Day 1: Clothed In Contradiction
Statements of Intent
If you’ll remember from To Blue and Back, by the time we encountered Oliver at the end of Higher Ground, his pining for Shane was so pervasive that it literally saturated every element of his clothing---from the indigo shade of his suit that expressed the true depth of his pain and loneliness, to the plaid and pinstripes that further highlighted his emotional despair. Oliver’s wardrobe was the external reflection of his internal pain.
These definitive outwards statements, however, weren’t the key to ensuring long-term success in his relationship with Shane, a reality echoed by the contradictory plaid suit sandwiched between his deliberately chosen accessories.
Where half of Oliver’s threads expressed a tangible hope and optimism for the present and future, half of his wardrobe sent a contradictory message tied to his past.
Oliver’s light gray suit, which constituted a significant portion of his overall appearance that first day, also had its own message to send about the state of his heart and mind. While completely opposite from his pain-saturated indigo suit in Higher Ground, the lingering gray plaid hinted at some vestiges from the past, that, while fading, still lingered for Oliver. It wasn’t long before we started to get a clearer picture of the exact nature of those vestiges, which had the potential to stunt his personal development.
In The State of Mission, we discussed how Oliver’s reaction to his new professional environment was a symptom of some limiting mindsets and tendencies from the previous season which attempted to follow him into the new one. Confronted with the reality that “[he’s] not going back,” Oliver ultimately had to accept embrace the irreversible and irrevocable changes in himself, and the world around him, and adapt accordingly. It was a journey that ultimately called Oliver to claim and exercise the full capacity of his leadership abilities.
Appropriately, these narrative “threads” were embedded in his accessories and even his suit.
Oliver’s plaid suit was, in and of itself, a relic of his past, representing his pre-Home Again self, even as he attempted to embrace the evolving version of himself and move forward. The gray represented the “gray area” in which Oliver operated as he attempted to navigate and define his new work environment, expanding capacity as a leader and postal detective, and his blooming romance with Shane. The plaid stripes themselves referenced Oliver’s underlying discomfort with the prevailing ambiguity in so many areas of his life, which he incrementally sought to resolve.
Another tangible, but subtle, representation of Oliver’s internal tension revealed through his suit is the fact that, while he expressed distress and apprehension over the change of professional venue verbally, Oliver nonetheless felt comfortable enough in it to go without his suit jacket from the start. One thing we know about Oliver is that his suit jacket is a layer of “armor” frequently used to shield his vulnerability--- even in the office. The fact Oliver went without his suit jacket suggested a subconscious level of comfort and safety, even in the new environment, and despite actions---like micromanaging Shane’s attempt to hang her empty frame---that suggested otherwise. This was, perhaps, the most concise illustration of the disconnect Oliver exhibited between word and deed at the outset of Home Again.
While Oliver’s bright colors and accessories projected Oliver’s confidence in his feelings towards Shane, his plaid suit---or lack of jacket---revealed a disconnect between his external declarations, and the subconscious internal conflicts incrementally exposed through Oliver’s words and actions overall. Oliver was challenged to confront various disconnects and “gray areas” in his life in an effort to bring them, and by extension, himself, into alignment in both word and deed. It was a dynamic task, where Oliver’s progress was revealed through repeat revision of the colors and combinations in his wardrobe.
Day 2: Pulling Threads
Plaid & Simple
Before we get into anything else, we have to address Oliver wearing the same gray suit two days in a row. The reason is pretty simple: he hadn’t figured much out yet by the time Day 2 began. But while it’s true ambiguity still surrounded many areas of his life and work entering Day 2, Oliver also exhibited a significant amount of evidence that he had begun to work towards resolution in those areas.
Since Oliver’s wardrobe sort of started with Shane, it made sense his transformation started in some way with his relationship with her. Notice that on the second day, Oliver’s outward reflection of Shane narrowed from a slew of accessories to a single purple tie. This was a sign that Oliver had begun to embrace Dale’s advice, and approach his relationship with Shane in a meaningful and productive manner, paving the way for him to align other aspects of his life.
Oliver is the master of the grand gesture, the opening sequence of Home Again one in a long list of outward projections of his affection for Shane throughout the course of the series. Grand gestures, however, are not necessarily the way Shane recognizes and receives love and affection. Without getting into too much detail (trust me, we’ll cover this in more detail elsewhere), Shane thrives on words of affirmation. On the second day, Oliver got started early with comments like “I can’t imagine you ruining anything,” embracing her plan to help Norman, and eventually asking her to “go steady.” This manner of relating to Shane was evidence of a matured understanding of their relationship and his role in it, an understanding gained after his encounter with Dale the previous day.
The truth was, while the purple accessories and yellow rose pinned to his lapel projected hope and enthusiasm, they were also a display not truly reflective of the breadth and depth of relationship that existed between Shane and Oliver. When Oliver embraced a single solid purple tie on the second day, he traded the dress shirt, pocket square and yellow rose that superficially projected his connection to Shane, with a method of engaging her that demonstrated his true understanding of, and investment in, their relationship. Not only did Oliver embrace his feelings for Shane on a deeper level, he expressed them in the manner required for Shane to precisely and effectively receive that affection.
With significant, focused strides made in his relationship with Shane, Oliver became better able to embrace other important areas of his life, notably where Norman and Rita were concerned.
We discussed in A Need To Cleave: Part II that Oliver, Shane and Papa O’Toole comprised a family unit, of sorts, for Norman in light of the arrival of Rita’s parents. After the rather disastrous events at Bistro Ramon, Oliver’s parental instincts kicked in immediately through his wardrobe.
Compare Oliver’s full attire on Day 2 with that of Norman and Rita, and it’s clear Oliver’s wardrobe presented him as the unifying figure in their little family. His pale blue dress shirt, tan suspenders and daisy pocket square picked up on the essence of Rita’s flower child-inspired dress, while still hanging onto the base blues in Norman’s plaid shirt. Norman even had on a gray sweater that seemed to call on Oliver’s gray plaid suit to some degree. When taken together, Oliver “bridged the gap” (disconnect) between Norman and Rita, and unified their postal family in a subtle, but important, way. Or, as I like to interpret it, it revealed Oliver’s affection for his “kids.”
Oliver couldn’t have known it at the time, but his ability to “bridge the gap” and not only navigate, but embrace, the “gray area” where Norman and Rita were concerned, foreshadowed the fine line between the personal and professional with which Oliver would have to contend in the context of the Kellser case in a much more direct way.
Oliver may not have had everything figured out by the time Day 2 began, but his shifting perspectives resulted in an evolving wardrobe. His purple tie embodied a matured understanding of his relationship with Shane, which ultimately provided him the opportunity to outwardly express other important priorities in his life. His incorporation of Norman and Rita through his dress shirt, suspenders and pocket square proactively drew lines of connection between himself and his “kids” making him a unifying figure in both a personal and professional sense.
With this simple act of connecting a personal and professional prerogative through wardrobe, Oliver found himself traversing---and, more surprisingly, embracing---a new kind of “gray area.” Though he waded into the space in aid of Norman and Rita, Oliver opened himself up in a manner that eventually enabled him to directly challenge his own established lines between personal and professional in the context of the Kellser case, which, once again, transformed his wardrobe in response.
Tomorrow, we'll continue to follow Oliver's journey of transformation throughout the remainder of Home Again. See you then!
The United States of Oliver: Balance | Mission | District of Integration, Part I & Part II | Articles Confederated