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Dressing for dystopia


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Let's consider the costumes of Hunger Games, Shadowhunters, Delirium, Divergent, and the rest of ya dystopias -- what do they indicate symbolically and about our culture?

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Dressing for dystopia

  1. 1. Dressing for Dystopia
  3. 3. Life in the Bubble • Cassia’s three dresses and oh-so- significant bubbles reflect her growth through the trilogy along with the three colors of pills she carries. • She lives “in a bubble,” as shown through many aspects of her life. She’s a girl who sits on the edge of the pool, hesitant to dive in. • Green, blue and white are the colors of the innocent hero or heroine— blue is the peacefulness of sea and sky. Green is spring, life, and renewal. • In her world, everyone wears black and brown. By contrast, Ky’s eyes look like green and grey and blue—a multitude of colors in Cassia’s colorless life. And that’s what she’s seeking—brightness, color and growth.
  4. 4. Split Picture • Cassia’s green dress of course is the one from her Matching ceremony, back when she follows every rule. She seems constrained by her bubble, like society and its endless control, but she isn’t breaking out of it yet. • “Green eyes on a green girl,” her grandfather says, hinting at her innocence, the other meaning of “green” (Matched 119). • Green is the calming pill of the Matched world, a pacifying drug Cassia’s rebellious grandfather suggests she refuse to use. • Green can represent youth and newness along with the growing things Cassia loves. Ky comments that he sees her in green every day in the wilderness where she feels alive. She breaks open her green gown scrap to give him. • Later a young artist chooses the same dress and creates her world’s first art piece. She’s like another young Cassia, beautifying the world. Green for New Life
  5. 5. Breaking into Action • Cassia’s favorite color changes from green to blue out in the wilderness, as she clutches the blue pills that could take her to Ky. Blue as she thinks, is the color of action, not obeying society by calming or forgetting. Long ago, she gathered her courage and finally leapt into the “warm blue pool” (Reached 134). • However, blue can be deadly in pill form. Cassia’s mission as a villager, the hidden tubes out in the wilderness, her quest for Ky—none are what she had suspected. But she’s breaking from her bubble at last. • The canyon she travels through is made of “red, blue, and very little green—” action and adulthood but not innocence (Crossed 100). • Of course, blue is more than nature. The villagers trace blue lines like rivers on their skin to show interconnectedness. • Many ancient gods in India, Egypt, and more were blue to demonstrate their heavenly sky power. • Indie says she would’ve chosen a blue dress for her own Matching banquet. She’s an adventurous child of the rivers and oceans.
  6. 6. Powerful Red This picture shows a more mature woman rising from the shattered glass at last. Cassia’s red gown symbolizes the romance of adulthood, as she buys the dress for Ky. She no longer wants childish obedient green but defiant powerful red. She also takes the red pill at last. Red is the color of the plague, with its blood and immunity marks, but also the color of rebellion and rebirth. The plague, though terrible, s the path to rebellion and a better society in the future. Cassia gives Ky a red wildflower and calls it “the color of beginning.” (Reached 288). It’s also the color of her red garden day, when she took responsibility for her own destiny, a path that leads her to the woman she becomes.
  7. 7. “The sky is now streaked with long filaments of orange and red, like the tendrils of a massive jellyfish” Lena notes on the eve of revolution (Requiem 328). This often comes at the climax or midway point. Mechanical Flower The Red of Conflict, Passion and Standing Out
  8. 8. In the comic of Uglies, even Shay designs a lovely gown for herself. “Getting dressed was always the hardest part of the afternoon,” the book Pretties begins as Tally mindless gropes for semi-formal partywear. Prettying up for Comics
  9. 9. Kiera Cass’s The Selection (2012) is a dystopian Cinderella retelling. It begins with a beauty contest like The Bachelor, as many young women compete for the handsome prince. Among these young women, America Singer alone yells at the prince and rejects him. She’s the only lower-class girl, the only one who doesn’t want to marry him. He’s captivated.
  10. 10. Of course, the heroine protests that she doesn’t want to dress up. Lena confesses, “I don’t like makeup, have never been interested in clothes or lip gloss” (Delirium 15). Offered a universe of pretty clothes, Tally attends a Pretties dance in her old brown sweater from the forest. Katniss sees the beauty treatments as something to endure. “If Katniss sought to be the center of attention, if she chose to string along two handsome young men more than willing to give their lives for hers, if she wanted to have her every movement photographed and admired, if she dreamed of leading the revolution, if she longed to compete and to win – if she had any ambition at all – she would be a bad girl by such a standard.” (Miller) She must prove her goodness by not really wanting them. Resisting Greed, Resisting Beauty
  11. 11. Her second movie gown is more expensive but still simple for the beginning of her second journey. Blue is a calm color of the infinite sea and sky, suggesting an untested heroine who hasn’t begun her journey. The placid Virgin Mary wears blue in art. Long ago, it was a royal color for its expense, but now we associate it more with business suits, like the blue clothing of the Erudite Faction or everyday jeans, like the people of Amity. It’s a pleasant, calm color, the “green and brown and blue” of Cassia’s hometown (289). Julian’s childhood room is decorated in green, blue, and white, and those are the colors of Portland for Lena (66). Baby Blue
  12. 12. From dull beginnings… Other heroines wear the dull colors of poverty or of a journey not yet begun. Before her pretty green Matching dress, Cassia wore lots of brown. Brown symbolizes the earth, humility, and degradation. Grey suggests dullness, gloom, an unformed state, or uncertainty. Dystopian heroines are often unable to get pretty gowns. In the Smoke, Tally buys a brown sweater, homemade and real, unlike her Pretty clothes. Lena loves grey, the “moment when the whole sky goes this pale nothing color…it reminds me of waiting for something good to happen” (Delirium 35). That’s the untried heroine.
  13. 13. …To dazzling Mechanical Flower Snapshots
  14. 14. The wedding dress has lots of Capitol style. “The metal pieces rising up from the bodice are meant to signify fire and flames, while laser- cut feathers at the waist and shoulder hint at Katniss eventual transition into a Mockingjay.” EW reports. In it, Katniss resembles a swan or an angel, feathered, gorgeous, and alien. Like the red gown, she doesn’t actually want to wear it— she’d rather be the genuine girl from the forest. White is the purity of brides and baptism gowns but also can mean sterility and death. It’s a spiritual color, suggesting a purification before the decent into death.
  15. 15. At least Katniss doesn’t dress like this…except here Mechanical Flower Fashion Don’ts
  16. 16. THE LITTLE BLACK DRESS Being tough in a tough world
  17. 17. Black, white, and military (plus a bit of scales)
  18. 18. This is not just a pretty banquet dress. The red and black feathered gown has elements of mockingjay, phoenix, and superheroine, even as it dresses up the colors of her uniform from the last movie with exotic elegance. She keeps the tough Greek hair-helmet of braids, and the red accents look like blood—this is battle gear, even for the apparently peaceful setting of the party—there’s far more happening under the surface. Her glowing coal suit has a similar function.
  19. 19. White-red-black are goddess colors, signifying the three-part life stages of maiden-mother-crone and the endless lifecycle. White like the innocence of childhood or the paleness of spirits and bone, red like the violence and pain of adult responsibility or the life-giving blood of childbirth, black like death but also the fertile soil of new life. As such, black is a feminine color of yin, the color of destruction but also defense against it. The girls may wear white or pastels in the beginning, until they’re ready to offer a tougher image, but they graduate to Katniss’s coals and black bow of death.
  20. 20. In fact, she won’t be part of them until she dresses like them…in the third book, she will choose colors for herself, rather than conforming to the factions. Divergent—Finding your team and your color coding Tris is not one of the Dauntless Society—look what she’s wearing!
  21. 21. When Tris tries on a knee-length black dress and literally (and figuratively) lets her hair down, she’s transformed. Her friend Christina puts eyeliner on her, and Tris looks “noticeable for the first time” (Divergent 97). At that moment, she feels she’s transformed from proper, quiet Beatrice into Tris. Everyone comments that she looks good, as she’s discovering who she was meant to become. Fan art portraying Shailene as Divergent's Tris by tessriel on tumblr In the second book, she tries on bits and pieces from the other factions, as if uncertain who she’s supposed to be.
  22. 22. When Cassia finds the rebels, they’re wearing “slick black clothes” (Crossed 347). Finding the Soldiers, All in Black Tough, black haired Raven is the leader of the group Lena meets in the Wilds—even her name suggests blackness. By contrast, her innocent daughter is named Blue. In Westerfeld’s world, it’s the scary Specials who wear “raw silks in black and grey” (Uglies 103). Sneaking out to see Alex at night, Lena wears black pajamas, black flats, and a black ski hat (Delirium 206).
  23. 23. Ordinary world characters Ordinary world characters People in our world wear bright colors. Extraordinary world characters The Mortal Instruments
  24. 24. In City of Bones, Isabelle goes to Magnus’s party dressed all in silver “like a moon goddess” (208). To Clary, she’s all Clary isn’t – she’s taller and dresses older and much cooler and more elegantly. Isabelle uses her beauty “like a whip,” while Clary doesn’t know she’s beautiful (Bones 324). Isabelle always makes Clary feel scruffy – wearing Isabelle’s clothes, at the Institute, Clary feels her shortness and lack of cleavage more than ever. In Lost Souls, Clary wishes she were like Isabelle, “so aware of your own feminine power you could wield it as a weapon” (244). However, as Clary puts on Isabelle’s borrowed dress, she takes steps toward becoming a Shadowhunter, dark, powerful, and dangerous. Isabelle dresses Clary in a black spaghetti strap dress with fishnets and boots so that Clary looks “fairly badass” (Bones 210). She even offers Clary a thigh sheath. Isabelle puts Clary’s hair up in an elegant swirl, and Clary finds herself remembering her romantic dream of dancing with Jace and Simon at an Idris ball. Under Isabelle’s ministrations, Clary is suddenly grown up and alluring. Fantasy Characters also change into the tough slim black outfit Isabelle’s all the heroine aspires to be, and thus a spur for growth and change.
  25. 25. In City of Lost Souls, Clary puts on the dress her evil brother brings her – vintage black lace and beads. In it, her eyes are smudged with “dark shadow” and she has “a certain toughness” (300). She remembers wearing Isabelle’s dress in book one and taking her first steps into the demon world as she enters an even darker realm this time. Fantasy Characters also change into the tough slim black outfit Isabelle’s all the heroine aspires to be, and thus a spur for growth and change.
  26. 26. Photo CornersClary has become part of their world
  28. 28. Powerpoints, Citations, Books, and more at