A Star is Born: The Cotton Rebel

MINOR SPOILERS

For all the inevitable chrysalis transformation of singer Ally (Lady Gaga) during A Star is Born (2018, directed by Bradley Cooper), the most subtle, yet real sartorial reflection of character belongs to her mentor and lover Jack (Cooper). Costumed by Erin Benach (Drive, A Place Beyond the Pines), Jack is the epitome of the casual rock star. Stage wear, day wear, evening wear, drinking wear, sleeping wear – it’s all the same. His simple clothes mask a mind so damaged it can only be subdued with the bottle.

Jack lives in t-shirts (plain, dark or neutral colours), untucked shirts (dark or a green graph-check), brown calf leather jacket, natural suede jacket and natural cotton twill jacket (cut like a denim jacket). Denim jeans, generally at the paler end of the spectrum, adorn his legs; black cowboy boots on his feet. He is an Arizona boy, traveled but still rooted in the ranch of his childhood. It makes sense that Jack chooses cotton, a natural fibre. He’s from the earth, a self made man. At one point Jack also wears an denim shirt; he is a cowboy after all (the ranch was ‘pecan’ but the intonation remains). Even before Jack drunkenly slurs out snippets of his backstory, within literally ten seconds on stage we can register who he is. We then spend the preceding two hours getting to know him.

Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jack (Bradley Cooper) wearing his green graph-check shirt, seen several times throughout the film. Jack is a creature of habit, someone who repeats his life in cycles. His familiar shirt reflects that.

The garment that feels most ‘Jack’ is a plain t-shirt. This is such a straightforward item of clothing, as is Jack to those who don’t know him. Short sleeved, collarless, sometimes with buttons to a round or v-neck neckline (though no buttons here). On-screen the t-shirt is most heavily associated with the working class who evolved it from underwear to regular wardrobe staple. In the 1950s, the t-shirt was seen as youth rebellion attire against typical, i.e. expected, societal dress. Marlon Brando exemplified this look on film, first with A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and then The Wild One (1952). Donning a t-shirt under a black leather jacket was an image defining statement; more than that it was a lifestyle choice. Bradley Cooper wearing a t-shirt in A Star is Born is clearly far less a statement in modern times, but really no less rebellious. Jack, a millionaire rock singer with a private jet at his disposal, eschews Prada suits and Gucci flip-flops to bum around in threadbare t-shirts and an often repeated green check shirt. ‘Keeping it real’ is too glib a phrase, but for Jack this honestly is real; it’s all he knows how to be.

However, Jack is also a star – the star before the title of the movie becomes prophecy. He is an object of fascination, of projection and desire. A Star is Born may not be aligned with the (heterosexual) female gaze (it really isn’t), but Jack in a plain t-shirt is a sex object so rudimentary as to be a fetish in itself. The t-shirt, recalling its origins as underwear, allows us to be as close to him as a second skin. He is more exposed than when naked because we are already projecting our desire as to what might be underneath. Kudos to Erin Benach for finding Jack in the most fundamental of ways. As Ally mutates from commonplace waitress uniform and 80’s vintage Western shirts to designer blouses and excessive couture gowns, Jack remains rigidly attached to his denim jeans and brushed cotton t-shirts. A rigidity of which comes to sartorially embody his tragic downfall.

A Star is Born is currently on general release.

© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.

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