Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Princess Leia & Her Wardrobe

I am old enough to have seen the first three Star Wars films when they first appeared in the theatre. Star Wars came out in 1977, so Princess Leia's modest white maxi-dress was not odd, although certainly her hairdo was original--and easily copied by a generation of little girls who dressed as her for Hallowe'en.

Leia's ski suit and other uniforms in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) were similarly familiar to girls growing up at the time. We wore a lot of clothes back then, and baggy, oversized clothes were considered cool by 1984. Naturally she still looked feminine because of her pretty face and long, artistically-looped braids.  (Her braid-crown reminded us that she was a princess.) These were also easily copied by little girls.

Therefore, when Leia appeared onscreen in The Return of the Jedi (1983) in a copper-and-leather bikini, I was horrified.  This was not at all how grown women dressed in public at the time. Naturally, it didn't make me feel any better that Leia was attached to a collar, a chain and a giant anthropomorphic slug. Whatever the adults intended, it was obvious to a child that Leia's outfit was a mark of degrading slavery.

I was thinking about this the other day when I heard that Carrie Fisher had had a heart attack. "Slave Leia" is a theme of much joking today, but when I was a child in the cinema, I was frightened for her. And all of a sudden a great mystery was solved: why it was that, when I was a muscular twig of 26, a lean, mean, fighting machine, I couldn't bring myself to buy a bikini. Other girls probably have happier bikini memories--watching old Gidget movies or having glamorous bikini-wearing aunts. But mine was of Leia---the small and feminine yet brave and adventurous princess--who preferred to dress for dignity or comfort but was stuffed into harem-wear when captured by an enemy.

Update: Carrie Fisher on the "slave bikini" : The father who flipped out about it, ‘What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?’ Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.” Which is exactly what I thought.


  1. I heard her in an interview say that the "hair rolls" hair do was because she was told her face was too chubby. She lost weight but it didn't change her face shape. I was so sad hearing this, especially as I am a chubby face girl with big cheeks.
    I really liked her but I fear that she was not happy for much of her life.

    Aussie Girl in NZ

  2. No, she wasn't. She had a mental illness and, less seriously, various addictions to controlled substances, which she beat. Hollywood children have their own unique problems, and drugs flowed there before anywhere else, I believe. However, one of the conditions of 12 steps programs is honesty, and honesty made her a darned good writer. Despite her demons, she was a very clever woman. See http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/12/15-of-carrie-fishers-best-most-honest-feminist-quotes.html?mid=twitter_cut

  3. When I was a young woman - and you too, I expect, though you're considerably younger than I - the only two swimming options were bikinis and maillots, and oh yes, the dreaded skirted swim suit. I notice that nowadays it's acceptable to wear swim leggings with a t-shirt, modified boy-type trunks with a stretchy bra-tank on top, and various other combinations that are far more modest than tanks and bikinis but don't have the awful frumpiness of skirted swim suits.


  4. Not that much younger! Yes, I remember women in bikinis at the beach in those days, but my mother wore a maillot and of course girls at swimming lessons generally wore a maillot, too. I cheered at the introduction of "boy-shorts" and tank. Because nowadays if I swim anywhere it is in the Mediterranean (OH THE GLAMOUR OF ME), I wouldn't mind a modified kind of burkini just to keep the sun off. Really, I suppose I am thinking of a lycra wetsuit of some sort.