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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Dressing for the Apocalypse

Glasgow is currently experiencing one of those Grey Christmasses that are so often inexplicably ignored by song and story. Grey because the sun only rises for about two hours per day; grey because of the unrelenting sleet. Today, a trip to the shops was not unlike one of those Lord Of The Rings scenes where Frodo and Sam are trudging up Mount Doom. Or The Road:
As a further illustration of how much of a Feral Sweater Person one becomes in this climate, this is what I was wearing to go out on said shopping trip:
Caveat: I haven't actually seen The Road. However, I know what it looks like, and was reminded of this when I met up with my friend J the other day. I should mention at this point that J has been living in a forest for the last six months, although in the interests of fairness I should also mention that he kind of dresses like this anyway. It's awesome:

Yes, those are thermal longjohns underneath a pair of rolled-up jeans. And the tarpaulin-like oilskin jacket is belted shut with an Army Surplus belt that he'd found in a changing room. This is tip-top apocalypse dressing, people. He could easily be hanging out with Viggo & co. at a moment's notice:
So, I have a lot of thoughts about apocalypse dressing. There are so many dystopic/post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows that there are a myriad of different costuming directions for one to take. At one extreme we have The Road, very realistic in the sense that their clothes are picked purely for practicality and are a complete mess. At the other end we have movies like Mad Max, Tank Girl and Escape From New York in which everyone has suddenly developed an obsession with fetishwear. 
Black leather and rubber: perfect materials for the desert. Young man, where is your sunhat?
Thanks, 1980s-90s DYI street-style aesthetic! You have influenced the apocalypse-movie genre to such an extent that Burning Man is rife with ripoffs of it to this day.

The one thing that all post-apocalypse movies can agree on is that boots are important. Big boots. Shit-kickers, in fact. Boots that are suitable either for grim hikes across the bleak landscape of humanity's collapse, or for when the evil empress of the post-zombie sex club/motorcycle gang/escaped prisoner enclave kidnaps our dear hero and ties them to something while dancing around in leather and fake fur. Somewhere in the middle of this sliding scale we have the "artfully-distressed" look of films like Waterworld, where we are supposed to believe that the action takes place so far in the future that all stocks of supermarket-brand clothing have been used up and humanity is reduced to wearing beige off-cuts of stuff tied together with seaweed.
Some slightly higher-class"everything is tied together with string because it's the end of the world"-inspired styling from Gareth Pugh. Note the apoca-boots! Accompanying expression of dismal hopelessness: essential.
For some reason, nobody in Waterworld-esque movies ever bothers teaching themselves to weave. Which is odd, because the two types of people who are likely to survive an apocalypse are people with lots of practical skills and a willingness to adapt to trying circumstances (ie, the type of people who would teach themselves to fucking weave), and people who are utterly ruthless (ie, the type of people who would threaten someone else until they taught themselves to fucking weave). But does apocalyptic fiction need realism in order to succeed? No. No, it does not. In fact, the best dystopic/end-of-civilisation film I've ever seen -- Children Of Men -- relies upon a premise that is not only never properly explained, but is probably impossible in real life.

As I previously mentioned in my Fan's Introduction To Costume Design, sometimes accuracy is overrated.
The old favourite "bits of stuff tied to other stuff" aesthetic, so favoured by steampunks.
The other thing both types of post-apocalyptic film can agree on is that everything should be dirty and/or torn -- the difference being that for serious movies, things are torn where they'd be likely to tear in real life, whereas in things like Tank Girl you can be absolutely sure that the ripping will occur over the cleavage, Captain Kirk-style. Either that, or entire sleeves or trouser-legs will go missing. When you think about it, the dystopic future/apocalypse genre is a surprisingly egalitarian one when it comes to gendered costuming. In most media, "ridiculous, flesh-baring outfit that nobody in real life would dream of wearing" is restricted to the ladies, but the noble traditions of unfeasible movie dystopias dictate that everyone can, and should, dress like this. Case in point, Escape From New York:
Leather vest? Knee boots? Skin-tight non-camouflaging camouflage trousers? Tell me that isn't unisex. Not to mention Isaac Hayes:
In a way, Isaac Hayes' outfits aren't too unreasonable. What deranged dictator of an isolated and insular society doesn't love snazzy epaulettes? It's practically a requirement. Although Sol Kane's "biohazard tattoo + mohawk + horde of kilt-wearing Scottish cannibal punks" ensemble from Doomsday (one of the best movies ever, as you'll learn if you read its Hello, Tailor review) holds a special place in my heart, I do admit.

The Matrix runs the full gamut of silly post-apocalyptic fashions to best effect. In the real world, everyone is living in relative squalor, the population is tiny and constantly beset by difficulty, and everyone wears raggedly recycled (presumably) knitted jumpers while eating gruel and talking about the revolution. That's the "realistic" side, providing you don't think too hard about, well, anything. 
from here.
Then in the real world everyone gets to wear their preposterous goths-of-1999 cyber gear, all of which is inconceivably shiny, not to mention uncomfortable and a hindrance to any martial arts they might be required to do. But at least they have the excuse that they can wear literally anything they care to dream up, unlike the multitudes of other movie characters who mysteriously manage to source perfectly-fitted catsuits from... well, it's never entirely clear, much like the origin of Peter Parker's professional-grade Spidey Suit once he's graduated on from the "spider logo stencilled onto a red hoodie" stage.
As you may have deduced from the title, this is merely Part 1 of a series of apocalypse fashion posts. I realised about two movies in that I'm clearly not going to fit everything in here. Reduce the Mad Max trilogy to a mere one picture? A travesty! I've not even seen the third one yet, and that one has Tina Turner

To finish things off on the note with which they started, I turn to a dreary-looking film, set in Britain, that featured altogether too many sensible jackets and a colour palette evidently inspired by drizzle and mud.
Reign Of Fire. Heard of it? It stars Christian Bale, Matthew McConnaughey and Gerard Butler, and tells the tale of a world overrun by dragons. Dragons that hatched out of the London Underground. In terms of bad-moviehood, this is one of the most wasted premises of the last decade. Here you have three famous Hollywood beefcakes -- at least one-and-a-half of whom are good actors -- and you're making a movie where dragons hatch out of the London Underground and throw the world into chaos. The dragons are such a threat that they more or less destroy civilisation. American Matthew McConnaughey is practically hailed as the messiah when he shows up with guns and a helicopter at the tiny castle settlement (OF COURSE) where Gerard Butler and Christian Bale live. This selection of concepts adds up to what should have been a gloriously preposterous B-movie cult hit, but the filmmakers ruined it by trying to make it too serious. All the actors play it completely straight, as you can probably tell just by looking at these pictures. Everything is so gritty. Guys, gritty is for The Road. Gritty is for Children Of Men. Gritty is for films whose main plotline doesn't hinge upon dragons hatching out of the London Underground.
Reign of Fire's only concession to the ridiculousness it deserved was the fact that Matthew McConnaughey, because he was American, drove a tank while chewing on a cigar. I don't remember exactly, but I hope he lit the cigar off some dragon-fire at some point. If he didn't, then that was truly a wasted opportunity.

I'm not saying that Reign Of Fire is abysmal or anything, but it doesn't maintain the correct level of illogical glee required to make this type of movie truly entertaining. Once you've got dragons, why not just go the whole hog? The protagonists' main enemy breathes fire! That's like a GOLD-PLATED INVITATION FOR EVERYONE TO WEAR LEATHER CATSUITS! The one situation in which it's a good idea to wear something non-flammable (LEATHER CATSUITS), and they let it slide. Tragic. Tragic. Then all you have to do is throw in some dragon-worshipping cultists who all wear red leather catsuits and flame-helmets or something, and you've got yourself a proper post-apocalyptic dragon hunter movie.

Seriously. They should hire me to write this shit.


  1. I had to read the whole part about Reign of Fire out loud to my friend. They *should* pay you to write this shit.


  3. DUDE. See the third Mad Max movie as soon as you possibly can! Tina Turner is so awesome. I have one word - no, four words - for you. Chain. Mail. Cocktail. Dress.
    That is all.

    Adore post-apocalyptic whatever. Fun times. The Road was saaaaaaaaaad. Reign of Fire was insane, but there *was* that moment of storytelling wherein Star Wars is handed down via oral tradition. Wheeee!

    We need a picture of the guy from the first Mad Max who wore the chaps and had the cunningly placed bushy animal tail over his butt crack. Yiss.

  4. everything i have ever heard/seen about mad max 3 makes it look ~SO MAGICAL~. i've only ever seen Mad Max 2, tragically. I'LL GET ROUND TO IT. ;) hopefully tom hardy will make the 4th one as planned, but idk if that movie fell through or something!

    yesss, i remember the star wars moment too. if only the entire film had had that much humour and warmth! :)

  5. Fourth Mad Max, Tom Hardy, what, what??!!!!

  6. UH HUH. tom hardy signed up for 2 mad max sequels a while back, but he got booked for so many other movies they had to delay it, or something.

  7. Damn. Waaaaaaant.

  8. seconded :D
    also: more apocalyptic fiction ought to feature people teaching themselves to weave. Someone should write a book about it. And call it WAR LOOMS.

  9. DEFINITELY. DEFINITELY. ;aklsdjfasd in the recent dr who "war looms" was a 1930s newspaper headline and i legitemately was like, LOOMS? WHAT? HUH? for like an hour until i worked out that looms wasn't a noun.

  10. or DOOM LOOMS.

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