Parallel to these narratives was another story about Shane’s process of integration, of reconciling the past and present, and the personal and professional. A book I once read framed it like this: “A healthy person is someone who is integrated…. all aspects of [that] person are connected...The body, soul and mind are all working together” (You might even recognize this quote as a key conclusion of The United States of Oliver, a good series to go back and read, as The Road Less Traveled is pretty much Shane’s version of Oliver’s Home Again journey).
To begin, we’ll consider Shane’s wardrobe in terms of integrating past and present. Over the course of the four days during which The Road Less Traveled transpired, Shane’s wardrobe transitioned from a blazer meant to shield and protect her from dealing with the pain of her past, to a compartmentalized business casual look that segregated past and present. As past became known to present, the freedom that resulted took the form of a bluebird blouse and pants which shifted to a solid, coordinated navy shirt and skirt combo indicative of complete integration. Each look told a story about distinct phases in Shane’s journey to integrate through acknowledging, confronting, accepting and forgiving the past in a way that produced healing and strength for the present and even the future.
Off The Fringe
In order to understand Shane’s wardrobe journey in The Road Less Traveled, we have to view the situation in light of its ending, specifically our understanding of the strained relationship Shane shared with her sister, Alex Brighton.
A Present Past
Shane’s conflict with Alex had two distinct aspects. The first involved the loss of home of community---its connection and support---which Shane suffered when Alex’s gambling problem came to light. The second, and perhaps most salient, was how, at her core, Shane was a little sister who “thought the sun rose and set” with her older sister, Alex, and the deep rift in their relationship caused by Alex’s actions and the aftermath.
Coming Off The Edge
As subtle as it was, Shane’s developing internal turmoil over her sister was detectable on the first day in only one, easily overlooked, dimension---her blazer. Worn over a solid, navy blue fit and flare dress without sleeves, the cream jacket with dark fringe detail hinted at something “on the fringe”---just outside our realm of knowledge at that juncture---troubled Shane, whether she consciously acknowledged it or not. Only a phone contact from whom Shane appeared less than enthusiastic to hear via text, it was the emerging internal conflict over Alex to which the dark fringe detailing of Shane’s blazer specifically hinted.
Similarly, as we know from past wardrobe analysis, additional layers operate as superficial armor to shield the wearer from harm, and to suppress their internal conflict from being exposed to the world. In this case, the blazer concealed Shane’s past pain, even as the vestiges began to appear on the fringes. If we accept that Shane wearing a blazer was a superficial representation of Alex and the hidden/suppressed pain Shane harbored, then it also follows that Shane carried vestiges of that hurt, pain and anger into her relationships with those closest to her via the blazer.
Not coincidentally, these are the two relationships which Shane endangered in her various attempts to shield herself---and Rita and Oliver---from the unhealed wounds of her past. Operating on the assumption that revelation of Alex would send her world into chaos once again, the lying, denial and outright avoidance Shane engaged in with both Rita and Oliver in the succeeding days were evidence of the fact Shane had not yet acknowledged, confronted, accepted and forgiven the hurt experienced in her past, and unwittingly brought those hurts into her present relationships.
Although a simple blazer, this superficial, visible piece of clothing hinted at a previously hidden area of Shane’s past, and revealed the manner in which that pain, and the sister behind it, began to resurface. It also served as a tangible representation of that past hurt, which, when carried unacknowledged and unhealed into the realm of relationship in the present, possessed the potential to cause conflict. But, as Shane would discover, carrying a dark piece of her past into relationship also increased the likelihood that it would be brought to light for the purpose of healing (and integration) in the present.
Black & (Off-)White
What’s so fascinating about Shane’s more-business-than-casual look is how expertly it toed the line between “business” and “casual.” We know from Lost Without You that Shane possesses a very strong non-work wardrobe, yet this day she chose an ensemble casual enough not to appear out of place to an outside observer. But, having traced Shane’s wardrobe journey over a variety of seasons and situations, this strict departure from what, for Shane, would be truly “casual,” was enough to warrant a closer look.
The structure of her ensemble, as well as the segregation of “light” and “dark” within it, had much to say about the state of Shane’s heart and mind as the road trip commenced.
As a whole, Shane’s ensemble very much resembled a modern, sophisticated leisure suit. But, much like Oliver’s suits have constituted armor throughout the series, so Shane’s look here acted as its own kind of armor. It projected a sense of “having it together,” a certain external harmony which Shane didn’t possess internally. As long as Shane’s behavior projected the same kind of unity, the front could be maintained. In the end, however, it was her uncharacteristic behavior---and a “dinging” cell phone---that caused that facade to slowly crumble. The “how” of this crumbling resided in the segregation of “light” and “dark” in her clothing.
Aside from the structure, you might be asking: How do we know Shane’s wardrobe was a response to the situation with Alex? To put it simply, the lack of color integration, or, alternately, the degree to which her wardrobe was compartmentalized. Unlike the co-mingled hues of her blazer the previous day, the segregation of “light” and “dark” above and below the waist was an external representation of Shane’s internal battle between the darkness of her past and the light of her present, and her efforts to strictly separate the two.
Notably segregated to the lower half, the solid black pants embodied the dark period Shane “walked” through in the aftermath of her sister’s gambling problem, and the loss of home and community that followed. Like the pants deferred to her lower half---out of sight and out of mind---Shane successfully suppressed the issues with her sister up until this point. Suppression, however, was not the same as acknowledging the pain and confronting its source. So when Alex began to reach out once more, Shane had no mechanism to cope with the suppressed feelings, and resumed operating on the identity that revelation of her past would alienate her present. Once more the wounded little sister, Shane defaulted to the most basic of instincts and erected a strict barrier in response to fear, reflected outwardly in the segregation of “light” and “dark” in her clothing. Unfortunately, her preoccupation with maintaining the barrier prevented Shane from acknowledging or confronting her past, key steps in the integration process.
To compensate, Shane used the solid cream upper half of her wardrobe to appear unblemished and unaffected. Combined with her golden hair, Shane had an angelic aura suggestive of acceptance and complete forgiveness. That angelic aura, however, was tempered by her stylish blazer, which acted as a buffer between the hurt she was hiding and the people from whom she was hiding it.
Unfortunately for Shane, the past (and the hurt, anger, unforgiveness and, ultimately, the fear she tried so hard to suppress) had an unrelenting advocate in her “dinging” cell phone, one neither she, nor anyone else, could easily ignore. As a result, the strict barrier between “light” and “dark,” “past” and “present,” so easily compartmentalized in her clothing became harder and harder to preserve as her words and actions betrayed her.
Each text alert challenged Shane’s carefully maintained facade, repeatedly exposing and challenging the barrier between past and present she tried to enforce. From lying to Rita in the RV, to changing the subject when confronted by Oliver at the campsite, it not only drew Shane’s attention to the untenable nature of such a barrier, but introduced Oliver and Rita to her conflict when they attempted to breach the subject of her “dinging” phone. Operating out of her fear of loss, Shane’s avoidance of her pain left her with no option but to deny evidence of its existence or avoid the reality---and its harbinger, Alex---altogether in the present. The result, of course, was her uncharacteristic behavior which, at best, confused Rita, and, at worst, shoved Oliver (and their relationship) to the edge of a complete breakdown.
Shane’s less-than-tactful avoidance, however, did not prevent Rita, and, more importantly, Oliver, from being introduced her core issue whether directly or indirectly. In fact, it pushed Shane into a direct and explicit acknowledgement of Alex---and the past---through Oliver.
A Line Breached
Shane’s struggle to directly acknowledge the situation with Alex, even as she actively defended against it, came to an end when Oliver chose to confront her about Alex Brighton. To name Alex rendered Shane unable to deflect or deny her existence, and forced her to finally acknowledge the past to the present. Despite not being “ready to talk about it,” Shane verbalized her acknowledgement of the issues she was dealing with and her attempt to confront them, described as “working things out.” Shane’s request to “still hold hands” during that process was a way of verbalizing her fear of the loss of community.
As the road trip commenced, the structure and color of Shane’s wardrobe told a specific story about her efforts to prevent the past from being discovered by her present, and the deep wounds that motivated it. Easily achieved by the segregation of “light” and “dark” in her clothing, such a separation failed in the context of relationship, where her “dinging” phone--and the past pain to which it pointed---introduced itself to Rita and Oliver despite Shane’s sometimes clumsy and contradictory efforts to prevent it from doing so. It was only when addressed in the context of relationship, however, that the healing Shane needed began to take place.
Into The Light
The unconditional support Oliver offered Shane freed her to empathize with Rachel as the two sat across from each other at Minnie’s Diner. No longer required to deny the past for Oliver’s sake---or her own protection---Shane connected with Rachel over their shared experience. Shane not only accepted the pain of her past as an integral part of her story, but began to confront that pain through the vocabulary developed around it.
Shane acknowledged her potential to “always be in prison [herself]” if she continued to avoid her pain and the sister behind it. Shane realized she had tried “to tell [herself] she was moving on, but [was] not getting very far...dragging so much behind [her].” When Shane accepted this pain as part of her story, it allowed her to harness that pain to deliver the comfort and truth Rachel needed in that moment. Through her interaction with Rachel, Shane also found a path forward for herself when she committed to finally facing Alex.
Provided the safe space in the present to acknowledge the wounds and complications of her past, Shane’s carefully crafted leisure suit---and the compartmentalization of her feelings it embodied---gave way to a casual ensemble. More than just clothing, Shane’s bird-patterned blouse symbolized the emerging freedom Shane not only experienced, but delivered to Rachel, through her empathy. Perhaps the greatest freedom, however, came from Shane’s complete acceptance of her pain, and her courage to express it not only to a stranger, but to someone as close to her as Oliver. In verbalizing her pain, the lies and burdens Shane carried were dismantled, allowing her to reclaim her pain for purpose in the present and heal her relational wounds through Oliver’s support. More aligned in “body, soul and mind,” the emotional and relational harmony Shane’s healing produced expressed itself through her streamlined wardrobe later that week.
A Solid State
With Oliver at her side, and the anger and unforgiveness removed, Shane reached out to Alex. While the initial interaction began with small talk, over the course of the conversation Shane became more transparent with Alex, offering more details, like the fact she “loved [Denver].” Though subtle, it acted a moment of transparency where Shane verbally expressed her feelings about Oliver in a directly indirect way---a first for Shane. The double-meaning was, perhaps, not lost on Oliver, who, in the same moment, encouraged Shane to tell Alex “[she had] a boyfriend.” Without an explicit label up until that point, Shane and Oliver’s relationship took a solid step forward in its definition as “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” publicly. At the same time, the “past” was openly introduced to the “present,” a moment indicative of Shane’s complete healing and full forgiveness, as Alex became known to Oliver, and vice versa, by name. Not only had things not completely fallen apart, Oliver and Shane’s relationship deepened and strengthened through the situation with Alex and its resolution.
The healing of Shane’s relationship with Alex also enabled a new kind of stability in her relationship with Rita. The declaration that Shane was “the sister [Rita] never had” and couldn't “imagine getting married, being married, or raising children without [Shane],” established their relationship as based on something stronger than blood. Rita intended for Shane to remain a key and permanent piece of her community---her "home" and family---in the future. Shane's next role, of course, to be maid of honor. In the end, their sisterly bond was still very much intact.
For those of you wondering what bearing the gray overcoat had on the interaction at Bistro Ramon, the reality is that sometimes a coat is just a coat. The real point of analysis here is Shane's increased ability to embrace the relationships around her in the present by reconciling the broken relationships from the past.
Imbued with meaning, Shane’s wardrobe did a considerable amount of work when it came to providing a tangible lense through which to understand Shane’s intangible and complex journey to connect all aspects of herself in pursuit of full personal integration.
The fringed jacket represented the suppressed burdens of her past which prevented Shane from operating at her full capacity as a person in the present, and introduced us to the disconnect between past and present which she spent the entirety of The Road Less Traveled attempting to bridge. Still wounded by the devastating loss of home and community in light of Alex’s gambling problem, Shane went to great lengths to suppress that piece of her past to preserve the home and community re-established in the present.
That healing began to find expression through her clothing, where the return of color, pattern and lack of blazer signaled a significant shift towards increased emotional freedom. Embraced by Oliver even in the midst of her unarticulated struggle, and presented with Rachel’s pain which mirrored her own, Shane found the courage, and even vocabulary, to articulate her pain. In doing so, she accepted the loss of community and sense of home as part of her story, and harnessed it to deliver comfort and truth to Rachel. As her “soul and mind” came more into alignment, and with Oliver’s full support, Shane connected her pain to its source and became positioned to finally forgive her sister, Alex.
“All aspects of [herself]...connected,” Shane’s wardrobe returned to a solid navy blue sleeveless blouse and skirt which mirrored the peace and clarity with which she reached out to Alex, fulfilling her promise to Rachel. At the same time, the extent of Shane’s integration was on full display. When she embraced a posture of forgiveness she engaged Alex with kindness, and allowed the details of her present to be made known to her past---including Oliver, who had become such an important piece of her present, and even her future. By inviting Oliver in, Shane facilitated a deeper intimacy within the relationship, which he reciprocated by defining their relationship exclusively as “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”
Shane's Road Less Traveled Wardrobe: Family Ties | Balanced Scorecard, Part I | Balanced Scorecard, Part II