This rom-com week contained plenty of com, if not much rom. That’s fine. I’m over the moon that I made it through the week without sustaining a snow-related injury brought on by my own clumsiness.
My challenge for the week: put together daily outfits to represent the classic character types found throughout the Romantic Comedy genre. The outfits weren’t based on particular characters, but particular types of characters. Since there are so many badly done rom-com movies out there, I know some people who entirely dismiss the genre, but those people are missing out. In the history of stories, the two main divisions have been tragedy and comedy. At the end of a tragedy, everybody dies. At the end of a comedy, there’s a wedding. For the most part, comedies speak more to my human experience. My life is more like an Austen novel than a Hemingway novel and I’m happy about that. (And if your main argument against romantic comedies is that people falling in love and getting married annoys the heck out of you, repent of your bitterness and go read the book of Ruth or something.)
The comedy started before the outfits this week. This last week has been the snowiest week of the whole winter and last Sunday, I ran by the grocery store after church, because I figured that I wouldn’t want to venture out again once I got home. The grocery store run went smoothly until the checkout line. I had already paid for everything and I was loading up my groceries into one bag, so I wouldn’t have to push a cart through the snow. (For my Californian friends, pushing a grocery cart through ankle-deep snow is very labor intensive. It’s one of the many logistical challenges that comes with living in the frozen north.) Then…came then.
A plastic box of grape tomatoes somehow managed to leap off the conveyor belt, exploding on impact and scattering the bouncing baby tomatoes absolutely everywhere. GAH. NO. Tomatoes on the floor, tomatoes on the conveyor belt, tomatoes in the grocery bags, tomatoes rolling into corners. A mad dash/scramble for the tiny squishable produce ensued. In a masterpiece of bad reflexes, I managed to knock my already-mostly-loaded grocery bag off the loading area and onto the ground. Including the the very pink bottle of rosé wine, which promptly exploded all over everywhere. Thankfully, the glass was contained by the bag, but the wine itself crowned out in a splendid pink wave. Very splashy. So there I was, hands full of tiny tomatoes, staring down at my one bag of groceries, which was now soaked in pink wine and covered in glass shards. My first impulse was to throw the grape tomatoes as a diversion and run out of the store. Fortunately, I had lovely grocery store employees who helped me and ran and got me new ones of everything in the bag. The clerk even asked me if the banana bunch he brought back was to my liking. It was.
The good news is that it isn’t actually possible to die of embarrassment, or I would have passed away some time ago. It was the funniest start to the week and I realized that not dying from the famous romantic comedy clumsiness was going to be the REAL challenge. Ashley Tries Not To Drop Things. Ashley Tries Not To Trip and Die. Ashley Tries Not To Fall On Her Face. (I failed on that last one. It was very snowy this week.)
Monday: The Best Friend
I have a great fondness for the Best Friend character. She supports the leading lady in whatever way the plot demands. The best friend gives the most important advice, listens to so much plot exposition (how else will we know how the protagonist is feeling?), offers comedic relief, and sometimes offers important skill sets that the protagonist needs (hey, Nancy Drew, I know how to hotwire a car!). She might be the leading lady’s roommate, wise relative, closest friend from high school, hilarious coworker, or mentor.
Most of the time, the best friend is a girl, but sometimes it’s a guy. (Classic example: Duckie from Pretty In Pink, a movie that bothers me greatly.) Guy best friend tends to lead to awkward love triangles, so my favorite best friend characters are women. Usually the best friend offers no competition to in the romance department, either because the best friend is already married, or older, or eccentric. Or all three at once. To use Pride and Prejudice as an example, Elizabeth Bennet’s “best friend” character would be her aunt, Mrs. Gardiner. Mrs. Gardiner offers wise advice, listens to all of Elizabeth’s concerns, and advances the plot by taking Elizabeth to Pemberley.
Of all the stereotypes I went through this week, this type of character resonates most with me. Not that I can ever hope to attain Mrs. Gardiner status – she’s the best. But if you need a third wheel during the dating process, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. And I do offer advice. Most of the advice is along the lines of “Snap out of it”, but sometimes that sentiment is applicable. And I’m always happy to listen to daily plot exposition, because I love hearing about other people’s drama.
For the outfit, I leaned into the eccentric aspect of the best friend, with a happy sushi t-shirt, a comfy duffle jacket, space buns, bright blue tights, and big old earrings. It’s a cute outfit, but not a trying-to-be-attractive outfit.
Tuesday: The Ugly Duckling
The Ugly Duckling character is a pre-makeover leading lady. She’s on the brink of transforming into a beautiful swan. She’s Cinderella before the bibbity-bobbity-boo happens. She probably wears glasses and looks a little frumpy, but once she takes off the glasses and lets her hair down….
(Here’s my feeble attempt at a makeover montage:)
I’ve seen the ugly-duckling-to-swan makeover done well a few times, but it is usually handled very shallowly. It’s like Lois Lane not knowing that Clark Kent is Superman. HOW? Taking off glasses doesn’t make a person look completely different. My favorite transformations in movies are gradual outward changes in response to a changed heart. Happiness working its way out. My favorite ugly duckling of all time is Fran in Strictly Ballroom. She always looks like herself, she never transforms into a generic hot girl, but she becomes more and more beautiful as she falls in love and is loved in return.
I freely admit to wanting a dramatic Cinderella moment every once in a while. On days when I know I’ll be dressing up in the evening, I won’t wear makeup during the day, just to make the transformation more dramatic. But I also know that changing the outside without changing the inside won’t get me anywhere. If I have a bad attitude, switching out my glasses for eyeliner isn’t going to make me more beautiful. The heart works its way out.
For the outfit, I went with a midi-length pleated skirt, a high necked sweater, a collared shirt, and (of course) my glasses. The whole look tended toward scholastic/librarian/nerdy vibes. I actually like this look. It’s very work appropriate and appropriateness isn’t anything to sneeze at. Also, I think glasses are great.
Wednesday: The Nemesis
The nemesis in a romantic comedy changes according to the setting. In a high school movie, the nemesis wears all pink, practically owns the school, and pretends to be sweet as long as it serves her purposes. In an office setting, the nemesis wears head to toe black, never smiles, and scares the daylights out of everybody around her. What they both have in common are their intimidation and manipulation tactics.
When I think of a rom-com nemesis, I think of a carefully controlled outfit, because intimidation is all about control. In that regard, this is the least successful outfit of the week, because my car got stuck in the snow and in the process of trying to get the car unstuck, I fell into the snow a couple of times. Right onto my face. So my hair was straightened when I left house, but after getting the car stuck, unstuck, stuck again, falling in the snow, falling in the snow again, and finally giving up and asking for a ride, my hair back to its natural wavy state again.
I didn’t feel at all in control that day, but the overall look was fairly sharp. Maybe I looked like I had things under control. It was a shame that my straightened hair didn’t last very long, because I feel like that would have sold the look even more, but getting stuck in the snow is so naturally comedic that it was bound to happen at some point during romantic comedy week!
Thursday: The Force Of Nature
I’m a big fan of screwball comedies from the 1930s and 1940s, with or without singing and dancing. If there’s a rogue leopard running around / four identical suitcases that everybody keeps stealing from each other / many cases of mistaken identity / a scavenger hunt that requires finding a bowl of Japanese goldfish, a goat, and a forgotten man / general hilarity ensuing, count me in. The great leading ladies from that era had so much punch and pizzazz. They could out-talk, out-dance, out-sass, and out-wit you. Nothing stops them. They are like beautiful tornadoes. The best friend is the kind of role I’m comfortable in, but the powerhouse leading lady (with gumption to spare) is who I want to be when I grow up.
One of my all time favorite performances is Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. I think that movie still holds the record for words-per-minute. Unbelievably quick and funny, no punches pulled. There wasn’t TIME to pull any punches in that movie. Not many people could steal scenes away from Cary Grant, but Russell did it. It’s amazing. If you haven’t watched it, watch it. It’s an absolute classic. In the movie, she wears a graphic striped coat, so the striped dress was an homage to her character. For Thursday’s look, I went for a retro look, with cool construction details and graphic stripes that would look good in black and white. I also curled my hair to the best of my ability and put on red lipstick. I felt like a force of nature in this look and I could get used to that!
Friday: The Stranded Overachiever
For the last day, I went with a modern convention that I find pretty hilarious. It’s the high-powered business woman who finds themselves stranded in a small town, where they must confront their control issues, learn about life and love, stop worrying, and fall in love. There may be a cute dog. There is definitely a cute guy. He may or may not drive a truck or ride a horse. This character shows up in New In Town, Sweet Home Alabama, and almost all made-for-television Christmas movies.
This convention cracks me up, because in the modern sensibility, it’s frowned upon to even look like you want to get married and settle down. So in order to make a romantic comedy, Hollywood needs to make to make love look like a happy accident, something that will just happen when you have the time. Strong, independent female characters have become the new damsels in distress, because most of the time, they are predictable and one-dimensional. Modern rom-coms tend to make everything terribly convenient and therefore terribly boring, because there’s no sacrifice. Isn’t “you can have it all” the wishy washy rallying cry of a generation?
If love isn’t worth sacrificing for, what is it worth? Love IS sacrifice. Love isn’t something that happens when you are stranded in the snow and forced to glance away from your life goals for a minute. Love is worth pursuing, it is worth sacrificing for, and it is worth all the ridiculousness and the enforced humility that comes along with it. You may protest and say that as a perpetually single person, I don’t know anything about any of this, but I have my parents’ example and my siblings’ examples and all those friends I have been the third wheel for, so I’ve seen love up close. And while I have never been in love (in the romantic sense), I’m pretty sure I’ll know it when I see it.