Speaking to the Wall Street Journal back in 2012, John Waters regretted the deterioration in sub-cultural style: “When I was young, there were beatniks. Hippies, guy. Punks, guy. Gangsters, guy. You’re a hacktivist now. Which I would have been if I were 20—Shutting down the Mastercard. Yet there’s no way to look at the lifestyle! Besides sporting a bad dress and a bad stance.”
In real life, hackers may have come to favour the stealth and convenience of hoodies and sweatpants for logging long hours on their computers – as we heard from The Social Network, even billionaire tech super lords choose ‘fuck-you flip-flops’ over suits. But before the sleek minimalism of The Matrix (1999) and the elegant goth of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) made hacking synonymous with well-cut black leather jackets, one 1995 film had a different conception of how this emerging subculture should look.
Hackers, headed by Iain Softley, tracks a group of adolescents on their journey into cyberspace, encountering corporate manipulation and code-based conspirators. Although the tech-centric storey is very much a product of its period – floppy discs feature heavily – its throbbing, Prodigy-loaded soundtrack, kaleidoscopic hacking scenes, and a photogenic young ensemble like Angelina Jolie, Jonny Lee Miller, Matthew Lillard, and more have cemented its reputation as a cult movie. But one element of its appeal, which is written and reprogrammed ad infinitum, is its clothes.
ON RESEARCHING REAL LIFE HACKERS AT THE TIME
“We’ve gone through several recesses across New York, The hackers here in London didn’t even have that much of a profile. And you couldn’t recognise them. So it was a pretty big deal in New York. They must have held conferences, and so on. And, darn it they were so dull. They were dressed up in black. Some of them were very old, in truth, and they had been in computers for a long time. It wasn’t quite the glamour or the person that I wanted to build, so we had to make our own, essentially.”
ON HIS INFLUENCES AND INSPIRATION
The magazines of the day were great; they were full of things. And there was a lot of club stuff going on in the mid-90s, where kids were dressing up. I wanted to focus on that in the film as a whole but to give it this somewhat futuristic edge.
They were still very aware that it was for the American market, and they were a little frightened that it was going to be too fashion-oriented. Because, you know, there’s this ridiculous belief that if you make something too fashion-of-the-day, it’s a shelf life, and people will laugh at it in a couple of years. But I was striving to make it timeless. By using information from the past, the present, and my vision of the future.
I was trying to spice it all together. And here was a perfect opportunity to make this style patchwork, as it were. And I enjoy a lot of things. People say, ‘What’s your favourite stuff, what’s your favourite period? ‘Well, I like all of them, mixing them all.