A look back at gender-neutral fashion in the Netflix series The Sandman and The Umbrella Academy
Queer fashion in the media has gained prominence in recent years, especially as society has become more open to gender identity. There are numerous characters in recent television and film who can express this through clothing alone. It’s wonderful to see this level of representation in popular media as it can ultimately normalize this level of gender expression.
A great example is Desire from the Netflix comic adaptation The Sandman. In the comic book series of the same name, the character is presented as gender neutral and portrayed by non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park (“The Legend of Vox Machina”). While Park delivers an incredible performance as a character, what sets the character apart is his attire. For the most part, the character spends the show in either just black or white, which usually contrasts with the all-red aesthetic of her domain (which is literally just a massive statue of herself). Not only that, but they also tend to flaunt their bare chests in this first season, especially with V-necks. Her style also includes a pair of gold earrings and a heart necklace, which are directly modeled after her character in the comics. After all, the character is an anthropomorphic embodiment of lust, sexuality, and… well, desire.
Another example is the character of Viktor Hargreaves on the show The Umbrella Academy. After actor Elliot Page came out as a transgender man in 2020, his character was rewritten in season three to also appear as transgender in a loving tribute. When it comes to how the character expresses himself, his fashion choice is more restrained than in the previous example. After coming out, Hargreaves spends most of the remainder of the season wearing a white shirt underneath a black jacket. Viktor was always a very soft-spoken and relatively shy character in The Umbrella Academy, so his fashion choices may be more an extension of his personality than an expression of his weirdness. Regardless, I still believe this is an example of a queer character’s fashion, showing that her wardrobe doesn’t necessarily have to match her queerness.
Some other examples from The Umbrella Academy are the fashion choices for the character Klaus Hargreaves, played by Robert Sheehan. The character’s attire varies throughout the show, but he is often very noticeable when expressing himself. There’s even a funny moment in season one when his sister asks Allison if he’s wearing one of her old dresses. One of his outfits in season 3 is a kind of Stevie Nicks-esque black outfit and a black hat; Also, the character’s long hair adds to the aesthetic. But he can also be spotted with a bright blue suede jacket, sunglasses and striped trousers (though shirtless). Throughout the show we can see him wearing earrings and nail polish, and even scenes of him wearing a feather boa in early episodes. Klaus as a character is much more energetic than the aforementioned Viktor, so his over-the-top costume design helps reinforce his weirdness while adding a sense of ambiguity to the overall way the character expresses his gender.
In short, costume design for characters can contribute a lot to their personality, their sexuality, and their gender identity. They can range from subtle to lush and rich, as can be seen in these examples, but they are important. As mentioned earlier, this level of representation in the media can normalize gender expression, and their target audience might take this as a sign of fully embracing their gender if they haven’t already. Everyone should be able to live in their own skin and feel comfortable. If anything, these characters and their fashion choices can teach others that they can do the same, no matter how flashy they might be.