The film Gone Girl follows husband Nick Dunne on his five-year wedding anniversary as he realizes that his wife, Amy Elliot, has mysteriously disappeared. Though it seems that Nick might be involved with Amy’s disappearance, it is eventually revealed that Amy planned and orchestrated her own disappearance as an attempt to have her husband framed for her murder as punishment for his cheating on her and emotionally neglecting her during their marriage.
During the first half of the movie, the audience is shown flashbacks of Amy before she has disappeared, which mirror events from the diary that she wrote about her time spent with Nick, from when they first met until shortly before she “disappeared.” From these scenes, the viewers can see that Amy puts forth the image of perfection and embodies an ideal aesthetic of femininity through her fashion choices and personal style. In contrast to this image, Amy is shown hiding out while Nick is being investigated. In these scenes, Amy has constructed her image as the epitome of “undesirable,” which was done in an attempt to blend in and go unseen. In the final part of the film, Amy reaches out to her former high school boyfriend, who was very much infatuated with her appearance, and reconstructs her perfect and ideal persona in order to manipulate him to help her get back to Nick. Throughout these three distinct periods of Amy’s life, the way in which fashion and Amy’s personal construction of her image take place show how fashion works to assemble a person’s identity and the ways in which fashion can have great implications for an individual as well as for those around him or her.
When Amy first meets Nick, she uses her clothes and fashion to speak for her as well as to reflect how she wants to be seen by others. This idea is explained by Elizabeth Wilson in her book “Adorned in Dreams.” Wilson affirms that “dress….is an extension of the body” and it helps to creates the link between that body and the “social world” (Wilson 3). For Amy, her obvious embodiment of the feminine ideal allows her to gain the attention of Nick and allows her to begin a romantic relationship with him. For the audience, this is most easily seen by her choice to wear short, revealing dresses that showed off her body, and by her preference for wearing makeup and styling her long blonde hair. These choices show Amy’s awareness of traditional ideals of beauty and her understanding that if she wants to be viewed as desirable by Nick, she would have to continue to put forth and construct this image of “perfection.” Because of this, Amy’s dress and fashion are her way of “intellectualizing visually about individual desires and social desires” (9). Furthermore, it is proof that “adornment plays symbolic, communicative, and aesthetic roles” (3). By selecting to construct this image of desirability and traditional femininity, Amy demonstrates her desire to be seen as attractive by others and fit within the ideological and dominant category of feminine beauty.
In complete contrast to this idealized image, while in hiding, Amy constructs her image as frumpy and undesirable. Tired of constantly being noticed and scrutinized by everyone in her life, Amy decides to gain weight and wear loose and unflattering clothing so that she is no longer analyzed and examined as the feminine ideal. Amy’s extreme change in style and self-presentation can be understood through ideas presented by Fred Davis in his chapter “Do Clothes Speak?” As Davis states, clothes can “make clear reference to who we are and [who we] wish to be taken as” (Davis 148). By stripping away her former persona, which was put forth through her fashion choices and style, Amy is able to establish a new identity as a poor victim of abuse who is hiding from her boyfriend. In addition, Davis explains that “through clothing people communicate some things about their persons,” which results in them being placed “symbolically in some structured universe of status claims and life-style attachments” (149). This is true for Amy’s new image as she uses her clothing to show and tell that she is not looking for a relationship and is not desirable, based solely upon her looks and aesthetic construction. Amy’s clothes work as a “visual language” and constitute individual codes, which express meanings (148). Her choice to wear plain and unkempt clothing expressed her newfound lack of interest in conforming to traditional societal norms of beauty and also communicated her desire to be independent of a relationship.
In the final portion of the film, Amy reconstructs her original image of desirability and attractiveness in order to seduce her former high school boyfriend and use him to get back to her husband Nick. As explained by Mary Ellen Roach and Joanne Bubolz Eicher in their chapter “The Language of Personal Adornment,” personal adornment can work as a “communicative symbol that serves crucial function within human lives” (Roach and Eicher 120). In order to seduce her former boyfriend, Amy re-embodies the feminine ideal that she previously constructed and utilizes what has been “culturally defined as symbolic of sexual enticement” in order to signify her intention (119). In the scene prior to the seduction, she wears a very short, light blue lace nightgown and wears makeup with her hair straightened. Through this specific adornment and Amy’s ability to personify the idealized form of feminine beauty, she is able to captivate her former boyfriend and exercise her ultimate goal of leaving him and returning to her husband.
Throughout Gone Girl, Amy uses fashion and individual style to construct distinct images and personas, which work as means for her to achieve her personal goals, including the seeking out of a romantic relationship and an attempt to go unnoticed. Moreover, Amy’s use of personal adornment and the deliberate construction of her image demonstrate that fashion can be used to achieve many different objectives, and that clothes are able to speak varying messages based upon the context in which they are placed.
1. Davis, Fred. “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 148-58. Print.
2. Gone Girl. Dir. David Fincher. 20th Century Fox, 2014. DVD.
3. Roach, Mary Ellen and Eicher, Joanne Bubolz. “The Language of Personal Adornment.” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 109-21. Print.
4. Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California, 1987. Print.
All pictures were taken by Aimee Stern on March 7, 2015 from the film Gone Girl