Do you think they have a MET Gala in Middle-earth? If they don’t, they should. As a fantasy writer, I believe no fantasy world is fully realized without fashion. Fashion, though often considered to be nothing more than frivolity, is as integral to a world’s rendering as its resources, its struggles, its power structures, and its art. In fact, fashion is the instrument by which all of these are often expressed. It can be frivolity, yes, but often it’s everything else as well.
This is why I’ve compiled my list of the seventeen most iconic fashion moments across science fiction and fantasy. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Janelle Monáe in Dirty Computer
If you want to fight me for including Dirty Computer on a sci-fi/fantasy list, let’s rumble. Janelle Monáe can be on any iconic fashion list she wants because she creates in any genre she wants. Every frame of her “emotion picture” would be taught at Parsons. We’re talking garments, hair, and makeup. All of it.
Jupiter’s wedding gown in Jupiter Ascending
This gown is so iconic that Us Magazine used it in place of actress Mila Kunis’ actual wedding gown. And honestly, it’s probably better than anything earthly made. The stoning, the alien flowers as appliqué, and the five-hundred-pound Chihuly headdress create a stunning look that truly makes up for everything else in this confused movie (which I love, but that’s another essay entirely).
Wonder Woman’s Asteria armor in Wonder Woman 1984
This movie was baffling, but there was one thing that made sense, and that was Wonder Woman’s choice to attend a Doomsday doom conference in golden antique, footie pajamas. The wings were a bit much, but she quickly shrugs those off and fully leans into this Metropolis fantasy. Way to go, Diana!
Ruby Rhod’s opera outfit from The Fifth Element
To be honest, there isn’t a single look in The Fifth Element that doesn’t deserve a spot on this list, but we need to honor Ruby Rhod’s rose look specifically. This, today, would halt time in Times Square. And Ruby’s head-to-toe leopard? Wonder Woman should have worn that to the press conference.
Great Fairy from the Zelda video games
These ladies of the Zelda universe are proof that drag transcends all realms. And if you doubt me, ask yourself: What do the fairies do when you find their fountain? Scream! And then flirt with Link, unrelentingly. That’s drag. That’s fashion. These ladies are bold, and you would be, too, if you were wearing a bustier made out of ivy.
Caesar Flickerman from The Hunger Games
Katniss this, Effie that, but what about Caesar? No one has done more for the butch-fashionistas than Caesar Flickerman, in his gilded power suits, sky-high mullet, and dyed eyebrows. This is sort of a read, but sort of not. People forget that masc fashion is fashion, too, but Caesar makes sure we remember via suits that are clearly made from wallpaper, drapery, and I’m sure a few dragons.
Everything Jennifer Lopez wears in The Cell
There is not a single look Jennifer Lopez wears in The Cell that I haven’t envisioned myself wearing to my high school reunion. And actually, that goes for basically all of this movie’s looks. They are weird and look uniformly impossible to move in, and that’s fashion, baby.
Lady Yunalesca from Final Fantasy X
Hair is power; hair is fashion. Just ask Lady Yunalesca, who I never managed to beat in FFX! While the dowdy High Summoners that preceded her did their duty in musty robes and cloaks, Lady Yunalesca took one look at her destiny and dared to ask: Can I do this job in a bikini? And she did. And we thank her for her service.
Anck-Su-Namun from The Mummy
It’s so, so bold of the people who made The Mummy to name it after a side character when clearly the entire series rotates around Anck-Su-Namun. She wants what we all want—to be resurrected not once but several times because there’s simply no one else who can pull off the blunt-bangs-and-painted-on-leotard ensemble.
Hela’s battle armor in Thor: Ragnarok
Nothing screams confidence like making the effort to wear full body armor, including an arachnophobia-inspiring helmet, just to leave your shoulders naked. Cate Blanchett was inevitably going to show up on this list, and I’m glad she’s doing so as our favorite eccentric goth aunt.
Trinity in The Matrix
While we’re on the subject of head-to-toe black, we need to talk about Trinity. And The Matrix in general. I’m being 100-percent honest when I say that The Matrix changed fashion. The looks were so popular that they’re circling back right now. And they’ll continue phasing back into style, until someone manages to unplug us all. I’m looking at you, Neo!
All of it. All of Blade Runner. I’m talking about the 1982 costume designs, which are all so iconic that I sometimes think that movie is just mashed-up footage of a New York Fashion Week after-party. Also, a special shout-out to Daryl Hannah’s costume in the role as “maniacal sex robot,” which consisted of a choppy blond bob and so much eye shadow that she makes Trixie Mattel (an actual drag queen) look barefaced.
Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo from Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Say what you will, but this look is exactly what I, too, would wear while leading a space-opera rebellion. It’s dignified yet sexy, and it looks stunning against those sterile white interiors. And don’t get me started on the hair. The whole look is impeccable and powerful. She should have sent the Sith a selfie and they would have given up right away.
Queen Amidala’s hair tubes from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
For my own safety, I have to include the Queen Amidala on this list. It’s the law. But it also makes sense. I sort of forget what her actual job was, but whatever land her throne reigned over, it was certainly the fashion capitol of the galaxy. So much so that I’m surprised Tyra Banks hasn’t attempted to send a cycle of top models there for an ANTM finale.
Chrisjen Avasarala from The Expanse
I tried to pick just one look, but there are so, so many gorgeous Chrisjen looks. And they are used with such intent! I haven’t gotten through all of The Expanse yet (it truly is expansive), but the promise of seeing Chrisjen show up and boss people around in one of her gorgeous embroidered ensembles is keeping me going.
T’Challa from Black Panther
I want to state for the record that T’Challa is, without a doubt, the most fashionable Avenger. Next to T’Challa’s full-black ensemble, Iron Man looks like a futurist Ronald McDonald. Black Widow looks like she’s late for spin class. And Captain America… I can’t even perceive Steve Rogers because of those goofy stripes. Send them all home. T’Challa is our fashionable king.
Lucy’s burial gown from Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Okay, this is actually and undeniably MET Gala worthy, and that’s including the Kool-Aid lips. I mean, the ruff collar alone looks starched enough to behead anyone who gets too close, and that’s how you know the look is couture. Not only does it look like it could kill, but it looks like it already has.
Originally published in January 2021.
Ryan La Sala grew up in Connecticut, but only physically. Mentally, he spent most of his childhood in the worlds of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess, which perhaps explains all the twirling. He studied Anthropology and Neuroscience at Northeastern University before becoming a project manager specialized in digital tools. He technically lives in New York City, but has actually transcended material reality and only takes up a human shell for special occasions, like brunch, and to watch anime (which is banned on the astral plane). Reverie is Ryan’s debut novel. You can visit him at ryanlasala.com.