Neon-Noir Aesthetic: What It is?

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The term Neon-Noir is a film genre, but it can also represent an aesthetic. This aesthetic includes a brooding, mysterious, cyberpunk, and dangerous atmosphere. The neon-noir aesthetic can be related somewhat to the sibling-genre neo-noir (without the “n”), including avant-garde fashion, femme fatale style, dark clothing, technology, and neon lights.

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What is Neon-noir?

The term Neon-noir (or tech/cyber/future-noir) is a more modern sibling genre to Neo-Noir, which comes from the film industry. Neo-noir in its turn is a “comeback” from another genre called film noir (translation: dark movie or black movie). The original film noir movies were set in a post-World War II setting and had some distinct characteristics.

Some common characteristics of all of these genres are:

  • Interplay of light and shadows + Low-key lightning
  • Unusual camera placement (to give off a feeling of uneasiness, disorientation, madness, or imbalance)
  • Blurred lines between good/bad, right/wrong
  • Antiheroes – making choices out of desperation or nihilistic moral systems
  • Moodiness, cynicism, paranoia and nostalgia
  • Detectives, drifters, professors, criminals
  • Femme fatales

And then, in more modern times, came a new wave of art movement inspired by all the new technology and in particular the bright neon signs of Japan. This wave then inspired artists, creators, and film directors to incorporate elements of technology and urban lights into movies.

Blade Runner Movie

Neon-noir is a combination of film noir and cyberpunk aesthetics and contains:

  • Bright neon colors
  • Electronics and technology
  • The main character experiences urban isolation
  • Loud and bright

Examples of Neon-noir movies:

  • Balde Runner 2049
  • Atomic Blonde
  • Terminal

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Neon-Noir Aeshetic & Clothing

Our First Look At The Neon Noir World Of Duncan Jones’ New Movie Mute
Duncan Jones’ Mute

Now, onto translating the genre and aesthetic into clothing. We can go about this in a few different ways.

First, most original neo-noir films took place in the period after World War 2. And so naturally, many clothing pieces can be classic ones such as trench coats, suits, hats, pearl necklaces, leather items, and so on. This is opposed to modern fashion trends such as cross-body bags, super-bright colors, sneakers and etc.

For females, clothing characteristics can be:

  • Dark clothes
  • Checkered coats
  • Fur coats
  • Leather jackets
  • Sunglasses
  • Cocktail dresses, pencil dresses
  • Fitted suits
  • Diamonds
  • Leopard prints
  • Non-clothing: Red lipstick, polished hairstyles

For men, clothing characteristics can be:

  • Dark clothes
  • Suits
  • Leather jackets
  • Sunglasses
  • Coats
  • Hats
  • Leather shoes

Secondly, we have the element of modern society, technology, and cyberpunk. This aspect of the aesthetic is best expressed through background lighting and environment, rather than clothing pieces.

The moody urban atmosphere is achieved by:

  • Nighttime scenes
  • Building, roads, tunnels, bridges – using the city as a character
  • Neon lights (especially reflecting off of wet streets, cars, shopping windows, etc)
  • Characters covered in shadow and/or neon colors
  • Rain and fog
Vengeance (2009) directed by Johnnie To • Reviews, film + cast • Letterboxd
Vengeance (2009)

I find that the coolest combinations are a blend of old and new. This means incorporating elements of technology, urban cities, and neon lights, as well as classic/old products and clothing items such as trench coats and suits. Some movies lose the balance between classic and modern when they only think of incorporating futuristic items, but not any history. In real life, things that are authentic are usually a blend of old and new.

Thanks for reading!

Further reading: Concept Art of Futuristic Cities | Cyberpunk

Wendy Zhou

UX/UI designer from Sweden. I write about design, tech, side projects, personal finance and cyberpunk. Contact: wendyzhou.design@gmail.com

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