Cayce Pollard Units – Cyberpunk Anti-Fashion

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

William Gibson

In his 2003 book, Pattern Recognition, William Gibson introduces us to Cayce Pollard (pronounced Case – anyone surprised?) who is a coolhunter. As described in the excerpt below, she is unnaturally attuned to emerging trends because of an allergy to brands, the same way that someone who is allergic to peanuts is hyper aware of what products include peanuts as an ingredient, even aware of products produced in factories where peanuts are processed. As a result of this, Cayce wears what are described by the character Damien as CPUs, or Cayce Pollard Units:

[blockquote cite=”William Gibson, Pattern Recognition, Bitch, page 8″ type=”left, center, right”]

CPUs for the meeting, reflected in the window of a Soho specialist in mod paraphernalia, are a fresh Fruit T-shirt, her black Buzz Rickson’s MA-1, anonymous black skirt from a Tulsa thrift, the black leggings she’d worn for Pilates, black Harajuku schoolgirl shoes. Her purse-analog is an envelope of black East German laminate, purchased on eBay if not actual Stasi-issue then well in the ballpark.

She sees her own gray eyes, pale in the glass, and beyond them Ben Sherman shirts and fishtail parkas, cufflinks in the form of the RAF roundel that marked the wings of Spitfires.

CPUs. Cayce Pollard Units. That’s what Damien calls the clothing she wears. CPUs are either black, white, or gray, and ideally seem to have come into this world without human intervention.

What people take for relentless minimalism is a side effect of too much exposure to the reactor-cores of fashion. This has resulted in a remorseless paring-down of what she can and will wear. She is, literally, allergic to fashion. She can only tolerate things that could have been worn, to a general lack of comment, during any year between 1945 and 2000. She’s a design-free zone, a one-woman school of anti whose very austerity periodically threatens to spawn its own cult.


This clothing that Cayce wears is an attempt to dampen the effect that brands have on her. This is more apparent when we discover that Cayce has removed all identifying brands from all of the appliances in her apartment to the point of filing off logos. Brands are even used against her later in the book.

Cayce’s aversion to brands is allegorical to how many people feel about branding in today’s society. Advertisements are literally everywhere in today’s society. They are on television, the Internet, your cellphone, and even on your clothes. Clothes that you pay for. People literally pay to advertise for a company by wearing their logo. This is why so many people can relate to Cayce’s allergy in Pattern Recognition.

Despite Cayce’s lack of branding, she is still a coolhunter. She cares about how she looks. This is evidenced by the fact that so much of Pattern Recognition is devoted to descriptions of clothing. You can still look cool if you aren’t wearing a brand, maybe even cooler because you set yourself apart while developing your own sense of style.

Pattern Recogint

CPUs are an incredibly practical clothing choice as well. Cayce’s version is mostly made of t-shirts, jeans, and a single jacket. It’s practical because it looks good in most environments, and is simple. She doesn’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about how she is going to dress, because the simplicity of her dress, although cool, is minimal. Speaking of minimal, her clothing choices are also a fantastic example of minimalism. Due to the timeless nature of her fashion choices, she doesn’t need to upgrade her wardrobe every season, like the capitalistic fashion houses would have you do.

If it isn’t painfully obvious by now, I ascribe to the concept of CPUs. I pretty much only wear black, and mostly it’s black tees with black tactical pants. Practical and stylish in the way I want them to be. I do of course like to spruce these up with a nice jacket or sweater. These tend to be a bit pricier, but I don’t mind spending a little on a piece that I’ll have for years.

CPUs fit well in to the cyberpunk sense of style. It is minimal and practical, but is still stylish. You can be dark and brooding, but not goth. My style gets compared more to Johnny Cash’s dress than anyone else’s. The thing that I like about dressing in a CPU style is that people don’t make assumptions about who I am based on a logo. If someone does mention my clothes at all, it is to compliment a piece they like. I am not often drawn into pointless small talk about dress, but rather into deeper conversations of self that aren’t dependent on which companies clothes I am wearing, and that is how I like it.

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Veritas is a cyberpunk and writer who enjoys all aspects of the cyberpunk genre and subculture. He also journeys deeply into the recesses of the dissonance exploring his nihilistic existence. If you'd like to contact Isaac L. Wheeler (Veritas), the founder and editor-in-chief of Neon Dystopia, you can do so here:
  1. I enjoyed the post overall. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Blue Ant trilogy, but Pattern Recognition was my favorite of the three.

    Just one note, your William Gibson quote referenced “pattern recognition, bitch” as the source. I’m going to go ahead and assume that’s a typo.

  2. Bitch is the title of the second chapter of the book. So, no, it’s not a typo., but thanks for pointing it out.

    • Oh, well, that explains it. For some reason I couldn’t for the (digital) life of me figure out what that word was doing there. Anyways, thanks for the article.

    • Ecimenoos are in dire straits, but I can count on this!

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  3. Cayce and her clothing are largely inspired by this man, Errolson Hugh. You buy his design here,, if you can afford it.

    • Actually the bag and possibly the jacket Gibson is wearing in your article are Errolson designs.

  4. Sometime somewhere I heard a scuttlebutt that Einstein had seven units of clothing which were all exactly the same, in order to wear a clean one every day. Obviously enough he had more important subjects to think over than what to wear.

  5. I almost would qualify as a CPU. I need to get my wires checked.


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