La La Land: A Drama of Dresses [Part II]
In the second act of La La Land, the whimsical whirlwind of Mia and Sebastian’s newfound and quickly developing romance alters our protagonists’ characters. Their love, albeit a fairly tale come true, comes with serious commitments; yet, as a consequence of the obstacles and the new experiences that come with the serious commitments from such a deep relationship, they both mature. Additionally, as they mature emotionally, their careers advance as well: Sebastian finally achieves financial success as a musician in his new band, and Mia starts penning the script for the one-woman play she dreamed of as a child.
This sequence of maturity in Mia is portrayed visually through Mia’s developing fashion sense. The Mia we met in act one would have never worn a dress with such intricate patterns as the dress she wears in the left image. And although Mia’s dress may be a solid pink in the image on the right, which captures the couple strutting down the sidewalk with a new air to them, the pink is much more toned down than the colors of dresses in the first act, and the collar neckline of the dress has a very refined cut to it, adding a sophisticated touch.
Mia and Sebastian’s relationship was a product of “la la land,” and so when bitter reality crashes down on the movie, their romance and their dreams collapse. Mia’s play was not the success she had hoped for, and Sebastian favored fortunes over his jazz club dream. Worst of all, Sebastian was so busy on his path to financial success that he could not even attend Mia’s one and only performance, even though he had pushed Mia to pursue her dream in the first place. Believing that dreams are for fools, Mia abandons both her relationship and the City of Stars, returning to her childhood home to reconsider her goals.
As a reflection of this somber twist in the tale, most of Mia’s outfits in the third act are absent of color. She stops wearing the fanciful dresses that she twirled around in for the first half of the film. Instead, her clothing evokes a sense of mourning — as if she is attending the funeral for her very own dreams. In the right image, Mia’s casual outfit, which she wears as she walks out on Sebastian, is an embrace of the reality that knocked her down from the heights of her la la land life. Yet in embracing reality, Mia shows that she has finally “grown up.” Even through the loss of her love, dreams, and color, Mia matures and becomes the more intricate actress that Hollywood needs. And thus, she is called back to the City of Stars where she is finally discovered to be a new film’s very own star.
Of course, we are always maturing, and we are always growing more sophisticated. As such, it follows that in the bittersweet epilogue set five years after Mia and Sebastian’s break up, Mia’s style is more mature than ever. Indeed, the film concludes with the most sophisticated outfit of them all — the little black dress. “When a woman puts on a black dress,” writes Nancy MacDonell Smith, fashion news and features director for Nylon Magazine, “the world assumes she’s sophisticated, sexual, and knowing.” The little black dress is “stylish but easy, chic but versatile, beautiful yet practical”. Moviestar Mia has her face on billboards, gets her coffee for free, is chauffeured around in a golf cart, owns a beautiful Hollywood house, and has a loving husband and little daughter. Having attained her wildest dreams, Mia has found “who [she’s] gonna be” and so she has no need for bold dresses with flowy skirts. If anything, she wants to return to the crowd while retaining her maturity, and so she naturally dons a classic little black dress with an A-line for it is both simple, such that it will not stick out, yet highly sophisticated. This certainly is not a dress that first act Mia would have ever worn for the Mia before always had to have on a bright and cheerful dress to be able to dance around in to match her own effervescent and dreamy attitude.
It would not be La La Land without one final tribute to Mia and Sebastian, and to the City of Stars. In a nostalgic yet illusionary epilogue, the bittersweet reality of the film’s end is made even sadder by giving the audience a taste of an alternative happily ever after. But this is not just any happily ever after — this is happily ever after as Mia envisions it. When Sebastian starts to play their love theme one last time, Mia is thrown back to the restaurant where she first heard Sebastian play. From there, Mia imagines what her life would have been like if she and Sebastian stayed together in a montage of her life.
Among the dresses featured in the sequence is a violet dress (pictured above) that closely resembles Mia’s blue dress at the beginning of the film: both pieces are of bold monochromatic color with a halter neckline and midi skirt. Moreover, this violet dress is a return to the “young Hollywood actress dress,” which reflects the nostalgia that Sebastian evokes in Mia through his music. Despite her sophistication and success, the violet dress reveals that, at her heart, Mia just wants to return to the pure, colorful, and retrospectively careless life she lived with Sebastian; she misses being the young aspiring actress. This sentiment is further reinforced by the white dress shown below, which is similar in shape to the emerald dress that Mia wore on her first date with Sebastian.
Both dresses have a flowy skirt for Mia to whirl in as she dances with Sebastian among the clouds and stars in both scenes, yet when Mia waltzes and holds hands with Sebastian in her white dress, the imagery not only implies a longing for her a relationship with him, but also implies a potentially withheld regret that she did not marry Sebastian.
La La Land is a testimony to the timelessness of traditionalism. Art is not always a matter of embracing the new because the classics will always stick around. Traditional jazz, old Hollywood, and classic fashion alike will always stay relevant through their timelessness, even in new contexts. The halter neck, the little black dress, the V-neck, and the midi silhouette are all timeless styles that are not going to disappear anytime soon. And yet, just as La La Land is a film of vivid color that is meant to pay homage to the black-and-white classics of Hollywood — just as it is meant to embrace the old while incorporating the new — Mia brings her own spin on these timeless fashion pieces by incorporating her own present-day life into them. Furthermore, as her fashion sense progresses from bright and bold to sophisticated and sleek, Mia’s character develops from immature and inexperienced to adult and accomplished. Through proper analysis of Mia’s dresses, the story of La La Land almost tells itself, demonstrating how closely clothing is connected to its wearer.