Fashion in a dystopian world

As my children grow older, their tastes in reading have naturally changed, from picture books to Pony Pals to girl detective novels.

Suddenly, almost overnight, the jump has been made to post-apocalyptic teen fiction, for example Mortal Engines, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner…and movies The Matrix, Oblivion, After Earth, to name a few.

Which brings me to….

Have you ever Googled Post Apocalyptic Fashion?

It’s a world unto itself, sharing borders with punk, steampunk, grunge, gothic and military. Not for lovers of florals, colour or prints!

Sure, there are some weird clothes. However, there are also some wonderful, innovative design details and shapes/silhouettes.

Even if this is a style you wouldn’t wear (and I don’t think it’s a look one could easily pull off here in regional Australia without a big helping of confidence) there are some great details for everyday clothes.

Typically featured are chunky zips, hoods, dark neutral colours, multiple textures, buckles & tabs and cool exterior pockets.

Some designers in this niche also use zero waste patterncutting. Take a look at Ynhoia (Spain) and Tess Whitfort (Australia). Dorawyn (Hungary) knit their own fabrics and Zebraspider (UK) is moving towards zero waste.


PSExtra: How to write post-apocalyptic teen fiction in 3 easy steps. I’ve read a few of these now and I think I can detect some patterns in the storylines…


  1. Mary Warner on November 2, 2021 at 3:39 am

    Liz – Are you familiar with the musician Gary Numan? He is most famous in popular culture for his 1979 song “Cars,” but he has inspired musicians such as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails with his industrial rock that came along later in his career. His last few albums have continued along this industrial theme, but visually he has adopted a post-apocalyptic look for his videos and stage shows. His wife designs his outfits. See his video for “My Name Is Ruin” for a good example of his fashion and music. One of his daughters sings on this song and appears in the video. (He is HUGELY a family guy, his wife and 3 daughters helping out with his music all the time.) Here is a link to the video:

    I find it interesting how much of dystopian fashion is in neutral colors, blacks, browns, grays. There’s this image that when the world goes to hell, we’re no longer going to have any color in the world. I wonder if that’s because people assume we will have to be in camouflage in order to hide from the evil elements of a dystopian reality or if it’s more practical than that. Like we’ll have no vegetation left to produce dyes. But, if we have no vegetation left to produce dyes, we likely wouldn’t have plants to produce fibers (not sure about animals that provide fibers, either). And if it’s truly a chaotic dystopia, we probably wouldn’t have an organized means of production. People would have to make their own clothes and zero-waste would definitely be a priority.

    LOL! Your post has me thinking about the practicalities of either a real dystopia or a fictional one based on reality!

    • lizhaywood on November 2, 2021 at 10:46 am

      Hi Mary, I’ve heard the name but not much more. Just watched the video – yes, very much so!
      The absence of colour IS kind of interesting. I’m the most annoying person in the world to sit next to while watching post apocalyptic movies: “How come their clothes have zips? Are there still zip factories going? Okay, maybe they’re using up old stock, but just the black, brown and grey zips, not the pink ones. But there must still be ammo factories because they’re using guns. Where are they getting these (clearly) factory made things?”

      • Mary Warner on November 2, 2021 at 11:02 am

        You’re right, Liz! Where do they get their zippers if society is so chaotic that factories are no longer operating? But there’s ammo, so clearly someone is producing something. This is a major plot hole, if you ask me. Truly, if society were so torn apart that factories were no longer operating, people would be digging their fabric out of stashes some of us have built up in our houses or out of landfills. If the fabric comes out of our stashes, it’s going to come in all sorts of colors and patterns, not just neutrals. If people have to dig fabric out of landfills, it may well be so dirty as to read as neutral, but it’s not going to be some flat, pristine neutral, like all black or khaki. … Now, then, what would a dystopian novel look like written from the perspective of a fiber artist or clothing designer? Ha!

        In case you’re interested, here is Gary Numan performing “Cars” with Nine Inch Nails. It’s a stellar performance. Erik and I have seen Numan and NIN in concert separately and they were both flawless performances.

      • lizhaywood on November 2, 2021 at 11:45 am

        Excellent point, Mary! Massive plot hole. It’s possible to re-load ammo and use it again, but who ever picks up the spent casings? Clothing would be a total mash-up of colours.

  2. del on November 2, 2021 at 4:10 am

    Chuckling at your formula for writing, Liz ~
    Very clever & accurate! He-he-heeeeee!

    • lizhaywood on November 2, 2021 at 10:50 am

      Cheers, Del. Don’t think I could write fiction though – I’m sticking to sewing patterns!

  3. Juliet on November 2, 2021 at 7:20 pm

    Liz… I would love to read your dystopian novel…. You could have a heroine (or hero) who used to run a clothes refashion/repurpose stall in the dingy market until they were plucked from obscurity for a grand quest. Along the way they would use their skills to do fabulous inventive “Macguyver-ing”. And they wouldn’t need a lover, because they’d be a strong independent woman (or man), who only needs the company of a bird/small mammal or small tortoise who lives in their pocket (and a harmonica).

    • lizhaywood on November 9, 2021 at 1:39 pm

      Ah, they always put a love interest in.
      I’m sticking to non-fiction; I think you would be far better at it than me!

  4. Margo on November 2, 2021 at 8:41 pm

    I too have these thought when watching shows such as The Walking Dead and any other post apocalyptic film or show. Also books.

    As there is usually little or no electricity this means everything would need to be sewn either on a treadle machine or by hand. Why aren’t the clothes patched and mended? Would different groups develope their own stitch patterns when patching clothes? Would these become encoded with meaning about social status within that community?
    Then there are the questions about female personal hygiene needs.
    Plus we haven’t even touched on footwear or household linen, medical supplies like bandages…

    • lizhaywood on November 9, 2021 at 1:58 pm

      Good point about the mending – clothes would become much more precious. And yes, I reckon separate communities would go off on their own clothing tangents, recognizable from other groups.

  5. Emily on November 3, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    Oh goodie, another fashion rabbit hole to go down

    Just yesterday I learned about “goblincore”, I guess similar to cottage core but more goblin-y

    • lizhaywood on November 9, 2021 at 2:00 pm

      Thanks Emily – just looked up Goblincore – it’s a very natural/woodland aesthetic, isn’t it?

  6. Kat on November 13, 2021 at 5:31 am

    In many dystopian stories clothing often represents the state. In the Hunger Games the Capitol folks are all about color, fashion and individual style, while the rest are making due with what they have/or are given. So often conformity is valued by the state. In The Giver, most people can’t see color. Love this “Thread”!

Leave a Comment