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Rethinking Costume Design

Amy Brooks By Amy Brooks Published on June 21, 2016

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This article was updated on November 9, 2016

Comics are becoming increasingly popular, and that means that readership demographics are expanding. With this, the heroes are starting to look more like us. Heroes with different skin colours, religions and genders are being created or taking up the mantles of the ones who we love most. That means that it’s time for some redesigns, and in recent years, some of comic’s leading ladies have been getting outfits that seem, well, much more practical.

Take Captain Marvel for example. Those of you who are up on your comic book trivia, will know that Captain Marvel is the alias of Carol Danvers who used to go by the name Ms. Marvel. Danver's costume as Ms Marvel seemed a bit impractical. Kudos to the character for having the confidence to rock that leotard, but in a land where you’re beating up baddies and saving the day, having your legs fully exposed might not be the best idea.

But when Danvers took up the mantle of Captain Marvel, she also got a new costume, one that looks much more functional. The name ‘Ms Marvel’ was passed to Kamala Khan, a young muslim whose own costume is fashioned after a burkini (minus the head covering).

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Carol Danvers as Ms Marvel (left) Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel (center)  Kamala Khan as Ms Marvel (right)

Images via marvel.com/comics

Even Power Girl with her infamous and highly contentious “boob window” got a redesign. Well, her successor did at least. Karen Starr left Earth-One and left her alias to Tanya Spears. Spears ditched the leotard and cut-out. Instead, she adopted a neck-to-toe suit with long-sleeved bolero and gloves. And let me tell you, she looks like she can do some serious damage.

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Tanya Spears as Power Girl

Image via www.hitfix.com

Let me pause and address people who might say that characters like Power Girl should keep the costume because it’s what she’s always had. I’ll turn your attention to Power Girl’s original costume. She has a white leotard, but no cleavage cutout. Then, we get to reasons for Power Girl’s cut-out costume that range from her simply not caring if people stare, to not wanting her symbol to be an imitation of Superman’s, to wanting a symbol but leaving the hole because she can’t decide on one. All of these arguments would work with her original costume as well. At first, she wasn't hypersexualized with highly predominant cleavage. She didn’t need that. And the argument that the hole is some sort of theatrical distraction is just, well, flimsy at best.

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Wonder Woman's costume design sketches for DC Rebirth

Image via www.comicbookresources.com

Some characters, like Wonder Woman, have gotten so many costume changes that a re-design isn’t at all shocking. Wonder Woman has had, shorts, skirts, jackets, pants, and a leotard. In 2010, she had pants and a jacket, she looked beautiful, strong, and ready to kick some butt. It was a costume that your average woman could feel confident cosplaying in, but it got a lot of backlash. Even some feminists argued against it, saying that the redesign made it seem as though “only pants could be powerful.” The next few designs went back and forth between pants and leotard. Now, we have Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Her costume redesign comes complete with an Amazonian-inspired skirt. The design is a good one. It’s probably the first costume that really gets to the character's roots as an Amazonian princess, and isn’t just star-spangled American. Some might find the skirt attractive, but it’s not made to sexualize the character.

That’s where we get to the concessions. Comic books are set in a fantasy world. As much as we might want to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive or to leap tall buildings in a single bound, we can’t in this world. Maybe these fantasy world physics also make it possible to battle in the equivalent of a bathing suit without getting a wedgie. Maybe it’s a character like Starfire whose sexuality is completely entwined in her personality and the plot of her story. Or maybe it’s someone like Wonder Woman where the costume design stays true to the backstory.

I mean, we do have Hawkman who gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “sun’s out, guns out.”

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Image via www.dccomics.com

We just don’t need to make every female hero super sexy. Because comics do, in a way, mirror real life, and here in the real world, females come in all shapes, sizes and personality types. 

A beer lover with a serious case of wanderlust and a not-so-secret obsession with Superman.

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