How Star Wars Has Influenced The Way We Dress
And why the force is strong with the style of the space saga – but that doesn’t mean you have to turn to the dark side
Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980. Photograph by Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox/akg-images
It happens in December, it only matters to some of us and yet it affects all of us. No, it’s not Christmas: it’s the release of the latest Star Wars movie. Rather than stick our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening, we’ve decided to pitch in our own two cents.
There are certain movies that are so often cited by fashion designers that they border on cliché (Il Gattopardo, The Great Gatsby, A Single Man), but it’s not often we find ourselves waiting for a catwalk show and hear a colleague quip, “Yeesh, look what the Wookiee dragged in.” That, frankly, is a shame, because Star Wars and fashion have had a curious symbiotic relationship over the years.
Take the costumes for the original 1977 movie, which were designed by Mr John Mollo. The influence of the era’s emerging Asian designers, such as Ms Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Issey Miyake, can clearly be seen in his work. Think of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s rough-spun robes, or Luke Skywalker’s white karate-style tunic.
It’s got us thinking: has Star Wars had a direct effect on the way we dress, or has it merely held a mirror up to the real world? If you ask us, we’d probably have to plump for the latter. It’s still worth pointing out the parallels, however, if only because they highlight the degree to which the Star Wars universe has managed to infiltrate the collective imagination over the years.
Luke Skywalker’s Tibetan monk style
Mr Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977. Photograph by LFI/Photoshot
Hidden within that famous opening line, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”, there’s a concise explanation of what makes the Star Wars universe so enchanting. It’s a paradoxical world that manages to convey a sense of both the past and the future, the familiar and the otherworldly. And costume plays a large part in this. Before Luke Skywalker learns the way of the Force and dons the robes of a Jedi knight, he is but a simple farm boy on the desert planet of Tatooine. In his loose belted robe he could pass for a Tibetan monk, but his accessories – a floating car, a sword made out of lasers dangling at his waist – remind you that he’s anything but. There’s a timelessness to the art direction of this movie that was somewhat lost in The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, both of which contain costumes that look like they’re straight out of the early 1980s. Unsurprisingly, then, over recent seasons, it’s Episode IV that you’re more likely to see playing an influence on the runway.
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Han Solo’s military look
Mr Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977. Photograph by Lucasfilm
With the greatest respect to Mr Harrison Ford, his character, the swashbuckling gunslinger Han Solo, is a bit of a cardboard cut-out. He’s basically Mr Douglas Fairbanks in space, Zorro with a laser blaster instead of a sword. There are a few elements to Solo’s lovable rogue that make him more than just a bland archetype, though, and one of those is his style. In Solo, we can see, perhaps, the clearest indication of Oscar-winning costume director Mr Mollo’s background as a specialist in military uniform. With its large flap pockets, his vest (which grew sleeves for Episode V) has echoes of a US army field jacket, while his trousers bear a distinctive “blood stripe” along the outside seam, a detail typically found on the dress uniform of the US Marine Corps. Worn with military boots (currently a trend) and an off-white, open-neck tunic (called a Custer shirt, it’s found in many Western clothing stores and subtly references the Wild West), it lends him the appearance of a space captain gone rogue. No wonder everyone wants to be Han Solo. Is there any cooler an image than that?
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The power of the dark side
Mr Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, 2005. Photograph by Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox/The Kobal Collection
If you’re watching Star Wars and you’ve (somehow) forgotten who the bad guys are, don’t worry, because the filmmakers have prepared a handy colour-coded guide. Green lightsaber? GOOD! Red lightsaber? BAD! It’s like a set of traffic lights. The same can be said of the outfits. Not sure whether a certain character is good, evil or somewhere in the middle? Just look at the colour of their clothes. Take Anakin Skywalker, who first showed up in Episode I wearing the same unthreatening colour palette of off-white, brown and beige that his son (spoiler alert!) Luke wore in Episode IV. By the time he was apprenticed to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode II, however, his wardrobe had taken a serious turn towards the dark side. His dark brown robes, black leather tabard and grumpy scowl acted as a timely reminder for anyone who might have forgotten that he was about to turn into (spoiler alert!) Darth Vader in Episode III. The Star Wars saga might not have invented the link between the colour black and evil, but it has certainly helped to propagate it. Oh, and if you’re interested in channelling the style of a Jedi knight on a one-way trip to the dark side – because we all know that bad guys wear the best clothes, right? – then fashion’s very own Sith Lord, Mr Rick Owens, is your man.
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Hoth’s utilitarian menswear
Mr Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980. Photograph by Lucasfilm
Released in 1980, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was a bigger, bolder movie than its predecessor, wrapped up in a far more contemporary aesthetic. Out went the drapey robes, rough wool tunics and earthy tones of A New Hope; in came synthetic fabrics, neutral colours and functional details. The costumes worn throughout the movie’s first act, which takes place on the frozen planet of Hoth, illustrate this perfectly, with Luke, Leia and Han girding themselves against the cold in Arctic parkas, quilted gilets and ski goggles. (Again, the costumes were designed by Mr Mollo and again, his military background shines through.) This sudden jump in style between Episodes IV and V makes a lot of sense when placed in its real-world context. The beginning of the 1980s was a watershed moment for fashion, with the Antwerp Six graduating from college and spreading a fresh, avant-garde sensibility throughout the industry, and minimalist designers Jil Sander and Calvin Klein coming to prominence. You can detect in the clean, utilitarian costumes of The Empire Strikes Back a clear indication of the direction in which things were headed.
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Channel Chewbacca with the shearling look
Mr Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980. Photograph by Lucasfilm
Described by Princess Leia as a “walking carpet”, the 8ft-tall Wookiee warrior Chewbacca might seem an unlikely fashion inspiration. But you wouldn’t necessarily have assumed he would play a central role in restoring freedom to the galaxy, either. Especially given his limited vocabulary (“GNAARRRR!”). The original outfit worn by Mr Peter Mayhew was painstakingly woven out of yak hair, but you needn’t go to such lengths in order to get the Wookiee look today – collections over the past few autumn/winter seasons have been wall to wall with shearling jackets. And, as winter is far from over, there’s still plenty of time to make the most of one. Utility belt and weird laser gun crossbow thing (seriously, what is that?) not included.