One of the things I have been most focused on lately is establishing a mood through descriptions, specifically descriptions of clothes. It’s a trick I noticed upon analyzing the master of it (in my opinion): William Gibson. Focusing on making a character’s wardrobe interesting places them not just as a character, but it places the world.

I have been obsessed with the trailer for Blade Runner 2049. If you haven’t watched it yet, you can do so here.

There is a lot to love there, including the environments, the music, and what they show of the story. But I want to focus on the costumes first.

We can see this begin with Gosling.

We see two outfits here from Gosling: One of them has the fur fringe with the leather and the second has a high collar (it is unclear if they are the same but I don’t think so). The fur signals boldness: organic in a world of synthetic. The ability to afford this and keep it clean means this guy has some status in society but is also not uptight. This is supposed to be a cool look (it’s also Gosling).

Compare this to the Russians.

These have the same signals of trying for the fur, but it’s obviously ratty and dirty. The shirt under the fur is synthetic (like the fur likely is) and tries to compensate with bright color. In the end, it does have personality, but looks cheap. You can also look in the background at the other fashions and notice something similar. This is not a particularly minimalist world. People fight back against the oppression of the future with their clothing, similar to, I don’t know, the 80s (or increasingly today).

Next we have the functional clothing of the Russian man.


The Russian man is not to be messed with. He has simple wireframe glasses that look almost institutional and a very functional shirt that has no personality at all. It is no surprise to see him tackling Gosling later in the trailer: he looks like a badass.

We have different functional clothing from a woman and Gosling later.

The woman, looks functional in an understated way. Here Gosling looks similar, though his shirt looks a little nicer. He has nothing to front about since this is not a street fashion. As such, you see a more appropriate, indoor, cop look.

Finally, the elegant minimalism of the bad guys (who are, I imagine, very tech-heavy).

This is very non-organic, embracing the technological future (as opposed to Gosling who has an uneasiness with it due to the fur). Leto has a beard, but then he’s the bad guy so I think the beard signals that more than anything about the organic vs. techno-fetishist paradigm.

Analysis like this leaves me with a question for my own work: How do I establish what the parameters are for cool vs. not cool in my world and then how do I signal that very quickly with a description? Gibson is awesome at this; a read through of any of his book (but especially Neuromancer) will prove this to you. Part of his trick, I think, is picking out things for the youth culture to wear that could be ugly but have been deemed cool by the universe of the book, but I am sure there are others.

What are some of your favorite movies for costumes? @me on twitter at @cbsalem with your thoughts!