The film Persepolis is one not often shown in the white centric media which often provides visibility to white youth coming of age in a safe western environment. Unlike iconic American coming of age movies such as Stand by Me, or Now and Then where the young protagonists try to make sense of their childhood thats riddled with issues of puberty and friendship relations, Persepolis deals with what being a youth was like during the Iranian Revolution. For the main character, Marjane Satrapi, her childhood was filled with war, revolution, death and the influence of western music like punk rock that guided her through her fashion choices. In an oppressed society, fashion and the voice and power it gave her became her vehicle for resistance. Marjane’s style pushes the viewer to think about fashion through a political and religious lens and how it can afford modes of resistance, transformation and discipline.
The film is unique not only for its storyline, but for the manner in which it is shown. It is given a look of a graphic novel, where much of the scenes are in black and white, but where bold fashion statements are made bold with color and illustration. Marjane struggles with modernity and her religion by seeking out western items such as a punk rock and pop embellished denim jacket, the use of wide leg trousers in a time where it was in style, listening to punk rock music such as Iron Maiden, which she purchases through a black market, and wearing makeup. This contrasted to the veil she had to wear in public, and how the rules for the length of the veil were mandated by men, as well as the use of makeup and trousers. Her resistance in wearing a “punk outfit” for which she was reprimanded for by religious authority figures, gave her the power to use resistance through music, and through defying religious authorities all while knowing that defiance means living a life in exile, persecution or execution.
￼In Davis’s “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” he writes about “context-dependency” which says that the meaning of fashion depends on the context (151). Punk rock in any context has an ambiguous meaning, but given that Marjane is growing up in an oppressed country, her denim jacket represents resistance to fundamentalism. In contrast, Marjane finds that the white youth that she identifies with as punk rock dress in that matter in a western society to conform to a different ideology. She discovers this when she flees Iran to go to Vienna where she encounters how the western society really live. Punk rock in their context has more to do with the appropriation of punk, like the British white youth did of black Rastafarian culture in The Filth and the Fury than actually going against an oppressive government or having the same lived experience as Marjane. Here fashion works in two different contexts to be used for resistance to government and religion, and to appropriate an ideology. Marjane is able to take up the meaning of punk fashion as an influence from white youth and use it to further her struggle within Iran. Hebdige in his book Subculture: The Meaning of Style would say that this fits the concept of bricolage, where something new is built out of things that are already there, and that are provided by a dominant culture and rearranged for Marjane’s own cause (103).
Through the work of Hebdige it can also be argued that Marjane’s fashion choices are an act of conspicuous consumption because “certain types of consumption as conspicuously refused” (103). We see this when at the end of her story, she returns to Iran after being in Vienna and is once again policed to adhere to the fashion choices of the government which dictate longer veils, and the non-use of wide-leg trousers and makeup. It is certainly a form of discipline to the women of Iran and one that negates the meanings of Marjane’s western dress. While assembling to the look of rebellion with her western styles, she also forms a look of conforming to fundamentalism by wearing her veil in public, not showing public affection and not wearing bold makeup. For Marjane, taking off her veil or assimilating by putting on the veil in public is a sign of fear and loss of consciousness, and especially power. Taking off her veil is a mode of liberation as we see in a scene where she dares herself to take it off while in driving and in public.
Davis, Fred. “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 148-58. Print.
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture, the Meaning of Style. NY: Routledge, 1998. Print-NatKar
Persepolis. Dir. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. 01 Distribution, 2007.
Images taken by Jakeline Bedoya from Persepolis. Dir. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. 01 Distribution, 2007.