Anthony Salus appraises the fashion within the Fight Club realm, and how it elevates our interpretations of the main characters in the story.
Fight Club. Some celebrate David Fincher’s masterful aesthetic style and regard the film as a subject of study. Others consider Brad Pitt’s physique an icon with prestige akin to that of the modern-day Adonis. Nonetheless, over two decades later, the film still commands cult followings in all aspects of its composition. However, as most of the world is locked down into a state of sweatsuit-wearing claustrophobia, examination into the exuberant fashion of Fight Club offers some much-needed escapism and nostalgia. So, let us ponder over some of the style choices Tyler Durden and company makes as they roam through the late-capitalist urban landscape.
Aside from the cryptic frame inserts which mirror the Narrator’s insomnia induced hallucinations, we are first introduced to Tyler Durden in his soap-making business attire. Effortlessly comfortable in his 70s style floral patterned open-collared silk shirt, layered with a symbolically red checkered sport-coat, Durden’s appearance contrasts against that of Edward Norton’s more insipid character immediately. Adding to the timeless appeal, his tinted glasses are a motif still enjoyed by stars from the likes of Robert Downey Jr. to Jeff Goldblum. Certainly, the use of wardrobe is a manifestation of character, and here it is perhaps the Narrator’s outfit that is more telling. Wrapped in grey-toned business wear so mundane it only serves to achieve commercial utilitarian purposes, the tediously repetitive lifestyle and mind-space of Norton’s character is likely one identifiable by many. Yet, dressed in fire hazardous synthetic blazers and ill-fitting shirts seemingly inspired by the Michelin Man, it is no wonder his life is presented as a zombified existence. So, with a few style cues from costume designer Michael Kaplan who has worked on other projects such as Miami Vice, Blade Runner and the recent set of Star Wars films, we too can inject a provocative buzz into our current lives.
Perhaps the signature Tyler Durden look, he dons a slim leather jacket worn in with wrinkles that suggest the perfect individualised fit. Comparable to both the rebellious image of James Dean from the 50s and Saint Laurent’s Fall 2020 woman’s collection, this outfit suggests a liberated attitude more than anything. The vivid redness of his jacket stands out against the rest of the film’s grimy aesthetic as well as foreshadow the violence which ensues. Layered underneath, his patterned shirt is one third undone, from the bottom. Then, torso down Durden opts for a non-constricting pair of baggy side-stripe pants. Interestingly, while his style still feels surprisingly modern, many viewers of the film two decades ago did not find his choices as appealing. Like how the film did not gain commercial success against
audiences of its time, the fashion choices are also arguably not wholly cohesive with the late 1990s or early 2000s trends. But, it is the very feeling of anemoia or indiscernible nostalgia some of us feel when seeing the style of an alternate reality on display in Fight Club that adds to the overall allure.
Towards the tail end of the film, Tyler wears possibly the boldest statement fit of all: fur coat, meshed shirt, 70s inspired flared pants and a pair of brown Gucci loafers. On the accessories front, his spherical sunglasses are reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s infamous Oakley phase during the ‘90s. Grooming-wise his previously spiked up choppy cut is now buzzed clean, fitting for the leader of an anarchic organisation. However, notably Durden’s stylistic tendencies should not inspire excessive indulgence into luxury and possible wastefulness. This is especially significant considering contemporary problems of fast fashion and discussions on the use of animal fur in the industry. Michael Kaplan points to low-cost thrift stores as the source of the Gucci loafers. The set of jackets and coats Brad Pitt wears in the film are grime ridden and repurposed. Although lavishly dressed, Tyler Durden does not embody a rich man engrossed in luxury. Instead, his articles of clothing exist in a balanced state between physical deterioration and fashion iconography throughout the decades. In short, all the choices the Narrator lacks the confidence to wear.
The antithesis of Tyler Durden’s theatrical colour palette, Marla Singer’s wardrobe is dark and macabre. Similar to the penniless and thrifted approach of Tyler, Marla’s clothes are distressed as is her psychological state. When discussing the character of Marla with Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Kaplan suggested channeling the highly stressful essence of Judy Garland from the classical Hollywood era. While some cues from the old world inspiration carry forward, her outfits are predominately more akin to the fashion of grunge movements. However, to those with a discernible eye, when Marla first talks to the Narrator, she wears a post-apocalyptic Rick Owens coat. Nonetheless, Marla’s costuming is an eclectic collection of styles and sub-cultural influences across the years.
There is a certain irony in reminiscing and exploring the element of fashion in Fight Club, a film which critiques our social obsession with consumerism. However, as we appreciate the flamboyance of Tyler Durden, in fact Edward Norton’s character is the one most consumed by a product-centric lifestyle. The Narrator proclaims before a change in ideology, ‘I had … a wardrobe that was getting very respectable, I was close to being complete’. In this sense, aside from the intrigue of examining the costume design of Fight Club from a nostalgic perspective, the overriding style takeaway is an attitude of freedom.