Force of Fashion: Dark Side Style Is More Than Black Robes

When it comes to the dark side, you are what you wear.

Force of Fashion focuses on all things wearable in a galaxy far, far away — and right here at home! — with behind-the-scenes studies on some of the most iconic costumes of the saga, and the biggest highlights in Star Wars fashion today.

The Jedi, for all of their diversity and personal sense of style, often commit to the basics of a particular “uniform” that makes them instantly recognizable and commands a sense of quiet respect. But when it comes to the dark side, there is rarely a set silhouette for those who forgo peace for passion. While some of those dedicated to the dark side don’t quite qualify as Sith, one thing remains in common when it comes to the styles depicted with each character’s wardrobe. A Force user that chooses to going down the path of the dark side focuses heavily on themselves (or an objective most important to them, often with little regard for those in the way of it), and within that focus is their personal sense of style, often determined by their ambitions, confidence, personal beliefs, and everyday needs.

The look of Darth Vader was one of a terrifying military leader who stood as a strong symbol for the Empire, and as a cautionary tale (or inevitable warning). Vader himself is unique in this sense: though he didn’t exactly choose the suits of armor that kept him alive throughout his years, he’s also one of the few Sith to adopt an armored set so closely resembling the armies he commands. That in itself is why these interesting antagonists (and especially those that led up to Vader) are worth a visual thrice-over — not one of them is alike, and their rage-fueled drive that they proudly put on display is often best represented by what they wear.

Darth Maul
The now-iconic villain of The Phantom Menace has undergone more than enough physical change to almost make his debut costume obsolete, but the layered black cloak and robes go far and beyond the slightly less complicated designs of his Jedi enemies. Up-close, Maul’s robes represented his quick, vicious, and cutting nature, spinning outward into a billowing circle over the coarse sands of Tatooine during his first battle against Qui-Gon Jinn.

Sure, Maul is dressed in all black — but, much like Kylo Ren, the textures of his costume tell the story of a Sith apprentice in his prime. “People respond so strongly to Darth Maul,” Ray Park, who portrayed the dangerous villain in The Phantom Menace, said in an interview for Trisha Biggar’s Dressing a Galaxy. “It’s the way he moves, how he looks, the costume, the double-ended lightsaber.”

Maul’s daunting presence is all in the details: a cloak made of hand-dyed, coarsely-woven silk-and-linen fabric with circular pieces pleated sunray-style. Underneath, his outfit challenged the Jedi’s traditional tunic with a style influenced far more by the ninja than the samurai, holding the bare minimum of what he needed to make him as violent and terrifying as he was.

Asajj Ventress
Part of a rich assortment of new dark side users who joined the Star Wars universe with the introduction of the Clone Wars cartoons, Ventress was instantly intriguing due to her radical visual differences from what is traditionally shown on screen. Driven by a mix of rage, vengeance, and regret, Ventress’ complicated path converged through her assortment of outfits, but none are truly as iconic as the first variations of her ensemble shown on TV.

While Ventress was still under Count Dooku’s wing, her stark white complexion blazes against the deep purples, greys, and blacks of her outfit. Before donning the bold and proud scarlet hues of the Nightsisters (and long before the creation of her costume in Dark Disciple; a blue tunic that seems to nod back to her Jedi origins), Ventress’ venomous attitude reflected boldly in her ensemble. It’s almost symbolic, in a way: despite yearning for acceptance as a Sith and covering herself in darkness, Ventress — who strives not to put her feelings on display — literally wears them on her sleeve.

Count Dooku
Count Dooku’s tunic calls back (or, technically, forward) to the slim-cut black ensemble that Luke Skywalker wore during his final showdown with Vader. The late Christopher Lee described Dooku’s costume as giving Dooku an impression of being “unstoppable” thanks to his immense physical and mental power. Dooku seemed to physically reflect the regality of the Old Republic with the power of his Separatist ideals.

Perhaps this is an indicator of why Dooku could not survive: The Emperor welcomed change, and encouraged it strongly whenever it benefitted his cause. Dooku’s own arrogance and disrespect of his Master’s station, combined with his belief in the traditional, clouded all of his judgement until the very moment where he no longer had a head to judge with. Dooku’s Revenge of the Sith ensemble, for all of its details, points toward this downfall, cutting a simple, more subdued silhouette than Dooku’s stance upon his debut.

Emperor Palpatine
Whether he’s portraying a benevolent politician that only wants what is good “for the galaxy” or cackling over an emotional battle between father and son, Emperor Palpatine’s focus on ultimate power never wavers. The decrepit ruler of the Empire may have chucked his decadent Senate robes for what looks like a much more simple ensemble, but it’s what’s in the details that matter — much like the Sith Lord himself.

“There’s an inference that there is something greater than what you see with the Emperor, because of the people around him,” said Return of the Jedi costume designer Nilo Rodis-Jamero in Star Wars: Costumes by Brandon Alinger. Despite his supposedly frail stature and slow, meaningful steps guided by the sheer bulk of his robe, the Emperor’s power rests within those he commands.

The black robe that he wears throughout Return of the Jedi has become his most iconic look, despite the array of costumes that Ian McDiarmid later wore throughout the prequels. Perhaps it’s because of its own disarming quality, boasting only one truly outstanding accessory: the clasp that holds his black robe closed over a silk robe underneath.

Kylo Ren
It’s not yet known just how much Kylo Ren’s dark side training — or whatever guidance he’s received from Snoke — is influenced by anyone who came before Vader. Ambitious, unpredictable, wildly angry and often immature, Kylo Ren’s style is much like his lightsaber: powerful and awesome to behold, but unstable and inelegant. Despite his dark appearance and a mask built with the intention of following Darth Vader’s footsteps, Kylo Ren wears no armor and recklessly tears against his own cape’s fabrics in the heat of battle.

The notion that one photo can tell an entire story reflects so strongly in the presentation of Star Wars costumes, and when it comes to the dark side, the stories get pretty complicated. A wild charge into the future can bring monumental changes for those who choose the path of fear, but while their lives may be far from safe or grounded, the uncrushable ability to adapt (mentally and physically) often leads them through a series of radical changes. It’s for this reason that, perhaps, a snapshot of a Sith Lord or dark side devotee can tell you more about their origins than any words that might slither out of their lips.

What are some of your favorite Sith and Sith-related outfits? Let me know below in the comments!

Catrina Dennis is a writer and Star Wars die-hard. In her spare time, she tells stories, yells very loudly about soccer, and hosts a few very cool podcasts. Catch up with her on Twitter @ohcatrina.