Saturday, 9 March 2013

C'84: Fashion in The Terminator

James Cameron's 1984 movie The Terminator was a massive success and has spawned numerous sequels and imitations. It is relevant to the Cyberpunk 1984 project in numerous ways, not least of which because it both reflects and created fashion trends from the early 80s. The Terminator is interesting in terms of fashion because the two main male leads appear naked at the start of the film and arguably their first mission is to find clothes.
The hero's ensemble is reflective of early 80s fashion. Kyle Reese steals trousers from a homeless man and then trainers and an raincoat from a department store (and later he seems to find a t-shirt with cut-off arms). The trousers are elasticated and are marked with paint including smears of pop-cool flourescent pink and green. His trainers are distinctive black-and-silver Nike Vandals, and his raincoat is of the oversized variety often seen in menswear in this era. Thus he is the aspirational but acheivable male. It is interesting to note that the lead protagonist Connor MacLeod in the 1986 film Highlander wears much the same coat.

After his arrival the Terminator kills some ne'er-do-wells to acquire faded combats, boots and a denim jacket bedecked with studs and lengths of chain leaving no doubt as to his alignment. Thus he becomes an early 80s punk of the heavy metal variety. When his eye is damaged he dons sunglasses which serve to make him even more sinister. While Reese stays in his outfit for the duration of the film, the villain changes mid-way through into a tailored, short leather jacket. No reason is given for this, but it is presumed that his first disguise becomes so damaged he needs another to blend-in. This latter look was the one used on much of the film's promo material and became a standard trope for sci-fi and cyperpunk baddies.

By contrast Sarah Connor, the object of pursuit and protector-mother in waiting wears several outfits throughout the movie. Broadly she is the attainable girl-next-door, appearing in last half of the film in stonewashed jeans and a pink tie-dye t-shirt. Moreover, her wardrobe is sensible - at one point she appears 'glammed-up' ready for a date, but swiftly changes when her boyfriend stands her up. She is last seen pregnant and more feminine in a long maternity dress as she is driving into the desert.

One of the major themes of the movie is the nature of masculinity. Like Robocop, The Terminator posits that it is not possible to be a man simply by possessing a male body.


  1. Cool analysis of the style choices in the first Terminator film. There are enough subtexts in this film and its sequels and TV show to fill a whole series of books!

  2. Really cool informative post. Linda Hamilton's hair though: argh! 80's carpet mop, lol.

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