Punk Fashion In Film

15 February 2022 / by Sim Dhillon

Punk is self-expression. Against the classic elegance of earlier years, punk style has always been the edge and rebellion that the world itches for. Pearls, white gowns and simplicity seem to be quite dull when compared to chokers, fishnets and liberty spikes. The influence of fashion on Hollywood is no surprise. The simultaneous rise of edgy style and films is predictable; in recent years, the cinema has been showcasing it, loud and clear: punk is back and better than ever. The trends of the 1970s are being brought back to life, although it may be argued it never died in the first place. The impact of icons such as Vivienne Westwood on the film industry is evident. Recent movies like Cruella, How To Talk To Girls At Parties and The Ranger are all examples.

Disney’s Cruella (2021), a backstory to the villain of 101 Dalmatians, is centred around the fashion world in London during the 1970s. The movie stars award-winning actors Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, alongside Emily Beecham, Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser, with director Craig Gillespie. It is a tale of a fashion designer breaking through the industry’s traditionalism to make room for something new and original: punk. When Cruella had her infamous rock and roll concert, performing “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (originally sung by The Stooges), it was clear that the Disney villain was a true rock icon. The glamorous yet grungy costumes are an expression of Cruella’s inspiring vision and spirit. Fashionista, Cruella, creates luxury versions of casual punk clothes, such as a high-end dress, fully studded with shimmering moth cocoons that resemble studs on the stereotypical alt leather jacket.

Studded clothing
Gucci Leather Jacket (taken from GQ) compared to Cruella’s dress studded with moth cocoons (used from Disney)

Cruella makes another fashion statement with a patchwork dress, made of other old and discarded dresses. Through her dress, Cruella takes part in the old punk tradition of upcycling and DIYing outdated clothes. She creates a more alternative and unique piece when cutting up different fabrics and using them as patches. This patchwork design has been used by punks everywhere, from the normal everyday person to haute couture designers such as Martin Margiela.

Patchwork clothing
DIY patches on jackets (used Wikimedia Commons), Maison Martin Margiela patchwork dress (used from Dew Magazine), and Cruella’s patchwork dress (used from Disney)

Cruella is just the average rebel, with a touch of glamour and luxury. In Cruella, punk is an elegant yet powerful form of revolt against society and the fashion world’s boring norms.

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, How To Talk To Girls At Parties (2017) is the story of an out-of-this-world, alien girl meeting the average punk boy. Main characters, Enn and Zan (played by Alex Sharp and Elle Fanning), take viewers on a journey to explain what being punk truly is: rebelling and freedom. With leather, spikes, latex and pins, How To Talk To Girls At Parties is full of practical yet fashionable, grunge outfits.

Punk rock Alien, Zan
Punk rock extraterrestrial, Zan (used from Dean Roberts, A24 Studio)

At first glance, fashion seems far from the focus of How To Talk To Girls At Parties. However, the characters’ costumes establish and accentuate the alternative vibe of the film, as the movie is meant to be set at the height of the ‘70s movement. The fashion choices serve as accurate representations of what punk and youth would realistically wear in this time period (think Joan Jett or even Siouxsie Sioux). In both reality and How To Talk To Girls At Parties, punk is self-expression.

The Ranger (2018) is directed by Jennifer Wexler and stars Chloë Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler and Amanda Grace Benitez. The horror film is about a defiant, teenage friend group on the run from a dangerous and deranged park ranger. While running away from cops may seem like troublesome teenage behaviour, in The Ranger, it is a symbol for the anti-establishment position that punks are known for. Similarly to How To Talk To Girls At Parties, fashion is not the focus of The Ranger, yet the costume and design choices do a brilliant job of shining a light on the rebellious spirit of the characters. The Ranger showcases edgy fashion with a more casual/lowkey twist, similar to the style of The Ramones.

70s punk fashion
Edgy 70s fashion in The Ranger (used from Glass Eye Pix)

In The Ranger, punk is taking a stand against both authority and society’s expectations.

The films Cruella, How To Talk To Girls At Parties and The Ranger carry the essence of punk: it is revolting and rebelling against society’s norms while staying true to oneself. The message remains the same throughout the movies: out with the old, in with punk. Although the peak of punk was decades ago, it is evident that the strength and impact of this subculture on the worlds of both cinema and fashion hasn’t lessened in the slightest.

In Canada, Cruella can be found on Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, How To Talk To Girls At Parties is on Hulu and The Ranger can also be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.