Futuristic Fashion In Film

IF there’s two things that I love, it’s fashion and film.

So I’m delighted to share this post with you from fashion writer Elizabeth Jones about futuristic fashion in film and how it can (and often does) influence how we dress. Massive shoulder pads anyone?! ;-)



By Elizabeth Jones

IT’S easy to look back and judge the fashion trends of the past.

Whether we find ourselves waxing nostalgic for the seersucker suits of Jay Gatsby’s roaring ’20s or shaking our heads in disbelief at the parachute pants of M.C. Hammer’s early ’90s. But one thing is for sure: no one knows what the future holds for popular fashion. Just consider the fact that wardrobe staples we take for granted today had yet to be conceived not that long ago. Jeggings, anyone? So, in a very real sense, the future of fashion is always upon us.

When we think of the distant future, though, we have to rely on filmmakers to give us a sense of what the dress codes of the future will be. Unfortunately for the fashion forward among us, the future often looks very, well, unfashionable.

If we’re to learn anything from Hollywood’s predictions it seems to be that a) no one is going to be very comfortable, b) fashion will become more decisive than ever when it comes to social structure and politics, and c) future trends will inevitably reappropriate trends of the past—for better and for worse.

According to Nick Leftley of Maxim, the worst conceived futuristic garment is the unitard, which is inexplicably pervasive in futuristic films made in the early ’80s. He cites The Running Man and Logan’s Run as two of the worst offenders.

Perhaps there is something about running characters that makes a costumer more likely to employ the unitard? In any case, no one looks good in one. “We’re not saying that this style isn’t definitely going to happen,” Leftley writes, referring specifically to Schwarzenegger’s lemon-coloured spandex, “we’re just saying that if we ever have to fight themed gladiators in public, we should at least be able to look slightly less stupid than this guy.”



Dystopian futuristic films are particularly infamous for their drab fashions. It makes some sense that if you want to portray a socially fractured and politically unstable world, then the people probably shouldn’t be wearing clothes that express individual happiness and prosperity. It’s also true that one common feature of many dystopian films is that of citizens being under the thumb of a totalitarian governing body.

We see this in countless films, with The Hunger Games trilogy and Divergent being two of the more recent and popular examples of dire future fictions. In The Hunger Games, members of the Capitol (the ruling class) wear garishly colourful and complex outfits, while all the other districts must stick to drab grays and browns.

It doesn’t matter that the folks in the Capitol look absurd and as if they’d wandered out of a Flock of Seagulls music video. What matters is that the colour and complexity of one’s clothing communicates one’s place in society. In Divergent, the colour one wears determines which faction of society a person belongs to.

But even films that envision a somewhat-happy future seem to force their characters to don unflattering duds. Take, for example, Spike Jonze’s Her. It’s like the costume designer was trying to come up with the most unflattering outfits possible. All the men wear highwater pants of itchy-looking material. And don’t even get me started on all those pastels!

So are there any films in which the future looks good for fashion?

Well, it seems those future fashions that directly reference styles of the past are the most acceptable to the modern eye.

The trench coat Harrison Ford dons in Blade Runner is reminiscent of a 1940s detective, which makes sense considering the film borrows heavily from the tropes of film noir. Serenity, of Joss Weedon’s Firefly franchise, reaches way back to the old Western style of dress, giving the characters a rugged, self-reliant look that complements their witty repartee.

Plus, there’s just something about cowboys in space that makes sense. Even Total Recall (the original) goes for a kind of preppy-chic look, a la 1960s suburbia. GQ describes the characters as “Neuromancing cyber-yuppies.” No one is suggesting that Schwarzenegger looks good in chinos and an oversized button-down shirt, but at least he looks normal. Well, as normal as the Governator can look in such a get-up.

Back to the Future II makes the fairly benign assertion that we’ll never be rid of the loud and impractical trends of the ’80s. And as it turns out, Robert Zemeckis’s vision wasn’t even that far from reality. The ’80s seem to be coming back in recent years. If you don’t believe it, just check out Taylor Swift’s new music video “Shake It Off,” which packs as much of the decade’s teased-out hair, bright colours and acid wash jeans as possible into four minutes. Style.com takes issue with the video’s total lack of such staples as crimps, side ponytails, and scrunchies, but you’ve got to give Swift some props for paying homage to the ’80s when she herself was barely born within the decade.

So maybe the future depicted in Back to the Future II wasn’t so far off. If so, according to James King of Picturebox Films, we’re getting there in just the knick of time, as the movie is supposedly set in 2015. Oh, and if you’re still skeptical, consider this fun fact: those self-tying trainers that Marty wears are now rumoured to be in production at Nike!

But if the thought of living in Back to the Future II scares you, just take another look at Joaquin Phoenix’s high-waisted wool britches and count your lucky stars that at least that look hasn’t caught on…yet!


What do you think?! Do you love futuristic fashion? Can you think of any looks that are inspired by futuristic films? 

With love (and pouts)




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