Veep Style (or my longest post ever)
The way Veep uses costumes to demonstrate character has interested me for a while, and so I’m diving in to the subject just this once. Everything I learned about ‘reading’ costume I learned from reading Tom and Lorenzo’s Mad Style recaps (if you’re a Mad Men fan who’s somehow never encountered them, go forth and read). Needless to say, this won’t be anywhere near as comprehensive, and in fact will be chiefly focused on one character, which is Amy.
There’s a simple reason for this - Amy is the most dynamic dresser on the show. Which isn’t to say that she’s necessarily stylish - Selina knows how to dress to convey very specific messages (as does Dan), something Amy mostly doesn’t do (with one hilarious exception). But there are two reasons why Amy’s style changes so much more than anyone else’s over the course of the show.
Within the world of the show, Amy starts off as a comparatively young woman (say approximately 30 at the beginning?), and one who has never felt particularly comfortable with her own beauty or confident in her ability to attract men. She also desperately wants to be taken seriously in an environment that is not particularly friendly to her. Outside the world of the show, Anna Chlumsky has had two babies - which means her body has gone through far more dramatic changes than any other member of the main cast. (Reid Scott and Timothy Simmons’ receding hairlines don’t really compare).
So let’s look at season one.
This is, to my mind, Amy’s most important costume in the pilot - and certainly the one that is called back to the most. Note how informal it is. She’s not dressed to impress here - she’s wearing a comfortable blouse and a cardigan, and the cardigan is in a notably feminine colour. This is important, because a lot of Amy’s costumes in season one are in direct opposition to this specific outfit. Why?
Because of this asshole.
Dan arrives and immediately disrupts Amy’s safe working environment, undermining her dominance in the office and reminding her (and everyone else) that Amy can be vulnerable in an explicitly feminine way (i.e. she can be disappointed/hurt romantically). Not only does he threaten her position with Selina, as Amy’s ex he is also threatening to her emotionally. Note how he’s dressed in blue-grey to Amy’s pink - it’s the costume designer’s way of really underlining the ‘boy-girl’ nature of their storyline. (Something to remember for later).
Interestingly, and perhaps as a way of differentiating their characters, Amy and Selina wear red (or colours in the red family) in very, very different ways. When Selina wears red, it’s to make herself feel powerful - and Selina in red has become part of the iconography of the show.
But Amy tends to wear red or pink only in moments when she is emotionally vulnerable - usually, but not only, tied to romance. It’s a direct reversal of how Selina uses the colour. So putting her in pink when Dan invades the office is a way to underscore the threat he poses. Because even early on, it’s clear… those two have a connection, whether Amy likes it or not.
Episode two and Amy wears what would appear to be a fairly standard outfit for her at the time - a skirt and top. She looks good - professional - and it’s a light outfit for the heat… which Dan matches exactly. Amy wears black and grey, Dan wears black and grey (and white). Unsurprisingly, this is the episode where their romantic connection is made explicit, and Dan is a lot more overtly flirtatious with Amy (invading her space, blowing air kisses - I don’t know how she didn’t throttle him) then he ever will be again. Tying them together colourwise is a trick that the costumers will use again and again… but not for a while.
Because look at Amy’s reaction to Dan coming back into her life.
Suits. Lots and lots of suits.
Dan is both an emotional and professional threat, and so Amy puts on her armour to deal with him. The suits mimic menswear, putting them on a more even footing, and because Amy’s suits are always so boxy, they hide her femininity.
Her suits are also - unlike Dan’s - cheap. And one of the ways that becomes clear is that they never really fit right - note the way the jackets are constantly gaping over her chest. Selina’s suits - when she wears them - never do that, they lie flat against her the way they’re supposed to, probably because Selina gets them properly tailored. (Selina would have the money to do that mind you). (And Amy is more busty than Selina, which makes suits more of a challenge)
Selina’s suits are brightly coloured and fit her perfectly, whereas Amy’s are blocky and invariably in colours that mimic menswear - brown, grey or black. In other words, Selina wants attention and Amy wants to avoid it.
But gradually, gradually, she starts to gain confidence. She gets used to having Dan in the office, and she gets a boyfriend.
Look at that bold, declarative red in the third picture. Amy’s connection with Dan might not have gone away - in Andrew, the episode where Dan asks her out, their costumes are matching again - but she’s dating someone new, and I think it’s safe to say that she got properly laid on her date with Ed. With the exception of the episode immediately following this one, we never see Amy wearing such a strong, saturated red (with matching lipstick) again. No wonder Dan was pissed off that night in the bar - he knows her well enough to know what that means.
Now I’m going to guess that Anna Chlumsky’s first pregnancy fell somewhere between seasons 2 and 3, because when we hit season 3 a change has occurred.
Colour. Lush, vibrant colour.
Within the show, the reason is simple - having a boyfriend, even one as milquetoast as Ed, did wonders for Amy’s confidence. Her clothes are more feminine, and far, far more flattering than they were previously. (One could even suspect that looking more feminine was Amy’s way of lulling Dan into a false sense of security, but I think it’s unlikely - she doesn’t really dress that strategically). They’re also easier to move in, for which I give you exhibit one:
The external reason is that - odd though it may sound - it’s much easier to conceal a pregnancy (or the natural changes in a woman’s body that follow a pregnancy) in a sheath dress than a suit. Which sounds odd, because these dresses show off Amy’s body a lot more than the suits ever did, but being all one piece, and all one colour, allows them to smooth over any unexpected lumps and bumps.
Fortunately, for Amy to have gained confidence this year makes sense - as I’ve said, she has a new boyfriend, and this is the year where she finally vanquishes Dan, her nemesis throughout the show. (Made all the sweeter by him not realising it happened).
But there are some things Amy just can’t avoid.
Their costumes at Mike’s wedding are kind of hilariously on point. Dan literally has Amy all over him. His tie matches her dress (a trick that the costume designer will repeat many times in the coming seasons), and his waistcoat matches her hair. They may consider each other enemies, but even a full season of open competition between them doesn’t change one simple fact.
They complement each other.
The repeated colour combination - green and blue - at the beginning and end of the season makes it clear… they have a connection that just won’t go away.
And the costumes in season four make this more and more explicit.
They match. Constantly. In all of these pictures the colours of their outfits call back to each other - with Amy’s white blouse with the black pattern even calling back to Dan’s tie. (That outfit will be repeated in the Inauguration episode in season 5, where, perversely, it underlines their new lack of connection - calling back to a time when Dan and Amy were a team and working together, instead of sniping at each other constantly - but unfortunately, I can’t find a pic).
And in no episode is this clearer than Storms and Pancakes, when Dan pretty explicitly brings Amy into his new world.
This is so costumey as to become almost ludicrous - look how well matched they are! Every colour in Amy’s outfit appears in Dan’s outfit - and since he spends most of the episode as close to her as humanly possible, it’s kind of hard not to notice (I suspect because he is, sensibly, trying to make her feel more at ease in the new setting, so that she, and therefore they, will be successful. In this environment he’s the only person she has to trust). And he has good reason to do this, because I’d argue that, going by costumes alone, Storms and Pancakes was the most vulnerable Amy’s ever been in the show.
She’s been separated from Selina, Mike’s publicly called her unstable, and her peers are gleefully agreeing with that assessment, as we see at Dan’s dreadful party. Amy’s career is hugely important to her, she draws most of her self-confidence from the knowledge that she is good at her job, and to have that so publicly called into question is almost unbearable to her. How do I know - look at her dress:
This dress fascinates me, because it is completely unlike anything Amy’s worn before or since. With the high slit, she’s showing a lot more skin than she usually does, and the nude band across the top makes her look more ‘naked’ than she actually is. Amy is feeling horribly, horribly exposed, and this dress reflects that. She’s a raw nerve.
(Note that Dan is wearing the same suit as earlier in the day. My guess is that Amy had forgotten about the party and had to buy something to wear in a hurry - that’s the only explanation I can think of for such an uncharacteristic outfit).
But she wants to get better, so she takes Dan’s advice:
Note that this is the only time Amy wears ‘nude’ in the show - with Dan, and again with Sophie. They are the only people she feels able to be around when she’s this vulnerable. (Does this make Dan even more of an asshole for sleeping with Sophie? You betcha).
Still, eventually, she gets her mojo back, by beating Dan at his own game.
And she’s right back in the colours that were used to tie her to him at the start of the episode - gray and black. Only this outfit has her covered back up - and as result she looks comfortable all of a sudden.
But of course this bucolic phase can’t last, and Amy and Dan, through working together, end up dragged in front of Congress. It’s clearly an intimidating experience for both of them - something that becomes obvious when we look at Amy’s outfit.
A suit the likes of which we haven’t seen in several years at this point. Like I said, suits are Amy’s armour. It doesn’t matter that they’re unflattering - or that in this picture, frankly, her suit makes her look like Dan’s Mini-Me - when she’s feeling unsettled, they’re what she defaults to.
Unsurprisingly, their testimony does not go well. It’s clear that, behind the scenes, they got together before their next appearance, because…well, look:
I think we can confidently say that this is the one time Amy was consciously dressing for effect - because it’s so hilariously OTT it has to be purposeful. (Note, Selina didn’t make this mistake. Selina wore a serious grey dress and serious glasses, but nothing so unusual for her that people would comment on it). I don’t doubt that seeing this outfit was a laugh out loud moment for many people in the audience - it’s not like Amy at all. But Dan’s tie still matches her perfectly (as does his expression). (On a side note, either Dan’s watches are always enormous or Reid Scott has teeny-tiny wrists, I’m not sure which).
But what I haven’t talked about is probably the most important costume Amy had in the entire season.
Remember when I said red, for Amy, meant vulnerability? This is the most blatant example of it by far. The swirling pattern hints at all the frustrations she’s been suppressing for years on end, and the deep red makes her stand out in the scene. Selina has disappointed Amy more than anyone else - Amy has spent years dedicated to Selina and her career - and so the moment where Amy walks away from that is a profoundly vulnerable one for her.
But we can’t talk about Amy and vulnerability without diving into a theme that comes very much to the fore in seasons 4 & 5. Romance.
Because there are some common themes in how Amy is dressed for her romantic scenes (though when I say romantic, I mean scenes that play on her relationships with Dan and Buddy, not necessarily scenes that are romantic in and of themselves).
Remember when I said to remember the pink/blue-grey combination?
I don’t know if the costume designer rewatched the pilot before seasons 4 & 5, but it’s noticeable how consistently the pink/blue-grey combination is applied to Dan and Amy across both. (Dan wears blue-grey because he’s not the kind of man who’d own a vibrantly blue suit - at least, I think that’s why). Again, it really underlines the gendered nature of the interaction - and note that a lot of the shots also emphasise just how much bigger than Amy Dan is (something they usually try to avoid).
And the clearest sign of all that Amy has given up on Dan at the end of season 5? She’s wearing pink - but it’s for Buddy.
It’s interesting, because pink definitely isn’t Amy’s “I feel pretty colour.” We’ve seen a lot of her formal wear, and it’s clear she defaults to one colour more than any other.
Like so many blue-eyed blondes, Amy knows that there’s one colour which will always work on her - blue - and so when she wants to make an impression, that’s what she jumps to. (When I say Amy isn’t as stylish as Selina or Dan, I don’t mean she dresses badly - clearly she doesn’t - but that she doesn’t really know or, I suspect, care, how to dress for maximum impact - something that both Dan and Selina are very, very good at it). (Her dress in Finland also reads as a less mature version of Selina’s slinky black number, a way of indicating just how aligned these women are).
The other theme that pops up is skin, and I do mean that literally. With the exception of season three, (when I suspect it was unavoidable due to Anna Chlumsky’s pregnancy), Amy doesn’t tend to sport visible cleavage. And yet:
(I feel super creepy pointing this out, but she does have cleavage in the third pic - it’s just that Dan’s hand is in the way).
In all of the scenes Dan and Buddy are covered up - by standard suits - but Amy has both arms and chest uncovered. Which is a classic way to signal vulnerability - and Amy clearly does feel vulnerable, because in the scenes with Dan she usually sits with at least one arm (and sometimes two) in front of her chest. It’s subconscious - and involuntary - self-defence. However attracted Amy may be to Dan, she’s still afraid of opening herself up to him - and for very good reason, as we all know.
So what does season 6 hold for Amy style-wise?
I have no idea - but Anna Chlumsky had just had another baby before filming started, so I suspect we may be in for another style evolution.
Which fortunately, makes complete sense for the character.
The ways in which Selina and Sue dress don’t change that much, because they are both more mature and more confident - they know what looks good on them, and they stick with it. Amy’s still figuring that out.
But I would draw your attention to this.
Veep does repeat costumes from time to time (in compiling this I’ve noticed that Dan repeats ties a lot), but this isn’t quite that. This is repeating a ‘type’ of outfit.
Amy doesn’t wear patterns very often (with the exception of Convention, and I think Fishing, in Season 3), and seeing her in one is usually a hint at some kind of emotional turmoil.
But she has a pattern on in both these outfits, as well as being massively bundled up in thick skirts and cardigans.
I think it conveys two things - that she feels the need to protect herself, and that there are more emotions going on beneath than anyone is picking up on. Dan doesn’t seem to realise just how nervous she is about asking him out, or how much she has to nerve herself to do it - and Buddy doesn’t pick up, at all, how uncomfortable she is with him or his overt displays of affection.