Next week the Hollywood film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will hit cinemas, complete with the transformation of its leading lady, Rooney Mara, from clean-faced girl next door to multi-pierced, partially shaven-headed, leather-clad Goth.
Given the extraordinary success of the books and the drumroll of pre-release publicity for the film (including covers of both American Vogue and W magazines for Mara), there’s little question that this look is going to have legs. After all, Goth style has long held a certain not-so-positive position in the world of fashion stereotypes and the Dragon Tattoo creator, the late Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson, effectively upends it.
When we first “meet” Lisbeth Salander she is dressed in black leather with rivets and black lipstick. Complementing this attire, she also has tattoos and multiple earrings not in her ears. The knee-jerk assumption, based on the received clichés about people who look like her: she is a “good for nothing” character who, if she holds a job, does so grudgingly and not well. Perhaps she’ll want to cause anarchy and chaos.
She is dressed, in effect, to be the villain – and yet she turns out to be nothing like we expect her to be. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read the books or seen the films, skip to the next paragraph.)
She is incredibly good at her job as a researcher, has a curious and active mind, with remarkable abilities (although her photographic memory is as fictional a power as is Superman’s superhearing or Spider-Man’s spider sense). Plus, she has a very strong moral code and belief in justice, although her definition is somewhat different to the legal one. She strives for order, not chaos. She’s the heroine – even superheroine – of the stories. Yet she doesn’t wear either a cape or a catsuit.
As a result, the fashion industry has embraced her style. H&M is releasing a capsule collection in tandem with the film, available from December 14, featuring clothes that are mostly in shades of black and grey: leather pants, loose and rumpled-looking T-shirts, ripped denim, and, of course, hoodies and a leather jacket.
Meanwhile, almost the entire Junya Watanabe autumn/winter collection was a play on the black leather jacket. The irony, of course, is that buying such clothes means buying into mainstream fashion, which in turn makes the purchasers conformists and anything but independent à la Salander.
Whereas Salander’s Goth style, at least in part, sent a message to keep people at bay, to create an invisible force field around her, fashion tsars presumably hope that potential buyers will want to send a different message: “cool” or “hip”, despite the fact that Salander generally cares nothing for what other people think of her and her attire.
Yet at the same time there are parallels between what Larsson does with the Lisbeth character and what effect the character has had on fashion.
Just as the author flipped our stereotypes on their ear and challenged our assumptions, the move to making rebellious fashions trendy challenges our assumptions about what rebellion-through-fashion means.
Once “rebel” style is co-opted by the fashion industry for the mainstream it is not rebellious at all, but trendy. So why might women buy it?
Put another way: with what, exactly, is the Salander-wearer identifying? It could be with Salander herself, as a powerful heroine. It could be with Salander as a strong, independent-minded non-stereotypical Goth. But it could also be with the opposite, namely stereotypical Goths, upon whom Salander based her own attire (how’s that for being derivative)? Or, Salander wannabes might simply be adopting the clothes to buy into a fad.
If Salander was real, she’d probably find the whole thing either terrifically amusing or pathetic. Or both. But she wouldn’t buy the clothes. Which brings up the question of what this current Salander-based fashion trend means for true Goths. They might, to differentiate themselves from Dragon Tattoo followers, have to modify their attire. Could blue jeans and colourful sweaters become the new uniform of rebellion? That really would be playing with fire.
Robin Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist and author. Her most recent book is the edited anthology ‘The Psychology of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ (Benbella Books)