It begins with their matching gray coats, an outermost layer that represents a visible, but superficial, acknowledgment of their mutual attraction to each other, later replaced by the intricate mirroring of their wardrobe at the end of the film that signifies the deeper "invisible" thread that ties Shane and Oliver together. Each look stands at the opposite end of a major shift in the nature of their relationship.
A Solid Start
When it comes to wardrobe, an outermost layer is a superficial layer. For both Shane and Oliver, layers have often coincided with attempts to guard their hearts in the past. While there is certainly an element of that present here, there's also the added detail that they're both gray coats. The shared color over a significant portion of their clothing is an unspoken acknowledgment that they are connected to each other in some way. The fact that both coats are a solid color, without pattern, suggests that the connection is clear and definitive.
The only issue is it's superficial, and arguably undefined, a "gray area," if you will, that leaves one wanting. It's a tension not unlike their near-match evening attire underneath. Something is slightly off that you can't put your finger on, an inexplicable tension which their time apart resolves. Its resolution, however, begins in these coats, outside the Ephlat Lounge. Beyond being a callback to a scene from the classic film, "An Affair To Remember," Shane and Oliver's kiss here ends up a point of transition from which everything else begins to unfold.
Where Shane chose to temporarily hold onto the railing, notice that Oliver commits to holding onto Shane. In a sense, her physical presence is something Oliver can superficially "see" and take comfort in. It's this comfort that their separation challenges, perhaps even more so since they had just shared their first kiss, an event that literally left him speechless when attempting to describe it to Papa O'Toole the following Monday. It's clear the act of kissing Shane had a deep impact on Oliver, creating an attachment to her that extended beyond description, and one that will cause him significant strife even as he learns to fully embrace it during the months to follow.
While the matching gray coats were meant to convey solidarity on a superficial level, and at the same time allow them to continue to guard their hearts, the kiss shared on the steps penetrated Shane and Oliver's defenses, forcing their feelings for each other to shift in a manner that connects them in new and more complete ways.
The Space Between
Indeed, this scene contains a considerable amount of transparency during which each Shane and Oliver attempt to convey some measure of their distress. It's distress that falls short of being explicitly articulated, however, and their suit jackets are a subtle signal of each having something to "guard." The nature of this interaction, however, seems just enough to spur on the final bit of maturation their relationship needed, which, of course, finds expression in their clothing.
A Primary Color
Their wardrobe in this moment reflects this loneliness and longing in the depth of its color and its saturation of the layers closest to their hearts. Both have, in a sense, been completely stripped down to their core elements. Sans outerwear or blazer, Shane is completely open and exposed. Oliver, though still wearing his suit jacket, carries that precious napkin, that, when revealed, exposes the contents of his heart in a way that diminishes the effect of the jacket itself as Shane places it in Oliver's outside front pocket---right over his heart.
Unlike their "unseen" kiss on the steps, Shane and Oliver's kiss in the DLO is very much in full view, a reconciliation as discussed in A Sentimental Walk, Part III, which extends far beyond the narrative revealed here by clothing. Their attachment to each other is on full display, completely unguarded, much like the content of their conversations on either side. Of course, the tone and sentiment of the dialogue changes from one of sadness, to one of emerging, untapped, joy and contentment.
No question the clothing in Higher Ground does an incredible amount of work in conveying Shane and Oliver's story of love, loss and reconciliation, particularly when it comes to the transformation of their relationship activated by the kiss, where their wardrobe tells the story of the shift from a superficial acknowledgment of mutual interest in their outerwear, to a fully embraced manifestation of love from head to toe.