Everyone on Firefly repeats clothes. I’m not sure if this was practical, intentional, or both, but I’d like to think both. Case in point, I’m not timeline-sorting this analysis, because a lot of the outfits get repeated. Instead, I’m approaching Inara (Morena Baccarin) both by purpose and by color scheme. Which overlaps quite a lot, actually.
The first color I’d like to talk about is this pleasant orange-peach-something, which is often shot through with gold. All of these outfits (1×01, “Serenity,” here seen in 1×06, “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” here seen in 1×02, “The Train Job,” here seen in 1×09, “War Stories”) are in Inara’s definitely totally casual repertoire, and though gold shoot-throughs are almost inevitable in Inara’s clothes, orange-peach-something is a color not seen in them. Copypasted from color-wheel-pro.com: “…It is associated with joy, sunshine… As a citrus color, orange is associated with healthy food and stimulates appetite. Orange is the color of fall and harvest. In heraldry, orange is symbolic of strength and endurance… Red-orange corresponds to desire, sexual passion, pleasure, domination, aggression, and thirst for action… Gold evokes the feeling of prestige. The meaning of gold is illumination, wisdom, and wealth. Gold often symbolizes high quality.” I wouldn’t say that Inara is necessarily the happiest of people, but I think she’s probably happier (if still often aggravated) while on the ship, and save the first robe, which is seen post-appointment, all of these outfits are worn in the context of the ship. I will also pull the phrases “strength and endurance” and “high quality” out of that little blurb, the former because while Inara is not a total super kicker of asses, nope, she is definitely strong and definitely endures (and it’s here that I casually mention the terminal illness thing again, but briefly) and the latter because, well, Inara is the representation of officially untainted high society amongst the crew.
Now purple, also shot through with gold. The former dress is exclusive to 1xo1, “Serenity,” and the latter is seen here in 1×03, “Bushwhacked,” and also in 1×05, “Safe.” These dresses are still around-the-homestead material, but they’re decidedly fancier; purple, of course, is royalty and nobility, which would imply that she well could be (on characterly purpose, on writerly purpose, or both) striving to represent something above. In “Serenity,” this dress and accompanying noticeable gold jewelry and belt are worn after newcomers have joined the ship, which could be because she’s trying to make a good impression; in “Bushwhacked,” the purple dress is worn from the beginning, but comes to use when they’re questioned by the Alliance and she needs to maintain a favorable appearance, and in “Safe” it’s worn to visit a very backwoods planet, which is likely a sort of posturing. Or maybe she just likes the color purple.
A couple more around-the-homestead outfits, these ones black and from 1×02, “The Train Job,” and 1×11, “Trash.” The former of these outfits, and also the latter pair of orange-peach-whatever outfits (which is interesting to me; with the first of those, they basically took promo shots in her dressing gown) was used for some of the promo photographs, something I find interesting; this black dress, anyway, is only seen this once, and only in one scene. It’s not as fancy or fine-looking as a lot of Inara outfits; it’s actually fairly casual. At least the orange and purple collections are often shot through with gold or shinies; this one has fringe and a floral detail, but it’s comparatively nondescript. Perhaps this was because the fancier outfits were more specific and therefore might have been harder for audiences to connect to? Perhaps this was just because the marketing was less than good. The second of these black outfits is interesting to me simply because it’s one of the Inara outfits I almost always forget unless I’m looking at a gallery or some such. It’s really just a maxi dress and a sweater, which is to say quite casual.
Let’s talk about jammies for a minute. Or I think the appropriate term is “loungewear,” maybe. And I clarify: I’m pretty sure the former of these outfits, here seen in 1×04, “Shindig,” isn’t actually a nightgown or anything. But it’s never seen out of the context of Inara’s shuttle; it’s not even taken in the rest of the ship. I’ve always assumed it was one of those outfits that you still like, but that you only wear when you’re alone and relaxing. Hence, “loungewear.” Color-wise, it’s sort of a combo breaker, since there’s really nothing else she wears that’s predominantly turquoise, but it’s got a lot of the same fabric elements as half of the rest of her wardrobe. The latter outfit, here seen in 1×04, “Shindig,” as well, actually is a nightgown and robe; the nightgown by itself is also seen in 1×14, “Objects in Space.” And it’s no mistake that the nightie is red; I’ll be talking about red in a minute. But it’s still fairly dainty. A lot of Inara’s clothes are very heavy, substantial fabrics, but this is light and airy and able to be moved in.
So, red. We’re out of the casual outfits now, into varying degrees of fancy; it’s also noteworthy, and fairly in keeping with real life, that the fancier outfits get worn fewer times. Red, especially this bright of a red, seems to be used in Inara’s wardrobe for the explicit purpose of impressing and also of providing cover: the former outfit here, matched with a gold cape for that extra touch of fancy, is used specifically for both of these purposes, and while you don’t see Inara up in her shuttle going “which of my dresses will most impress a small-town lawman?” it’s pretty obvious that that’s the intention. She strides into the station to rescue Mal (Nathan Fillion) and Zoe (Gina Torres) and the camera starts at her feet and pans up: everyone in that room, we soon realize, is looking at her. This attention is discussed, and it’s very intentional: while Inara is not an exhibitionist for exhibitionism’s sake, and doesn’t consciously use her “feminine wiles” on them she cares about, she’s not opposed to participating in schemes of the crew’s by using them on a completely surface level (because, uhm, you know, men like to talk when they’re happy, uhm) and she’s not opposed to being the center of attention for a moment so the rest of them can get off the hook. This red dress shows her power; this power in turn buys her respectability; this respectability allows her to make their scheme go easy. The latter red outfit is just about the same cut as two others I’ll discuss, but this one is worn while she accompanies Mal and others to a bar: she’s there to look pretty, is basically the point, but she’s all right with this. It’s also a form of subterfuge, though it’s less explicit than the first.
You can’t see the full-length of the latter outfit, of 1×14, “Objects in Space,” but it’s… basically exactly the same as the former, here seen in 1×11 “Trash” and also in 1×08, “Out of Gas,” and also as the above red one. As I said of the black version in my noir-Inara post, “This is an outfit that says ‘I am intentionally dressing in a fancy way to make a point, but not a snobby one, just one about how I am determined and in being determined am also determined to present myself grandly.’” The red version is worn to present at the bar; the black one, complete with veil, is worn to tour the ship and make business deals and also to get the drop on Saffron; the brown one is worn to discuss her getting off the ship with Mal, though in private.
Two outfits representing the more formal sides of the black outfit family and also more involvement of reds and golds, 1×10, “War Stories,” and 1×11, “Trash.” Though you can’t see it in this shot and though I don’t think I consciously realized it until I was looking through screencaps tonight, that first outfit seems to have a high-low hem, something that implies a level of casual or at least emotional comfort with Inara, despite also having completely gigantic sleeves, which implies a certain level of presentation. She’s entertaining a client, the Councillor, so it makes sense that she’s presenting; of course, she then goes and gives the speech about how “one cannot always be themselves in the company of men,” so the presentation would seem to be more for the audience’s sake than for the client. Also, she gives this speech when naked, which I find rather appropriate. Also, this dress has very distinct kimono-type elements to it. The second outfit here is probably the fanciest one that never leaves the ship, but she’s needing to talk business with Mal, and she wants to keep it business, so she has to dress as for business.
Formal-but-not-too warm color outfits. The first is circa 1×08, “Ariel,” and is only ever seen in the context of the ship, though it’s also what she’s wearing when she disembarks for her medical exam, which implies a certain level of presenting to society, but in a casual context because dressing up too much for a medical exam would likely be gauche. It’s the only one-shoulder outfit in the bunch, at least in terms of straps; the built-in armwarmer sleeves are shaped similarly to other outfits of hers. Then is the second, which is my all time favorite Inara outfit period. I adore everything about it. This one is worn in 1×12, “The Message,” while the crew is visiting a station; she’s presenting to the public, though not to any one specific person, so she needs to look the part. This is definitely the goldest of the outfits: she’s talking to Mal about fencing the Lassiter, which is a fancy topic, but she’s completely at ease with it. Also, this is one of the outfits that’s built sort of like a proper corset (I don’t recall the back of it, but it’s similar to a corset in the front).
These two dresses, from 1×04, “Shindig,” and 1×07, “Jaynestown,” don’t belong to similar color families, but they’re for similar occasions and cut similarly. (Also fancy like this is the outfit she wears in 1×13, “Heart of Gold,” to attend the theater with Mal; it’s not in this same cut category, though, so I couldn’t find a place to include it. It’s only seen for a few minutes, though.) The red dress from “The Train Job” is sort of like this category lite; it’s got a similar cut, but it’s not quite as detailed, and also it’s sleeveless. These dressed both include sleeves of the fluttery nature. The fabric is heavily embroidered. The skirts flare to intimate a proper ballgown, though the red and purple one is not for that purpose. These are also the two instances of proper updos, and the former is one of two instances (the other being with the “Train Job” red dress) of her wearing gloves. Interesting to note is that she’s wearing a bracelet over the gloves, the kind that I learned via Etsy was called a slave bracelet; that’s sort of what Atherton the douche would want of her, but nope. She’s gonna swordfight in her nightie instead. And then go dress up very high society lady and give a really useful speech to a young man.
Both red and gold dresses from Serenity, and it’s not as if there’s a terrible lot to say about either. Red and gold have been established as Inara’s colors, so why not stick with it? Also, I’m fully aware that the first red dress is only seen in about ten seconds of film, and really only from the back like is shown, but I think it’s nonetheless quintessential Inara.
Finally, golden warrior Inara of Serenity. These are the only instances of her wearing pants in the entire continuity, but wearing pants she most definitely is. The former outfit I feel compelled to bring up largely for the sake of my darling’s cosplay, because as per I helped put that together, I am more intimately familiar with every single detail of that outfit than anyone who didn’t work in the costume department of this movie has any right to be. It’s a bright color, because everyone else is in darker colors at this point and keeping Inara standing out is sort of standard; it’s functional (pants) and yet decorative (I’m still not sure what the exact purpose of the yellow part is except being pretty). Then comes Inara the warrior princess, and do I have the slightest idea why? Nope. But do I enjoy it? Sure of course! She’s not dressed to be The Main Most Important Fighter, and it’s lucky that the only injury she sustains seems to be a scratch on her cheek, but that bra is still leather or something. She’s in a place to take some names.
–your fangirl heroine.