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Rebels With a Cause

Rebel-girl style is everywhere in Hollywood, proving that refusing to conform isn’t just a boy’s game, writes Amy Raphael

In the 1968 film Girl on a Motorcycle, Marianne Faithfull is given a glorious black motorbike by her on-screen lover, Alain Delon. More stunning still is Faithfull’s outfit: she likes to feel the wind in her hair while wearing only a figure-hugging black leather jumpsuit. The movie was released in the US as Naked Under Leather, leaving even less to the imagination.

Marianne Faithful in 'The Girl on the Motorcycle'
Marianne Faithful plays the quintessential rebel woman dressed in head-to-toe leather in The Girl On The Motorcycle (1968)

Nearly five decades on, you don’t have to look very far to see the ongoing influence of Faithfull’s seductive biker chic. It was there when Trinity, Carrie-Anne Moss’s character in The Matrix, proved to be rather partial to a flowing leather coat, and it’s there again in Hellboy, when Selma Blair wore a tight leather jacket as part of her transformation into the pyrokinetic heroine Liz Sherman. More recently, Scarlett Johansson wore a figure-hugging black catsuit in The Avengers, as did Anne Hathaway, on the back of a super-charged motorbike.

These Hollywood characters are rebels with a cause: in a world that is still largely structured around men, they are liberated, kick-ass women who wear the kind of tough-but-sexy clothes that empower them. They are accidental feminists who insist on relating to men as equals and not superiors. Hilary Swank in Amelia is a prime example – she wore a custom-made Belstaff bomber jacket to play the androgynous Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Scarlett Johansson in 'The Avengers'
The Black Widow does biker chic in The Avengers (2012) as Scarlett Johansson sports a skin-tight black catsuit

There is something profoundly protective about the on-screen leather jacket or catsuit. It’s not just functional and it’s more than a second skin; it seems, at times, to be a weapon in itself. For her role in Eastern Promises, Naomi Watts learnt to ride a 400lb motorbike, before putting on a Belstaff jacket and Belstaff Roadmaster Lady boots to become the bike-riding midwife who ends up exposing herself to the violent underworld of Russian immigrants in London.

Nothing could protect Bella from vampires in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, but Kristen Stewart’s Belstaff double-breasted zip leather blazer jacket accorded her a wild-child image that gave her a much-needed edge. The jacket almost immediately sold out on the film’s release.

Rebel-girl style in Hollywood often has one foot firmly planted in the world of rock’n’roll, which is itself no stranger to style. Kristen Stewart wore her hair black, her jeans high and her leather jacket tight to play Joan Jett in The Runaways – a biopic about the seminal Seventies all-girl American band.

While Faithfull has long since grown out of her black leather jumpsuit, Jett has consistently championed tight leather trousers and leather jackets since The Runaways first turned up on Los Angeles’ glam scene with sultry sneers that gave Elvis a run for his money. Jett went on to act in more than a dozen films, but it’s her contribution to film soundtracks that really impresses. It is only fitting, after all, that one of Hollywood’s longest-surviving female rebels should have a song called Bad Reputation in a film called Kick-Ass.

Amy Raphael writes for Esquire, The Guardian and The Times, and is the author of Never Mind The Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock

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