The Hunger Games Costume Fail

No, we’re not talking about those costumes! We’re talking about the costume design for the films!

Guest writer Elizabeth is a bit of a clothing design fanatic. Sadly, she wasn’t all too impressed with the fashion choices in The Hunger Games. Let’s see what she has to say and hear her hopes for Catching Fire!

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Filming for Catching Fire has begun, and there’s a new costume designer on set. And while we don’t know exactly what Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stylist Trish Summerville is putting our loved (and loathed) tributes in under those insidious white bathrobes, this reader certainly hopes it’s better than the last time around.

Girl on Fire dress The Hunger Games

Is this the best we can do?!

With the exception of Katniss and Peeta on the chariot, the Tribute costumes of The Hunger Games were underwhelming at best. Blue and hot pink fish for District 4? A frilly tutu for Glimmer’s interview, who in the books had been described as wearing a sexy golden gown? All forgivable, I suppose, but what broke my heart was Katniss’s interview dress. I believe the description I’ve heard some people use is “last-season Narciso Rodriguez,” which is dead on. With all the tech effects in this film, it’s startling they weren’t able to find some way to approximate the bejeweled spectacle that was our heroine’s interview dress in the books. The DVD commentary for The Hunger Games says that it was Gary Ross’s vision that was important for that dress, not Suzanne Collins’s, but man, what a miscalculation to not go with her description.

Costumes are so important in Catching Fire, much more so than in the first film. I would go as far as using the word “iconic.” Although the Hunger Games franchise can be read as an indictment on our materialistic culture, fashion is vital to the series and its theme of image as a means to an end. Each costume perfectly encapsulates characters and themes. Finnick’s golden net tied seductively at his hip says, “I am the sexy golden boy. I’m here to tempt you.” Johanna’s leafy outfit followed by her shameless elevator striptease says, “natural, exposed, confident. This is who I am, deal with it.” Katniss and Peeta’s radiant parade costumes, of course, are supposed to express the betrayal they feel, but that they are still powerful, defiant.

And of course, the single most important outfit is Katniss’s wedding dress and its fiery transformation to a mockingjay. That wedding dress has to be the dress to end all dresses, the last word on bridal gowns, as Katniss would say. It has to be a feat of craftsmanship, ethereal yet elegant, and it has to be exactly the way it was described in the book, because readers have had dreams about this gown. This isn’t the time for some up and coming designer to create an avant garde confection purely from their own imagination. Nope. The dress has to have the pearls wrapping around her throat, the sleeves that fall from the wrists to the floor, the fitted bodice and elaborate skirt. It has to be beautiful enough to make us cry at the tragedy that she will never get to wear it and the horror that she is forced to wear it as pretty much a burial shroud.

Jennifer Lawrence Prabal Gurung

More like it!

And they have to get the transformation right. The fire can’t look cheesy. She can’t look like a burnt chicken. I think the costume people can get a lot of inspiration from Natalie Portman’s Black Swan look. This IS the place to get creative. Since it’s a little harder to picture a designer interpretation of a black bird than it is to picture a wedding dress, there’s room to play. And like white swan vs. black swan, it must be the exact opposite of a virginal wedding dress even if the silhouette is the same. It has to be sexy. BAD. Dangerous. Plunging neckline, maybe a high slit. All the feathers should be long and shiny to catch the light.

In my ideal world, I would love to see Katniss’s dresses be designed by Prabal Gurung. Jennifer Lawrence already rocked a sexy Prabal Gurung gold cutout gown on the red carpet this year, and she looked like a babe from outer space in it. And the designer already has some gowns in a recent collection (in black and in white, no less) that mix shimmery fabrics with sheer or lacy details and feathers. Feathers!

Suzanne Collins could be a closet (see what I did there?) fashionista. She made one of the most beloved characters in the series a stylist! Let’s hope the producers of Catching Fire can make her droolworthy costume descriptions come to life so that the sequel will be filled with stunning sartorial eye candy.

Elizabeth

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12 comments

  1. “It has to be sexy. BAD. Dangerous. Plunging neckline, maybe a high slit. All the feathers should be long and shiny to catch the light.”

    While I was also underwhelmed by the THG costumes, and agreed with this post for the most part, I must voice my strong opposition to this part. I do NOT want Katniss to be transformed into Lara Croft, and I’d find the kind of Mockingjay outfit descibed here to be degrading, not empowering, for Katniss to wear.

    Also, it would not fit into the concept that “Each costume perfectly encapsulates characters and themes.” Katniss is a reluctant rebel at best, and is motivated mostly by her wishes to protect her loved ones, not to strut around looking sexy and “bad-ass”. And while I can see the rebels wanting to portray Katniss this way, I think that such a dress would have likely made Katniss feel exploited and used by Cinna. Yet her CF narration shows no sign that she does.

    One of the concerns I have read other people express about the movies is that the movie-makers might bow to action-movie stereotypes and turn Katniss into a stereotypical “sexy bad-ass” girl, running around in a skintight, midriff-baring outfit. I know that action movies are targeted to the 18-40 male demographic, but the idea that women can’t be “bad and dangerous” without looking sexy, too, is ridiculous to me. Not that there aren’t examples of male “sexy bad boy heroes”, of course, but that’s only one kind of male hero archetype, there are many others. Whereas, it seems that most of the time, a young female lead in a Hollywood movie is shown to derive power mostly from her sexuality, and the Katniss Everdeen of the books is FAR from this stereotype.

    So, I do NOT want the movies heading in this direction. I liked how THG didn’t do so, even understood the decision to make Glimmer’s dress less sexy. Besides, considering what Finnick later implies happened to Cashmere, also from D1, if Glimmer had won, she likely would have wound up being sold to Capitol people, too. However, it would be difficult to portray the “sexual exploitation of kids” aspect of the Games in a movie without becoming part of that exploitation. So I understand this choice.

    1. Oh cool, you guys posted my submission! This is so exciting!

      Satsuma, I had never thought of it that way. I like your point about how Katniss didn’t feel exploited by Cinna with the mockingjay costume, and that if the costume were too sexy, that might not be the case. I’m looking at it in the sense of what a wedding dress typically represents (virginity, innocence, hopefulness) and what the opposite of all that would be.

      So I agree. We don’t want our Katniss to become an action heroine stereotype and DEFINITELY not Lara Croft. However, since I wrote this specifically with the movie in mind, and picturing what they might put Jennifer Lawrence in, it’s hard not to think of the mockingjay dress as being sexy. I mean, look at that woman! She looks like a Grecian goddess! But, I digress. I think sexiness can be empowering. I certainly don’t see it as a bad thing unless that’s all a character has going for them. And no matter what they put Jennifer Lawrence/Katniss in, there is obviously much, much MUCH more to her than being sexy.

      1. I’m not saying that sexiness *can’t* be empowering. I just took issue to you lumping “sexy/bad/dangerous” all together, as if a woman *can’t* be “bad” or powerful unless she’s sexy, too. Which is so overdone these days in the movies, and pop culture in general, that I found Katniss Everdeen to be a welcome breath of fresh air.

        Interestingly, what does make her feel empowered in CF isn’t the MJ dress, but Peeta’s claims that she’s married and pregnant; this also portrays her as a sexual being, but in the context of a loving relationship that produces hope in the form of a child. Not someone who uses her sexuality as a weapon in a destructive way.

        So, I wouldn’t want the CF movie to fall away from that. Also, while I agree that Jen Lawrence is a beautiful woman, we don’t want the movie audience to watch CF and think “Oh, there’s Jen Lawrence playing Katniss”. The costume has to be appropriate not for a 22 year old woman, but a 17 year old girl. In this, I agree with HGBC.

    2. I think a big part of the underlying storyline is that both The Capitol and later The Rebellion WANTS to portray Katniss as a Lara Croft-esque figure, which Katniss ultimately hates. The Mockingjay dress is a Capitol design meant to encourage the view of Katniss that the Capitol wants to see. It may be designed by Cinna, but so was the “rebellion leader” outfit that Cressida and co. tried to use to make the first propo. They’re not meant to represent Katniss as how she wants to be seen, they’re meant to appeal to an audience.

      Even if the dress is sexy and dangerous, is it REALLY sexy and dangerous if it’s made obvious that Katniss isn’t comfortable with the way she’s being portrayed? I wouldn’t say so!

      1. “Even if the dress is sexy and dangerous, is it REALLY sexy and dangerous if it’s made obvious that Katniss isn’t comfortable with the way she’s being portrayed?”

        Obviously, the answer is no. However…this wouldn’t be faithful to the books. There’s no sign that Katniss feels exploited by Cinna, or feels uncomfortable with the way he’s portrayed her. Her chief concern is for Cinna’s welfare, and this turns out to be justified. Even though an objective reader might see Cinna as using Katniss, just as much as Haymitch, Plutarch, and others do…for some reason, while Katniss certainly feels betrayed by Haymitch and doesn’t trust Plutarch, she continues to see Cinna in a positive light. I don’t think she’d do that if Cinna had put her in a dress that made her look like Lara Croft.

  2. Elizabeth, thank you for writing about THG clothing! It has put me through mental gymnastics this morning. I find myself somewhere in the middle between you and Satsuma because I agree and disagree with both of you on some points.

    Let me find a way to untangle my thoughts. For one, Katniss’ tribute clothing comes from the Capitol. The Capitol exploits their tributes. Tributes are their entertainment, so (in response to Satsuma’s comment) I think tribute clothing does cross over into being demeaning quite frequently. That is part of what sets Cinna apart – he truly cares about Katniss and does not demean her by making her wear coal dust for her parade outfit. However, let’s face it, this movie is OUR entertainment as well, but Nina and Lionsgate has been very clear that they don’t want to recreate The Games in real life. Therefore, I think the clothing designer has her work cut out for her to walk the line between portraying how the Capitol exploits tributes but not exploiting the actors in our world.

    No one doubts that Jennifer is a beautiful and sexy woman. Grecian goddess, indeed! However, Katniss is only 17 at the time of the Quarter Quell. I thought they did a good job in THG of keeping Jennifer looking young and vulnerable, partly done through the natural makeup and clothing. We might appreciate Jennifer rocking out her gold shiny dress, but she can’t wear that dress as Katniss and still look 17 Not. Gonna. Happen.

    For two, clothing evokes a response from the beholders. When Katniss wears her wedding dress that becomes the Mockingjay dress, I like how Elizabeth explored the visual difference. However, I would not describe the visual impact as being the difference between virginal and sexy, but rather the difference between innocence and power. She needs to come across to Snow as a threat in that Mockingjay dress. She needs to come across to desperate Districts as a powerful symbol of a potential rebellion. And the response from the Capitol citizens is amazement at the dramatic costume change.

    Lastly, clothing evokes a response in the wearer. When I put on my outdoor gear and hook up my hiking boots, I put on this alternate persona… and feel ready to take on the wilderness. When I slip into a red cocktail dress that fits me like a dream, I feel like the most beautiful woman in the world and it shows in the way I carry myself. Katniss is most at home in the woods. When Katniss is wearing the Capitol clothing, she is an actor playing a part. She doesn’t know her own beauty (Peeta’s comment that she has no idea of the effect she can have) or power or sexuality (because it hasn’t been awakened in her yet).

    Katniss describes at end of THG pg 378: “I excuse myself to change out of my dress and into a plain shirt and pants. As I slowly thoroughly wash the makeup from my face and put my hair back in its braid, I begin to transforming back into myself. Katniss Everdeen. A girl who lives in the Seam. Hunts in the woods… I try to remember who I am and who I am not.”

    Let’s hope that Trish Summerville is a storyteller, not just clothing designer!

  3. Satsuma, I am extremely curious about your comment: “Interestingly, what does make her feel empowered in CF isn’t the MJ dress, but Peeta’s claims that she’s married and pregnant; this also portrays her as a sexual being, but in the context of a loving relationship that produces hope in the form of a child. Not someone who uses her sexuality as a weapon in a destructive way.”

    When I think of Katniss’ response to Peeta’s “bomb” about them being secretly married with a baby on the way, I think of Katniss being shocked and then being in touch with that fear of the possibility of her own children being given to the Games. Peeta’s tears connect her with Panem’s collective fear as parents.

    So where do you get Katniss being empowered by Peeta’s claims?

    1. Re my comment, the idea of Katniss being empowered by Peeta’s claims comes from Katniss herself:

      “The moment we step off the elevator, Peeta grips my shoulders. “There isn’t much time, so tell me. Is there anything I have to apologize for?”

      “Nothing,” I say. It was a big leap to take without my okay, but I’m just glad I didn’t know, didn’t have time to second guess him, to let any guilt over Gale detract from how I really feel about what Peeta did. Which is empowered.”

      Now, of course our dear Katniss doesn’t explain WHY she feels empowered, and maybe it has nothing to do with affirming her sexuality. Maybe it has to do with her overall agenda of using the QQ not only to save Peeta, but to go out as a martyr rebelling against the Capitol. But she does state it.

      1. Well, I’ll be! I forgot about that line. However, my first interpretation on that line would be that Katniss is empowered by this secret. Katniss and Peeta are the only ones that know, could know, whether they are really married and/or pregnant. So far, President Snow has known everything about her… even the kiss with Gale and the fact that things have been pretty icy between K and P. But now, Peeta has the audience in his hand… people are devastated by this news and it feels like a “bomb” has been dropped. (Go Peeta!)

        And even though I have a hard time interpreting these lines connected to Katniss’ sexuality (since, as we’ve already agreed, that she hasn’t been awakened in that yet) , I really liked how you contrasted the Capitol’s use of sexuality as a tool or weapon (as in Finnick’s case) with sexuality in the context of a loving family. “[Peeta’s claims in CF] portrays her as a sexual being, but in the context of a loving relationship that produces hope in the form of a child. Not someone who uses her sexuality as a weapon in a destructive way.”
        g

  4. A woman can be “bad” and “dangerous” without being sexy. I absolutely agree with you! But I feel like there’s a cultural perception, in general, that a woman’s sexiness is somehow something that makes her less powerful, not more, like sexiness is the sole focus. I’m not suggesting that. I think that message can be damaging, too! What I’m envisioning is really this femme fatale image that I could imagine Cinna putting her in. The dress could show no skin at all and still evoke power and danger.

    And I think male heroes are very often portrayed as sexy, but the sexiness isn’t seen as their dominant trait. I don’t think anyone familiar with Katniss would see that as her dominant trait, either, because there is obviously so much more to that. But do I think a dress with some va-va-voom would be fun and add to the shock value of the mockingjay dress? YES!

  5. “The dress could show no skin at all and still evoke power and danger.” I agree with this part. I guess I reacted strongly to your original post because of your statement that the dress HAD to be sexy, as if you’d be disappointed if it weren’t, much as you were with most of the THG costumes.

    FYI, this is Katniss’s actual description of the Mockingjay dress:
    “I’m in a dress of the exact design of my wedding dress, only it’s the color of coal and made of tiny feathers. Wonderingly, I lift my long, flowing sleeves into the air, and that’s when I see myself on the television screen. Clothed in black except for the white patches on my sleeves. Or should I say my wings. Because Cinna has turned me into a Mockingjay.”

    Nothing about this description made me think the dress was meant to be “sexy”. Certainly, nothing about a plunging neckline or high slit! It was those particulars that made me envision a design that WOULD make sexiness the main focus.

    “I don’t think anyone familiar with Katniss would see that as her dominant trait, either, because there is obviously so much more to that. But do I think a dress with some va-va-voom would be fun and add to the shock value of the mockingjay dress? YES!”

    Quite honestly, I don’t think of the book Katniss as sexy at all. If anything, she’s a Diana/Artemis figure; a huntress armed with bow and arrow, fiercely independent, and CHASTE; the exact opposite of sexy. I agree with HGBC that for most of the story, Katniss’s sexuality has NOT been awakened yet. If it had been, and she expressed ownership of it, then a “sexy” dress might indeed be empowering for her.

    The kind of dress you seem to be envisioning seems much more suited to someone like Johanna, who seems to be actively trying to wrest control of her sexuality away from men like Snow, since from what Finnick discloses in MJ, it seems that Snow either did prostitute her, or at least try to do so; that possibly, the reason she has no one left to love is because she resisted his demands, and he had her loved ones killed in retribution.

  6. I after reading your post about the Hunger Games costumes I just had an image of finnicks gold fish net turning into a tutu, I really hope they keep the Catching fire costummes closer to the books too, I doubt Johanna will be striping off though, I think they’d probebaly have to change the UK rating from 12A to 15 for that.

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