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Glee: One sweater-vest, five tons of conjecture

16 Sep

Yesterday, FashionofGlee.com updated with a post on the sweater-vest Blaine is wearing in “It’s Time.” Of note? While it’s, as usual, Brooks Brothers, but it’s from the women’s department. I chortled; fandom, quoting Kurt Hummel, said in unison, “fashion has no gender”; and then everyone went back to gawping over the price of the thing.

But, while hardly a significant data point (we’ll get to why in a second) in some of the arguments I’ve advanced about Blaine, it’s a really, really fun one to discuss, and I might as well do it here.

First, why it doesn’t matter: Extradiegetically, it’s irrelevant. As clever and sneaky as Glee‘s costume department often is narratively (see: Kurt and the hanky code), I’m pretty sure this was a case of wardrobe grabbing something that would fit an actor and was consistent with the character’s look. End of discussion.

On the other hand, if we want to be Watsonian about it, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Kurt, of course, has not only said “fashion has no gender,” but often wears items from the women’s department or items that are not feminine but likely to be perceived as such in Lima, such as the kilt he wore to prom. Kurt does not choose these pieces in order to be perceived as a female, but he makes little effort to hide the femininity of them. Sure, a sweater dress becomes a “form-fitting knee-length sweater,” but clingy and curvy remains clingy and curvy.

Need an example? Think back to the outfit he’s wearing during the masturbation conversation in 3.05 — with that leopard print sweater and the shy, breathy, and deliberate questions about whether Blaine wants to rip his clothes off, Kurt is actually dressed like a sex kitten. And when it’s not about clingy and curvy, there’s the wardrobe phase that seems explicitly built around feminine modesty.

Blaine, on the other hand, wears traditionally masculine clothes. He may wear them with a wink, or a queer twist, but much like the decor of his bedroom, his clothes are all about classic masculinity, even if the current modern reception of them, and his body language and sense of self aren’t necessarily. And Kurt’s feminine clothes, or perceived as feminine clothes, aren’t something Blaine’s naturally comfortable with. Remember prom? That, however, very probably had less to do with gender and more to do with concern over attracting attention that may be hostile.

But all of this leads us to: How did Blaine, who is concerned with fitting in and displaying a masculine sensibility, wind up with that women’s sweater-vest?

Because my gut says that if Kurt was going to buy him a piece from the women’s department as a gift (and I don’t think Kurt would, I think he knows that might be uncomfortable for Blaine), I think he’d probably go for something outrageous. If he’s going to cross that line, which is a more challenging one for his boyfriend, I feel like he’s going to make that worth it, as opposed to another sweater-vest just like so many of Blaine’s other sweater-vests. Which means Blaine bought that thing for himself.

Now, this is where I have to digress and say I shop in Not My Department all the time. And I’m an adult, queer woman in NYC, and it often makes me super tense that I’ll get called out on it or be told I am doing something that is inappropriate in some way, even though I know better. I know this is not everyone’s experience who shops out of their department, but it’s some people’s, mine included. Now, Blaine is a teenager, in Lima, perceived as male (and I do think men are viewed as suspect more for breaking gender boundaries in this way than women are), and may have some gender issues. Leaving aside whether there is a Brooks Brothers in Lima (there is certainly one in proximity to Westerville), I’m pretty sure Blaine didn’t just walk into the store and decide to browse all the sweater-vests regardless of gender.

So maybe it was mis-shelved and Blaine didn’t notice? And no one at the register said anything snide when they noticed? Or if they did say something, perhaps Blaine just blurted about shopping for a sister that doesn’t exist? Or maybe it was mail order and Blaine browses the women’s sweaters because, like stuff in the boys department, he knows he’s slight enough for them to fit? Or maybe Blaine does have some gender identity stuff going on and likes to browse female clothes in relation to that? That sweater would be quite the find for someone trying to serve two sets of gender expectations — one external and one internal — that don’t overlap comfortably at all.

Much like what I had to say about 4.01 as a whole, the matter of this clothing item could mean any one of a dozen things, all of them fairly irrelevant outside of a Watsonian perspective and fanfiction plot bunnies.

That said, as much as I’ve already noted that I don’t think there’s a single, clear, easily supportable theory on just what Blaine’s feelings about Wade/Unique are right now, the fact that Blaine was policing this person’s gender, and telling them not to rock the boat, while wearing a woman’s sweater is deeply interesting and harks back to the many passing themes that always seem to come up around Blaine Anderson, and underscore why, I think, so many fans find him so irksome.

Blaine gets away with a lot, often by, as Kurt would say, just being “handsome and good.” For people that can’t, or don’t wish to pass, regardless of the categories in question, it can be galling.

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12 Responses to “Glee: One sweater-vest, five tons of conjecture”

  1. DeconstructingGlee September 16, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    I have no idea what to do with all this, but I’m absolutely abuzz with the excitement of getting more clues this season.

  2. me September 16, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    Yes. And yes.

  3. M. Dare McPherson September 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Your costume analysis has added an extra layer of depth to the way I view and enjoy Glee. I always look forward to your writing. Thanks so much for sharing.
    On a side note I was sorry to read that you get grief for shopping in the other department. I’d hoped that the experience my 8 year old daughter and I often have was limited to where we live and the types of clerks found in children’s clothing stores. Our last shopping trip involved the clerk, after asking me several times if she could point us to the girls department, actually taking me by the elbow and trying to force us there. We were not swayed and my daughter left with the items she wanted but gosh it was exhausting. I’m grateful for online shopping.

  4. gusthetheatrecat September 16, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    here’s a theory-that sweater vest looks like something a season one Rachel Berry would wear perhaps the costume dept. purchased the vest for Lea Michele then decided it would be clever to have Blaine wear it just as he has been christened ‘the new rachel’. Also the gender layers are driving me wild with excitement; I checked out the website and the model wearing the vest was androdgynous!!!

    • Del September 18, 2012 at 2:29 am #

      Oh, I love this theory :). Truth is I’ve been giddy with excitement ever since they revealed Blaine was the new Rachel, because it makes so much sense. Rachel is the traditional ingenue, except she’s also “man hands” Berry — driven, ambitious, loud, and certain of her worth (all without being a femme fatale or “a villainess out to ruin a man”) — something that makes her grating to others. Blaine is the direct parallel, a traditional leading man who on the other hand is gay and possesses numerous feminine qualities. As such, Blaine falls into the same trap: “being Rachel” means that even though you are the powerhouse in the team and are coded well enough to serve favorably as the face of the group while on stage, you are not the leader. You need a foil, a “Finn”, to legitimize you. And let’s face it, Finn as leader was just a warm body who happened to have the right parts (straight, male, ablebodied, popular, etc. etc.)

      What I wanna know is, who’s the new Finn? Is it Sam or Artie? On the one hand, there’s all those Sam and Finn parallels since season 2, not to mention all the teases about an upcoming Blaine / Sam bromance. On the other hand, Artie may have dubbed Blaine the new Rachel precisely because Artie wants to cement himself as the new Finn, and Blaine is the perfect foil. Part of Artie’s ongoing frustration is that though he is clearly the alpha male of the group, the wheelchair prevents him from “being Finn”. Blaine is the perfect front for his purposes because he has all the right ingredients (charm, charisma, talent, all while looking traditionally male) except for the “classic straight alpha male” thing that Artie keeps rocking. It would be an interesting restructuring of the “Rachel-Finn” paradigm.

      • Del September 21, 2012 at 9:06 am #

        Oh. Never mind. Sam is clearly the new Finn. Which would make the Blam bromance doubly entertaining.

  5. springbay September 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    Sometimes a sweater vest is just a sweater vest. There is nothing about it that screams “feminine” if it weren’t for the picture on Fashion of Glee. Just because the wardrobe department purchased it from the women’s section doesn’t mean Blaine purchased it from the women’s section. Perhaps there’s no subtext to be found here. By all accounts, Darren is “tiny”. Back in 3.09, he wore a Brooks Brothers vest from the children’s section: http://fashionofglee.com/post/12717165082/blaine-anderson-brooks-brothers-vest
    page 10 under character – Blaine Anderson.

    As to your comment on Blaine’s feelings toward Wade/Unique, I don’t know why we’re supposed to think he has any “feelings” regarding Wade/Unique’s gender presentation. He initially saw Wade as competition for the “new Rachel” role that he was already competing with Tina and Brittany for.

    In the cafeteria where you say “Blaine was policing this person’s gender”, it was actually SAM and ARTIE saying Wade couldn’t come there “looking like that” due to the fragile grasp they have on being popular. Blaine was just softening the blow (again, from SAM and ARTIE) after Wade reluctantly said he’d go “take off his face” by offering that Wade could wear it in competitions. Why isn’t Sam and Artie seen as policing Wade/Uniques gender? I don’t see this as any type of judgement by Blaine, but more him trying to be a nice guy in an uncomfortable situation.

    It’s Joe who tell Unique, when he comes into the choir room later, “Dude, I thought you weren’t gonna wear that”. Is Joe policing Wade/Unique’s gender? And what about Kitty’s comment “…pre-op Precious”? Is she given a free pass because she’s already been established as a bitch?

    • meNora September 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm #

      To the question about whether the others’ behaviors were policing Wade/Unique’s gender presentation: I would say, absolutely yes. However, the fact that they’re doing it does not mean Blaine isn’t– in fact it seems more likely in that he’s dealing with an environment that supports such activity. There is a lot more pressure to participate in that behavior. It’s interesting to me that what he does can be read as you have as being a “nice guy.” I do think that what he suggests to Wade/Unique is very much reflective of how he copes with himself and his own urges/rages/etc. Performance is the place Blaine allows himself to be controversial, non-heteronormative, and exhibit feelings/personas that rock the boat. He is aware that Wade/Unique’s choices can discomfort some in the group (arguably him as well) and he suggests that it is better for Unique to come out in performance. It makes sense that he would do this, because a lot of his boundary pushing gender wise is explicitly done onstage, while in his every day life he presents a nonthreatening rule follower persona.

    • me September 16, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

      To the question about whether the others\’ behaviors were policing Wade/Unique\’s gender presentation: I would say, absolutely yes. However, the fact that they\’re doing it does not mean Blaine isn\’t– in fact it seems more likely in that he\’s dealing with an environment that supports such activity. There is a lot more pressure to participate in that behavior. It\’s interesting to me that what he does can be read as you have as being a \”nice guy.\” I do think that what he suggests to Wade/Unique is very much reflective of how he copes with himself and his own urges/rages/etc. Performance is the place Blaine allows himself to be controversial, non-heteronormative, and exhibit feelings/personas that rock the boat. He is aware that Wade/Unique\’s choices can discomfort some in the group (arguably him as well) and he suggests that it is better for Unique to come out in performance. It makes sense that he would do this, because a lot of his boundary pushing gender wise is explicitly done onstage, while in his every day life he presents a nonthreatening rule follower persona.

    • tdanaher September 17, 2012 at 11:40 am #

      I’m agreeing with springbay on the subject of “sometimes a sweater vest is just a sweater vest”, for personal reasons. For a period of about 20 years I identified as a cisgendered heterosexual woman, and during that time I lived in sweater vests and slacks because I loved the way they looked on me. I wore them every day to work, I always bought them in the men’s department because the women’s department didn’t have anything I liked, and I never ever was gendered as masculine in any way by coworkers, friends, or family. Nobody who knew me saw where I bought my vests, so all they could see is a tube of knitted fabric over whatever shirt I was wearing. Why couldn’t the same be true of Blaine?

      Nordstrom’s sold a Brooks Brothers tipped vest which looks a great deal like the Blaine one, with different colors, and it’s sold in the men’s department.

      http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/brooks-brothers-tipped-vest/3249409

      I don’t see anywhere on fashionofglee where they actually say it came exclusively from the Brooks Brothers women’s department. The link they provide leads to the Black Fleece collection, but if you look at the landing page for that collection, it shows a man and woman modeling identical jackets, and the collection itself is unisex in look (with adjustments for fit). Similarly, Brooks Brothers sells what looks like the same floral vest in both men’s and women’s departments. Since the Blaine vest is on the site as a sale item, there’s a non-zero possibility BB is out of the men’s department version of the vest, and only has a picture of the women’s version on display because it’s still in stock, and that’s the picture fashionofglee was able to snag.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Glee: The costume department weighs in « Letters from Titan - October 17, 2012

    […] version: the hanky code was not intentional, the death and transformation thing is, and sometimes a sweater vest is just a sweater vest. Additionally, the excellent color theory and character stuff some people have been blogging about […]

  2. amusement (mine) and gender (Blaine’s) – i just want freedom - March 11, 2016

    […] She and one of her interlocutors both mention that neither considers Blaine genderqueer or trans*. But Blaine’s femininity continues to pose a question when juxtaposed with his generally masculine attire (but not always from the men’s department). […]

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