25 years on, ‘The Matrix’ remains a fashion touchstone

If our enduring obsession with teeny sunglasses and leather trenches is anything to go by, 'The Matrix' fashion will always be here to stay.

As someone with short brown hair that I often slick back, the Wachowski’s 1999 film The Matrix plagues my existence. On the right evening, I’ll get an onslaught of comparisons to Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and while I look nothing like the actress, I daren’t pop on a leather trench in case people think I’m going for some half-hearted cosplay. Really, though, you don’t even need a cropped hairdo to get told you’re channelling The Matrix whenever you slip into an all-black outfit or wear some tiny sunglasses. In the twenty five years that have passed since the first film’s release, the iconic stylings of characters like Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) have remained a cultural touchpoint in everything from celebrity street style to catwalk collections of designers like Alexander Wang and Vetements. In celebration of this landmark anniversary of the most sartorially iconic sci-fi flick, HUNGER is analysing the key tenets of Matrix-core, exploring how they’re popping up (yet again) in 2024. In short? Matrix-esque outfits will never just be for Halloween

The not-so-humble leather trench

The leather trench is a tricky one. Though it’s a fixture of celebrities like Hailey Bieber, Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner (who “designed” a particularly dramatic one for her KHY collection), for the average joe it’s a risky silhouette. Do it right and you’ll earn some flattering comparisons to the iconic PVC ones that costume designer Kym Barrett designed for the original film and its sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Do it wrong and you’ll look like Bono or one of those old goths that still hangs around Camden. In a 2020 article for The Guardian, Barrett revealed that Neo’s coat was meant to be a “cross between an ancient Chinese robe and an ecclesiastical garment”. While trenches that feel like they’re harnessing this very particular blend of cultural references have hit the runway – there’s one for Alexander Wang’s Fall 2018 collection that comes to mind – it’s not a look for the faint hearted. If you do want to sweat your way through spring in a leather trench, recent designs by names like Hermès, Burberry, and Alexander McQueen show that a trench in a more subtle brown shade might be the way to go. If that’s a copout, so be it. At least there’s way less chance that you’ll look like you could be in the background of that cybergoth dance party video

Slicked back hair

What is Bianca Censori’s biggest contribution to society? As well as provoking endless online tirades about whether the architect and model’s risque outfits impede on her “free will”, Censori is single-handedly proving that slathering on hair gel isn’t just for secondary school age boys. Where is Censori getting the inspo for just that? It could well be Trinity’s iconic do from The Matrix. Like most of the things on this list, slicking back your hair a-la Trinity and Censori is no easy feat. Go in too hard with a smoothing brush, and you’ll most certainly get a fright when a seemingly bald person stares back at you when you accidentally open your phone’s front camera. 

All black everything

It’s pretty cut and dry that the Wachowski’s didn’t invent the monochromatic black look. Depending on who you ask, the fashion world’s obsession with black can be traced back to iconic Chanel campaigns from the 1920s, or even dress traditions of socialites from the 1900s. What The Matrix did do, however, was set the precedent for a certain all-black silhouette. You know the drill: small and skimpy black pieces set off by a hulking black jacket, as seen on every celeb imaginable. In fact, it was only mere days ago that Lady Gaga stepped out in a belted, floor-skimming trench coat from Retrofête and matching knee-high leather boots. That’s not to say that everyone makes it look quite so easy. While an all-black look can be executed with great results, there’s also the decidedly middling ones: this TikTok by @alex_gilka, for example, proves that with the wrong pieces, an all-black outfit just makes you look like someone who works as a regional manager for H&M. Or Zara on a good day. 

Times might be changing when it comes to The Matrix’ being synonymous with dark hues, though. When Lindsay Pugh, the costume designer for 2021’s Matrix Resurrections, spoke to Dazed, she talked about how she made the all-black silhouette a little more contemporary via Bugs, a character played by Jessica Henwick. “I wanted to follow through with the dark mood of The Matrix, but also be slightly whimsical, because she is a new character […] I used [Yohji] Yamamoto as a mood for her. She has strong leather jackets, she’s definitely within the Matrix forum, but then with soft pink silk trousers, just to knock it off a little bit”.

A lot of leather (or, realistically, pleather) 

You’ve only got another month or two before popping on some tight leather (or imitation leather) pieces doesn’t run the risk of polluting whatever London pub you’re partial to with the putrid scent of your BO. Time is of the essence, and for that reason we’re going to point you in the direction of this trusty latex top from French brand MIAOU. Just like the one Carrie-Anne Moss wore in The Matrix, it’s skin tight, which is right in line with what Barrett said about Trinity’s silhouettes in her piece for The Guardian: “Her costumes also had to be figure-hugging because she’s always getting herself in tight situations, so she can’t have anything that’s going to impede her movement.” Our only word of advice with this one is to coincide your MIAOU purchase with an order of some lube, which became the en-vogue thing to do last year when a slew of influencers documented their attempts to make their latex fits look extra shiny. While there’s no definitive record that Barrett was ladling lubricant onto the actors and actresses in The Matrix, we’d say it’s fairly likely it played a role in getting their oil-spill-esque looks. What we’re getting at is popping on a MIAOU top is about the closest you can get to emulating The Matrix without having a full-blown existential crisis and starting to believe the core tenets of The Matrix are actually real. We’ll leave that with the pockets of conspiracy theorists you come across on Instagram on a bi-weekly basis (who, funnily enough, are usually fans of Andrew Tate as well). 

Big ol’ boots

When MSCHF’s Big Red Boots entered into the zeitgeist in early 2023, it seemed that we’d hit a saturation point when it came to chunky shoes. Really, chunky, Matrix-esque boots have been stomping their way onto the scene ever since the film first came out. One landmark moment in big-stomper-dom came in the form of the Prada Monolith boots, which became like catnip to every influencer and their mum a few years back. Now (thank God) the hottest ticket when it comes to Matrix-esque boots is the vintage Prada lug-sole boots from the fashion house’s 2004 sport collection. Not only are they more understated – and therefore less likely to be worn by Molly Mae – but they look a whole lot more like the ones that Trinity actually wore in the films. 

Tiny sunglasses 

What does it say about Bono’s leather-clad style that we’re about to bring him up a second time? Is the U2 singer taking his style cues from The Matrix too? That’s a deep-dive for another day. Where we’re going with this is that (again) the black sunglasses that have become synonymous with the Wachowski’s films are deceivingly tough to get right. Go that little big too big with the frames and you’ll look like you’re about to belt out a rendition of “With Or Without You”. I made that mistake at a Halloween party a few years back; I was going for Trinity, but only having some black aviators on my person meant I was anything but. In Barrett’s piece for The Guardian, she revealed that the glasses from The Matrix were bespoke-made by eyewear designer Richard Walker; they’re so perfect that the pair worn by Carrie-Anne Moss recently sold at auction for over £6,000. In the fairly unlikely event that you haven’t got that kind of money knocking around, the place to go for Matrix glasses inspo is the darlings of celebrity street style: Bella Hadid is practically the patron saint of tiny glasses, wearing these Roberi & Fraud frames a few years back, and Hailey Bieber gets her Matrix fix in vintage styles from 90s streetwear brands like HOFF. See also: Poppy Lissman, Le Specs, and any vintage frames providing you’re alright with trawling eBay or rummaging through a tourist-filled shop on Brick Lane. 

The ones that haven’t stuck

Given it’s fairly likely that you’ve read this article, felt decidedly inspired, and started adding an assortment of dubious leather items to your Depop bag, it’s time we quickly went through the Matrix fashions that do need to be left in 1999. Luckily, they find their way pretty succinctly onto a character from the original flick named Cypher (Joe Pantoliano). We can learn a lot about the sins of Matrix-core from Cypher. Namely, don’t opt for a slap-head, and don’t do anything even remotely close to that awful facial hair. Also, leave that horrible, beaded twine necklace Cypher wears to the boy/girl who’s just got back from a “really transformative” gap year. 

WriterAmber Rawlings
Banner Image CreditThe Matrix / Warner Bros