I often think of Quistis's design as artfully mixed messages. Her reputed beauty is mentioned in several casual dialogues with non-player characters, but she is also overtly romantically rejected by the protagonist, and the formality in her demeanor is bound up with the almost fetish accents in her design: the spectacles; the severe up-do; the whip; the tight pink leather pencil skirt. You could interpret that as a heavy wink from the game character designer, Tetsuya Nomura, but I take it as a clue into Instructor Trepe's personality - namely, her fundamental indecisiveness.
The 'mix' of messages I referred to begins in what her outfit does and does not expose. She has much less visible skin than, say, Rinoa Heartilly, but those small selections of nudity are unusually placed, just small triangles at her throat, navel and underarms. Though her hair is pulled into a barrette, two impractically large face-framing chunks rest almost symmetrically on either cheekbone and, in any world with physical laws resembling our own, would totally get in the way of her glasses. Now, the game's protagonist runs around in a crop-top parka and an excess of belts, so really these choices are quite in line with the whole crew's fantastic aesthetic, but I take these to be telling characteristics. Half up, half down. Covered up, except in oddly vulnerable places. There is something indecisive but yearning in the core of Trepe's character; it finds expression in fashion.
Interestingly, perhaps the most crucial piece of evidence is something I wouldn't have guessed from a screenshot: though she wears a skirt, the brown polygons beneath it are not the high leather boots I would anticipate, given a basic understanding of women's fashion, but are instead a pair of brown pants that Nomura decided to slap on since he wanted to create a female character with a skirt, and apparently one was enough. Since that's just sartorially stupid, personally I pretend that I'm seeing boots, but let's assume that this is choice, not simply Nomura's, but a choice of the character he designed. Why would she do that? Typically we see all the characters in at least two outfits: casual clothes that also serve as fighting garb; and a second item, uniforms for the mercenaries, and a formal white slip of a dress for Rinoa Heartilly. Quistis's pink top and brown trousers would be sufficient as fighting gear in the sense of providing free movement and decent coverage - so a skirt, in addition, must be providing something further. Similarly, she could venture out in a skirt and boots - cough - so there must be some satisfying complication in the trousers underneath.
What I take from it is that it's not enough for Quistis to be simply functional, nor is she comfortable in traditional trappings of femininity, as the cut and color of the majority of her ensemble suggest. It's an insistence to be taken as a woman, and at the same time an unwillingness to be bared as such. Can't look up her skirt. Can barely touch her at all, unless you prod a collarbone, her belly button, or tickle an arm-pit -- all importantly vulnerable places on a body, but not conventionally sexual ones. To be honest, I suspect it looks as silly in the world of Final Fantasy VIII as it would in ours, as we encounter that sort of layering no where else; except both her coiffure and her glasses lend something nicely restrained and dignified to her mien. That it is an awkward choice fits well with the rest of her characterization.
Beyond the components of her ensemble, how she moves in it is likewise telling. It’s a stock gesture, but more frequently than others, Quistis rests and raises a hand over her heart. Funnily, the metaphor might carry opposing meanings. Either way it suggests something about the heart, often referenced as the source of emotions and vulnerabilities, but putting your hand between your heart and someone else might demonstrate protecting it as much as might mean expressing and exposing it. Though all the characters cross their arms at points, Quistis does so in almost all situations, often combined with a downward look; that’s less ambiguously protective as gestures go. Even her laughter is smothered under a delicate curl of her hand.
Her fighting stances are less defensive; when battle begins, she cracks her whip in challenge. In contrast to Squall’s about-face, clearly stating on to the next one, and in contrast to the cockiness and jubilation of Zell and Selphie, she meets victory by smoothing back her hair, stretching her shoulders. Whereas Squall’s maneuver seems to express that he is moving forward without being affected by the battle previous, Quistis removes markers of the last engagement even as she readies for the next one. She doubles over when struck, though they all do – but I do find it charmingly Scarlet O’Hara that in moments of extreme damage or ailment, she kneels with a hand cupped on her temple.
These are all, of course, interpretations. We move in the ways we do for many reasons, just as we dress in the ways we do for many reasons. Her SeeD uniform, for example, says nothing about her except that she is a SeeD, not even her motivation for being so. Plus, when costuming characters, there’s at least two nodes of communication: there’s what the character communicates to other characters through their costume; and there’s what the costumer communicates to the audience about the character through their costume. The traditional associations between pink and femininity that a costumer communicates to the audience of FF8 may not hold the same connotations in the world. But in the case of the character and of the character designer, we can recognize their choices as significant, trying to do something, even if we cannot always narrow the range of possibilities of what that something must be to one unique option. It’s hard for me to feel like the foregoing was stripped of any prior knowledge of Quistis’s character, so I am not really telling you what her gestures and her ensembles say alone. However, I hope I have shown a way that they may braid with the story I’ve been telling about who and what she is.