The rise of chic geek fashion

By Lisa Granshaw

Pop culture fashion has existed for decades, but it’s largely been restricted to the men’s department.

Over the last few years, all of that has changed. Many fashion retailers and some brand-new startups responded to women’s call for clothes and accessories made specifically for them.

The result? An explosion of geek fashion for girls and women. Outside of already existing companies adding to their collections, in the last five years alone at least 11 geek fashion companies have been created. One of those, Her Universe, recently revealed that it expects $5 million in sales in 2014. While Her Universe and other companies often decline to share specific profit numbers, this figure, along with the ability of these companies to add employees and grow their offerings, illustrate the expansion underway.

Not only do geek girls now have options when it comes to wearing their passions, they’re taking fan fashion way beyond the stereotypical T-shirt. Here are five of the most interesting and popular geek fashion trends happening right now.

1) Big brands get in on geek girl fashion

There was a time when the best way for geek girls to get their fashion fix was a DIY outfit or independent shops. While big-name companies still have a lot to learn about what they can and should offer to women, the last year has seen an impressive increase in notable brands entering the geek fashion market. Marvel, in particular, launched new fashion collections with two online retailers, the first being popular geek girl-focused brand Her Universe and the second Australia-based company Living Dead Clothing. The comics empire even started a whole Instagram account focused on fashion called Styled By Marvel.


Living Dead Clothing’s first Marvel collection: Captain America.

“One thing that’s important to note about Marvel is that they are very supportive of their female fans and they’re definitely trying to get the word out and express to the female fanbase that they’re paying attention,” Ashley Eckstein, founder of Her Universe, told me at the time of the Marvel line’s release. “I’m excited to tell fangirls that their voices are being heard and Marvel is trying to offer fangirls even more options and merchandise.”

Studio Ghibli has also stepped up, granting for the first time their official license to U.S. companies to create fashions based on their properties and Transformers. That resulted in a new line with Her Universe. Likewise, Games of Thrones expanded its fashion offerings with a collection by Australian company Black Milk Clothing. Add to that the additional items created for women with themes like Harry Potter and DC Comics, and it’s clear big brands are finally realizing fangirls want full wardrobes—dresses, skirts, etc.—and not just T-shirts. If initial offerings by these major companies prove successful, it’s likely others will jump on board.


A T-shirt from the first wave of releases in the new Studio Ghibli line.

2) Runway geek couture

That disturbance in the Force felt round the world in February when high-end designer Rodarte debuted Star Wars gowns on the runway at New York Fashion Week continued to be felt throughout the year. It wasn’t just Star Wars that got designer treatment in the high-end fashion world. The sheer amount of geeky, pop culture-inspired designs we saw walk the runways this year was shocking and spectacular.

Not only did Rodarte take inspiration from Star Wars, but shortly after we saw Preen’s Darth Vader designs walk the runway at London Fashion Week. These looks continued to have an impact months later, being worn by major celebrities and paving the way for the first fashion publication to be granted access to Skywalker Ranch. Add to these Star Wars designs the appearance of Barbie and Shrek fashions on the runways and it’s clear pop culture couture is on the rise.


Rodarte’s Star Wars Yoda dress photographed at the Skywalker Ranch.

Huge designers weren’t the only ones getting geek couture on the runway either. Her Universe announced at Los Angeles Fashion Week that the first-ever geek couture fashion show would happen at San Diego Comic-Con. Thirty-six designers showed off their fashions inspired by everything from comic books to TV shows. The two winners of the show were awarded the chance to design their own collections with Her Universe for Hot Topic.

“Part of geek couture is celebrating what you like, instead of fashion dictating what you should be and wear,” Andrew MacLaine, the show’s Audience Choice winner, told me earlier this year. “At the root geek couture, it’s about ‘I like what I like, even if other people don’t understand it. … I want to be who I want to be.’ That’s what fashion should be.”

Considering the popularity of the show and the appearance of geek couture on fashion runways around the world, it’s clear this trend is only just beginning to explode.


This Once Upon A Time-inspired design won the Audience Choice award at the San Diego Comic-Con fashion show.

3) Subtle geek fashion

Gone are the days when the geek fashion world was full of images taken directly taken from properties (think the classic Superman symbol slapped on a blue T-shirt). Now an increasing number of geek fashions are drawing more subtle inspiration—and they’re doing so outside the confines of Etsy. These are items you can wear to the office or a party and not feel like you’re screaming your geekiness to the world. Instead, the images, if used at all, are displayed in a stylish way, a wink to your favorite character or franchise that only fellow fans will likely recognize.

For example, Hot Topic released lines inspired by Maleficent and The Book of Life this year that took inspiration from the color schemes and styles found in the films. They don’t blatantly  scream that they’re from these movies, but if you’re familiar with the films you’ll recognize the  nod to them. This trend and the increase in geek couture seem to be feeding into each other. As fangirls demand more stylish looks and high-end designers take geek culture to the runway, more casual clothing designers are thinking up ways to offer chic and subtle geek fashion. A brand new company Cozday Clothing launched this year with the goal of offering geek girls designer options to wear to weddings and other events, and online retailer WeLoveFine expanded to include a new designer label called Goldie that’s launching a Star Wars boutique collection.

“I see the geek chic trend seriously cresting in the next few years,” Cozday Clothing founder Leetal Platt told the Daily Dot. “It’s really exciting, but it will only happen if we fans make it happen on that higher level and demand and purchase better quality goods.”


La Muerte Retro Goddess dress from Hot Topic’s Book of Life collection.


Cozday Clothing’s Admiral-inspired jacket and skirt.

4) Success of geek fashion start-ups

The rise of geek fashion is not limited to the U.S. Australia’s Black Milk Clothing expanded its fandom fashion lines with multiple collections, visited San Diego Comic-Con for the very first time, and even opened a U.S.-based warehouse in Los Angeles. Likewise, Living Dead Clothing recently landed a big partnership with Marvel to turn a number of the comics empire’s properties into fashion lines. France-based company What Heroes Wear also launched a second crowdfunding campaign, this time an international one, to expand its fashion options for women.


Tapestry skirt from Gold Bubble Clothing’s Last Unicorn line.

American startups and independent retailers also saw success. The fledgling company Gold Bubble Clothing struggles to keep up as demand grows, but it can mark some big wins despite only just launching last year. It’s made a name for itself with lines inspired by Sherlock and Star Wars, and it partnered with author Peter Beagle for an officially licensed Last Unicorn collection.

“For too long, fandom has been ignored by most of the fashion industry,” Gold Bubble Clothing founder Jinyo told me. “It’s about time that women had fashionable choices for expressing what they love about pop culture.”

Other companies that started as small geek fashion retailers a few years ago, like WeLoveFine and Her Universe, are continuing to expand, showing the market isn’t going away anytime soon.


Black Milk Clothing’s Beauty and the Beast Tale As Old As Time scoop skater dress from their Disney collection.

5) Fandom cosmetics

As an almost inevitable companion to the abundance of new geek fashion and accessory options for women, fandom-inspired cosmetics hit the scene in a big way this year. Independent and mainstream companies have moved quickly fill the demand for these types of products. Big-name brand MAC Cosmetics released multiple collections tied to a variety of fandoms, from The Simpsons and Maleficent to their most recent: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Considering the excitement these lines sparked among fans, it’s clear there’s a big desire for these items, and MAC is sure to take notice.


MAC Cosmetics’ Rocky Horror Picture Show collection.

Add to this the growth of independent cosmetics companies and there are more choices now than ever before. The aptly named Fandom Cosmetics was launched in 2013 and is already rapidly growing, evidenced by the number of orders and the notice the company has gained from producers of certain fandom franchises. Espionage Cosmetics is perhaps the best known independent geeky cosmetics retailer. It has been steadily increasing its offerings, from filling the demand for geek nail wraps with a second successful Kickstarter campaign to a growing the number of licensed products, such as its recently released Borderlands collection. A number of other geek cosmetics companies have popped up to help fans get their fix as well, like Shiro Cosmetics and Geek Chic Cosmetics.

“Growing up, we have often felt like we were told we could either be nerds, or be girly. And that’s simply not true,” Natasha Coulson, co-creator of Fandom Cosmetics, told me in September. “There is nothing wrong with being geeky and loving makeup, and we feel that by combining the two elements, it makes a statement that it’s okay to be both. We’re not one-dimensional beings; ‘nerd’ and ‘girly’ are not mutually exclusive terms.”

Deciding between mainstream or independent geek cosmetics depends on what women are looking for, but the very fact that there are now enough choices to make the decision difficult is an exciting new trend for geek girls.


The officially licensed Borderlands collection by Espionage Cosmetics.

Photos for the main image via Her Universe | Remix by Max Fleishman