Cloaked and Clothed: Sam Winchester and Clothing in Seasons 1 to 3

I found this article on Tumblr and is a couple of years old from August 19th 2014 and posted by  lookatthesefreakinghipsters. Its very interesting understanding where Sam felt he fitted in and that his style of clothing depicted the mood that he was in at the time, and discussing about different classes and how he saw himself.

I would like to know your views on what you think Sam  wears and his style over the last 11 years. How much his style has changed. How his colour in clothing has changed. What shirts he’s ditched, has he become more plaid or plain in shirt choice?


Clothing in Supernatural is often used to commentate on either the characters or on their state of mind.  In Sam, however, we have an interesting intersection of both these trends.  Sam uses clothing, not to reveal himself, but to cloak himself, to disguise his true nature and tendencies and project a certain image of himself, particularly in the earliest seasons.  But in that disguise, he reveals himself.  From his first episode, Sam uses clothing to create his persona, to refine, and to define the character he’s playing or, rather, the person he believes he is.

Sam starts season one dressed as a student.  When the audience is first introduced to him, he looks incredibly, prototypically student-y.  In the pilot, he wears graphic t-shirts (x), including one which appears to be a school shirt or in that style (x).  Between Sam’s slightly oversized zip-up hoodie here (x) and the graphic tees, Sam’s wardrobe almost screams his status as a student.  Though Sam’s fractious relationship with his family, and particularly with his father, is elaborated on at length through the next several seasons, it is made abundantly clear, even in the first episode, that he left the life his father raised him in and his family behind to go to school.  They establish his character, even in the very first episode, as seeking to achieve something other than what his father wanted for him and is immediately set in contrast and in opposition to John.  And if John represents hunting, a lack of formal education, living like a warrior or a soldier, then the opposite would be a university education, an upwardly mobile existence (see Wright’s essay for commentary on Sam’s positioning within class systems here), and a normal and safe life.  So his clothes set him apart from John, and from Dean, who patterned himself on his father, especially in his appearance.

Throughout the first season, though he is committed in his pursuit of Azazel, he doesn’t fully shed his student skin, because his goal is to find and kill the demon, not to be a hunter.  A polo shirt in “Hookman” (x), a non-plaid button-up over a t-shirt in “Asylum” (x), a graphic tee and a zip-up hoodie in “Bloody Mary” (x), a casual sweater in “Dead in the Water” (x), a short-sleeved shirt over a long-sleeved shirt in “Scarecrow” (x), and finally, the whippet shirt in “Scarecrow” (x).   On one level, Sam is still clinging to the idea that he can return to that world and go back to normalcy through his clothing.  That resistance to rejoining the world of hunting, to rejoining the world John made him live in, is probably symbolized best by his clothing in “Scarecrow.”  He starts the episode wearing his whippet shirt, a vibrantly purple graphic t-shirt that can only truly be described as the antithesis of John’s clothing (x).  He questions and rejects his father’s orders and fights with Dean over it, leaving him.  After splitting with Dean, he meets Meg on the side of the road.  With his satchel, his duffel and his backpack, he looks all the world like a university student on a cross-country trip (x).  With Meg’s earbuds, artfully distressed top and fitted jacket, she looks all the world like the student the real Meg Masters once was (x).  Yet both are playing a role, Sam as a young and normal adventure-seeker (not someone who has hunted monsters and ghosts since his youth) and Meg as a free-spirited young woman trying to escape her overbearing family (not a demon trying to get intelligence on Sam “Special Kid” Winchester).  By paralleling Sam with Meg, who has so deliberately constructed a persona, from her behaviour to her attitude to her clothing, specifically designed to project an image that would appeal to Sam, it becomes clear that Sam also uses clothing to construct the persona he wants to project.  That he wants to be.  Meg’s line becomes incredibly ironic, “Here’s to us. The food might be bad, and the beds might be hard. But at least we’re living our own lives. And nobody else’s” (x), as neither of them are living the lives they appear to be living.  By the end of the episode, Sam returns to Dean, recommitted to the life on the road with his brother, even if it’s only implied.  By then, he’s still wearing clothes that are more reminiscent of a student than a hunter, but less ostentatiously so.  No graphic tees, no polos, no hoodies, just some simple layering and a beige jacket (x).  It’s more hunter-like than some of his previous outfits, indicating that Sam is starting to embrace the life of hunting, starting to loosen his grip on his student persona and starting to project an image of a hunter.

By season two, graphic tees have almost entirely left his wardrobe and polos make fewer appearances, only to be replaced with button-up shirts, not necessarily always plaid, but more frequently than in season one.  Comparing the season two and season one entries from hells-half-acre’s series (from the spectacular “If Clothes Could Talk” series, http://hells-half-acre.livejournal.com/105589.html , which has a very impressively comprehensive breakdown of clothing worn by episodes), it is clear that the student staples of Sam’s are disappearing, replaced by more hunter-esque style of clothing.  It’s in season two that Sam makes some…particularly interesting sartorial choices (see this on “Sam’s Weird Red Shirt” by hells-half-acre).  Sam is trying to find his identity in this season.  Is he a hunter?  Is he a normal person?  Is he a ticking time bomb?  Is he a good person or will he go dark side?  Is he a freak?  And his style choices reflect that.  He is trying to figure out what persona to project, leading to some of his stranger clothing choices, including the “Weird Red Shirt,” this ghastly denim monstrosity (x) and to the wide variety of shirts he wears.  From these very standard button-ups (x, x) to a variety of plaid shirts (x, x, x), to sweaters and comfortable clothes (x).  In this season, his identity is shifting and he struggles to get a hold of it and understand what is happening to him.  One thing is certain though, he’s not demonstrating that he’s a student.  His presentation of himself is conflicted and confused, just as his understanding of himself is in that season, but the way in which those typical student identifiers are no longer the staples of his wardrobe show that he is no longer trying to present himself as a student.  That he has abandoned, for the most part, his aspirations to leave hunting and has somewhat started to embrace a hunter’s lifestyle is evident through his clothing.

In season three, Sam is consumed with the goal to save his brother from Hell.  With Azazel dead, that is the mission that becomes his overwhelming drive.  He is fully committed to this mission and it becomes his life.  By this point, it is clear, through his clothing choices, that Sam has completely stopped identifying as a student.  In fact, the student styled clothing that he wears are re-used from the previous season and none of his new clothes are graphic tees or polos shirts (http://hells-half-acre.livejournal.com/137926.html).  In this season, he wears a very standard uniform of a t-shirt, a button-down overshirt and a jacket.  From instance, in the first episode of the season, he wears this plaid shirt (x), which is interesting, because it conforms with what might be considered the typical hunter clothing style.  Where I would say that the story of Sam’s clothing in season one is of his subconscious craving to return to a normal life and to place himself in opposition to his father and his clothing in the second season as a struggle for self-identity; season three becomes the point where Sam seems to have embraced the lifestyle of a hunter.  While he was obsessed over killing Azazel in revenge, the efforts needed to try to save Dean in season three lead him further into the desperate monomania that is pretty much the standard for most hunters (Garth, of course, excepted).

In that first episode of season three, he wears a light green jacket with a plaid shirt (x).  The jacket is identified as a replica of one by Guess (http://hells-half-acre.livejournal.com/152821.html), which is interesting because this jacket feels very military-inspired.  In season 8, Amelia tells Sam that it looks like he gets all of his clothes from army surplus, yet in the early seasons, Sam’s clothing is often from decently expensive brands (hells-half-acre).  It has been discussed many times that where Dean represents the downwardly mobile and the lower socio-economic classes and is conflated with being representative of a blue collar background, in comparison Sam represents upward mobility and higher class aspirations (Wright, http://www.genders.org/g47/g47_wright.html , and http://laespada.livejournal.com/1127.html , and http://defilerwyrm.tumblr.com/post/42402902569/there-must-be-some-kind-of-way-out-of-here-does-dean).  As noted in laespada’s fantastic meta series on the underclass, “In general, clothes are one of the biggest informal ways that Americans distinguish classes from each other. Of course, this  is pretty much an international practice, but you have to remember that for a society that likes to paint itself as classless, we still do have ways in which we set apart classes. Among them is judgement based on clothing…” (http://laespada.livejournal.com/2701.html).  Sam’s use of student staple clothing in the first season is his greatest indicator of his desire to lead an upwardly mobile life.  He nearly completed a degree from a top university in a highly competitive program and was on his way to post-graduate work.  The way in which he clothes himself in the first season indicates that he is trying to fit into the educated and higher socio-economic class and clings to that throughout the season.  Interestingly though, as noted in laespada’s meta, she points out that Sam wearing a Carhartt jacket would have stuck out like a sore thumb at Stanford.  From an Urban Dictionary definition of Carhartt, “A producer of clothing directed towards the blue-collar working class individual. Often constructed of heavy-weight cotton fibers in neutral colors, the garments are designed to withstand the toughest of conditions. In America, the brand has established a status symbol of a hard-working individual, while in other countries it has related more to the urban/skate crowd. Carhartts can also be seen on the “modern hippy” as well as the preppy male, although generally in an attempt to mimic the tough, no-nonsense working image.“ (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=carhartt).  Given that it is a hoodie jacket, it would blend into the urban landscape of Stanford better than some of their other clothing (http://hells-half-acre.livejournal.com/121310.html).  It is worn, by Sam, in “Skin” (x), an episode where he admits, “You know, the truth is, even at Stanford, deep down, I never really fit in” (x).

Where Sam dressed as a student in the first season, he still had tendencies towards dressing like a hunter, like someone in the underclass, indicating that he never quite committed to the uniform that was expected of someone in that university environment.  He never quite “fit in.”  As such, it demonstrates that how his clothing is a performative act of identity.  He wanted, desperately, to fit in at Stanford and to be of that class, yet didn’t quite manage to get there, his Carhartt betraying his underclass roots.  In the first season, he still feels like he should want to go back to that, which is why he presents himself in the guise of a student and because he wants to differentiate himself from his brother and his father and their lives, which he rejected in favour of aspiring towards upward class mobility.  However, by season three, he has, perhaps not embraced, accepted that the life of a hunter is the one he will be living, and his clothes reflect that.  In episode 3×01, as noted earlier, he wears the typical hunter clothing.  He wears prototypically hunter-style clothing in 3×04 (x), 3×05 (x), 3×07 (x), 3×08 (x), 3×09 (x), 3×11 (x), 3×14 (x),and in 3×16 (x).  In the remaining episodes of season 3, the clothes he wears are similar.  There are no whippet shirts here, only clothes that, for the most part, fall in line with the expectations of a hunter, indicating that he is now fully trying to present himself as a hunter.  In 3×10, he wears this (x) when he sits at a bar and drinks whisky, something Dean notes as out-of-character for Sam, but in-character for him.  Sam, in his clothing and his actions, is emulating his brother, trying to become the hunter he feels he needs to be in order to try to save him.

But to a certain extent, that presentation is performative as well.  Sam doesn’t quite break away from his presentation of someone with upwardly mobile class aspirations completely.  Where Dean, Bobby, and John favour their overshirts to have the buttons undone (x, x, x), Sam always does his buttons up.  Having button-down shirts with buttons undone would never fly in a white-collar working environment, yet many of the shirts Sam wears could potentially be worn in a white-collar environment, if worn in the appropriate way.  Sam wears his buttoned-up, indicating that he is a little more formal and that he hasn’t completely left behind what he learned at Standford.  Dean, by comparison, would never fit in at a white-collar working environment, his clothing, including his unbuttoned shirts, too strong an indicator of his blue-collar roots.  As well, as laespada notes, Sam is only Winchester who wears runners, which are less practical than Dean and John’s footwear (heavy work boots) (http://laespada.livejournal.com/2701.html), which he continues to wear all the way up to season three’s “Bad Day At Black Rock” (“I lost my shoe” x).  Even in season three, with his presumed embracing of the hunter life, his clothes don’t quite match up.

Conclusion:

In the end, Sam’s story and use of clothing as a form of self-identity between seasons one and three are profoundly sad and conflicted.  He tries to portray himself as the student he craved being, not necessarily because he wants to return to the normal life he once aspired to, but because he feels like he should and because he wants to distinguish himself from his brother and father and the life that he once tried to leave.  In season two, he is torn between identities, adrift and uncertain of himself, and it is reflected in his clothes.  He still sometimes dresses as a student, but other times like a hunter, and still other times in various oddities, trying to not only figure out what he is, but how to present it.  What he winds up presenting, instead of a cohesive whole, is a confused mess.  In the third season, he has embraced the clothing and persona of a hunter, to try to save his brother.  Yet that presentation of identity is also performative, because it is undercut by several things that indicate that he doesn’t actually feel that he belongs within the hunter community.

Sam’s identity, in the first three seasons, is typified by confusion and disorder, yet he uses clothes to attempt to demonstrate who he is.  As an exercise in self-expression, it is a failure, because the persona he attempts to present is often at war with his interior life.

Author’s Notes: This goes out the awesome subjecttochange8, who is an amazing person and full of kindness and enthusiasm, and with whom I have flailed with endlessly about the clothing in Supernatual.  I promised her meta on Sam and his clothing like two years ago and she has been so patient and encouraging, thank you, my dear!  ❤


Written and Published By: Bella

Citing Source: Posted by lookatthesefreakinghipsters

Photographs: Courtesy of ‘The CW’


 

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2 thoughts on “Cloaked and Clothed: Sam Winchester and Clothing in Seasons 1 to 3

  1. Clothing often reflects the inner workings of a person, or functions as a costume to either hide the true self or project an image that may or may not be false. This is an interesting point of view on Sam. Dean on the other hand, is constant with the red shirt more visible in season 10 as Deanmon, although that shirt has been in the series much earlier. Dean dropped the leather jacket that he inherited from John- Was this a growth in the character to be his own man or just a request from Jensen as the wardrobe was getting in his way. He also drops the amulet and the ring as a character statement but this is from a request again from JA as the jewelry was interfering with the action scenes and indeed his toot got chipped from the amulet. Dean remains covered in 3 layers in most of the outdoor scenes while Sam’s layers are less obvious. This could also be that the actor, Jared, is constantly feeling hot and requires less layers to insulate himself in the Canada winter.
    The past few years have shown each character in bed with a woman. Dean’s chest is often displayed. Sam is often under the sheets or his chest is partially exposed or draped conveniently in a sheet(Amelia). Sometimes, as in “Baby” Sam is not visible at all.(Jared did a voice over for that scene and was not even present for the shoot). So what or who makes the wardrobe choices for each episode? In any case, the expense account must be the lowest item in the budget, but it all works so well into the characters.
    Have you noticed that the sleeping attire for the brothers changes as bit over time as well? Most often they remain partially dressed when they are on the road in bed for those precious 4 hours of sleep. They must be ready to spring into action and cannot waste time to dress and primp.
    When they are in the bunker, feeling relatively safe, Sam sleeps in exercise-jogging sweats and a v neck tee-usually dark and goes bare foot down those long, cold hallways. Dean keeps on his dark boxer shorts and covers up with the “old MOL dead guy robe” and slippers. This could represent Dean’s desire to be upwardly mobile, king of the castle attitude. Sam is himself- stripped down to dark neutrals. Sam is up early while Dean appears to try to catch a few extra zz’s in the safety of the bunker.
    Of course, the choice of clothing is always part of the character’s true self. The wardrobe department works with the director to make these choices, but sometimes the actors do give their input. Actors create back stories for their characters which include clothing choices to augment the reality of the inhabited character. The clothing used to represent themselves as federal agents, newspaper reporters, assistants to professors and child psychologists is interesting. What would Sam and Dean be dressing in if they were not hunters?
    Fandom does pay attention to the details as do the show runner and the director. Of course, fans may overlay he choices with speculation and a bit of arm chair psychology. What ever choices are made for the Winchesters, they are working.
    Now, Cas is the easiest wardrobe to dissect! No doubt that the Winchesters have many layers as life like characters which at times are more naked to the viewer than others in representing their true selves.

    Liked by 1 person

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