How to look happy: Julia's Eat, Pray Love wardrobe

India: Happy, getting happier
I went on discount Tuesday to see "Eat, Pray, Love", not expecting much plot, craving eye candy of the scenic and human varieties.

Julia Roberts (playing the author Elizabeth Gilbert) embarks for a year in Italy, India and Indonesia with only one large duffle bag–an extended version of my month-long "Express Checkout" wardrobe experiment. Good, I thought, I'll see what she does with it. 

Ha! She doesn't wear a single item of what she wore in one location in the next. 

Her costume designer (the late Michael Dennison) wanted to show her evolution– from fraught to joyful– by changing her wardrobe her for each phase. Let's track the transition.

NYC: City-casual
1. Point of departure, New York: Julia in big-city black, flats, jeans: a look any woman will parse as urban uniform. 

2. In Rome, a crisp shirt dress and ladylike sweaters, more femmy than NYC. Losing the black, but still contained.
Rome: Beginning to lighten up

India: Wedding guest's sari
3. India: The movie and Julia burst into colour: silks, a gorgeous brocade sari, gauzy pants. The European sewn gives way to the Asian draped. Bangles, pendants, sashes, ornamentation.

4. Bali, the last locale: Vibrant and free, costumed in batiks and casual cottons, islandy blues and greens, and–to saunter with Mr. Right in Asia Lite, Javier Bardem– a floaty, sexy dress in peach and taupe tones. 

Bali: Girl, you know I'm in loooove

To look maximally happy (and possibly enlightened): reach for your colour-drenched shawl or chiffon scarf.  Leave highly structured clothes in the closet. Wear dresses that swish, supple cotton or rayon pants rather than jeans. Rich hues– including textured neutrals, but not black– reflect a renewed heart.

I thought of a longtime friend, Laura. After several difficult years, Laura felt hard and cold; "There's a gate on my heart", she told me. She determined to break out of that constricted place.

Bali: Blissful in batik
So she paid attention to colour and texture, the weight and fluidity of fabrics, deliberately changing the way she dressed. For example, she wore black, but as fluid silk charmeuse or lace. She bought a melting mohair cardigan in sea green, knee high caramel suede boots, soft ecru velvet jeans.

It worked; as her spirit lightened, new ease and love appeared.

Sometimes I see shots of women in the media and flinch; that toughness sneaks up on you, and the camera doesn't help. 

"Eat, Pray, Love", light as bamboo wind chimes, provides a pretty travelogue with a bonus, a three-locale lesson in blissed-out dressing.


Meg Mitchell said…
I didn't notice the change in her clothing as the movie progressed but it's a very interesting concept. But wouldn't the weather have something to do with the fabrics chosen? I do agree with you wholeheartedly that we do need to add more color and swishing fabrics back into our life and feel more womanly as a result. Great post.
Susan B said…
I haven't seen the movie yet (will probably catch on DVD) but your take on the clothing was interesting. The few style reviews I read when the movie first came out were mostly negative (frumpy! baggy!) but those were mostly from urban fashionistas.

These days, the really structured pieces just feel too mannish to me, even the blazers that used to be my go-to pieces. Although I'm heavily into neutrals including black, my wardrobe has gradually transitioned to softer pieces in drapey knits. Not only are they more comfortable, but they're a way to keep some femininity flowing through a minimalist vein. But I also have a pink coat on the way to me now...
Marguerite said…
Fun and interesting post, Duchesse! I have not seen the movie yet, but am making mental note to do so soon. Seems it was in and out of theater quickly. The concept of dressing softly and unconstructed is so appealing. I am a fan of Eileen Fisher. For the price point, the fabrics seem quality and are wonderfully wearable. Wish they would go back to more color in the collection. On another note, I am letting my blonde mid neck length hair grow out to my now natural silver color! Excited, but with definite trepidation. DH is skeptical. Oh Lord.
Susan said…
Deja Pseu, I am very excited about your pink coat. Monday, when I was at Talbots in Dallas, I didn't see your coat, but saw other pink items that made me think of it. I found myself wondering if your coat will be the same shade of pink. If so, I think it will be very nice.

Interesting comment about the big city fashionistas' take on less structured and perhaps more feminine clothing.

I used to always prefer a jacket with most any ensemble, but find myself going to softer pieces as well. For me, it is about comfort, but I also notice that when I gain weight, the most structured pieces are more uncomfortable. Currently, I'm in a losing weight phase and wonder if my pretty structured pieces will become more appealing as I lose.
Nancy K said…
It doesn't hurt to look like Julia either.
Duchesse said…
Meg: While her clothes are weather-appropriate, the costumers have said they chose the colours and textures to chart her inner journey.

Pseu: Can't wait to see you in your pink coat!

Marguerite: let us know how it goes! EF have changed, for the better.
Someone said…
I haven't seen the movie, but the clothing seems to set up the old west/east dichotomy between urban capitalism and hippie linens. Having seen older women wear lots of the boxy, baggy, artsily-dyed unstructured stuff with their Asian jewelry and beads over the last 20-30 years, I find it (forgive me) pretty clichéd...

Not that I don't find some Coldwater Creek type stuff attractive, it just seems like the default "I'm a free spirit" choice. I don't know, maybe it would have been hard for a mainstream book and film to make sure the message got through to the masses without being pretty mainstream about how they codify freedom into the costuming.
Duchesse said…
Nancy K: When she finally bursts into that slightly goofy Julia chortle, it's a treat.

Susan: No structured mens' tailored jackets for me, either, not b/c of weight (though I weigh more than in my 40s) but b/c of I no longer have to dress in formal business attire.

Someone: I didn't see a piece of linen in this film. Julia's Bali clothes are form-fitting, especially two low-cut dresses. (I searched for them online but could not find.) In India she wears some loose pants with tunic tops, which would be respectful given that she is in an ashram.

How you would you "codify freedom into the costuming"? And yes, this film is intended for "the masses".
Susan said…
Duchesse, I've never worn structured men's tailored jackets, but have worn close fitting jackets suitable for my casual/urban lifestyle. Dallas is a bit of a dress up city. In the past, I would wear a fitted jacket out with my white slacks in the summer--or a fitted wool jacket with my wool slacks in the fall/winter (remember we don't need coats in Dallas, it's not that cold). But, now--I'm not so happy or comfortable with anything that is fitted.

I've never been a fan of the fitted men's wear blazer on women.
Belle de Ville said…
Nice analysis.
Personally, if I had a sari I'd wear it and nothing else.
Can anything be more beautiful than a sari?
Demi-pointe said…
I will watch this,as you did, for the travel. It is getting colder in my east coast city and the hard jeans have come out. Every year I try to figure out a way to dress that is feminine, not too flowy-arty-Enya-ish, with pretty jewel colors in a style that can be replicated every year and fabricated for all seasons. In the movie "It's Complicated", Meryl Streep had a great happy, feminine wardrobe. The colors were California calm blues and creams but so was the weather. Oh and of course the jeans - still and always everywhere. Dresses and skirts are fine with me as an alternative, BUT, they can be cold or black or hard to replicate, etc.... funny, I came across a dress in the j.peterman website, which I was surfing for the same reason I still listen to Donovan... and found a 1940s shirtwaist for all seasons. The perfect dress - right, have you seen my life?
Duchesse said…
Demipointe: I too thought of that Meryl wardrobe, and there are some of the same effects in "EPL", a breeziness, not as one commenter imagined, bagginess. Is Peterman's quality OK? They really slipped some years ago.

Like you, I look for things that are not black but when the slush hits, ecru sits.

Belle: I live near Little India and am lucky to see saris often- the church a block away always has a stunning selection among its congregation. Like you, I find them absolutely stunning. Julia wore hers well. (But when I went to India I bought many shawls, because I knew I'd wear them!)
Demi-pointe said…
Duchesse, I'm not sure about Peterman's quality.I haven't seen any of the catalog items in person in at least a decade. I didn't even know they were still in business until stumbling into their website!
Belle de Ville, I have friends in Calcutta who are both history professors. S (Madame) would certainly wear a sari to a wedding or other ceremony, including a formal academic one, but in daily life she is more likely to wear salwar kameez, because saris are not the easiest thing to put on and are rather restrictive. They are most elegant, and ageless.

Here in Montréal (a very different climate) I've been trying to pare down. Oh, I'll always be boho, but as Someone said, overdoing hippie stuff can look a bit clichéed à un certain âge. It is fun seeing young people of the ecolo, "global justice" type wearing a variation on the clothing we wore decades ago, but with subtle differences. As Duchesse said, even semi-hippie types (of the artsy variety; not talking about bedraggled drug addicts) wouldn't let our bra straps show way back when!

I wouldn't wear a pink coat here, but perhaps I would if I lived in Southern California. Not only weather but also dominant colours in the landscape and architecture strongly influence what looks right. I bought some clothing in deep oranges when I was studying in Italy, and didn't wear these articles much returning here.
Fuji said…
I love the look of saris as well - so graceful and elegant, and those fabrics. My favorite national dress. Some years ago I actually purchased sari fabric and made sarongs with them. Anyone can wear a sarong and they make terrific lounge-wear as well as warm weather garb.
Duchesse, your Indian shawls must be beautiful. Do you find it easy to incorporate them into your outfits
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Since saris are traditionally Hindu and salwar kameez,Pakistani (therefore Islamic )in some communities that is important and political, and in others (and among young people) everybody wears the salwar. (Here in Toronto I'll generalize: Pakistanis wear the salwar kameez- but I've seen Hindu and Sikh women wear both.) Certainly the salwar kameez is easier to wear, and cooler.

Years ago I worked with a hospital administrator (North American) who wore only saris, to work and off work- because she liked them. She was viewed as "eccentric", with fondness.

Fuji: I wear the shawls instead of a jacket, with everything; I have both casual and dressy ones. They roll up into a bag, so are perfect for travel. It's a way to borrow a tiny bit of the grace of Indian women. When I was in India, I could not get enough of women in their saris, the many ways of draping, the fabrics- fantastic!
Frugal Scholar said…
The only clothes of Julia's I would be comfortable in: urban uniform. Perhaps I am less evolved? I would wear all your friend's clothing though--esp the mohair cardi.
Duchesse said…
Frugal; if Javier Bardem comes with evolution I am all for it, regardless of attire.
My friends are Hindu by background, but secular, and are involved in conferences and other academic initiatives to combat "communitarism" - which is how they refer to religious sectarianism, especially but not only of the Hindu variety.

I adore those shawls - S. always had one on in Amsterdam, as of course she was always cold there. Gracefully draped, of course.
Northmoon said…
I recently noted that my closet is almost unremittingly black or grey. So I'm wondering if I need to add more colour and fluidity into my wardrobe. Total boho is not me at all, I'd feel very uncomfortable in a sari. But perhaps the odd colourful piece, not too extreme could be added?

Interesting theory - as usual your post has given me food for thought.
materfamilias said…
Interesting discussion I'm late to (again). I'll probably rent the DVD eventually, not only for the vicarious travel but also because watching Julia Roberts almost always makes me happy -- not sure what the quality is that does that, but she's so comfortable with her physicality, she has such an infectious laugh, she just feels like such a Girlfriend!
And now, I'll keep an eye out for the clothes as well.
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: I think it's Roberts' accessible beauty, the wide smile, the level gaze, the great horse laugh- that engages rather than intimidates.I've always loved her, even in so-so films.
Anonymous said…
I've not seen this film, yet, and hadn't really planned to. Somehow though the same spirit seems to be moving in me at a late age...

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