The Good Wife, which ends its seven-season run on Sunday, is rightly celebrated not just for its nuance and its depth and its ability to fuse ripped-from-the-headlines news stories with the fates of its characters, but also for a more superficial achievement: clothing that is consistently awesome.
The show is one of a not terribly large cadre—among them Empire (Cookie!), Scandal (Olivia!), The Mindy Project, Mad Men, Sex and the City, Girls—that treat costuming as a matter not just of production, but of literary ambition. Alicia’s evolution as a character, from “the good wife” to “the good so-many-other-things,” is suggested by the evolution of her suits—a rough trajectory from Talbots to Tahari to Thakoon. The sartorial choices of her fellow protagonists—particularly the female ones—suggest a similar telegraphic aim. The Good Wife is a later-in-life bildungsroman, a televised reassurance that one can come of age at any age; its clothes reflect those evolutionary impulses.
The show’s costuming is overseen by Dan Lawson, who maintains an enormous closet for each major character (“300, 350 for Alicia,” he estimates, of the suits alone, “and probably 250 suits for Diane”). And the clothes he chooses for the show’s female characters, whether they’re worn by Alicia or Diane or even the singular Kalinda, tend to be united by shared impulses and styles: They favor designer brands, fuse masculine and feminine touches, make copious use of high heels, and are always precisely tailored to their wearers’ bodies. (This is an aesthetic choice that doubles as a pragmatic one: Baggier sleeves and A-line skirts—cuts that can add visual bulk in two dimensions—simply don’t work on camera, Lawson told The Huffington Post.)
What results is a uniformity of style that transcends the clothes’ minor variations (Diane’s brooches, Lucca’s love of bold patterns, Kalinda’s boots) and even its major ones (pantsuits versus skirt suits versus dresses). It results in the sartorial aesthetic that defines the show. I’ve come to think of it as, all in all, The Suit.
As deployed by Lawson—and by Michelle and Robert King, The Good Wife’s vastly undercelebrated showrunners—The Suit suggests the thing that most any suit will, in its whiff of corporate uniformity: the marriage of capitalism’s individualistic impulses and its social demands. The Good Wife, unlike most of its fellow network dramas but very much like the “prestige dramas” on offer elsewhere, may be extremely suspicious of institutions, from the justice system to to law enforcement to organized politics to organized religion to marriage; what the show revels in, though, are the human-scale satisfactions of the communal endeavor. The cases won by Lockhart Gardner Stern, and later by Lockhart Gardner, and later by Florrick Agos, etc., are almost always won through the work of many, many people—lawyers, paralegals, investigators, DAs, “interested parties” of varying stripes—coming together at just the right moment.