When H.G. Wells published The Invisible Man in 1897, there were major changes afoot. The turning wheels of the Industrial Revolution had impacted the lives of civilization as few technological advancements ever had. With this historical background in mind, Wells’ focus on a scientist gone mad in the pursuit of his quest for “progress” is not out of the realm of possibility. Neither in the context then, nor the context of the present (even if Elon Musk is something of a cruder, less intelligent version of such a man). Griffin a.k.a. Griff a.k.a. The Stranger might have been a more composed person in the past, but when did being composed ever spare him scrutiny or mistrust?–in large part due to his albinism. Indeed, being albino is undeniably a root cause, whether he wants to admit it or not, for why his obsession with experimenting in how to become invisible has taken such an extreme hold. To the point where he has dropped out of his university in order to cease working with his professor, who might take credit for his discoveries, and subsequently robbing his own father in order to afford continuing the work in a room he’s rented at a boarding house.
Rather unaffected by the fact that ripping off Daddy has prompted his patriarch’s suicide, Griffin sets about conducting his chemical careenings. At last, one night, in his haste to complete the project due to the first in a string of prying busybodies (in this case, the landlord convinced he’s a vivisectionist), he is successful. The only problem is, he’s also naked. After setting fire to the house to erase any trace of his research findings, Griff takes to the streets in the buff, later addressing the unwanted practical mechanics of being invisible to Dr. Kemp, a former classmate that he tries to rally on his side in order to start a “reign of terror.” What no one seems to have ever talked about is that in order to be invisible to the public at large, you must wear no clothes. Not exactly ideal in cold London (and then Iping) weather, Griff reminds. More challenging still, is the need to access clothes when you do want to be visible.
When Griff ends up in a costume shop, he finds his loophole for gaining a foothold back into society. Sure, he knocks out the old broad who runs the joint (yet another hen-like scandalmonger), but he needed to do what was necessary to appear as a “grotesque but still a credible figure”–in other words, as an average human being. It is here that his iconic look comes together–one that has miraculously managed to transcend time and space in order to be more relevant than ever in 2020. For anyone who has ever worn a mask (whether basic or ultra souped-up) with sunglasses, the parallel is surely already well-known.
Granted, most of us aren’t walking about with our heads wrapped in bandages (though we probably should be), but the overall aesthetic is very much there as we’ve all succumbed to the mask and sunglasses look, followed by a coat and hat upon the arrival of winter. Not even someone as shrewdly trend forecasting as Miranda Priestly and her minions could have foreseen how much Griff’s fashion choice (imposed out of necessity, just as it has been for us) would apply to the once deemed “futuristic” year of 2020. But now, clearly, the future has become entirely rooted in the past, what with Spanish flu corollaries and now this Invisible Man one. In fact, the Griff look was even more closely emulated back in 1918, when the masks were made of gauze. But still, 2020 does what it can to pay homage.
Furthermore, this idea that we fear what we cannot see plays into Griffin offering to make himself visible to Kemp by putting on a dressing gown while he tells his tale of woe. Because it is when we cannot see a threat that we fear it most of all, and such a fact layers The Invisible Man with ample resonating cachet when applied to the invisible monster that has been coronavirus all year long. In any case, one can only thank Griffin for his trailblazing sartorial decisions–forged in nothing but loneliness, pain and suffering (in short, what everyone is going through right now if they are not a celebrity jetting off to an island with an entourage for their birthday). Because, in many respects, it has spared the average writerly introvert the cultural offense of instead wearing a burka in order to be seen–but not really seen–in public. One wonders if the propensity for such anonymity might have even lured Emily Dickinson out of her lair now and again.