The ’90s were an interesting time for both film and fashion. There was a lot of denim, a lot of plaid and in 1996 we also had the release of Trainspotting, the brilliant adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s book that follows a group of young heroin addicts in Edinburgh. At the centre of the film is our antihero Mark Renton, played by Ewan McGregor. For the role McGregor lost 2 stone and shaved his hair in order to fit the typical appearance of an addict, and while his character’s behaviour perhaps isn’t something you’d want to replicate, the style certainly is.
When we first meet Renton in the iconic opening scene, he’s in his trademark combination of grey skinny jeans and converse, paired with a faded yellow top and bomber jacket. There’s even a shirt wrapped around his waist that interestingly almost looks like a skirt – or a kilt, given the setting of Scotland. It’s a suitably dirty and effortless look that goes well with the film’s grungy aesthetic. Though grunge was a quintessential staple of the ’90s, Renton’s fashion also has a strong ’80s vibe about it, which is only fitting considering that’s when the story is set in the novel, his style becomes an interesting assimilation of the two eras.
Skinny jeans were a staple of the punk movement that defined 1980’s Britain, and whilst Renton himself isn’t really a punk, elements of the sub-culture bleed through nonetheless. Most of his outfits also see him wearing particularly tight fitting clothes, with the yellow top he bears in the opening scene being purposely shrunken in order to accentuate his slim body. On paper this entire combination may sound ridiculous, but McGregor really makes it work.
Interestingly, when Renton is seen wearing anything formal – a suit, for example – the fitting is far more loose and careless, making it clear that this style is out of place for the character. Renton’s aim to clean up his act and “choose life” is something he strives for throughout the film, but the very fact that these clothes don’t fit him properly suggests something about whether he really will achieve his goal. The fact that he overdosed to the brink of death whilst wearing these clothes really says something as well.
Renton’s worn-looking outfits definitely do suit his character well given that he comes from an economically deprived background, however at the end of the film after he betrays his friends and decides to begin anew he is shown wearing blue jeans to replace his grey skinnies and a denim jacket to replace his brown bomber; a bright blue top also replaces the typical murky yellow he is usually seen wearing. It’s a look that’s far more in tone with the ’90s, and also suggests that perhaps Renton is capable of moving forward as well.
Costume design is a subtler but no less important part of film-making. There’s a lot that can be read into Renton’s character from what he wears as well as the kind of world that he inhabits, but one thing about his style definitely isn’t up for debate – it’s an effortlessly cool one.
Words by Samantha King