I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Sometimes for better, but often for worse, I get hung up on small details. Not in ways that would, say, improve my organization or allow me to file my own taxes with anything approaching confidence, but in ways that make it difficult to enjoy movies and television shows. Once I have noticed a Distracting Background Item, I lose large chunks of plot to my fixation on the apparent inconsistencies of ghost law, or a particularly beautiful bathrobe, or, to give you one very recent example from my ongoing Friday Night Lights rewatch, the fact that the preferred condom brand in the Panthers universe is called “Inconceivable.” Something inconsequential suddenly inflates to fill the whole screen, which may explain why I have but one memory from one of the more moving reconciliation scenes in Insecure’s entire run.
Please allow me to take you back: We are winding down the final episode of season two, and longtime couple turned exes Issa and Lawrence are poised to say good-bye to the apartment they once shared. They broke up roughly one year before, ostensibly over Issa’s affair with a friend, but also over a slate of unaddressed interpersonal issues. Doing one final sweep, they meet in their old kitchen, now empty of its appliances and quotidian clutter. Finally, it is time to clear the air, with Lawrence owning his tendency to shut down when he falls short of his own expectations and Issa acknowledging that she wasn’t there for him during his depression. There are tears, there is the admission of mutual love, and there is a tender embrace during which Lawrence swishes his long, oatmeal-colored sleeve across Issa’s bare back in a gesture that causes my own shoulders to itch. This man is wearing wool. The only reason I can give you an overview of the exchange is because I went back and watched it three times; when I think of the season-two finale now, the following disconnect is all I can see: Leaving his home on a sunny Los Angeles afternoon, Lawrence selected a mock-turtleneck sweater, chunkily ribbed and heavily gauged, on top of some sturdy looking jeans and high-top sneakers. Issa, meanwhile, opted for a halter top and skirt set that leaves a little strip of midriff exposed.
Given L.A.’s typical meteorological landscape — per a Google search I just did, daytime temps in L.A. hover in the 70s most months of the year, with the exception of summer, when things get much hotter — Issa’s outfit feels like the reasonable choice, while Lawrence’s is inexplicable. Even all these years later, it clangs in my brain like a shrill bell whenever he enters a shot. He is an adult with approximately 30 years’ experience interpreting the forecast, not a sixth grader determined to wear the new fall clothes his mom just bought him for the first day of school. Why is he dressed for Thanksgiving? What weather justifies this breakdown in communications?? Is anyone else seeing this???
Mercifully, yes; Lawrence’s sweater bludgeoned other viewers the same way it bludgeoned me, breaking their focus at a pivotal moment. “Why are they dressed so different,” wondered a trio of Washington Post writers watching the finale when it originally aired. Lawrence, they noted, “looks like a ’90s R&B lead singer,” or Montell Jordan. (Comparisons have also been drawn to Carl Thomas, specifically as he appeared on the cover of his 2000 album, Emotional.) “Like seriously what’s the weather like for that cable knit mock turtleneck to be appropriate.” The people demanded answers, but no answers ever came.
Baffling, because Insecure does not usually miss on styling. Every sartorial detail serves a purpose — the Best Buy polo Lawrence left hanging in the closet when he moved out, for example, telegraphs a powerful fuck you — with the wardrobe helping to advance the story. “I know that costumes on television are prime real estate,” Ayanna James, the costume designer for the show’s first three seasons, told the Los Angeles Times. “I can use that platform to educate … to promote … to influence how the viewer feels.” (Abject bewilderment, thanks for that.) What’s more, a huge number of people reportedly weigh in on each look, James describing the “very collaborative” process to Teen Vogue: Each script gets a mood board, with color palettes sometimes also influenced by location. Over the course of “several meetings,” department heads nail down the wardrobe details, and once the looks have been fitted, executive producers help pick the winners.
Meaning that, w/r/t the stifling turtleneck, multiple members of the production team looked at the outfits and decided that, yes, everything looks good here, no notes. And also, that the use of an unseasonable pullover is almost certainly intended to tell us something — that Lawrence is relearning how to dress himself after the baggy sweats of season one and these things take time? That he is growing up and into the life phase in which wool ceases to be an itchy inferno? That he is, in fact, emotional? That he is leaning on the sexual power of a large knit to show Issa what she lost? That even though Issa and Lawrence are figuring themselves out, they’re still not on the same page, or necessarily even reading the same book? That Lawrence inhabits his own world, making him a little oblivious a lot of the time?
Maybe all these things and more. But whatever the sweater’s symbolism, it doesn’t solve the mystery of the weather, and this is the thing that haunts me. Being both overdressed and overheated is a very specific hell; I thought about Lawrence recently, while attending what I thought was a cocktail party at a wedding, but turned out to be a full-blown beach party. Sweating on the sand in a sticky, moisture-trapping dress, while most of my fellow guests lounged around in swimsuits, I felt like a real dumbass. Who would willingly subject themselves to heatstroke? Did Lawrence scamper off so quickly because he, too, needed to do a covert deck change in a public restroom? Did he even wear an undershirt? The world will never know.