Stylistic Grammar

July 24

The Stylistic Grammar in The Parent Trap 



It’s been years since I last had a TV at home. It doesn’t fit anywhere, I wouldn’t like it for it to become the main item in my house’s inner design, I’m nearsighted and leaving it hanging in the air 6 feet from me involves physical efforts I’m not willing to make. Overall, I don’t miss it, except when I want to watch some kind of anthropologically relevant public event, such as the World Cup or, why not, a queen’s funeral or a king’s coronation in some remote islands. But sometimes, once in a while, I yearn for one of the hidden pleasures of channel-hopping: the chance encounter with an image from the past. I no longer have audiovisual encounters with destiny. Everything has to be carefully planned. I can hardly remember what it felt like to change the channel and find a more or less familiar movie playing and just watch it, engulfed in nostalgia and comfort.

A few months ago, in fact, I had to organize a viewing party for one of my childhood favorites: The Parent Trap (when I was nine, we called it Juego de gemelas, or Twin games, according to our local translation). Of course, I had to borrow a TV. My plan was to show two slightly younger friends just how amazing Lindsay Lohan’s performance is. Back then, in 1998, she was about eleven years old and she manages, against all odds, to create two different characters, or maybe four: Annie and Hallie, the twins separated almost at birth (one went to London, the other to California), Annie pretending to be Hallie (very successfully) and Annie pretending to be Hallie (not so successfully, but who can blame her? The dog doesn’t recognize her, she doesn’t like the food and their dad has a new girlfriend who puts her in a bind). Watching dubbed classics from our childhood in their original English is always an interesting activity, a kind of rewatch with a difference, an invitation to discovery that doesn’t let us forget the essential: the calm familiar images brings us combined with the slightly paradoxical possibility of finding new things because we can now stop devoting all of our attention to the plot’s twists and turns.


The effect of the rewatch and its ramifications were manifold. On one hand, as a part-time translator, it made me think of the title as a radical triumph. Juego de gemelas is way better than Trampa para padres (literal and dull) or Tú a Londres y yo a California (Spain’s version: long, spoilery and overexplaining). As with The Sound of Music (which became La novicia rebelde in Latin America and Sonrisas y lágrimas in Spain) or 101 Dalmatians (called La noche de las narices frías in Latin America and –I swear I’m not lying–101 dálmatas: ¡más vivos que nunca! in Spain) our local translator definitely got it right


On the other hand, this rewatch led me straight to a material, tangible epiphany I verified almost instantly: all my style cues, all my ways of dressing, are somehow contained in The Parent Trap.


Sometimes I dress like Annie, sometimes I dress like Hallie, sometimes I dress like the mom and, occasionally, I combine the three styles. I don’t think I’m alone in this. First of all, the 90s have been back for a while, and the movie crystallized in very clear images all the styles we could choose from at the time. Additionally, The Parent Trap was a very widespread coming-of-age movie and it is possible many of us managed to extract a kind of primitive style grammar from it. And at the same time, fashion trends aside, I think our style guides were much more limited. The selection and availability of movies and role models came down to whatever you could find at your local video store or, if you were lucky enough, the Blockbuster franchise on duty. As a result, all of us watched pretty much the same movies, possibly on repeat (my father, if I may add, never believed in the existence of children films and made me go to the movie theaters on Corrientes avenue and watch obscure Iranian classics with him, but that’s a different story) and we shared a universe of intense and scattered affective points of reference. Back in the 90s, Disney princesses didn’t even exist as a unified entity; each of them led a distinct and separate life. We didn’t even know costume design was a thing, and that people and whole teams were devoted to the creation of wardrobes and styles for fictional characters. The Parent Trap’s costume designer was Penny Rose, who worked in films as different as Pirates of the Caribbean and The Wall.


Back in the fourth grade, it’s very likely you regarded Hallie as the hip twin. Her first on screen outfit is the epitome of the California cool girl, a summery dream: plaid shorts, oversize denim jacket, oval sunglasses. She is also the proud owner of the best pajamas in film history, (light blue with a cloud pattern!), knows how to play pranks and her way around a poker game, all while wearing a stunning bomber jacket and sunglasses at night— an epic look you couldn’t help but covet considering it was accompanied by a very effective “I’ll take a whack at it”, dubbed in Spanish as “Yo te voy a dejar limpia, niña”. Near the end of the movie, she also wears bright pink jelly sandals, an item I could only access in its recent comeback, as my mother thought plastic sandals were an unspeakable horror. I remember a school camp around that time: a friend and I were basically wearing the same outfit (plaid shorts, matching T-shirt, denim jacket) except mine was blue and hers was red. We argued for the duration of the trip about who had the right to be Annie or Hallie. At present, I wouldn’t put up a fight: I’d rather be Annie most of the time. Not that long ago, I bought a brown-collared vintage beige jacket because it reminded me of Annie’s raincoat at the end of the movie.


The thing is that Annie, the London twin, knows stuff no other eleven-year-old knows: that real power lies in good tailoring, preferably in bespoke suits. Her first outfit is nothing short of spectacular: plaid skirt suit with lined buttons, Chanel-like flats (beige with a black toe cap), matching headband and an enviable set of neutral-colored luggage. Even her camp uniform is slightly different, because she adds a few personal touches: she always wears the polo shirt instead of the plain T-shirt and she always tucks it in her pants. She always looks neat, flawless and better than preppy. In the isolation cabin, Hallie mixes and matches her own clothes with the camp uniform, creating one of her best outfits: tartan pants, purple T-shirt, white socks, brown loafers and green hoodie. Instead, Annie wears the full uniform, sweatshirt and all.


It is noteworthy that away in California and pretending to be her sister, Annie manages to put her personal stamp on Hallie’s clothes. She puts together a kind of suit with a white jacket, white pants, yellow top, yellow sneakers and sunglasses. The same rule does not apply to Hallie. Her outfit is yellow and white as well (tartan skirt, Peter Pan collar blouse, yellow cardigan, headband) but it lacks personal touches that may lead us to believe she is inhabiting someone else’s wardrobe and personality. She is entirely transformed, and maybe that’s the secret behind her success. What gives her away is not being able to hide her knowledge about wine, and nothing more. When they go camping with their dad, it’s easy to guess who is who even though the twins have sworn not to reveal their identity until the end of the trip. Look for the personal touches; Annie is clearly the one in the sleeveless blue polo shirt.


The girls’ mom, Elizabeth James, is a wedding designer, renowned on both sides of the Atlantic, so we can assume Annie learnt more than one thing from her. But her outfits are also worth paying attention to. I started doing it at a very young age: with every childhood rewatch, my mother would say that she loved the square shaped armholes of Elizabeth’s dresses. I didn’t know much about the subject, but my mom knew how to sow, embroider and knit, so I just gave the go ahead to her remarks and went back to watching. Nowadays, it’s not hard to tell her outfits were inspired by Lady Di, the ultimate English Rose, whose wedding dress might be single-handedly responsible for some of the 80s' worst fashion atrocities. The Parent Trap draws on Diana’s everyday style and ends up paying an involuntary tribute to her (shooting of the film started in July 1997, when Diana was still alive). We see it in Elizabeth’s haircut, in the shift dresses (favored by another icon, Joan Didion), the light blue Oxford shirts, the neutral palette that conveys warmth and intimacy and, above all, in the black dress she wears to meet her ex-husband. It undoubtedly evokes Diana’s famous revenge dress, the Versace she wore at her first public appearance after her divorce from Prince Charles.


An adult rewatch demands we stop at a childhood villain who might not be such a villain after all: Meredith Blake, the dad’s new young girlfriend who threatens to dismantle the twins’ plans. Meredith also sports some memorable outfits in a color scheme that recalls another 90s icon, or, to be more specific, a 90’s minimalism icon: Carolyn Besette Kennedy (incidentally, another tragic death of the decade). Meredith’s clothes are more classic and more structured, but the combination of pure black and white, the thin strip dresses and light coloured trench coats certainly bring us closer to that zone. Meredith is also the only character in the movie whose make-up is noticeable. Elizabeth is obviously wearing some, but hers is a no-make-up look that seems to underline a kind of natural elegance that requires no ornaments; instead, Meredith wears perfect lipstick and her lips are outlined at all times. The movie identifies her as artificial and evil, but we can’t deny her hats and accessories are flawless and that her camping outfit is the athleisure we dream of.


A couple of days ago, I tell one of my school friends I am writing a piece on The Parent Trap and I discuss my notes with her. She, seven months pregnant, replies: “You have a point, these days I dress like Chessy”. Chessy, the nanny/housekeeper who wears laid-back cotton clothes and offers her own take on the California cool girl. Chessy had not entered my previous calculations, and my friend’s remark reopens the door to the complete mystery that is the survival of images.   

Text: Eugenia Santana Goitia
Fotografía: Buena Vista Pictures


Gramática estilística
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