Linda Hamilton, Sarah Connor, The Terminator
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Credit: Orion Pictures

Look of the Week: Sarah Connor's Terminator style evolution

Contributed by
Nov 1, 2019, 2:30 PM EDT

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics! 

It has been 35 years since Linda Hamilton first graced screens as the now-legendary Sarah Connor in James Cameron's The Terminator. Images of Sarah in a tank top, combat pants, and sunglasses — ready to take on whatever Skynet throws at her — are seared into the collective costume consciousness. It is a look that is updated in Terminator: Dark Fate, which sees Hamilton return to this role for the first time in nearly three decades.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Her hair is shorter (and blonder), but from the very first shot of her boot-clad foot, it is clear that her wardrobe hasn't changed much since we last saw her. Academy Award-winner Ngila Dickson was tasked with bringing this version of Sarah's badass look into the 21st century.

Sarah hasn’t always dressed ready for war with a car full of weapons and a single-minded determination to track down and destroy every Terminator. In 1984, Sarah was blissfully unaware of her role in saving the world. Instead, she was dealing with flaky men canceling dates and a shift from hell at her diner job.

Credit: Pacific Western Productions

Pink is a recurring theme in the costumes designed by Hilary Wright for Sarah in The Terminator in contrast with the muted palette worn by those who have time-traveled from 2029. The traditional waitress uniform is an even further sartorial cry from the image most associate with this character. I watched Terminator 2: Judgment Day before the original installment, which has possibly reinforced this notion, but a quick Google Image search reveals the tank top-wearing Sarah is the most common result. The shag haircut and pink tie-dye from the first movie is not keeping in line with the badass branding of this character, but it is just as important as her combat attire in tracking her evolution.

The pink that runs throughout Sarah’s 1984 wardrobe is linked to her femininity and role as the mother she doesn’t yet know she is going to be. Furthermore, her peachy belted date outfit is pretty demure in comparison to her roommate’s hot pink frock. The Final Girl aspect of her character extends beyond her survival skills as her jeans and pink shirt fall into the clothing rules of this trope (her roommate also falls into the fashionable BFF/post-sex "meets her grisly death" rule). 

Credit: Pacific Western Productions

When she ends up at the club in search of a working payphone (she needs to call the cops about the other Sarah Connor murders and this is long before cell phones), she isn’t indulging in the more extreme ‘80s sartorial leanings of some of the other dancing patrons. But this outfit is better equipped for running than her belted skirt look. 

Credit: Pacific Western Productions

In a room full of police detectives she stands out for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that she is the only woman. The color of her shirt suggests a level of innocence, but she is also the one in that room who survives. It is a bit of a cliché for her naivety to be signposted via this girlish palette, but she shouldn’t be underestimated because of this aspect. She isn't the fierce hero that we will come to know and love in Judgment Day, but she is also not as wide-eyed as her pink attire suggests.

There are damsel-in-distress elements to the Sarah of the first movie who has never heard of ruthless Terminators, but she isn’t without strengths even if she finds it hard to marry her present with the future Kyle Reese describes. “Am I tough? Organized? I can’t even balance my checkbook,” Sarah tells her soon-to-be baby daddy, showing off true signs of imposter syndrome. However, by the end of the movie, she has ditched the pink for the clothes she has seen in a photograph from her future, ready to embrace this world-saving mantle.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Cut to Dark Fate and there is not a lick of pink in her clothing. Instead, it is all functional attire resembling military issue garb, including a tactical vest, jacket, and heavy-duty boots. This is the Sarah Connor audiences expect and one resembling her hardened Judgment Day aesthetic. There is a throughline between the battle-ready costumes of the sequel, which have been evolved from a tank to a T-shirt — Mackenzie Davis as Grace gets the hardened tank top budget. The steampunk-adjacent Magnolia Clothier side shield sunglasses of Judgment Day have been replaced by classic aviators. The 1991 specs are effortlessly fierce, but the timelessness of her current pair matches the titan that she is.

Linda Hamilton joins Jamie Lee Curtis in reprising a physical role from her youth as a woman now in her 60s, which requires a level of fitness I can only dream of. Hamilton recently appeared on The Graham Norton Show and discussed the commitment she needed to achieve the Sarah Connor physique. She didn’t eat carbs for a year, but as it is Hollywood, there is always something that needs adding or reducing. Depressingly enough, the costumes had to have in-built boob and butt padding. (Seriously, there is always something.)

There is a burden to being Sarah Connor that Hamilton has discussed when contemplating this return. She is a complicated character with the weight of being an action movie feminist icon on her shoulders. She is a fierce presence that audiences look up to, but she is also flawed — which is part of her appeal. We are the sum of our parts so the Sarah Connor wearing a pink tie-dye shirt with a shag cut is just as vital to this journey as the world-weary version of the present. Thankfully, it was only Sarah who came back, and not some of those '80s styles.  

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