Sci-Fi Themes in Fashion

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In 2003, I had to come up with a collection for a Fashion Merchandising class. My theme was a line of contemporary tops and jackets that were influenced by science-fiction.  It was a combination of clean ’60’s space-age style and utilitarian, sort of something an off-duty space cadet would wear, I named the line “Brave New Girl.” In doing this assignment, I did a lot of research and one of the things that really stuck with me for some reason, was finding out just how many genres and sub-genres of science-fiction there are, it’s attached to almost anything, from aesthetics to politics and deals with social and philosophical issues as wide and varied in topics from feminism to population control to nature to bureaucracy to reality and memory, etc…done in the most imaginative way, it’s a goldmine for fashion inspiration and it’s influence can be seen for Spring/Summer 2011.

In this post, I want to show the connections between a few specific sci-fi genres, and their context in the current direction of fashion trends.  I’m not expert in sci-fi, and as much as I like the aesthetics, ideas and themes, I’d rather watch the movie than read it, according to Magic Dragon: Ultimate Science Fiction Guide, just using the term ‘sci-fi’ puts me in the outsider category 

SCI-FI: A term often used for science fiction primarily by people outside the field. Serious readers of science fiction prefer the abbreviation SF.

One thing I do know is that science fiction, like fashion, is ahead of or removed from present time, but its narrative still has to be able to translate clearly into the present. Below are some examples of the genres, their identifying traits, and examples of how it translates to current fashion.

“Science fiction is hard to define because it is
the literature of change and it changes while you
are trying to define it.”Tom Shippey,
in “The SF Book of Lists”, p.258,
ed. Malcolm Edwards & Maxim Jakubowski,
New York: Berkeley (1982)
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do

with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

-Coco Chanel


High adventure in space; usually somewhat campy, of the type that used to be serialized at the movies and in the pulp magazines that were popular in the first half of this century.

“science fiction’s little sister… a gentle creature with red lips and a dash of stardust in her hair”

-Brian W. Aldiss, in his anthology “Space Opera” [Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1974]

Hallmarks of space opera include encounters with beautiful women and bug-eyed monsters. Flash Gordon is vintage space opera,Star Trek and Star Wars are more sophisticated, contemporary space opera. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom series is space opera. See also Barbarella.

Style: Fun and sexy, glam and glitter, metallics and bright colors, cosmic intergalactic fabulous-ness! Think Galaxy Queen, hair and make-up is integral to this look.

Manish Arora S/S2011
Manish Arora S/S 2011
Manish Arora Spring_Summer 2011
Rick Owens Spring_Summer 2011
Rick Owens Spring_Summer 2011
Charlie Le Mindu Spring_Summer 2011
Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2010 Alien heels



Sweeping in scope, epic fantasy usually concerns a battle for rulership of a country, empire or entire world. Drawing heavily upon archetypal myths and the quintessential struggle between a few good people against overwhelming forces of evil, epic fantasy is best represented by author J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Eos authors of epic fantasy include New York Times bestselling Raymond E. Feist (The Serpentwar Saga) and Adam Lee (The Dominions Of Irth). Some other popular epic fantasy authors are Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Terry Brooks.

Style: This is more alchemy than hard science. The natural and the magical, mystical, think Stevie Nicks, bohemian and flowy fabrics, natural fibers, leather and fur, tribal prints or hand-dyed techniques, think witchy woman warriors, unicorns and earthy hair.




is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain—that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. Represented by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, as well as more recent speculative fiction by William Gibson, James P. Blaylock and Paul Di Filippo, the author of “The Steampunk Trilogy.”

Style: Going backward to go forward. Victorian and Industrial era updated and tweaked with modern details, or mixed with punk elements, use of distressed leather, aged brass metal trim, use of cogs, clock parts and brass buttons and a vintage color palette of creams, greys, browns and black.  Touches of military, fitted and utilitarian for men (think 1900’s pilot or English banker/droog). Corsets and lace up boots for women, that represent utility and control rather than restriction. There are different takes on this style. Currently this look is designed by independent designers more than well-known designers, and it’s a genre that is rapidly gaining momentum.


High technology in the not-so-distant future, usually metropolitan setting featuring a bleak grim outlook, displaying humanity destroying itself with its own advances. The word “cyberpunk” was coined by Bruce Bethke, and made wildly popular by William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace” and popularized it in “Neuromancer” (1984). Encompasses nanotechnology, cyborgs, androids and/or virtual reality. Cyberpunk is a warning as to what could possibly go wrong if technology falls into the wrong hands. See also “The Matrix”

Style: High-tech fashion forward, worn confidently and usually body conscious with a hard edge and a focus on “man-made” artifice, use of synthetic fabrics such as pvc and metallics and plastics, sometimes with electronics attached, use of technologically advanced treatments in fabrics, such as “smart clothing” for example, that can detect and adapt to temperature changes.


Glimpses into the possibility of really bad futures (opposite of “Utopia”). These tales are designed to make the reader ask the bleak question “Is life worth living if this is where humanity is going?”. Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932) is a tale of classic dystopia with an emphasis on brainwashing, censorship and destruction of the family unit. George Orwell’s “1984” coined the term “Big Brother” in his bleak, dystopian view of a future gone mad. See also “Brazil” “Thx 1138,” and “Metropolis”

Style: Minimalism, bleak work clothes or uniform, can be fitted or un-structured and baggy. Some androgyny for lack of individual identity, color palette usually drab in greys, beige, or black, touches of military, think drone or futuristic government worker.


What happens to humanity AFTER the world blows-up? Usually tells the story of humanity’s struggle to survive after some form of devastation. This sub-genre grew immensely popular in the late ’70’s and ’80’s. Think “Mad Max” films and you have the sub-genre in a nutshell. See also “Tank Girl”

Style: One part recycled diy fashion, one part survival gear, and mix with rock and roll. Shreds, ripped, layered, tough, transforming their regular clothes into protective armor, adding leather, metal, gloves, headgear, cargo and hidden pockets.

Above, from left: Spring ’10 looks from Balmain; Ann Demeulemeester; Haider Ackermann; Rodarte.


Above, from left: Spring ’10 looks from Rodarte; Haider Ackermann; Balmain; Ann Demeulemeester.


Tatsuro Horikawa, the designer behind Julius believes that “a collection is created when different elements are accumulated to such a point that they form into one exceptional vision or idea.”


Glimpses of an ideal future, often goes hand in hand with Dystopia. There is usually some conflict either by disruption of from an outside source, or the state of utopia is false and needs to be changed or escaped from, an example is Logan’s Run (1976), where there is leisure, peace, and beautiful people everywhere, but in order to control the population, anyone over 30 years old is systematically killed.

Style: Colors are either bright or soft pastels, silhouettes are either clean and structured, or they are soft flowy and draped fabrics. Optimistic and childlike with a touch of privilege, hair and make up are low-key. The 1960’s space-age designers often portrayed the future as a utopia (Pierre Cardin, Andre Courreges) Below are example of current designs.


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