The Costumes on Fire in ‘The Hunger Games’

An analysis on the costumes used for ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy and the explanation behind how each costume reflects on the society or character depicted in the trilogy.


Benzir Raida

In the left is Katniss’s first dress that she wore to the 74th Reaping. On the right is Peeta wearing the very first outfit we see him in, in ‘The Hunger Games’ movie and for the 74th Reaping.

From 2008 to 2012, Suzanne Collins released The Hunger Games Trilogy, which fans adored just as much as Collins did. The series’s popularity soared even further after Lionsgate released movie adaptations for each novel. The Hunger Games Trilogy takes place in Panem where each had to choose one female and one male tribute for the Hunger Games. These Games were made to keep the Districts under control to avoid having another rebellion against the Capitol and government.

The trilogy follows Katniss Everdeen who volunteers to replace her little sister, Primrose Everdeen, in the 74th Hunger Games. Her one wish is for Prim to be safe from Panem’s imposing power over the Districts. This wish will fuel her fight for herself and her loved ones through the trauma ahead. The life she lives and the defiance she expresses, implicitly or explicitly towards the Capital, will result in her becoming the face of the rebellion. Katniss becomes the Mockingjay. 

Throughout the movie, the costume designers did a wonderful job in ensuring the costumes fit the overall theme and the setting of the novel. Each costume no matter how big, small, detailed, or simple contributed to the overall story. Costumes are the very first thing that the audience will see and it is crucial for the clothing to also tell the story. Without costuming, viewers might not understand what time period the film is taking place in, or the kind of environment our protagonists live in, thus, making the movie less enjoyable. 

Panem and The Districts Fashion

When watching The Hunger Games, the very first opening scenes showcase life in District 12 and the first introduction of Katniss and Prim. The broken down houses, sparse trees and greenery, and the exhaustion hanging in the air presents the poverty and the terrible living conditions citizens of District 12 have to endure. Judianna Mokovsky (costume designer for The Hunger Games) dressed everyone in utilitarian clothing consisting of a plain, grayish cotton shirt tucked into brown pants or a simple dress with aprons. In addition, Makovsky was strict in her color palette, staying within cool blue gray, off-white with yellow undertones, dark grey, and some browns, enhancing the feeling of despair and fear within District 12. The people of District 12 are in no way worried about how they look, but worried if they can survive to see another day. To them, functionality comes first while style comes last. The persistence of dull, old, cool tone colors is also shown throughout the other Districts, such as District 8 and District 11 where their laws are far stricter and detrimental for the people. 

The Capitol, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Capitol citizens often wear crazy, colorful, outlandishly expensive clothes on a day-to-day basis symbolizing the wealth they have and the luxury they take for granted. To get a good sense of the fashion worn in the Capitol, the scene in Catching Fire where Katniss and Peeta go to a party at President Snow’s mansion is a good example. Viewers see many people wearing bright colors like lavender and royal blue that are paired with colorful wigs, huge headpieces, or intricate jewelry. What makes Capitol fashion so unique is that the profiles and silhouettes are from evening wear and party wear in the 1930s and 1940s. Clothes worn by Effie Trinket and other citizens are reminiscent of the past, yet  also, look futuristic because of the colors and experimentation in regards to the fabric and mismatching of styles. 

Throughout the novel, Collins constantly reminds us how the Capitol and Districts live in very different lifestyles. The Capitol lives lavishly, being able to eat as much as they want, while the Districts can barely get by with the limited food resources and are risking their chances of being in the Games by taking more tesserae (children between ages 12-18 can take out tesserae if their family is struggling for food, but in exchange they have to put more of their own names for the reaping, thereby increasing their chances of be chosen for the Games). The costumes essentially highlighted  how privileged Capitol citizens are and how out of touch they are with the Districts. All of the costume designers have done such an amazing job to reflect these themes in the costumes. There is such a stark contrast between the two different fashions that it helps incapsulate how the Capitol and Districts can not fully integrate and understand each other. The Districts will never understand the Capitol’s lavish lifestyle and never forgive how they watch the District’s children fight to the death on television for their entertainment. The Capitol will never understand the District’s resentment after being so desensitized nor understand how hard it really is to stay alive in these Districts.

The Star-Crossed Lovers

Katniss and Peeta grew up in very different lives in terms of financial situation, where Katniss came from the Seam (poorest part of District 12) and Peeta came from the Town (richer parts of District 12), but both were still in constant danger under the Capitol’s rule and mistreatment. With this in mind, in The Hunger Games, both Katniss and Peeta are seen wearing very dull, cool tones, but what sets them apart is a specific jacket worn by Katniss. She wears a brown leather jacket, a reminder of her father that stays with her for the entirety of the series. This piece of clothing adds to her character as it shows how much Katniss misses her father. But their every day outfits would soon change for the Games. 

The Hunger Games are televised and made so that it is glamorous so more Capitol citizens can tune in to watch. To attract more viewers, stylists dress the tributes in the finest clothes, and the Gamemakers craft compelling stories for the tributes that died for the citizens’ entertainment. Essentially, for the tributes to survive the Games, they too have to create a story from the very beginning to either gain sympathy and support from the sponsors or fool everyone. The stylists for Katniss and Peeta, respectively, are Cinna and Portia who have done an amazing job in exciting many Capitol citizens to root for District 12. They helped lift Katniss and Peeta from the bottom to the top. 

The very first outfit created by the stylist was a black leather zip-up jumpsuit with snake skin detailing, which was worn in the chariot rides in The Hunger Games. This unique costume has already given both tributes the advantage they need to gain sponsors, but also reminds viewers to not underestimate District 12. This costume, in comparison to the ones worn by other tributes, puts Katniss and Peeta in the spotlight, bolstering their popularity and thus, swaying public sentiment to their favor. The theme of dressing both tributes to be more intimidating and as the underdogs continues for Catching Fire when both wear a simple black fabric with specs of white and red glitter. Katniss wears a simple dress with an upside down U-shaped slit while Peeta wears a simple vest and dress pants. Similar to how Cinna and Portia intended, Trish Summerville, costume designer for Catching Fire, helped for both characters to look more mature and in unison with each other. 

When Katniss and Peeta were declared as District 12 Victors, both rose up in social status. They are now able to afford basic necessities and splurge on things they love, something they were never able to do before the Games. Their rank is shown in their day-to-day clothing, where both incorporate colors like red and brighter browns into their outfits or wear fur and wool. This is shown through Katniss wearing her fur torso-shaped scarf in the very first scene of Catching Fire. It’s rare to find a citizen of District 12 to own such fine clothing that not only sufficiently keeps them warm during the harshest of winters, but also looks beautiful from every angle. Their newfound wealth is shown through the Victory Tour, where Katniss and Peeta travel to each District to give a speech. At every stop, they are seen wearing cobalt blue clothes or cardigans that complement their body shape. 

While the outfits characterized Katniss and Peeta’s rags-to-riches arc, they were also key to selling the fake narrative that would save both their lives; they were only able to stay alive in the 74th Hunger Games because of the “star-crossed lovers” story they put on. Peeta from the beginning loved Katniss and was willing to do whatever it takes for Katniss to stay alive. Although Katniss could not reciprocate the feeling at the time, she still valued her friendship with Peeta and was willing to risk anything to save his life. For this reason, Katniss pulls out the nightlock berries to get the Gamemakers to accept either two Victors or none at all. Taking this into consideration, the stylists constantly made sure their outfits match or complement each other for the sake of Katniss’ and Peeta’s lives. Essentially, the clothes they and other tributes wear are just as important to their survival. 

An amazing example of this was the pale yellow cocktail dress Katniss wore in the interviews after winning the 74th Hunger Games. In the books, Cinna intended for Katniss to appear as innocent so District citizens don’t find the berries to be a sign of a rebellion, but also make Snow less angry. Judianna Mokovsky did a wonderful job in making sure Jennifer Lawrence appeared really sweet by giving a dress that would be worn by teenage girls on a special event. 

The theme of coordinating the outfits to represent the love between the two is further emphasized in the interviews with Caesar Flickerman just before the 75th Hunger Games. Katniss is seen wearing a huge wedding ball gown with many frills and ruffles. It had an intricate silver lacing that wrapped around her waist and extended out to her shoulder, giving an off-shoulder illusion. President Snow made Katniss wear the wedding gown to fool everyone into thinking the act of taking out the berries was merely just an act of love. But this soon changes when Katniss’ dress transforms into a navy-blue dress with feather-like detailing in dark greens and blues. At that very moment she became the Mockingjay, a symbol of the rebellion. The wedding dress and the Mockingjay dress are foils of each other, representing the war between the Capitol and Districts. The Capitol will do anything to make sure the facade never dies while the Districts see through the actions made by Katniss and cannot be fooled. 

The Fashion Icon Herself: Effie Trinket

Collin’s characters are known for their depth and development throughout the series. Effie Trinket is another beautifully written character whose costume was more involved. Effie Trinket grew up in the Capitol and loves fashion. In almost every scene, Effie is seen wearing colorful wigs, elaborate cocktail dresses with detailed patterns or a nice draping, and she is constantly accessorizing. She is the escort for District 12 tributes, managing the tributes’ schedule from training and meetings to the start of the Games. Every year till the 74th Hunger Games, she has been so excited to be part of the process and never took the time to understand how the tributes themselves feel. She merely saw the Games as entertainment and did not understand that these are actual people who are getting killed. But this changes as she learns more about Katniss and Peeta and processes the cruelty of the Games. 

Effie first appears in the reaping scene where Katniss volunteers to replace Prim. She wore a jacket with puffy shoulders and a ruched pencil skirt. Her clothes have  a burgundy color with blue undertones. In addition, she wears a flower headpiece with her light pink wig and accessories like a flower necklace. From the first outfit, it’s clear Effie is very excited for the Games, but she is also painted as fake and insincere. Effie’s attire heavily contrasts the utilitarian clothes of District 12.She stands out to the masses of terrified children, parents, and friends as the sole Capitol visitor in the District. Her saturated and inappropriate outfit for the Reaping, a death sentence for two, shows how Effie represents what the District’s people hate. The themes of monotone looks composed of fuchsia, pinks, purples, and blues continues for the entirety of The Hunger Games. Despite Effie’s flamboyant appearance, the fans have come to love her personality, and it is clear she cares for Katniss and Peeta. 

As the series progresses to Catching Fire, Effie’s personal style included more colors and textures into her outfits rather than staying just monotone. When Effie first appears in Victor’s Village, she is wearing a black and white zip up with white fur and a flower pattern adorning the dress. Compared to the costumes in The Hunger Games, Effie clearly developed a style that is unique to her, but reflective of the political climate. Almost every costume after this scene becomes more detailed and beautiful, but nowhere near making the audience feel like she’s tone-deaf. A good example of this is Effie’s Alexander McQueen dress, called the Monarch Butterfly McQueen, in the 75th Reaping. The dress is a symmetrical butterfly pattern from the front with an exaggerated waist, paired with an elaborate butterfly headpiece. In comparison to dresses seen thus far, the butterfly dress is less dramatic because the color is warmer and something the average person would wear. The yellow, orange butterfly dress in unison with Elizabeth Banks’ wonderful acting shows how Effie is absolutely sickened, but also distraught knowing that Katniss and Peeta might not survive. This is the beginning of the switched mindset in regards to the Capitol.

As Effie heads to the Capitol again for the Games, she wears the trends popular in the Capitol. The switch in style shows how Effie presents herself differently towards the people in the Capitol compared to how she presents herself to Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch. This is evident in one outfit where Effie was showing off Katniss’s wedding dress. She wears a hot pink cocktail dress, with many frills in combination with ruffles, and intricate gloves: a dress from the fall/winter 2012 Alexander McQueen. This dress embodies the Capitol, but also shows that the dress acts like her work outfit. Effie needs to look ready at all times since she is the voice for Katniss and Peeta outside the Games. She can’t afford to dress differently from the typical Capitol citizens, since she too, is trying to keep Katniss and Peeta alive. Even though Effie has two different styles, she is clearly so happy wearing them and feels so in tune with herself after wearing such beautiful dresses. 

This changed, however, when the war between the Capitol and the Districts began with Katniss breaking the force field around the arena with her arrow. With Katniss’ act of rebellion, President Snow tasked his Peacekeepers to bomb District 12, and he sent people to kill Katniss’s escort and prep team. With the help of District 13, Effie was rescued, but she would have to assimilate into their society. Because of this, for almost the entirety of  Mockingjay she is seen wearing a gray jumpsuit, signifying the loss of wealth. Although District 13 does not encourage individuality or creativity in terms of looks, Effie still finds ways to style herself through accessorizing and bandanas. This simple decision by the costume designer to give Effie gold bangles and bandana helps show the audience that no matter where and what situation is, she will always try her best to present herself nicely.

This is further shown in Finnick and Annie’s wedding where Effie wears a flowy pink spring dress with a blonde wig. She doesn’t wear dramatic outfits which would have meant she supported the Capitol, but rather something simple to show how much her ideals and opinions changed regarding the Capitol. She understands why the Districts are fighting back, and Effie shows her support, especially for Katniss, by wearing a simple, yet elegant dress.. 

The final dress Effie wears in the trilogy is a gray suit with a straight-fur shoulder and an exaggerated V-waistline using the same fur material. She pairs this with her blonde wig. Herfinal outfit compared to the very first outfit emphasizes how much she grew: as a passive viewer of the Games to an advocate who recognized that her actions contributed to the greater mistreatment of the Districts. 

It is no wonder why many fans enjoy watching the character development Effie goes through and how the costume designers reflect that through her costumes. 

“If we burn, you burn with us”

This is a quote by Katniss after seeing the building collapse on hundreds of people in District 8.  It perfectly encapsulates the war between the Districts and the Capitol. In seeing the ongoing conflict through Katniss’s eyes, the audience learns about the secret existence of District 13 and how their lives neither mirror those from the Capitol or the 12 other districts. 

District 13 was presumably destroyed during the Dark Days after the Capitol bombed them for trying to incite rebellion. Little did they know, District 13 had an underground bomb shelter which saved countless lives. This building was a constant reminder to the people that they are at war. During the first few scenes, everyone including refugees from District 12, wear the same gray jumpsuit. The uniformity illustrates the environment District 13 is living in and reinforces the value of unity in District 13. Individuality and creativity is not prevalent in this environment. 

This fashion style differs immensely in comparison to the Capitol. The Capitol flaunts their lavish lifestyle and uniqueness, but it comes at the cost of pitting against each other and the lives of many people. 

District 13 and the Capitol are foils of each other just like their respective leaders: Alma Coin and Cornelius Snow. Coin wears the same gray jumpsuit with a perfectly straight, short cut while Snow dons a velvet suit paired with a white rose. Their outfits represent who they are and what they stand for. Coin tries to appear like her citizens, but in actuality, she has so much power that she is no different to Snow when leading a country. As her name suggests, she is two-faced and will just continue the tyrannical cycle. Snow, on the other hand, makes it clear that he is the most powerful man in Panem. He constantly wears dark-colored velvet suits, adding to the wealth and intimidation often associated with him. In addition, his white rose represents his tyrannical rule but also how inhumane and unnatural he seems.

Throughout the movie, the costume designers did a wonderful job in ensuring the costumes fit the overall theme and the setting of the novel. Each costume no matter how big, small, detailed, or simple contributed to the overall story.