Watching Spike Jonze’s Her, it’s easy to get lost in Joaquin Phoenix’s watery, turquoise eyes, magnified behind retro-hipster eyeglasses. For anyone interested in fashion, this film is a visual treasure trove, from facial hair to high-waisted pants, with a sumptuous color palette from start to finish. So far, much of the conversation about style in the movie has centered around costume designer Casey Storm’s rejection of cliché ”futuristic” clothes. Though the movie takes place sometime in the next hundred years, the garments resemble what we wear now — pants, button-downs, blazers, skirts —but taken to a new, homogenous extreme. Lapels have changed, waistlines risen, but everyone looks more or less like they work on the Microsoft campus. The effect is disorienting, like flipping through Waspy family photo albums from the eighties — even just 30 years ago, everyone looked weird.
Aside from the style mash-up (a seventies pussy bow here, a bit of polar fleece there, no denim anywhere), the most remarkable thing about the fashion in Her was the absence of anything we’d even remotely consider “sexy” today. The clothing feels stunted by a culture that has stopped thinking about fashion. When you live so much in your own imagination, communicating through screens and ear pieces, who needs innovative clothes? The material world literally pales in comparison to the virtual world — many of the costumes are combinations of muted mustards and pale blues, cantaloupes, and grays. By contrast, Pheonix’s character Theodore Twombly wears bright hues of Big Bird yellow and burnt red — and recalls sexless man-child Mr. Rogers, in his many sweaters. In the beginning of the film, he is the lone character in that deep red; a metaphorical open wound listening to melancholy music in a dusty pastel landscape. He wears variations on that shade through the whole movie.
In this brave new world, style and physical sexuality are redundant, even menacing. Twombly’s one true female friend, Amy (Amy Adams), has a downtown androgyny that elicits little sexual thrill. Makeup and jewelry are worn only by a woman Twombly attempts (and fails) to date.
Black makes limited appearances in the film overall. Twombly’s ex-wife (Rooney Mara), wears slim black pants in a flashback, and a chic black pencil skirt to sign her divorce papers. Black signifies failed love — the most striking use of which appears on a quasi-sex worker who comes to his apartment. Yet even she is clad in a tame, cotton shift that falls just above her knees.
The lack of racy clothing in the film makes it more believable that Twombly could fall in love with a computer. Because we can all recognize the voice of Samantha as current-day seductress Scarlett Johansson, it’s easy to imagine her as more attractive than any of the female characters we actually do see. The women in the real world exert little sensory pull to compete with the satisfaction of being adored and understood by his operating system.
Spike Jonze explores how we feel in love, both now and in the future, but one thing is certain: It doesn’t depend on showing lots of skin, which may, in the end, be the point. Sexual attraction has little to do with what we wear and occurs mostly in our minds. That means no thongs, no side-boob, nary a crop top to be found. And from a fashion perspective, watching the movie in 2013, that is perhaps the most radical idea of all.