‘The Matrix’ Worked Hard to Make Low-Cost Outfits Look Expensive

The Matrix was released in 1999, and immediately when it was released, it changed the pop culture landscape. The film, starring high-profile stars like Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss, kickstarted a film franchise that resulted in two additional films, video games, tie-in novels, and much more.

It has also left an indelible mark on the world of fashion, with signature clothing styles and pieces that created a cultural revolution in the fashion industry. Interestingly enough, even though the costumes featured in The Matrix would go on to change the face of fashion, the movie’s designers had to work with a very limited budget, forcing them to improvise in numerous ways. 

‘The Matrix’ takes place in a futuristic world

The Matrix tells the story of a dystopian future, in which humanity is trapped inside a simulated reality known as the Matrix. Starring Reeves as computer programmer Neo and Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, a human freed from the Matrix, the movie blended the science fiction genre with drama and intrigue in a way that no one film ever had before.

The Matrix utilized cutting-edge special effects, including a visual effect known as “bullet time,” among others. It wasn’t just special effects and characters that captivated fans, however — it was the whole look of the movie, including the sharp, eye-catching costumes that changed up the way that many fashion designers created their collections. 

Costume designers on ‘The Matrix’ had to cut corners to create high-end costumes

The Matrix: Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving shoot at each other
L-R: Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving | Ronald Siemoneit/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Showrunners on The Matrix didn’t have a huge budget to work with, as the film was not expected to be a major success. This left the film’s costume designers to work with what they had, which wasn’t always much.

Kym Barrett, the lead costume designer on The Matrix, admitted to Glamour that even though she had no idea the film would blow up as it did, that she still had a very specific goal in mind when designing the looks: “I was trying to tell a story about what it would be like to live in that world. I never had a hard number on when in the future it was set, but I wanted it to feel like it was in a world of bigger possibility, and now we are in that world.”

Barrett used the resources at her disposal to create memorable looks for the characters — such as substituting stretchy PVC for much more expensive leather. She also searched for end rolls of designer fabrics to save money, piecing together different bits in order to build full costumes on a budget.

‘The Matrix’ is now considered to be a very influential film to high fashion

Of course, Barrett’s hard work at cutting corners ended up paying off big time. The looks in the film became instantly recognizable, with long, shiny trench coats, tiny sunglasses, bondage pants, and slick material that made the entire movie look as though it took place in a distinctly stylized world.

To this day, The Matrix continues to influence fashion in a big way, with well-known graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister claiming that “the slow-motion action, the uses of new technology, the special effects and the costumes, even the villains with their skinny ties, bad suits and queer sunglasses — you definitely still see that around as an influence.”

Between the unconventional subject in The Matrix and the unique costume design, it’s no wonder that the film remains a cultural force to this day — with fans all over the world emulating the characters and putting on their own long trench coats and tiny sunglasses year after year. 

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