Fashion as Argument in The Hunger Games (By Marie R. and Jessica I.)

Panem is a country that is under constant surveillance by the Capitol through the enforcement of laws and Peacekeepers. As a result, citizens of the twelve districts must self-monitor to ensure they fall in line with the Capitol’s expectations. If not, they face a range of punishments from whippings to slavery to death. The question remains: how does one express their personal beliefs in a safe and discreet manner? Through deliberate yet seemingly harmless stylistic choices made by Cinna and Katniss, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins tells a story of rebellion using fashion as argument.

Since the beginning of the novel, Katniss shows that she is against the actions of the Capitol, the center of the dystopian country of Panem; most people in the outlying District 12 are. Cinna, Katniss’ stylist during the preparation for the Hunger Games, is an example that not only the oppressed people of Panem have negative feelings towards the Capitol. As soon as he meets Katniss and dresses her for her first live performance, we see that Cinna uses fashion to rebel against the Capitol during the 74th annual Hunger Games. Katniss is his perfect subject on which to display his rebellion, because as soon as she volunteered herself to take part in the most dreaded event of the year, she demanded respect from her district and even from many of the people of the Capitol. “‘Whose idea was the handholding?’ asks Haymitch. ‘Cinna’s,’ says Portia. ‘Just the perfect touch of rebellion,’ says Haymitch. ‘Very nice.’… ‘Presenting ourselves not as adversaries but as friends has distinguished us as much as the fiery costumes’” (Collins 79). Cinna, while making Katniss and Peeta unforgettable by putting them into identical flaming costumes, presents them to the Capitol as a team. Normally tributes from the same district are shown standing apart from each other, enemies before they even enter the arena, and this is expected. When Cinna asks the two tributes from District 12 to hold hands, he is arguing the ways of the Capitol and the power that it holds. If one simple stylist can disrupt its ways, how will it be able to protect itself and its citizens against any level of uprising?

When Cinna is dressing Katniss, he has a clear objective to make sure she is unforgettable. “‘I want the audience to recognize you when you’re in the arena,’ says Cinna dreamily. ‘Katniss the girl who was on fire’” (Collins 67). In the second novel, Catching Fire, it is revealed that Katniss is the face of the rebellion, and from the beginning, Cinna makes sure that everyone knows who is leading them. The second outfit in which Katniss is presented is the most memorable. Cinna puts her in something in which she feels very much unlike herself, but this fiery dress represents the hatred that Katniss slowly begins to feel towards the Capitol. “The slightest movement gives the impression I am engulfed in tongues of fire.” (Collins 120). Cinna is slowly turning Katniss into the icon and leader of the rebellion.

After the Games are finished and Katniss and Peeta are declared co-winners, Haymitch, their mentor, brings President Snow to Katniss’ attention. She pulled a risky stunt to win the Games, something that could have left the Capitol without a single winner, and the Gamemakers, who control everything that happens throughout and concerning the Hunger Games, have been bested. The president of Panem makes it clear that the only thing he wants is Katniss’ flame extinguished. This leads Cinna to dress Katniss in the most innocent outfit after that he can. “I look, very simply, like a girl. A young one. Fourteen at most. Innocent. Harmless. Yes, it is shocking that Cinna has pulled this off when you remember I’ve just won the Games…This is a very calculated look. Nothing Cinna designs is arbitrary” (Collins 355). She needs to be seen as young, small, and most of all, a teenage girl, which she has no desire to be. Cinna is again, manipulating the people of the Capitol, and doing everything he can to make Katniss unforgettable.

FIRE-DRESS
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When Katniss is saying her goodbyes prior to leaving for the Capitol, Madge gifts her a pin to wear as her tribute token into the arena. It isn’t until Katniss is on the train that she recognizes the pin as a mockingjay. Mockingjays are “funny birds and something of a slap in the face to the Capitol,” a result of crossbreeding between mockingbirds and jabberjays, one of the Capitol’s experimental animal weapons for the rebellion gone rogue (Collins 43). Still, it isn’t until Katniss’ encounters with Rue – using mockingjays as communication, learning that the pin meant she could be trusted as an ally – that Katniss takes a closer look at the symbol. As The Hunger Games trilogy unfolds and Katniss continues to participate in acts of rebellion – burying Rue, deciding to eat the berries with Peeta, – what was once a mere fashion statement becomes something bigger. Katniss becomes the Mockingjay herself, the face of the rebellion. Her appearances become increasingly calculated and deliberate. “” (Celt 128). This critical assessment of Katniss not only discusses her physical strength as a victor but her mental strength in opinion against the Capitol. For Katniss, Cinna, Madge, and the viewers in Panem, there is an unspoken weight to symbol of the mockingjay and its ability to transform from a fashion piece to the voice of rebellion and victory.

Through distinct stylistic choices in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Cinna and Katniss rebel against the Capitol. The ever present mockingjay becomes a symbol of the rebellion against the leadership and president of Panem, and Cinna uses his influence as a stylist in the Games to show the Capitol that their ways are easily changed. Collins demonstrates that through fashion, a powerful rebellion can arise and change a nation.

Citations:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, 2010.

Chusna, Aidatul, & Lynda Susana W.A.F.. “THE HUNGER GAMES: REPRESENTING THE NEW IMAGE OF AMERICAN POPULAR HEROES.” Celt (A Journal of Culture, English Language Teaching & Literature) [Online], 15.2 (2015): 118-133. Web. 25 Sep. 2017

Discussion Questions:

What are some parallels between Katniss’ use of fashion as argument in the Hunger Games and your personal choice of fashion in daily life?

In The Hunger Games, fashion aids character development and is an integral part of developing the rebellion against the Capitol. Are there any other YA dystopian novels that you have read in which fashion plays an important role?

 

 

18 thoughts on “Fashion as Argument in The Hunger Games (By Marie R. and Jessica I.)

  1. I think you make a very interesting point with regards to fashion and the way that it influences not only the individual, but also the society that the individual conforms to or in this case rebels against. I believe Cinna as the stylist is just as important in this equation as Katniss, the one who presents and wears the clothing. If Katniss had the permission to dress herself, we know that she would gravitate toward pants and a shirt, however, having an army of stylists or a vision behind the clothing from a third party adds an element of unspoken praise. What can make certain celebrities iconic in the real world is their style, wealth and ability to make an outfit look effortlessly put together, and we know that their effortless looks are mostly thanks to numerous make-up teams and fashion teams. Fashion trends in this sense become undeniable and spread like wildfire because of the effort and the conjoined minds that it takes to produce something worth talking about.

    Cinna dresses Katniss in a way that sets her apart and makes her look fearless and untouchable to the Capitol and to her potential sponsors. Once she is playing the games she is of course dressed like everyone else and is fighting to win. In my own personal opinion, Katniss’ elaborate outfits could compare to the ways in which I may dress when I am hanging out with a different friend group. If I know that I am going to see one of my friends who is more laid back, I’ll subconsciously pick out my converse. Whereas if I am seeing a friend who is always put together, I may bring my new wallet. Sometimes, fashion isn’t about how it makes us feel, but rather about how it makes others feel empowered/accepted or challenged.

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      1. I think the fact that Cinna is the one who dresses Katniss does say something about his part in the rebellion, but Katniss plays a role when she wears those clothes. She may not have a choice in what she wears, but during the scene when she is asked to hold hands with Peeta, that is completely up to her. Cinna suggests that they hold hands to present themselves as a team, but Katniss goes through with it. She knows that it’s rare for tributes to stand together, and since she is already angry at the Capitol for placing first Prim, and then herself, in the position where she has to kill other tributes, she lets her anger fuel her actions. Even when she wears the dress that Cinna has given her, and acts the way that Effie expects her to, she has a choice. That far into the games she can’t be forced to leave. She chooses to act the way she does, both when she acts defiantly, like when she acts like the sweet humble girl from District 12 who is only there to save her sister and is planning to come right back to her, and when she follows the instructions of her mentors. She is the one who chooses to embody the rebellion that Cinna has put on her back.

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  2. I agree with your argument about how Cinna basically acts as a catalyst for Katniss as the face of rebellion in a way.
    To address the first discussion point, I believe the clothes I wear do not always display an argument, but I can draw parallels to the way Katniss’ outfits showed the world who she is – the face of the rebellion – and how I have dressed in the past. I made a point a couple of times in the past to wear leggings and t-shirts to the temple rather than traditional Indian clothes, because I always found it unjust how in my religion girls are expected to wear traditional outfits while boys can go in jeans and t-shirts. So I went to the temple wearing my regular ‘western’ clothes, to prove a point to my mother, and all the other people who follow this tradition. For me it was to show, that the unfair treatment of girls in my culture is wrong and that we should be treated the same no matter what our gender – it shouldn’t be that guys can wear what they want but girls have to follow the traditional fashion, and this is an argument for the mistreatment of females in my culture in general. Although not quite to the same grand scale as Katniss rebelling, this is a way I used fashion to rebel in my own small way to the misogyny present in my culture.

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  3. While I agree whole heartedly with your points I think there is one important one that you have missed: the way Cinna chooses to dress himself. When Katniss meets him for the first time she notices immediately that he isnt dressed and decked out as the Capitol people usually are. He is the only capitol person we meet that isnt altered in some way. Cinna’s refusal not to look like a citizen of the capitol is an act of rebellion in and of itself.

    The Selection by Kiera Cass is another series where fashion plays an extremely important role. I read the first book a long time ago, and only the second one – strangely enough – but the fashion aspect was evident. In the novels the girls are competing for a prince and a way out of their lives, and so they must act the part of a princess – gowns and dresses alike. If the girls did not dress in this fashion they wouldn’t have stood a chance, from what I recall. (This conversation alone has be thinking of revisiting the series!)

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    1. Could you take this a bit further? I agree that Cinna sets himself apart by dressing all in black and only wearing a small bit of make-up from the other residents of the Capitol, most of whom are very flamboyant. But what is his message through dressing simply?

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  4. Great response!
    I am going to contrast the Hunger Games element of fashion with that in another YA dystopian novel: Divergent. Much like the in Panem, the society in Divergent is divided up into factions. These factions are based on personality and how they contribute to society. For example, on faction, Dauntless, is the “warrior” faction, and their job in society is to be the guards and protectors. Another is Amity, which is the “peaceful” faction, and they do the farming for the society. Not only are these factions separated by phycological characteristics, but also in their physical appearance. From the colour to the style of clothes worn, each faction has a completely different aesthetic. This is similar to the variance of fashion between each district and the capitol. The clothes are used as a sign of status. They not only separate people by physical differences, but also connote with a hierarchy of beliefs. The wardrobe, in both novels, is a method of classification and order. It is when Katniss uses the symbol of the Mokingjay in her wardrobe, or the fire in her dress that there is a rebellion. She goes against social norms and expectations. Katniss sets an example of how the slightest rebellion against the capitol can trigger a revolution. Likewise, Tris, the female protagonist in Divergent, is unique due to the fact that she cannot be classified into just one faction. Tris, like Katniss, is a symbol of rebellion against the classification in her society. She refuses to assimilate into one category, and thus is able to “out-smart” the heads of the society. Tris is able to move between factions in her fight, and adopts her own sense of style; one that does not classify her into her assigned faction. Fashion, in both these novels, is a sign of rebellion. It is insane to think of how what a person wears can leave such a lasting impact on those around them, and how these impacts can spark major social movements.

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    1. When I read the second discussion question my mind immediately went to the Divergent series as well as it feels strikingly similar to the hunger games in terms of the districts, factions and rebellion. As you mentioned, all of the factions dress differently in Divergent. Both Erudite (the intelligent) and Candor (the honest) dress in more formal attire (though Erudite is arguably more formal, which aligns with their feelings of superiority.)Amity (the peaceful) dresses in loose flowy attire for farming, Abnegation (the selfless) dress in very plain grey clothing and spend little time looking at themselves as they believe time is better spent helping others, and Dauntless (the brave) dress in dark clothing and are more likely to have tattoos, piercings and coloured hair. All of the factions have different jobs and responsibilities and with that they all dress differently, like the districts in the Hunger Games. The main difference between the two I would say is that the citizens of the districts in the Hunger Games are more obviously oppressed than those in divergent when you look at the general societies outside the plot of the stories, and the fashion makes this very obvious. I think we understand the oppression in Katniss’ society more because Collins juxtaposes them with the Capital. Because the districts are all relatively plain in terms of clothing and jobs, we see a huge contrast between them and the people of the Capital, who don’t have to work and can dress in any (outrageous) way they please. There is a lot of privilege given to those in the Capital. The Divergent series is different in this way as the society itself almost comes off as more of a utopia (at least in the beginning). There are multiple factions, but once you come of age you can choose any one you please to find where you “truly belong” and live up to your full potential, which sounds like a good thing. There is no known Capital above them making all of the rules, there are just 5 factions that all seem to be living equally, doing their fair share in what they’re good at and contributing to the society as a whole. I think this is a really important thing to note about the Huger Game though, where fashion plays a much different role. In Divergent, your fashion tells others of your personality and lifestyle. In the Hunger Games, fashion is a social class signifier. You are either a lowly district citizen, or an important member of the Capital and there is really no in between. I think this juxtaposition is really important in setting the novel up as a dystopia, and the fashion is a great visual signifier to show the society as exactly what it is.

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  5. My fashions choices vary vastly on a daily basis. I can have tights and a comfy sweater on with a full face of makeup, or sweats and no makeup, or a full face of makeup with heels while wearing some of my most dressy clothes and anything in between. I stopped dressing to appease societal norms when I was in grade 11. Previous to that I wore tight jeans that I often found uncomfortable paired with a bright coloured sweater or top, because that was the standard back then. Now, there is nothing wrong with that outfit I just described, however, I realized that that was not my style and I really enjoyed wearing outfits that would be considered quite “dressy” for high school. Those kinds of outfits are what I felt the most beautiful and comfortable in, so I vowed to wear those trousers that I owned but never wore because I was scared of being made fun of. I wore my heels that I thought girls would scoff at me for. I’d like to think that change in grade 11 was a small form of rebellion because I didn’t care what people thought of me anymore, or if I did I convinced myself to wear that outfit anyway because I knew that I liked it. That was when my clothes finally depicted who I truly felt I was, and my classmates, my teachers and society was not going to take that away from me again.
    In regards to your second question, I could not think of any other YA dystopian novels that I have read that haven’t already been mentioned. However, the YA fantasy series The Raven Cycle has a cast of characters that have fashion play a very integral role in their lives. The female of the group is called Blue and she is a character who doesn’t take anyone’s crap. She wears outfits that wouldn’t be considered as stereotypically “regular” clothes: frilly skirts, oversized tank tops over tight t-shirts, very short hair clipped back by hundreds of butterfly clips and bobby pins and once a dress that “looked like a lampshade” (Stiefvater, 2013). She is a strong feminist and she uses her clothing to fight against societal norms all while also expressing herself. As for the boys, they are all part of a prep school so their uniforms all indicate them as the same. However, their individual styles vary drastically. The character of Ronan is well-off but fights against everything relating to what people expect of him. He wears ripped black jeans with a plain black tank top daily and gets a full back tattoo and shaves his head to anger his family. Richard Gansey is also rich, however, he embraces it and shows his wealth with his brightly coloured polo shirts, khakis and boat shoes. The fashion of these three individuals is important to the characterization of them, with Blue and Ronan actually using their fashion as acts of rebellion, just like Katniss and Cinna.

    References:

    Stiefvater, M. (2013). The dream thieves. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

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  6. Hi. I totally agree with your points about Katniss being used a fashion pawn in the battle against the Capitol. But, I noticed how you didn’t touch on Effie’s fashion choices. While in the first novel we don’t see it as much, as the series moves forward Effie uses her fashion to align herself too. When in Catching Fire *SPOILER* Katniss and Peeta are selected/volunteer for the Quarter Quell, Effie chooses to have everyone on their team (her, Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch) have a gold token like Katniss’s Mockingjay pin to show their unity and how that President Snow is basically directing the Games at them to ensure their deaths is completely unacceptable. It also comes up again in the third novel, Mockingjay, where Effie is in District 13 with Katniss and has to dress her up for their ‘promos’ for the capitol. Effie is upset by her lack of access to fashion, but puts it aside to help the rebellion. I think this shows immense character development for her as she no longer feels the need to be dressed in affluent outfits. I think it’s also important to note that in the first book Effie congratulates Cinna on his stylistic choices, which shows her own belief that what the Capitol is doing is wrong. I inserted a clip here that I found funny and also shows Effie’s character development. It’s an outtake from the Mockingjay movie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PMcpmMuBqk

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    1. Spoiler: Effie isn’t in Mockingjay the novel. Her character was so popular that they included her in the film version. That aside, I think it’s interesting to consider how Effie may be using fashion to rebel as well, especially as we dont’ see Effie as particularly rebellious.

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  7. I really enjoyed reading this perspective on fashion within the Hunger Games. Originally I was angry with the way they dressed Katniss, but I understood why they needed to dress her more feminine. This really demonstrates to us how fashion can be used both as a tool for rebellion but also the pressures put onto society to dress a certain way according to your sex, which is perceived as gender. Regarding your first question I wanted to talk about people in our society who do not fit into the gender binary and how they are pressured, like Katniss, to wear clothing that does not fit right with their identity. While Katniss identifies as female, she feels more comfortable in stereotypical male clothing and the people of the Capital would not vote for her or help her in anyway if she continued to dress the way she wanted to. Similarly, on an everyday basis gay/lesbian/queer people feel the pressure to conform to their biological sex and demonstrate the gender attached to that sex. By using fashion to rebel against societal norms they are able to feel more comfortable in their own skin and identity.

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  8. Thank you for your blog post, I find the idea of fashion as argument very interesting. In addressing your first question, the first thing I thought about was the ‘free the nipple’ movement. Although this movement is not directly linked to fashion, I do think it is relevant to a certain extent in the sense that some women are attempting to fight the sexual objectification of nipples on women by exposing their nipples, by wearing see through or sheer shirts or even simply by not wearing a bra. The norm of wearing a bra in our society has been attacked for a variety of reasons, such as their lack of comfort and the sexual connotations attached to ‘freeing the nipple’, a meaning that has not been associated to the male nipple. In relation to this, I also thought about how many young girls in middle and high school have been protesting against ridiculous and sexist dress codes that enforce girls to either wear a bra or not wear any tank tops or strapless shirts. Young girls have been resisting such rules for the double standard they place on women in comparison to men in school, and to fight against the constant sexualization of female bodies.

    Personally, I can see myself as fighting side by side these women who are using clothing, or the ‘lack of’ clothing, to fight against such double standards. However, in other contexts, I have a harder time identifying ways in which I use fashion as argument. One way in which I can see myself doing this is by sometimes dressing in stereotypically non-feminine ways, defying feminine norms placed on women. This said I do also like to dress in stereotypically feminine ways, which re-aligns myself with the self-regulating panopticon, mentioned in class, imposed on members of society. I like to think that I have a choice to dress in whatever way pleases me in all contexts, however, in reality, I think I often do conform to societal standards of ‘acceptable’ clothing that I am expected to wear in certain contexts. Dressing in certain ways affects how people perceive you, which in turn, can affect your overall likeability and success. For example, when I go into a job interview I dress in a way that I rarely dress on a day-to-day basis, and in a way that I do not particularly feel most comfortable in, but I do it anyways to better my chances of being the chosen applicant for a job.

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  9. Hello Marie and Jessica! Thank you for bringing up such a wonderful topic. Fashion, I have always found, has been central to the entire Hunger Games trilogy! I really enjoyed reading about how you viewed it as a tool for rebellion. I think someone touched on it in a previous comment, but I really think that Cinna’s utilization of fashion as a political statement is central to his character. Our first sign of Cinna being rebellious towards the norms of the Capitol is when we are actually first introduced to him, and not when he makes outfits for Katniss. The Capitol residents are known for their extravagant fashion sense; they dye their skin, they undergo many body modifications, and their makeup preferences are quite strange to us as readers. This is the norm for Capitol residents, but Cinna is a different story entirely. Even though he is a resident of the Capitol, he rebels against their stylistic norms and prefers simpler fashion. The only part of his presentation that gives a hint that he is from the Capitol is the gold eyeliner that he wears.
    This form of rebellion showcases his internal feelings towards the Capitol which are revealed gradually throughout the book and into the second one in the series as well. Because of this, I would say that Cinna is central to this idea that fashion is used as a tool for rebellion in The Hunger Games.

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  10. This was really interesting!
    I agree that within the novel clothing plays an integral role to catalyst rebellion, but I also think that body language subconsciously speaks volumes as well. Within the novel, calculated body language is used to sway the viewers of the Games and frame the characters in another perspective. For example, the instruction for Katniss and Peeta to hold hands when first publically seen by the Games viewers as a team. This portrayed the pair as likeable, dividing them for the rest of paired tributes. As the Games are essentially a reality show, this action held Katniss and Peeta under a new lens as memorable, which would aid in sponsorships later in the arena. Another example, is Katniss twirling and spinning in her dress during her interview. Previously to her interview, Haymitch could not coach and groom Katniss into an archetype to model in her interview. Katniss spinning in her glamorous dress deemed her as, again, likeable but also attractive and mysterious. Like the previous example, any significant action would aid her in the arena due to its memorability. Further, Katniss’s constant portrayal of longing for, missing and kissing Peeta, solidified their false onscreen romance to the viewers of the Games. This tactic promised her survival, as holding the attention of the viewers directly affected the quality and quantity of her sponsorships. Finally, Katniss and Peeta’s final stunt of nearly participated in a joint suicide would evoke various reactions for the gamemakers and the viewers. This action overtly represented resistance to the system of the Games, while also solidifying the pair’s ongoing romance strategy. The Hunger Games as a novel strategically plays with a variety of themes, and I feel the combination of clothing and body language aid the story and its success.

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