I’d never even considered the outfits for were elevated in the TV adaptation. The effortless denim mini skirt and camisole combination from the penultimate episode, the black maillot featured in the pool scene, even Connell’s slightly too-small suit for Rob’s funeral — all of these pieces, at least for someone who allows clothes to play such a major role in entertainment, were executed perfectly by Marie Mugan. 

The tiny details stood out, as well. Connell’s silver chain necklace is so indicative of his character, as are his tattered Adidas trainers — he has a simple and uncomplicated façade, like someone who doesn’t think twice about what other people think of him. Of course, that’s far from the case on the inside. The addition of jewelry and accessories into Marianne’s wardrobe in university compared to when she was still in school is a subtle symbol of her growing confidence. Like Rooney did on the pages of Normal People, Marie Mugan didn’t miss a beat on-screen, which, for me, makes the show as unforgettable as the novel.

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