Thursday, 21 September 2017

“He wears cool leather coats and stuff”; The Origin of Spike’s Duster



Carrying on our Buffy Blog Series, which this week is exploring Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Five, we have Steph Mullholland's exploration of Spike and the Origins of his leather Duster. Check out our previous post on Spike by Holly Dann discussing his cockney accent in Season Two (which you can find here) and our other Season Five posts by Adam Smith who discusses whether or not Xander is a monster (for part- one click here, and part-two click here). And, as always, if you want to share your thoughts on this or any of our posts, use the hashtag #BuffySlays20. 
 

*Apologies in advance for any puns. Couldn’t resist. 

Spike’s duster coat has been part of ‘the look’ since Season Two, so you may ask why this blog focuses upon the fifth season. Origins. We are introduced to Dawn, we learn more about the First Slayer’s cryptic warnings, and ultimately, we are left in Season Five with the most sobering of truths: “the hardest thing in this world is to live in it” and in the midst of all these beginnings, we end with Buffy’s death (again). However, one look that will never die is Spike’s duster and it is also in the fifth season that we are shown their bloody origins.

(Spike and his trademark leather coat)
Originally, duster coats were an item of protection at the turn of the twentieth century, its intention was to ensure mobility when riding horses or motorcars whilst protecting the wearer from the elements along the journey. It seems juxtaposed upon Spike as a vampire who brings death to be entrenched in an item of clothing whose function it is to maintain the boundaries of the body, to shield against wounds or marks. Spike’s role as “Big Bad” is also at odds with the hero figure in Western cinema who was the traditional wearer of the duster coat. The coat was also a unisex item of clothing, and true to this, Spike does not hesitate to take the coat from Slayer, Nikki, demonstrating the fluid nature of the garment. Spike’s wearing of the duster then takes on many ambiguous allusions, it does not “fit” his character as villainous vampire and yet to think of Spike without his coat seems impossible. After all, he confesses: "It's my second skin. It's who I am" (Angel, 5:20) - and fans would likely agree. Indeed, the aim of the blog is to show how the duster uncovers much more about Spike than just his (excellent) fashion sense.

(Spike taking the leather coat from Nikki)
We learn in Season Five, specifically the episode “Fool for Love” (5:7), exactly how Spike killed his second slayer on a subway train in New York in 1977 and took the coat from her dead body, but the sequence in which we learn this information shows yet more ambiguity in Spike’s character. Whilst we see Nikki’s death in flashback we also flash between the present with Buffy and Spike re-enacting the same fight so Buffy can learn how to avoid Nikki’s fate. At this point we have two very different Spikes; in the past he killed a slayer, in the present he moves in to kiss her. Drusilla even tells Spike in another flashback during this episode: “You’re all covered with her, I look at you and all I see is the slayer” (5:7). She is right, he wears the ‘skin’ of the dead slayer, just not the slayer she is referring to. Death may be on the Slayer’s heels, but Spike wears it upon his back.

If Buffy’s “ties to the world” are the people she loves then Spike’s tie in many senses becomes the duster. It becomes a part of him through which we access his inner feelings and his truths, some good and some bad. Tellingly, he does not wear the coat in the immediate episodes after regaining his Soul in Season Seven, it’s a reminder of his bloody past and the monster he was/is. In the absence of his duster during parts of the final season, we see Spike lose himself.


CLOTHES MAKETH THE MAN:

A telling reveal comes via Buffy-Bot after she exclaims “Spike, it’s Spike, and he’s wearing the coat!” (5:18). She is of course alluding to his attractiveness in the coat but this is only because presumably Spike has instructed this to be part of her programming, he wants - or at least thinks, that Buffy finds the duster (and by extension, him) attractive. In his duster, Spike imagines his chance to be happy with Buffy, despite his evils. In linking attraction to the coat in this way Spike cedes to its ambiguous quality; when he tells Riley “the girl [Buffy] needs some monster in her man” (5:10) revealing that he feels he is capable of being a man worthy of Buffy, and a monster.

(Buffy and Spike)
The coat is what Spike feels he needs to be ‘Spike’, which is interesting because he only got the duster relatively recently (in vampire age) – indeed, he coined the name ‘Spike’ long before the coat. Therefore, the coat is the part of him he needed in our present. Contrary to his own perception of himself as “always bad”, he is a little bit of both; good and bad. If the continued proliferation of ‘sympathetic’ vampires after the millennium are anything to go by, maybe he was the Spike we needed.





Certainly, the pairing of the duster and vampire swept us off our feet.


Steph Mullholland is a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research interests involve skin within the Post-Millennial Gothic, self-fashioning (and fashionable!) monsters, and Gothic film and television. Like the best Buffy fans, Steph is Team Spike, and while she hasn’t murdered for a coat (that we know of), she does have her own folder of Spike gifs.

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