The Psychology of SMK Costumes

Hello everyone! I am excited to be sharing with you my first post as an author on “Just Walk With Me.” I was a teenager when SMK first aired and I knew I liked it, but it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I learned to really appreciate it. I am so happy to have found this blog and all of you and I am grateful to Iwsod for encouraging me to write some posts. I hope you enjoy them, Morley.

Pfaff Ernest Harms, in an article in The American Journal of Sociology, states “Dress is founded primarily in the world of emotions. It is not only a kind of covering but also a kind of mimicry through which man expresses many of his subjective social sentiments…. It intimately expresses his relation to his environment.” In fact there is a growing field in psychology  referred to as “Embodied Cognition.”  Embodied cognition explores the theory that “we think with not only our brains, but with our physical experiences including the clothes we are wearing.” (Jordan Gaines, “Brain Bubble”).  In light of this theory I thought it would be fun to look at the clothing choices for Lee, Amanda, Francine and Billy and see what it might reveal about how each of those characters view and respond to their environment and themselves over the course of the show. So pull up a couch and some “tootie fruitti” and lets discuss costumes, Dr. Pfaff style.

The First Time

toga   The show opens and our first image is that of a toga party where everyone is in costume, actually everyone is in the same costume. I am trying to think of a reason why it would be a “toga party.” Maybe it hints to they way society was during Roman times, decadence, hierarchy of leadership, political intrigue? Or maybe it was just a fun choice.  As everyone goes inside for the costume judging one lone figure remains behind.lee the waiterThis is our hero dressed in white posing as a waiter, alone left to complete some brave, desperate deed. I think there is some significance to this costume. Bearing in mind that the producers could have picked any scenario I try to find the purpose for the one they picked. I guess they are trying to tell us something about Lee. As an agent, he is behind the scenes, unobtrusively being a servant to the rest of us, like a waiter is. And he is dressed in white, he is the good guy.where is the package

The next thing we see is a woman coming down the stairs of a white suburban home in her nightgown. It is Amanda and she is pulling on her coat to take her boyfriend to the train station.amanda in nightgownHere is the complete opposite of Lee in an undercover costume. Amanda is not even dressed. There is a website that helps people organize and clean their homes called www.flylady.net.  FLY stands for “Finally Loving Yourself.” The Flylady has some interesting theories about why a person would be disorganized and how to become more organized, but one of her ideas is that upon waking, a person should get completely dressed even down to their shoes. It is one of her steps to “finally loving yourself”. Check it out if you want to. But here is Amanda about to go out in the world in her nightgown. I wonder how she actually feels about herself? Is she not really engaged in life? Is she even a bit depressed, or maybe her life is so hectic that she hasn’t had time to take care of her own self? Maybe she doesn’t feel a worthiness about herself to be concerned about how she presents herself to the world. Maybe she just didn’t have time that morning? Well, for whatever reason she is in her  nightgown, covering her state of undress with an overcoat. It is interesting to note the colors here. Her night gown is light blue. Blue is the color of trust and peace, but it can also suggest loyalty and integrity as well as conservatism and frigidity. She covers it with a brown coat, brown being a serious, down to earth color that relates to security and protection. Both of these colors are in a muted form.

And then these two worlds collidetwo worlds collideThe disguised hero and the underdressed heroine.

The next thing we see is our hero a bit tattered, his white coat is soiled and torn. I think we sense the sacrifice he makes protecting the innocent. He enters the elevator. I think it is interesting that the elevator is full of costumes, it is like a portal. lee in costume elevator We still know nothing about him except that he is a man in disguise, kind of like a superhero, hiding his true identity.

Here we meet Billy. meet Billy Billy appears fatherly  with his sweater vest and earth tones. And we meet Francine. francine the proffessional Francine is a fashion statement, but right now it looks like the statement that she is making has something to do with being a prisoner. I wonder what imprisons her?

pirate lee Lee’s next appearance is another costume, this time he is dressed as a pirate. Pirates are rogues and uncivilized and can sweep a young innocent girl off of her feet and into a life of  danger, excitement, intrigue… Think Pirates of the Caribbean. Hmm, is this what is going to happen to our loyal, conservative, lady who covers herself with seriousness, safety and protection?

I love this next scene, leave it to a little boy to tell it like it is. “Gee, you look great, Mom.” And Dotty remarks that Amanda looks “awfully fixed up”. I guess Amanda hasn’t been doing her hair and wearing make-up very much lately, she has been looking frazzled instead, and feeling that way too. A sure cure, get involved in espionage, that should help with feeling frazzled…made up Amanda

And now to another costume party.  And we see Lee in…another costume. This is Scarecrow the suave, lady-killer extraordinaire (and he knows it)scarecrow posesThis party really has some ridiculous costumes. These seem like they are supposed to be some very upper crust people dressed as…party  piggy Yes, these people are Lee’s friends. And these “friends” find it crazy that Amanda would come “dressed as a housewife.” you came as a housewife alienWhat I find interesting here is that Lee has only been in disguise since the episode started and Amanda has gone from being in a nightgown to getting “fixed up” even as she begins to realize that she is “hideously underdressed”. I wonder if Lee realizes that his disguise as “lady-killer” isn’t going to work with her? There is still a discrepancy between them in their choice of clothing and how they relate to their environment and what they choose to project to the world, but already they are drawing one another out. And actually this scene ends with them both getting drenched and Lee looks like he is trying to cover her with that brown coat of hers.all wet drying off This just makes me think that those disguises are coming off with each other’s help. When water falls on us, we all get wet.

The next scene is in the post office. post office What I find most noticeable about their clothing here is how similar they look and I think that is on purpose. Here they are together, equals almost. No longer an undercover agent and an underdressed housewife, here they are two people trying to work together to solve a problem.

Amanda is now brought to the agency. She is wearing a rather homemade looking pink cardigan, over her shoulders. She looks very naïve here I think. Pink can indicate unconditional love and nurture, but it can also be immature, silly and girlish… yup, I see that here.innocent Amanda And Francine is still in black and gray, still in lines. She is “today’s woman” or so she says.today's woman

The next scene is the one at the Jefferson Memorial. What strikes me about the clothing choices here is that both of them are holding their coats. It is like their covers are off and in this scene they are sharing honestly for the first time, the first of many and that surprises both of them, I think.first time opening up Lee is also looking rather disheveled.goodbye Amanda. Of course their over coats are back on for the late night information exchange, Amanda is now in costume, spy costume and Lee calls her on it.spies like usI think Lee thinks its cute that she tries.cute amanda Note that his coat is open.

The last part of this episode has Lee in a suit and a blue sweater, once again blue being a color indicative of trust and loyalty. Amanda is also in a “costume” that would indicate loyalty and trust. It is her Jr. Trailblazers outfit. Lee notices it at some odd moment in the helicopter, “What are you wearing?” he asks her incredulously. jr trailblazers (2) The way they end the scene with Amanda coming home, popping the dinner in the oven for Dean, and pretending like nothing out of the ordinary has happened is interesting. She has joined the world of disguise, but she is disguised as a Jr. Trailblazer leader.jr trailblazers She is brave, resourceful, loyal, patriotic, and in charge of the situation, or at least that is what her clothing is trying to project.

The tag seems to establish the characters for the rest of the shows.as they are Billy is in a comfortable cardigan, Francine is still in black and gray. Lee is in a double breasted suit not a blazer but not a tux. Amanda is in a loosely woven jacket and denim looking skirt.

under coverI love this ending shot. Both of them under umbrellas, Amanda with a delighted look on her face in her comfortable, but neat looking clothes. Lee with a horrified look on his face wearing his double breasted, quilt lined, belted black overcoat (seems like some extra layers of protection for him).

I don’t think I will go into such detail for each episode but this one was so full of fun costume and really sets the stage for the rest of the show by introducing us to the characters. I think the clothing choices told us a lot during this one. I hope you enjoyed it. I like going under the surface a bit, there are a lot of treasures in SMK to dig up when you do.

31 responses to “The Psychology of SMK Costumes

  1. Amazing post. I really enjoyed your insight into why she wore her nightgown to the train station. I makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider it in the context of her son saying, “You look great mom!”. It usually takes a lot for a little boy to notice something like that in his mother. It fits with your comment about her possibly being a little bit depressed, not engaged with her life, or some lack of self worth.

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  2. Melissa Robertson

    Great post Morley!! It’s an interesting read 🙂 I’m glad that there are people who can dig deeper into the meaning of things that just seem ordinary (like what we wear). It’s hard for my analytical mind to see it on my own. Makes me think that Maybe I should pay more attention to what colors I wear 😉

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    • Well, Debilyn and Melissa I am glad you liked the post. I do like the excuse to carefully rewatch the series. I wonder what other interesting things we’ll find. I am glad you like the headbands, Debilyn, And I actually feel a bit embarrassed for Lee in the pirate costume myself, I do like the double breasted suits though.

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  3. Sorry, but the pirate outfit was never one of my favorites for Lee.

    Francine, the ultimate professional woman who can now learn to cook because she has a career. “Nancy R won’t boil an egg without her.” LOL. I eventually learned to appreciate Francine, but I gotta admit she used to make me very mad at the way she would put-down Amanda. The “nose job” comment of Amanda’s was always a favorite.

    I like this approach, Morley. It’s interesting and different. Hey, anything to have more SMK to discuss!! 😉

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  4. Thank you for this new slant on the show….never would have thought of outfits and colours and what they mean….great read.

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    • Connie, I am glad you enjoyed it. I am not a clothing person myself, but I do work on costumes for plays and other productions, so I guess I pay attention to stuff like that. I wonder what else we can learn as I go through the seasons. I love to dig! And its even more fun when others get something out of it too.

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  5. I think I noticed the wardrobe more as the seasons progressed. Amanda and Lee seemed to be more color-coordinated and matching. It’s like they were out of sync with one another in the beginning, but as their relationship progressed they were more in sync with each other and their clothing. Lee even got more into wearing jeans.

    I can remember my mother wearing a coat over her nightgown to take us to school. She hadn’t planned on getting out of the car so why bother. Although I have seen many a student embarrassed when their mother ends up getting out of the car to visit the office in their curlers, etc.

    I agree with all who have said that Amanda’s state of dress may have had to do with her state of mind at the time–not happy with her life, not happy in her relationship, maybe depressed. She may have even thought of Dean like the nightgown. It was just something to put on and no real thought to it. It was no big deal. But being in that nightgown may have left her feeling vulnerable which allowed her to be able to agree to helping Lee. She also wasn’t too concerned about changing her outfit for dinner with Dean. They may have gotten to that point in their relationship where dressing up wasn’t something Amanda cared about doing, hence the nightgown.

    I did like Amanda in her Jr. Trailblazers uniform. She was trying a bit of undercover work herself at the TV station to get the info she wanted.

    I think Francine’s costumes indicated her personality of being cold, sterile, unfriendly and lacking in warmth which is how was and how she constantly treated Amanda. Billy’s sweaters remind me of warmth and comfort and that is pretty much how he was with Amanda and even Lee at times.

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    • Valerie, that is an interesting though about how Amanda’s vulnerability would allow her to be able to help Lee. They both seemed vulnerable there at the train station didn’t they. That vulnerability was the foundation of their relationship, it was what drew them to each other, I think. And vulnerability was not what either of them really wanted to portray to the rest of the world. But, does it make sense to say that their vulnerability with each other actually made them safe with each other?

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  6. Well, you see bits of Dean’s face. It always reminds me of Wilson–the neighbour–in Home Improvement, though Wilson was funny and insightful and stayed for the duration. 😀

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    • I loved Wilson. Kind of reminds me of Kilroy, you know the little character that is always poking his eyes and nose over a wall or something. Actually Kilroy is on the wall in the hall of the dorm in Sudden Death as Lee is about to go into the coaches offce and find the play.

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  7. Well done Morley on a brilliant first post 😀
    I am fascinated to know how much thought goes into allocating the costumes for the characters when they shoot TV series. I know with period dramas and films much thought and money goes into the costuming but I have no idea if they put the same sort of emphasis into TV series.
    I think Amanda in her nightgown is twofold, it sets up a sense of her conservative nature (I mean even my granny didn’t wear a nightie like that!) but also suggests that perhaps she is sleepwalking through her life at the moment. Of course at face value it shows a busy mother of two juggling her time and not always managing to put herself first.
    I really like the idea of Lee as the waiter showing his service to his country. And the Tux? That is most definitely his costume, as Scarecrow. Love you calling him lady killer, very apt 😉
    Francine’s costume I see as trying to portray (and failing I might add miaow) as a somewhat superficial character. It’s all about what you look like and who you’re seen with rather than any qualities underneath. In some respects I think she’s as much of a show pony as Lee but fails to pull it off as well.
    Billy is totally the father/grandfather figure with his comfy cardi and rather relaxed dress code. A sign that his days of covert operative is over and he can afford to slow down a little.

    Looking forward for more costume discussions 🙂

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    • Jenbo, I have no idea how much thought they put into the costumes, they must have put some thought into it. I have probably put more thought into it than they have. But that is part of the fun, huh?
      I like the idea of Amanda sleepwalking through life. I think she was a bit bored as well. She did have a taste for adventure (she took the package and all that came with it after all), but she let go of her marriage dreams because she didn’t want to pursue the life of adventure that Joe was leading. I know that isn’t the total story for her, but I wonder if she was thinking at some level that she was kind of stuck and alone. All these comments about Amanda and her nightgown have me thinking again…

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    • “sleep walking through life” — Love it!

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  8. Hi Everyone!! Hope you are all well!!
    I am missing being able to stop by and join in the fun! 🙂 Just too darn busy!!!
    But I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read Morley’s first post!!!

    Congrats Morley!!! I hope it is the start of many more to come!! (err if you like! 🙂 )

    Dr Pfaff huh! good one!!! Love him!!

    LOL! maybe warner bros was filming another show with a toga scene in it.. so decided to use it for smk a little also while they had all the extras dressed up?!

    Yeah I think it fits to think of Lee as a servant of the American public.. though I do think it was a better look for Lee to be running around the train station in this waiter’s outfit rather than a toga – if he had been in a toga? I think he would have been arrested or checked into a mental health facility of some kind.. and LOL the indignity of it! Our intro must be suave but cunning.. and a waiter fits the bill.. once that’s established – we can cut to the pirate outfit joke! 🙂

    I love this idea of yours about Lee and his disguises.. I have often lamented the lack of them in season 3 and 4.. but maybe it is not so bad!

    Wait a minute.. looking at Amanda in her PJs – I think that door on her right is no longer there when we get to ALSALS!!! 🙂

    Flylady? I love it!!! I think there is a good case for Amanda’s journey being to love herself and make herself a priority.. while being true to her values of home and hearth..

    Good questions about Amanda and her nightgown! 🙂 interesting to hear everyone’s take on it! I thought, taking into consideration Jamie’s noticing later that Amanda looks different – pretty or something.. that Amanda had let her appearance go of late.. enough that Jamie notices and remarks when she has put some makeup on and done her hair.. So I’m seeing it as a general message about Amanda’s state of mind before she meets Lee and begins her work with the agency.
    As a bonus – it can be passive aggressive with Dean 🙂
    I think she was repelling him, or trying to.. because she wasn’t in to him, but didn’t want to admit it, and didn’t want to be the one to break it off.. Only, Dim Dean didn’t catch on.. and brought her home romantic book ends! 🙂

    Francine screams snooty and unapproachable!! Yes!! Looking forward to seeing more theories on her wardrobe as we go through!

    Love your pic of pirate Lee Morley! great shot!! Hooo haaaaa Lee the rogue who can sweep Amanda off her feet?? if not for those pesky kids in the back seat misbehaving?!!!!

    Lee in a tux is interesting.. given all his ‘friends’ are in bizarre costumes.. err what is his costume?? or.. does he always wear a costume when we first meet him?????

    I love the pig feeding his snout – hilarious!!! great pic!!!

    Yeah the hideously under dressed line is interesting! I think it does indicate Lee has made a miscalculation here – because he doesn’t know anyone like Amanda..
    Whooo what a gorgeous couple getting busted in the post office!

    I agree Amanda all drapey pink cardigan screams – naive homemaker.. and highlights the contrast between her and Francine – though I LOVE Amanda’s line about Francine and her nose job – because that too constrasts with Amanda’s appearance and hints to us that there is much more to Amanda than first appearances would suggest ( as Lee learns also!)

    I put the coats at the Jefferson Memorial down to filming that scene on the sly.. I read somewhere it was shot very quickly as they had no permission to be filming there! they probably did it in one or two takes.. and quickly put their coats on between takes.. but it’s a lovely scene! 🙂

    I love that Amanda has Dean over for dinner – and she doesn’t even try to get out of her jr trailblazer’s outfit!!! 🙂 she seems to be making a surface effort ( ie candles!) but.. isn’t caring if he likes her really IMHO!

    It will be interesting to see what you think of how the costuming changes Morley ( and everyone!) I think Billy is a little too grandpa like here – he needs to look a little more professional as she show progresses and we see Lee boss him around like he is Lee’s assistant! 🙂

    No worries Morley you go into as much detail as you like.. you might find that it varies depending on what’s happening with the characters and any changes that happen.. I’m sure whatever you do will be fabulous! I look forward to reading where the costumes go from here!!!

    Hey Cindy – love your cry of ‘get some boundaries’ – very true!!!

    LOL KC! I don’t know of Frat parties! haaaaa.. yes I agree with you – the implicit message is Amanda has been stuck in a rut since the divorce.. does anyone else wonder how Dean and Amanda met??

    Rofl BJo! Amadna is the Scarecrow’s Kryptonite??!!! there is a mixing of stories going on there! haaaa there is not resisting Amanda! At the same time, Amanda makes Lee stronger and better though!!
    Byeee everyone!!! I am really missing this blog and my smk time with you all!!! I’ll be back as soon as I can!! Please keep chatting and exploring together though and I’ll enjoy reading when I can! byeee!!

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    • The idea of Lee running around Washington DC in a toga is… oh my! That would have been a totally different show, I think.
      he nose job line is a great on, Amanda does have depth to her, and a sharp wit. She sees people as they are and is accepting of them. She” knows” Francine right away, doesn’t she? And I don’t think she is intimidated at all.

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    • Yes, please note that I say Amanda is Scarecrow’s kryptonite not Lee’s 😉 She does build Lee up to make him better and stronger – but before she can get through to Lee, she’s got to break down the mighty Scarecrow!

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    • Iwsod–I know nothing of frat parties firsthand… I’m a Kiwi… but Animal House is one of the movies on my long-list of favourites. Gotta love Bluto (Blutarsky aka John Belushi): “Toga! Toga!”

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      • And don’t forget Francine as Babs Jansen!

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        • I never saw Animal House, is Martha Smith in it?

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          • Yes, she is! I haven’t seen the movie in probably 15 years, but I think she plays an uptight, prim and proper looking sorority/junior leaguer type. KC probably remembers her character better!

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            • Yep–you got it right, BJo. Babs is the b*tchy cheerleader who gets taken down a peg or two at the end…
              Actually, here’s a quote from an interview with Martha Smith in 2008 regarding her role in Animal House:
              “From 1983-’87, I starred in CBS TV’s “Scarecrow & Mrs. King” with Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner, playing what appeared to be a grown up version of Babs — she became an intelligence agent!” http://onmilwaukee.com/movies/articles/marthasmith.html
              Grown up version of Babs. LOL! (Except that Animal House lets us know in the epilogue that Babs goes on to become a tour guide at Universal Studios. Maybe the tour guide gig was just until she made it to Station One at the Agency?)

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  9. Woo hoo, Morley! Congrats on your first post! Love the idea of exploring the “costumes” of SMK.

    It does seem weird that Amanda would go out in just a nightgown and overcoat to take Dan, I mean Dean, to the train station. I never gave it much thought until now. Based on what we see of Amanda throughout the episode, I would pick that she’s just in too much of a hurry to change – although she does put on heels. I drive my kids to school in the morning in my pj’s because when I get back I make my tea and sit on the couch with my computer for some SMK time – and my pj’s are just the sort of comfy clothes I want to wear for that. I am not concerned with people seeing me in my pj’s while I’m in the car. But on days when we are running late, I know that I would drive back home, change and then drive the kids back to school if I had to walk them in because we were late (extra 20 min round trip). In that situation it is a calculated risk for me to go in my pj’s. Perhaps the writers were trying to show that Amanda is a bit of a risk taker by having her in her nightgown?

    What does imprison Francine?? ROFLMBO!!!! I’m not sure if you were trying to be funny with the fashion statement Francine is trying to make, but it hit my funny bone! Her dress does look like some sort of odd prison garb. She doesn’t look very happy in that picture, does she? In S4, when we get to learn more about Francine and her backstory, I do actually start to like her and feel a bit sorry for her. I think perhaps she is in her own little prison so to speak.

    Ahhh, pirate Lee! You nailed it alright!

    Why does Amanda get fixed up to go meet Lee? At this point she thinks he is a gangster and was not really interested in dealing with pirate Lee. Maybe because the kids were with her? Or maybe she is just as affected by pirate Lee as some of us are.

    I like what you say about their clothing in the post office scene – two people working together to solve a problem – no costumes. Is this the first time they are both seeing the “real” Lee and Amanda on the outside at least?

    Great insight about the coats as covers being off at the Jefferson Memorial! The other people in the background have their coats on, so it is cold out.

    I love the picture of Amanda in her Jr. Trailblazer outfit waiting for Dean that you chose. Her outfit is trying to project just what you say, and I find it very interesting and likable that her appearance is a little disheveled – her scarf is off kilter, her collar isn’t even, etc. It’s as if we’re to interpret this as imperfection despite the fact that she got the job done – one of the things I like most about her character and this series.

    “Lee …wearing his double breasted, quilt lined, belted black overcoat (seems like some extra layers of protection for him).” Good luck, Scarecrow!!! Amanda is your kryptonite!

    Great post, Morley! I really enjoyed reading it – it is fun to think about all this stuff! I’m looking forward to more from you!

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    • BJo, I love the kryptonite line too. “You’re not superman, your just a man..” Amanda can make superman turn back into Clark Kent. And I think Amanda gets fixed up because she has been awakened out of her stupor, something exciting is going on. Sometimes Amanda remind me of another of my favorite characters. Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series. There is a quote from her that I think is how Amanda responds to things, “But really…one can’t stay sad very long in such an interesting world, can one?” I think that is how Amanda is responding to Lee and the package and everything that goes with it here.
      Thanks for all the responses, this is fun!

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      • Anne Shirley – love her too! Especially the Megan Follows one. I’ve never seen the entire series of AoGG, but the one thing I remember about that character is that Anne seems to be very resilient – nothing keeps her down for long – just like Amanda!

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  10. Nice post, Morley! I look forward to more from you. 🙂

    I have to laugh at myself… Even watching The First Time again now, I instantly think college frat party when I see the togas (Animal House, anyone?), and have a “Huh?!?” moment at seeing Lee the waiter. Why would a frat party have a waiter?!? Ohhhhhh…. it’s NOT a frat party. Duh!
    I always put Amanda’s nightie-wearing down to she’s the mother of two small boys and probably run a little ragged–wears her nightie to see the boys fed and off out the door to school every morning before seeing to her own needs (she’d put everyone else first)–and also maybe a tinge of hopelessness at the relatively recent divorce and being stuck in a rut (?) with Dean? It also speaks something else that is very Amanda–she’s not trying to impress anyone.

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  11. Wonderful insight on wardrobe choices (I can’t wait to hear your take on Francine’s really fugly outfits). I always attributed Amanda’s state of underdress when she took Dean to the train station as resentment or passive aggressiveness towards him –what a yutz to ask his girlfriend to drive across town to give him a lift to the train station so his precious car won’t have a 30% chance of getting rained on. And normally I would say ‘Boo!’ to Amanda for doing this (set your boundaries, Girl!) but, it turned out alright in the end, didn’t it?

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    • Passive aggressiveness? That is an interesting thought, now I want to be on the lookout for more of that kind of reaction from Amanda. I never really think about Dean, other than we don’t see his face and he doesn’t last. But he is there and he is actually there for a while. I want to think more about what that is telling us about Amanda. And her relationship with Lee eventually does teach her about boundaries, huh?

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