The Future Wore

Fashion, costuming, and clothing in science fiction.

The Most Divorced Pants Ever and Her (2013)

The movie Her forever altered something in my brain. In 2013, I was fresh to graduate school, thinking deeply about graphic design and fashion while rediscovering my love of science fiction. As a young person, my mind was cracked open by Being John Malkovich, the subsequent Adaptation, and then followed up by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Pieces of media I would later come to know as speculative fiction, but to me were just “what if?” movies and books that bent and broke fiction beyond the realm of the possible in order to get to truth and emotion in novel ways. Unfortunately, the messaging around genre fiction that I internalized was that it was not serious enough- that literature was a testing ground of worthiness. In a period of deep personal transformation, Her was an awakening that brought me back to a long-lost creative center that I am still, to this day, working to uncover.

 

Her screenshot, Theo riding a bullet train
Theodore riding the luxurious bullet train.

Her is set in a utopian world where the looming problems of life in the United States seem to be a thing of the past. There is a robust system of public transportation and bullet trains to take you anywhere in the city or countryside. A resurgence of public third places filled with art, greenery, and walkability beautifies the city. And most unbelievably, Chris Pratt is likeable.

Her is set in a dystopian world where the improvement of everyday life has not yet reached the soul. We employ teams of professional writers to craft the perfect words we wish we could say to our loved ones, but can’t. Videogames enforce the panopticon of social pressure to live perfect lives. Technology replaces social interdependence, a key human attribute, allowing us to be islands unto ourselves.

 

Her screenshots- Left: Theo, with eyes closed, follows Samantha's directions. Right: Theo looks at Amy's video game about being a perfect mom.
Left: Theo, with eyes closed, following Samantha’s directions. Right: Theo looks at Amy’s video game about being a perfect mom.

 

Her screenshot, Theo walking in a park under a huge neon installation
Theo, engaging in urban sadness

Looking back, it is remarkable how narrowly the movie escaped becoming part of the incel canon. The story goes deep into male loneliness and serves up two (three, if you’re counting Kristen Wiig’s SexyKitten character) unflattering depictions of women, making the girl inside his computer his ideal prospect. There is Catherine (Rooney Mara), his ex-wife whose humiliates Theo with her (realistic and earned) closemindedness to his budding relationship with an AI. Then there is Blind Date (Olivia Wilde) whose misreading of Theo (Joaquin Phoenix) turns the moment on a whim from romantic to cruel. But of course that’s a deeply ungenerous read. At its heart, it’s a movie about grieving the fact that relationships are not stuck in time, that people change and grow, sometimes without you. It is more accurately a divorce movie. Famously, the companion to Lost in Translation, which is about their divorce from Sofia Coppola’s perspective (as reductive as that is).

 

Her screenshot- Theo and Blind Date go on a blind date
Theo and Blind Date, moments before disaster strikes.

 

Her screenshot, Theo and extras gazing into an advertisement, wearing high-waisted pants
Theo, high and waisted

The true hero piece of Her‘s wardrobe is undoubtedly the high-waisted trousers. But they are not just any high-waisted pants- they are made from ultra-comfortable materials with specific tailoring and proportions. Costume Designer Casey Storm stated that this future would be filled with garments catering to the hyper-specific tastes of consumers who, thru the power of the internet, would have access to their ideal clothing. This consumer power would ultimately land on comfort and warmth 1. Absent from the film are denim and jeans. For a material and product which has become globally dominant in the 20th century, the absence is so difficult to place without being primed to notice. This choice also falls into line with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s creative decision to avoid blue 2.

 

Her screenshot- Theo walks through a futuristic LA- extras are wearing similar outfits to him.
Theo walks through a futuristic LA, which in reality is a circular walkway in Pudong Financial District in Shanghai, China. Many exterior, skyline, and underground train shots were filmed in China7.

The high-waisted pants silhouette came from a confluence of references. On the Craft Services podcast, Storm points to former president Theodore Roosevelt and turn-of-the-century fashion as a major reference2. The pants that inspired the look were a mid-1800s pair that were sourced from a costume shop3. Opting for a slimmer fit pushed the pants out of the 1900s and into the future. It also helped that 2013 was still firmly in the skinny jeans era and putting the main character in high-waisted AND oversized pants would have been a step too far, moving the fashion from chicly subtle and futurist to a visual gag.

 

Her Screenshot- three characters wearing business casual
Charles (Matt Letscher), Theo, and Amy (Amy Adams) discussing her art piece

Her is a fashion film. Although the high-waisted pants did very little to push men’s waistlines upward (I’m still so disappointed), it caused a stir in fashion press. Humberto Leon, Opening Ceremony co-founder and long-time friend of Spike Jonze, worked as an uncredited fashion consultant and even released a capsule collection alongside the film4. It is unknown how much say Leon had in the wardrobe, but it is clear that fashion was as carefully considered as the cinematography and the Jamba Juice color palette that pervades it 5.

 

Her screenshot, the candy colored office
Interior shot of the BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com office- a mix of mid-century futurism and candy-colored accents.

 

Her screenshot, Theo in the candy-colored office
Theo working in the Jamba Juice-colored BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com office

 

Her screenshot, Theo drinking a bottled beer in his kitchen, wearing the same clothes he wears to work
Theo, wearing business casual to the club

Along with denim, the costuming eschews belts, ties, hats, and some collars and lapels3. This subtractive process lends a subtle otherworldliness to the characters. The Cut remarked that the outfits in Her were deeply unsexy, androgynous, and used bright colors to highlight Theo’s immaturity and pain 6. I believe there is something else going on with the fits. The fashion is a compromise the people of this world made. The uncomfortable and stuffy trappings of formalwear have been removed, but so have the too-casual elements like denim jeans and hats. This lands the characters in an awkward middle- a business casual dystopia where there is no separation between home clothes and workwear- just clothes fit for both. It pulls the extremes in and creates a schlubby formalwear/stuffy casualwear middleground that erases the concept of high and low and maybe even wardrobe-as-identity.

 

Left: @simsimmaaz: "They really had us baby millennials dressing business casual to go to the club ???"Right: TikTok user @cydnij replying with a photo of her own Business Casual Club attire
Left: Twitter user @simsimmaaz tweets about millennials dressing business casual at the club. Right: TikTok user @cydnij replying with a photo of her own Millennial Business Casual Club attire

This uneasy mix is a direct continuation of Millennial fashion culture. In the late aughts and 2010s, Millennials were aging into adulthood and figuring out how to dress like it. This was a specifically hard task in the wake of dapper hipster culture (my blood just curdled), twee’s quirkification of formalwear, and the Gossip Girl primer on how the elite supposedly dress. Before millennials became burnout monsters (from graduating into a recession and being overworked and severely underpaid), dressing up signaled your unflappable optimism and aspiration. You might even get some good photos to post on Facebook!

 

Her screenshots of outfit repeating and worn details
Left: Theo is an outfit repeater (also note the great wardrobe on the extras), Right: signs of normal wear and tear

One thing I love about Theo’s wardrobe is how limited it is. Theo repeats pieces and wears them like a normal person. There are also signs of wear and tear on the clothing. Most likely because the costume designer lent the production pieces of his own clothing. The second hero piece of the movie, the red collarless shirt seen prominently in the movie, was a Band of Outsiders (RIP) button-up originally owned by Storm2. There’s also evidence of fudging details and remixing going on. Some collars can be seen tucked in to give the appearance of a band collar without needing sewn. Many pieces are layered unusually, mixed with interesting pairings, or just nice vintage finds.

 

Her screenshots- extras wearing layered tops, vintage pieces, and business casual
Extras in the train stairway scene wearing unusual layers, business casual, and vintage striped polos.

 

Her screenshots- Left- Amy wearing a collared button-up under a short sleeve sweater (t-shirt?). Right- Paul wearing a gross 80s/90s polo shirt with high-waisted pants.
Left: Amy wearing a short sleeve sweater layered over a long-sleeve collared shirt, cuffed to the elbow. Right: Paul wearing a gross 90s polo shirt with high-waisted slacks.

 

Her screenshots of the OS commercial- people in futuristic business casual clamoring in the desert
Left: a lapel-less blazer, Right: layered collarless and collared shirts under a lapel-less blazer

 

Her screenshots of the OS commercial- people in futuristic business casual clamoring in the desert
Left: more layered shirts, right, an unusual sleeveless blouse.

The OS commercial is one of the funniest moments in the movie and also a great representation of the aspirations of the wardrobe.

 

Her Screenshot- Theo walks past a group of color coordinated people into his apartment elevator.
Theo walks past a group of color coordinated people.

One of my favorite strange details is that Theo lives in an apartment building that is accessible through a re-used mall. This was most likely to avoid shooting on the street5. These scenes are great for spotting the outfits of extras. This group is immaculately color-coordinated yet distinct, with unique layering.

 

Her screenshot- beach scene showing interesting vintage stripes with mid-century color palettes
Left: a thin black and white striped tank top and a red yellow and navy blue striped swim bottoms. Right: A bikini made from cool-toned stripes.

 

Her's beach scene- more extras wearing stripes
Beachgoers wearing vintage bathing suit silhouettes and an abundance of stripes.

 

Her screenshot- Theo in the foreground with two extras in the back. On the left is a sleeved sheath dress in mod, overlapping rounded squares in yellows, tans, browns, black and white. On the right is a black and white complex Ganado/Aztec print sundress over a pumpkin colored long-sleeved button-up.

Behind Theo are two great outfits. On the left is a sleeved sheath dress in mod, overlapping rounded squares in yellows, tans, browns, black and white. On the right is a black and white complex Ganado/”Aztec” print sundress over a pumpkin colored long-sleeved button-up.

 

Catherine wearing a navy and red striped sweater, holding a baby. Catherine looking pensive in a navy and blue sweater
Left: Catherine in flashbacks, wearing a red and blue striped sweater. Right: Catherine looking pensive in a light blue and navy colorblock sweater.

 

Her screenshot- Catherine in flashback wearing a blue and white knit sweater and shorts, left is catherine wearing a white bowed blouse and a navy skirt to the divorce meeting
Left: Catherine in flashback, wearing a navy and blue knit sweater top with blue easy-wear linen pants. Right: Catherine showing up to the divorce meeting in a white bowed blouse and black/navy pencil skirt.

Curiously immune to the rule against blue is Catherine whose wardrobe is dominant in the color. At the divorce meeting, she wears the most formal outfit seen in the movie, highlighting her seriousness in contrast to Theo.

 

Her screenshot- Amy's computer, a cluttered, futuristic UI interface with no keyboard.
Amy using her personal computer, which takes the place of a TV.

I am also fascinated by the UI design present in the film. Above, Amy uses hand gestures to navigate a cluttered, non-linear user interface.

 

Her screenshot- Theo's work User Interface
Theo’s work computer

Theo’s work computer interface looks like a more serene, less technical version of Adobe Photoshop with the toolbar on the left and asset management to the right. Theo is never seen typing, only dictating. Every computer looks more like a picture frame than a computer, complete with white mattes and wooden frames. In other shots, you can see the wood paneling on the back of the machines. I certainly hope the future has chic Charles and Ray Eames-inspired workstations- it’s an inspired deviation from cold, Apple futurism.

 

Her screenshot- Theo's phone reading "Hello I'm Samantha" and, on the right, "? OS not found"?
Visual artist and Spike Jonze collaborator Geoff McFetridge is credited as “graphical futurist designer”, but may have been completed by Jane Fitts, Jason Perrine, or William Eliscu who are all credited as graphic designers. (Also note: Theo’s unravelling sleeve).

Cell phones that look like cigarette cases and typefaces that are a reaction against cold, personality-less Helvetica modernism.

 

Her screenshot- Interior subway tile
Incredible interior subway station tiles.

 

Her screenshots- details of Theo's office, including a vinyl wall mural and hanging colorblock geodesic polyhedrons
Shots of Theo’s office, including curious wall art and colorblock geodesic polyhedrons.

 

Theo, near the end of the film, riding the elevator with the projection installation in the background.
Theo riding the elevator with the projection installation.

Her‘s vision of the future is brought to life through cohesive, yet surprising production design and costuming details. It’s a world I think a lot of us would want to live in- technologically advanced, comfy, and colorful. And while I can’t help but cringe just a little about it’s status as a certified sad boy classic, it still holds up going on the 10-year mark.

 

Gif of Theo dancing like he's in N*Sync

Thank you for reading <3

1 Los Angeles Times- “Five days of ‘Her:’ How Spike Jonze created the future”
2 Craft Services podcast- “HER (2013) with Costume Designer Casey Storm”
3 Vulture- “Why Spike Jonze’s New Film Her Might Put Men Back Into High-Waisted Pants”
4 Hypebeast- “Spike Jonze x Opening Ceremony “Her” Capsule Collection”
5 Vulture- “Everything You Wanted to Know About Spike Jonze’s Her”
6 The Cut- “Review: The Radically Unsexy Fashions of Her”
7 Four Three Film- “China, Hollywood and Spike Jonze’s Her”

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