Guardians of the Galaxy: A thrilling tale of adventure, thievery, danger, romance, and incredible heroism in the face of great evil. The original Marvel comic book characters—dating as far back as 1969—have been changed several times over the years. New stories and new timelines have followed the first tales. But one thing has remained the same—except in short-lived alternate timelines, the leader of the Guardians has always been a man.
In today’s most recent iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy—a fantastic film adaptation by Marvel Studios—Peter Quill of Earth, also known as Star Lord, steals a mysterious orb in the far reaches of outer space and thus becomes the main target of a manhunt led by the villain, Ronan the Accuser. To fight Ronan and his team and save the galaxy from his power, Quill bands together a team of misfit space anti-heroes who become known as the “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Peter Quill is attractive, witty, good-hearted, and capable. Played by actor Chris Pratt, the character emits all the charm and skill that fans could hope to expect of an easy going thief-turned-hero. And he has the perfect wardrobe to match—an insect-like mask with glowing red lenses, fitted leather pants, twin space pistols, combat boots, and a dashing red jacket. In the first scene, Quill wears a long red duster, but throughout the rest of the summer blockbuster, his jacket is a shorter, more practical version. That jacket is the subject of today’s blog post.
When I saw Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters, I did not find myself identifying with the main female role—a green-skinned alien assassin named Gamora, played by the lovely Zoe Saldana. While she was plenty fierce and stunningly attractive, she simply did not give me that connection to a character that allows me to step into that role as I enjoy the film. Instead, I found myself identifying more closely with Quill’s snarky attitude and half luck, half skill style of action.
The initial reasons I chose to create Quill’s jacket are based on this character identification and one other important detail: In my spare time (and many times during the night when I should be asleep), I am often up sewing or crafting. For by day I am a hard-working IT employee and grad student, but by night and sometimes on the weekends, I am one of the few, the nerdy, the cosplayers! That is to say, I spend inordinate amounts of time and hard work creating costumes to adorn myself with the roles of my favorite characters from comics, movies, books, and video games.
Many a cosplayer will at times adapt a character of one gender to match his or her own gender. This type of cosplay is referred to as gender bending. It is a technique I was particularly interested in for my appropriation of the character of Star Lord, but especially in relation to this particular storyline. How many times have girls and young women watched as one comic, action movie, or video game after another offers a strong male hero and a female sidekick? Or a female love interest? Instances of strong female heroines may be becoming more popular, but they are still the minority by far. For a film such as Guardians, which fits into several male hero-dominated genres—action, adventure, and science fiction—I felt it would be especially meaningful to adapt the male hero to a female version.
With that in mind, I modified my version of Star Lord’s iconic red jacket to better fit the female form. It has contoured seams, sleeker fabric, and a more feminine collar line. The jacket was also tailored to fit my female body shape, unlike the original bulky faux leather form. The shape of a garment is inherent to the style and effect it has on the audience. But it is especially important in conveying a specific gender type—or on the other hand, a gender-neutral look, if that is the intention.
This brings me to a subject at the heart of my project—the expectations guiding the design and style choices of women’s fashion (here I am mostly referring to the western hemisphere, but also in many other places around the world). There are certain assumptions made when designing for women, both of what a woman should look like and of what she should not look like.
A BuzzFeed article from October of this year covers “All The Items Of Clothing Women Have Been Told Not To Wear In 2014,” highlighting the backwards notions that women still have to deal with, even in these advanced modern times. The garments in this article range from everything including miniskirts to trousers, to underwear, to burqas. But the overall point is this: women should not be expected to change their style of dress—those who oppress them should be expected to change their attitudes.
Such an important and controversial topic cannot be covered enough, and I felt that it was a highly appropriate source of inspiration for the project at hand—a heroic man’s jacket converted to a feminine style, to showcase a woman as a heroine and star of her favorite genres, action and sci-fi.
Another subject that I felt really brought this project home for me was the idea of Critical Making, as explained by Matt Ratto in “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” Although it would have been even more relevant had this project been an interactive, in-class assignment, I still felt the basic concepts connected to this task. (And not for nothing, as we did intend to have several in-class workshops, but luck was not with us this semester…) The act of physically crafting something with your hands really gives another dimension to the task of learning and reflecting as you work. I definitely felt a growing emotional investment in my project as I spent more time, tears, and sweat building my jacket and working out the connections between components.
The final, and perhaps most complex, aspect of such a jacket was the need for it to contain wearable technology. Several ideas lent themselves to the why and the what that this jacket’s technology should include. First, the Guardians of the Galaxy story is a very sci-fi, space opera type of tale. It requires advanced technology to exist and to allow the characters to play their roles.
Second, a key feature of the recent film was Star Lord’s iconic cassette tape player, a relic of the time when he was taken from the earth as a child, carrying with him the tunes of the 80s gathered in a mixed tape created by his mother. The cassette player itself was an important item to Star Lord, as one of the few things he still had to remind him of Earth and the family he lost. The music it contained comprised the majority of the soundtrack for the film. It set the tone and created the overall playful, yet epic, atmosphere of the whole film and the themes contained within. And one song in particular played a key role in the final dramatic conclusion of the struggle between Star Lord and the other Guardians of the Galaxy and their opponent—Ronan the Accuser. Had it not been for his mixed tape and his quirky antics, Star Lord and his friends might not have been able to save the day.
Finally, Star Lord’s space ship added a layer of inspiration to the design of the electronics in the jacket. Its sleek design and panels of LED switches and translucent screens suggested the visual form for my design. I ultimately decided to combine rows of LEDs with an audio sensor to allow the lights to react to music played from the movie soundtrack. For components I chose Adafruit’s Flora Neopixels, combined with the Adafruit Flora main board and an Electret Microphone Amplifier.
In order to put together a working system with as little frustration as possible, I searched for a tutorial. My search led to the Adafruit LED Ampli-Tie Tutorial by Becky Stern. I had to adapt some of the components and layout to fit inside my jacket, but the end structure of the components was much the same. The main adjustments had to do with the placement of the main board and battery pack on the back of the jacket, and the microphone and LEDs on the front. I also opted to stick to conductive thread only—bypassing the suggestions to use ribbon cabling and soldering.
Some of the issues I encountered included crossing conductive threads and trouble updating the Arduino IDE for Adafruit. Due to the layout of my components, crossing conductive threads was next to impossible to avoid. To solve the issue, I used multiple layers of fabric to insulate sections where threads would have overlapped. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the Arduino IDE to update properly on my laptop, and I was forced to turn to an alternate computer, one which I had much less time to access for such a project (*coughworkcomputercough*). Nevertheless, the obstacles were overcome and my hack job wiring was a success!
As it came down to the wire, I encountered a few more issues—more to do with sewing and ambient sound sensitivity than wiring or software this time. I discovered that I did not have enough room to properly finish the collar as intended. I also chose not to include other pieces of fabric that were used in the original design of Star Lord’s jacket, in order to avoid complications with overlapping seams and electronic stitching. And it turned out that the microphone component was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. At times it seemed to always be reacting, and other times perhaps it was not reacting at all. Still, the LEDs do light up and they do fluctuate based on some changes in the levels of sound.
I also had originally intended to create two lines of LEDs, one on each side of the zipper. However the extreme level of wiring and layering made it difficult to finish one row of LEDs, not to even consider two. Thus I opted to leave the second row of LEDs out for this iteration of the jacket.
If I were to do this project again, there are a few things that I would probably change: First, I would try to finish the collar before putting in the electronics, in order to make sure there is enough space for everything to fit. Next, I would most likely use strips of LEDs and stick to wires and soldering to avoid issues with overlapping conductive threads. This would also make it easier to incorporate LEDs on both sides of the zipper. Finally I would have liked to have gotten a better microphone component in order to achieve the best reactions to sound reception.
Despite the numerous problems encountered, I still feel that this project was a smashing success! The jacket looks like a jacket—no small feat in my book. The LEDs turn on and fluctuate in response to some changes in sound levels—also a fantastic surprise! (I was unable to do much testing as I went, so the success of the circuits was a pleasant discovery.) And although some of the design did not turn out as intended, I still feel that the jacket resembles Star Lord’s in the film and includes a more feminine aesthetic. These were my goals and in the end, they were all achieved!
Thanks go out to a few of my classmates for their help: Jodi (last name omitted) who completed a similar project the previous spring—though with a very different application—and deigned to answer a few questions of mine, and Amanda Sparling, for the use of her multimeter for current testing. Thank you both! Also thank you to Santosh Vijayakumar for spending so much time in the lab, even when no one was there to be helped. The couple of times that I did come by, I was grateful to have access to the room and someone of whom to ask questions! And a huge thank you to the writer of the tutorial, Becky Stern, without whom this project would have been severely more frustrating. I truly enjoyed this class and this project—so thank you Kim for teaching this course!