Deconstructing Dystopian Dressing
It’s hard to avoid the internet, but when you need a break, may I prescribe dystopia?
In high school, I got a mockingjay tattooed on my ankle, a permanent reminder of the book and film franchise The Hunger Games. A fact I usually keep to myself, however, like any piece of great dystopian fiction, the series offered me an escape from the trials of teenagedom and technology. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes recently hit theaters and takes place during the 10th annual Hunger Games. Donald Sutherland’s character “President Snow” is 18-years-old and played by a bleached blonde Tom Blyth. Dystopian work at large asks a creative (and existential) conundrum: what does the future look like? The genre bends the past with the present to support imaginative ideas for the future. Dystopian fashion, in particular, has developed its own rulebook, combining aspects of uniformity, history, and originality to create brave new worlds.
Uniforms can be both equalizing and restrictive. In The Hunger Games prequel, the Capital City school uniform pops in “academy rouge.” Worn with a pale teal mandarin collared shirt, a color combo that brings to mind Raf Simons designs at Calvin Klein. Scholastic sophistication mixes seamlessly with tailored androgyny - a pleated sideless skirt placed over a pair of slacks. Formality is a dystopian bullet point and feuds with our current climate of sweatpants and athleisure. Balenciaga is selling a wrapped towel skirt for $925. Meanwhile, we have Ethan Hawke’s “Vincent Freeman'' and his peers in the not-so-distant future exclusively in dark suits and ties. An everyday possibility shown in the 1997 film Gattaca. The clean cut simplicity offers a palette cleanser of neutrality.
Uniforms remain a function of occupation in dystopian society, but are styled with artistic liberties. The Hunger Games peacekeeper uniforms in the prequel close with one singular Capital issued button. The shades of gray melt the soldiers into a late 90's Helmut Lang looking unit. In the original trilogy, the peacekeeper uniforms pay homage to the Star Wars Storm Trooper — heavily armored and glaringly obvious.
In dystopian society, the job market can span from standard to oppressive. Unified under “his” eye are the red shapeless sacks from the 2017 Hulu series A Handmaid's Tale. Styled with stiff bonnets to shield the women’s faces, similar to the initial purpose of veils in a wedding ceremony, these are mechanisms designed to hide a woman’s appearance before her pursuer had a chance to see.
Drawing inspiration from silhouettes and significance, historical references are used in dystopian narratives as strategic familiarity. The capital citizens throughout the entire Hunger Games franchise have pale powdered faces and fanciful bright taffeta ruching. One could imagine them painted into the background of the 1775 masterpiece of Jean Baptiste’s Marie Antionette salon performance. It draws attention to the frivolity of the Capitol as reflected by Antionette and her cohort. Dandism, a breed of men with the gift of gab and ostentatious sensibilities, can be found darkly referenced in A Clockwork Orange.
The leading men sport large beige codpieces and top hats. Only for a brief flash in history, the codpiece was the height of false modesty (and worn to protect from syphilis) which ties to the havoc wreaking activities of Malcolm McDowell’s “Alex.” Hunter Schafer’s underrepresented Hunger Games character of “Snow’s” cousin “Tigris'' steals every scene stylistically. While accompanying “Snow” to the capitol, she sports a shoulder-padded baby pink satin suit jacket and below-the-knee pencil skirt. A late 1940’s Dior new look inspired silhouette previously employed by dystopian diva “Rachel,” a replicant (non-human) love interest to Harrison Ford’s “Rick Deckard '' in 1982’s Blade Runner.
While there is balance between formality and reference, dystopian fashion finds its trademark with the ability to create one-of-a-kind individuality. Rachel Zeigler’s “Lucy Gray Baird” the “song bird” to the “snake” in The Hunger Games prequel is strapped into a leather floral corset with a zig-zagged multi-colored tulle skirt. She stands out amongst the other tributes with Rodarte-level whimsy. Catching Fire utilizes a runaway level reveal as Jennifer Lawerence’s “Katniss” twirls, ignites in flames, and her bridal gown transforms into a rebel symbol.
Keanu Reeves’s “Neo” and Carrie-Anne Moss’s “Trinity” made black trench coats a cult classic in The Matrix. Old news today, but upon its origination in 1999 it offered cutting edge, world building, immersion. The film still serves as a heavily referenced fashion trend that appears to reincarnate itself every few seasons. Set in the 41st century, Barberella struts in metal, mylar, and chunky fur. Paco Rabanne, known for his work with chains, incorporated his signature in creating Jane Fonda’s eclectic character, and with a french manicure to top it off. In similar fashion, a futuristic form of a bandage dress is presented in the Fifth Element. Mila Jovanovich’s “LeeLoo’s” look, along with all costumes in the film are Jean-Paul Gaultier creations. He decks the McDonald’s drive-through workers out with a golden arches sweetheart neckline corset.
The revival of The Hunger Games series in adulthood offered me the same amount of support it had in my more formative years. As dystopian literature and film showcases different forms the future can take, our present day landscape of hyperconnectivity can show us hauntingly the same. The constant content feeds forever refreshing with endless opportunities of betterment just a click, a purchase, a DM away! It’s hard to avoid the internet, but when you need a break, may I prescribe dystopia? It's a land filled with stimulating style and page turning cliffhangers. Whether you find yourself in Panem or in a galaxy far, far, away, please silence your phones.