Fashion As Tension In Dorothy’s New Friend

The “Dorothy’s New Friend” episode of season 3 is one of the most infamous of the series because it features a legitimate villain: Barbara Thorndyke! Yes, there are some other bad guys here and there throughout the series (The Cheeseman, anyone?), but Barbara Thorndyke for sure takes the cake (or the George Bernard Slaw, as the case may be). Yet, in true Golden Girls style, she’s there to help teach us all a lesson. On closer inspection the fashion also emphasizes the tension and themes of this episode, so let’s pop a Dramamine and ride the waves.

“Dorothy, the masquerade ball is Friday night. You know how much it means to me. I’m counting on you to be the rear end of my horse.” –Rose


Essentially, this episode is all about Dorothy developing her friendship with Barbara Thorndyke, but there are two minor plot points in the first scene that are referenced at the end of the episode. Sophia is making lasagna for a guy she has the hots for at the center, and Rose has a horse costume (that also somehow looks a lot like a cow) that she wants Dorothy to wear with her at the masquerade ball fundraiser. Dorothy is bemoaning how boring her life has become and mentions that she’s going to go to a lecture by local author of So Dark the Waves of Biscayne Bay, Barbara Thorndyke. The outfits and general color scheme here are all fairly muted and casual as the only tension that exists so far is Dorothy’s ambivalence about the masquerade ball. There are no bad guys yet. We even see Dorothy in a rare floral moment! Interestingly, yellow is kind of a trend throughout this episode, too.

“It might be a little tricky with plaid.” –Blanche

The dialogue and repartee in this episode is just so fantastic, and it’s this scene where the crux of the story starts to take shape. Dorothy introduced herself to Barbara after the lecture, and now she’s coming over to the house. The other conceit of this episode is that Blanche and Rose are not as smart as Barbara. Dorothy’s blouse is a great example of how she gets herself caught in the middle between her new and old friendships. The color combination couldn’t be more 80’s, but it’s the pinstripe pattern that really emphasizes the mood. I also like the white, off-set collar. It’s a nice change from the cowl neck style that we frequently see on Dorothy.

At the start of the scene, Blanche and Rose are having a conversation about a tabloid which contrasts with the “stimulating” conversation Dorothy says she’s found with Barbara. Once she arrives, we immediately get a sense of who she is when Blanche says, “Well, Barbara, Dorothy tells us you’re an author,” and she responds that she’s “just a writer. Malamud’s an author.” This leads to one of my all-time favorite Rose lines about the Mallomars! Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever actually had a Mallomar. Which is odd, considering how much I like to try different sweets. Apparently they’re a seasonal cookie and only sold September through March so the chocolate doesn’t melt. File that away for your Jeopardy trivia. Anyway, the look on Barbara’s face betrays her annoyance at Rose’s confusion as Dorothy corrects her with a signature withering glare.

Rose: “I thought Malamuds were chocolate cookies with marshmallow on them?”

Barbara’s also brought a copy of her latest novel, Scarlet Dawn at Boca Raton, with an inscription to her “new and fascinating friend.” I just love how the titles of her books are as pretentious as she is! As an audience we immediately get the set up that Barbara’s work is much more Danielle Steele than the airs she puts on. But this scene even has a fashion focus when Blanche asks Barbara about her brooch. The structure of her cobalt blazer contrasts with Rose and Blanche’s more casual outfits, giving the sense that she’s more sophisticated. Blanche, distracted from the beginning by the part about the dashing young Moroccan, comments that the brooch might be tricky with plaid after Barbara finishes her story. It’s a simple line, but it’s one of those Blanche-isms that just makes me laugh every time. Barbara is annoyed, of course, yet she also said the brooch was “the embodiment of her creativity.” I mean, I love a beautiful, versatile brooch as much as the next gal, but obviously this is why she’s no Malamud. I must confess, though, that I actually like this outfit of Barbara’s. Her hair is styled nicely, too. But as we’ll see in the next scenes, this is as good as it gets in terms of her fashion, not to mention her attitude.

“Is it too much to ask of my best friends that they respect my right to have different interests and people in my life?” –Dorothy

Blanche’s shirt in this scene is really fun. I love the color and pattern! It also looks like there’s a fun little sort of 3D appliqué piece on her left shoulder. I think this shirt goes well with her story about being dragged once to the experimental theater after Dorothy says she’s going there with Barbara instead of to the movies with her and Rose. She thought one of the naked actors looked familiar “but it was hard to tell since he had such a small part.” Don’t you just love a good sitcom double entendre?

Admittedly, I see Dorothy’s point here that she should be able to have her own interests and other friends, but she didn’t need to be so pissy about it. And she certainly could’ve picked a better person to give it a try with. Blanche calls Barbara “snooty,” and Dorothy pretty much flies off the handle. Dorothy’s gray jacket is interesting and kind of modern with its sketch style stripes and open neckline. It places her in contrast to Rose’s more old-fashioned lace collared sweater and highlights how she’s begun to prioritize her time with Barbara. This scene is also the source of the Mean Old Lady Hickenlooper story from St. Olaf and Rose’s retort that her first impression of Blanche was that she “wore too much makeup and were a slut.” I love Blanche’s reactions in both these instances. She really has some of the best facial expressions in this episode. 

“I know what a metaphor is, dear.” –Blanche

At the end of the previous scene Rose suggested inviting Barbara over for dinner to give her another chance, and this one opens with everyone coming in from the lanai. Barbara tells a literary joke that’s only funny to her and Dorothy, which reminds me a little of the dinner party scene in the “Dancing In the Dark” episode from season 5. Blanche and Rose are much more dressed up here to show that they still want to impress Barbara. I’m sort of on the fence about Rose’s dress, but I love what she’s done with the rhinestone brooch on the collar. Now that’s “very, very clever,” as Blanche says, and something I’ll have to try sometime! I think Blanche is also wearing the same silvery pantsuit set and necklace that she wore in season 2 on the “Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas” episode. The tension rises here, too, when Blanche gives Barbara some criticism about all the waves in her first book, and Barbara thinks she needs to explain what a metaphor is. Then Rose mentions playing Oogle and Floogle (“an adult version of hide and go seek”) when Barbara gets up to leave. Barbara’s complete lack of humor at everyone but herself is such a great contrast here and just makes you love Rose for always being herself no matter what.

So there aren’t a lot of times that we get to see Blanche and Rose team up against Dorothy, but the following scene in the kitchen is one of them. They’re sarcastically ignoring her while they all clean up after dinner. Dorothy’s put on a sort of smock over her blouse, but I think it’s funny that it doesn’t cover the collar. I like it, though! It almost makes for a separate outfit. Finally, Blanche and Rose air their grievances about Barbara and how she treats them as less intelligent. Blanche says Barbara “cares more about words than she does about people,” and Dorothy still can’t see that she’s right. She storms out when Rose tells her that she’s making a mistake with this new friendship.

“Face it, Dorothy. Blanche and Rose are limited.” –Barbara Thorndyke

Next, Dorothy and Barbara are having lunch at “the hangout for Miami’s literary intelligentsia,” which has to be the absolute most ridiculous–though memorable!– restaurant of all time with its menu full of puns like the The Crepes of Wrath and the Edgar Allen Poe-tatoes. The menus are even inside actual books! And of course the ice water cometh, to which Dorothy responds in her trademark way, “You know, a little of that goes a very long way.” I think this is one of the funniest scenes of the series and one that I reference all the time.

Barbara’s clownish ensemble stands out the most to me in this scene. Her blue blazer and yellow blouse with the goofy bow emphasizes her haughty, self-important attitude that we’ve all been rolling our eyes at by this point. In this scene Dorothy also describes the “great deal of tension” between her and the other Girls, and the windowpane pattern on Dorothy’s topper reflects this. At least Dorothy is honest here that Blanche and Rose are feeling left out of her friendship with Barbara, except Barbara responds by calling them “limited.” Ugh. She’s the worst! It makes you wonder if Dorothy has ever even read her silly books. I’m sure even Vixen: Story of a Woman is better written! Nevertheless, Barbara says maybe she overlooked something and invites Dorothy and the others to the Mortimer Club.

“Let me spell it out for you. Go to hell!” –Dorothy

And here we are at what is possibly one of the greatest sitcom episode endings ever! It’s certainly one of the most iconic moments on the series. I love how Barbara’s gown is also a shade of brown that represents what a crappy person she is. Blanche is wearing a particularly spangly blue dress, but it’s Sophia’s gold ensemble that I like best in this scene. I feel like we’ve seen it and Rose’s dress in other episodes, but so much has happened in this one that I can’t remember. Barbara calls Blanche “Madge” again when she arrives with her date, Norman, a student in her creative writing class. Yikes!

Finally, as if we didn’t know already that Barbara sucks, she reveals just how much when she tells Dorothy that the Mortimer Club is “restricted” because she assumes that Sophia’s date, Murray Guttman, is Jewish. Dorothy’s red sequin collar and sleeve accents really emphasize her final exchange with the loathsome Barbara Thorndyke.

Bravo, Dorothy! And finally she’s able to admit to Blanche and Rose that they were right. They’re very understanding because, well, we only have about five seconds left in the episode. Dorothy ends it by saying that she’d be “honored to be the horse’s behind” at the masquerade ball after all.

What makes this episode so great is that, even though we’re focused on the tension that Barbara brings to the Girls’ relationship, it’s also universal. We’ve all been there with making new friends and seeing how they fit with our existing ones. It can be tough! It reminds me of the old Girl Scout song: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other is gold.” Except sometimes we find out that the new one is tarnished, and we have to make the right choice like Dorothy did. I also like how this episode kind of puts Dorothy in her place a little. She’s usually the one with the smart comebacks, but in “Dorothy’s New Friend” we’re reminded of the reasons why the Girls are true friends.

Bonus content!

Fans of Maude may remember an episode called “Maude’s New Friend.” When I first started writing this post some time ago I realized that this episode was quite similar to “Dorothy’s New Friend.” Check out Matt Baume‘s very informative Culture Cruise video about the Maude episode:

Now, I can’t say for certain, but it seems pretty obvious to me that the writers had to have been playing off this episode. From the title to the plot and structure, the episodes are a lot alike. The focal points of Maude and Dorothy learning things about themselves in the process are also alike. Yes, different issues are tackled, but I don’t think you have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the similarities. I suggested this in a Golden Girls fan group on Facebook, and would you believe a guy blocked me for it?? Fandoms can be vicious, and this one is apparently no exception! Thankfully, I think those types of fans of the Girls are definitely the exception.

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12 thoughts on “Fashion As Tension In Dorothy’s New Friend

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  3. NovaNoa Mana

    The silver outfit Blanche is wearing is not a repeat outfit from season two. That silver had no pattern and was a different more brilliant shade of silver. The pantsuit shes wearing in the aforementioned episode is a toned down patterned silver.


    1. Ah ha! You’re right! I notice now that the previous one has a collar, too. Thanks for noticing that! It can be hard to tell sometimes, although I do try. I fixed the repeat comment as well. Thanks for reading! 🙂


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