“Is your green army jacket the only thing keeping you warm tonight?”

I don’t know about you, but as cinema steadily extends its tendrils into every aspect of my life, I find myself looking to movies for fashion inspiration more and more. A lot of my favourite clothing – or, let’s be honest, the clothing I’d wear if I had unlimited money with which to pay for it – reminds me of my favourite films. I know a lot more about film than I do about fashion, but to me, fashion seems to be an art that’s constantly drawing inspiration from various sources, and cross-referencing, collaging, combining, and re-inventing. And clothing in movies is more exciting and inspiring for me than clothing seen on the street or in a magazine. Maybe it’s because the films I love and why I love them are such an important part of my life and identity, or maybe it’s because film is an art form populated by individuals with inner conflicts and attitudes and personal narratives…

Take, for instance, one of my personal favourite wardrobe staples, the striped sweater. When you look to art and pop culture for style inspiration, it’s not just a striped sweater… it could be a 1960’s Parisian enchantress – Jean Seberg in À bout de souffle or Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim, or it could be Freddy Krueger, or Bob Dylan circa 1965, or perhaps Bert and Ernie. It’s a piece of clothing that looks cool on you, but also comes with a history, a catalogue of moods and stories for you to draw from, if you wish.

Fashion icons, definitely.

It’s not about transforming into someone else, at an entertainment convention or the midnight release of the next Harry Potter or on Halloween or any other time you might put together a precise and elaborate costume. And it’s not the same as referencing something you love with your clothing, as is the case with my brother’s Los Pollos Hermanos t-shirt or the Gonzo pin on my backpack. When you look to the movies or television for style inspiration and pick out pieces with a character in mind, you’re taking whatever it is that attracts you to that story or that individual – whether it’s the facets of their character or narrative that you relate to or find compelling, your nostalgic or specific attatchment to the work itself and the circumstances you saw it in, or a purely aesthetic enjoyment of the look and its connotations – and genuinely making it your own.

Rookie Mag has a delightful recurring column called “Secret Style Icon”, in which they take musicians or vintage celebrities or girls from Terrence Malick films, and talk about how their outfits have influenced their own fashion choices, complete with handy guides for where to start accumulating similar pieces yourself. (Quite a few of their other fashion-related articles reference movies, too, since these girls totally understand me.) There’s a key word here that I think is especially important when it comes to this habit of emulating cinema in your clothing – secret. You’re not walking down the street announcing that you watch such-and-such a television show or relate to such-such-a-character the way you might at a costume party. The inspiration you’ve drawn and the specific icon you’re emulating is a private affair, something you can smile to yourself about or an aesthetic or attitude you can feel connected to throughout the day. If you dress a bit like Enid Coleslaw, the average passer-by won’t see a girl who likes Daniel Clowes/Terry Zwigoff/youthful idealism crushed by disillusionment. They’ll just see a girl in a collared shirt and Doc Martens, whatever that might mean to them. In these days in which it’s become customary to share every minutiae about yourself through technology and social networking, I really appreciate the idea that what you love is part of you, whether other people know it or not.

Thora Birch in Ghost World (2001)

Alright, my spiel is over. The specific reason I wanted to write this post is because this week, I finally bought an authentic Vietnam army jacket at a surplus store. It was a pretty exciting day, let me tell you. I’ve long been entranced with the the re-appropriation military garments in a peaceful and slightly rebellious context. (I know, it’s 2012, and various subcultures have been doing this for decades and decades. That doesn’t mean I can’t still appreciate the idea!) I’ll readily admit that the primary reason I like this look is the influence various movies have had over me. And so here are my favourite green-jacketed misfits, outcasts, and upstarts of pop culture…

5. Mathilda

Natalie Portman in Léon/The Professional (1994)

This is one of my favourite, FAVOURITE movies ever and if you want to be my best friend you should probably get yourself to the video store (or Netflix? or the pirating website of your choice?) and watch it. It’s a modern fairy-tale set in 90’s New York City, about the reluctant partnership-turned-unconventional-yet-deeply touching friendship of a lonely and sweet-natured Italian hit-man named Leon and a lonely and precocious 12-year-old orphan named Mathilda. When her family is killed by a pill-popping, crooked cop – played by Gary Oldman at his most completely deranged and utterly fabulous – she enlists the help of this reclusive neighbor to teach her his trade so she can get revenge. The story might be over-the-top, but the bond between these two odd people is very believable. I think what makes The Professional work so well is this juxtaposition of shocking violence and uncomfortable themes with unabashed sentimentality. It all somehow balances out to create a touching and amusing story which still has an edge to it. The blood might be the right colour and the apartment interiors might feature an aesthetic of natural light and chipped plaster, but you’re not really supposed to examine the real-world implications of what’s happening on-screen It’s just a movie, in the fullest sense of the phrase, and I love it with my whole heart for that very reason.

But I’m rambling a bit, as I often do when I begin writing about my favourite films. Little Mathilda wears one of the coolest and most memorable wardrobes I’ve seen. Her striped v-neck, leather boots, floral skirt, and white crocheted cardigan that she wears on a cycle throughout the movie all look like items a kid like her would legitimately pick up at a Salvation Army and wear on the street. What really makes her clothing so distinctive is how she carries herself in them – this strange and somehow adorable mix of aggression, aloofness and naivete. (I have a homemade black smiling-sun choker that I wear sometimes when I want to channel her.) Her green army jacket is actually the bomber style, but it’s close enough to what I’m talking about – and as a character, she’s important enough to me – that I think she deserves a place on this list.

4. Tyrone “Mr. Clean” Miller

Laurence Fishburne in Apocalypse Now (1979), dir. Francis Ford Coppola

I wanted to include a character from one film actually set in the Vietnam war, and I was torn between Joker from Full Metal Jacket and Tyrone. In the end, despite Joker’s sardonic commentary on the horrors he’s surrounded by and the terrible actions that he himself is implicated in, despite his fascination with the Jungian duality of man represented by the peace symbol on his jacket and “born to kill” on his helmet… I had to pick Tyrone.

He’s far more a boy than a man, a constant reminder of how the lumbering, merciless machine of war picks up and crushes everything in its path. War takes youth and innocence and corrupts before destroying. Tyrone’s only seventeen, my age. (In an oddly fitting instance of life imitating art, Laurence Fishburne was only fourteen when he got the part – he had to lie about how old he was to Coppola the way Tyrone would have had to lie to be sent overseas.) He wears dark glasses and a bandana tied around his forehead, he’s cocky and eager to prove himself, and he reads letters from his mother in the Bronx. I’m getting upset just thinking about it. He’s shot down on the boat by an enemy on shore that we can’t even see. It’s interesting that we’re reminded of just how young he is when he takes off the green and is bare-chested – in the jacket, he’s just another expendable soldier.

3. Ramona Flowers

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), dir. Edgar Wright

I’m including Ramona because of the combination of the coat she’s wearing at the party where Scott meets her in the flesh, and the olive-green dress she wears to the Clash at Demonhead show, at Pizza Pizza, and at the after-party where she fights Roxie. (No, I didn’t need to look any of that up. Yes, I’ve seen the movie more than eight times. What of it?) Ramona’s interesting because, from Scott’s perspective, we’re supposed to think of her as so cool, yet we’re also given more even-handed and mature insight into her own experiences as a person. You get the sense that she doesn’t really perceive herself to be as hip as everyone seems to think she is. Her shifting hair-color is a reflection of her mood and her fickleness more than an attempt at drawing eyes. She seems far more perturbed and confused than flattered when Knives imitates her style. To Scott, she’s literally the girl of his dreams, a prize worth fighting for (again… and again… and again…) But to herself, she’s an outsider, she has as much trouble making relationships work as she does in finding legitimately nice/not evil partners, who’s “dabbled in being a bitch”and who seems to cause hurt feelings and violent conflict wherever she goes. She’s such a cool girl, but she’s an insecure and self-deprecating cool girl. She’s a great character – I love that Bryan Lee O’Malley (and Edgar Wright, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead) managed to create a central love interest that acknowledges and then rejects the incredibly annoying and reductive Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope. Plus, her tough-girl fashion style is fantastic – hence her placement on this list.

2. Lindsay Weir

Linda Cardellini in Freaks and Geeks (1999), created by Judd Appatow

The only way I could be more similar to Lindsay is if I was born in 1964, or perhaps if I got to be best friends with James Franco, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen. The green army jacket she always has draped around her petite sixteen-year-old represents quite a bit, to her personally and in the context of the show. It’s a kind of armor against both the neatly organized suburban world of her parents and the clique-ish and false world of her high-school peers that she’s finding increasingly frustrating. It’s her angst, a symbol of her decidedly changed identity, and also a way for an insecure and self-conscious girl to fit in with her new slacker-burnout friends. Lindsay owns her dad’s old jacket and makes it an extension of herself. I love Lindsay – Freaks and Geeks is one of the most honest fictional depictions of high school ever made, and a lot of that is due to how a real a person she comes across as. She approaches almost everything with a kind of reluctance and uncertainty, she’s angry and awkward but also intelligent and genuinely good-hearted. When I wear my jacket and look like her, it’s not so much an emulation as it is an admission of our kinship.

1. Travis Bickle

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976), dir. Martin Scorsese

Undoubtedly the most iconic owner of a green army jacket in cinema history. (I can actually trace my own desire to get one directly to the day I first saw this film.) Taxi Driver is a film about many things, but an important subtext is how war can destroy a human psyche. It was made and set in New York city directly after the Vietnam war. The war weighs heavily on the consciousness of the film’s protagonist, and is thus inevitably on the mind of the viewer.

Travis is a young veteran, a former U.S. Marine who’s back home on honourable discharge. He can’t sleep, he’s taking various pills constantly, and he’s unable to reintegrate into society or to empathize with other people on a basic, normal level. He’s weighed down by  the ugliness he sees in the streets he drives through, and a rejection caused by his caustic cluelessness and maladjustment leads him to elect himself for a higher purpose. (I find it fascinating that he recruits himself to eliminate a very visible evil close to home, when in the past he was presumably recruited to fight unseen enemy forces far away. Interesting implied parallelism, Mr. Schrader.) He wears his jacket at nighttime on his route, as he sits alone in seedy theatres, as he walks the streets, as he attempts assassination. The only scenes in which he’s seen without it, as far as I can remember, are when he’s training in his apartment… and when he’s trying to woo the angelic Betsy as an ordinary man in a blazer and pleat-front khakis.

There’s very little verbal or otherwise direct discussion of his military past or the source of his PTSD and violent urges in the film – instead, his green jacket serves as an external indicator of the man within. The badges and patches on his arm and chest and the “BICKLE” stencilled on his back are a silent reminder of where Travis has come from, while the weapons concealed beneath the jacket and inside the heavy boots tell us what he’s capable of.