As a designer, I love clothing. It is basically packaging for humans. Just like packaging, the function is two-fold; 1) Packaging gives a clear indication of what is inside, and 2) Packaging facilitates the use of whatever it contains. Extending this to clothing then, the primary function of any item of clothing is to convey something clear about the wearer to world, and then to create ease and efficacy of movement. In many ways a superhero costume (or more realistically, a uniform for work) must do this even more blatantly. People must be able to immediately recognize the job and stay out of the heroes way.
A pet peeve of mine is people who can use design software, and so they call themselves designers, (despite no experience or training in the field.) Even though I am able to cook, I would never call myself a chef. Similarly, just because a comic book artist is able to draw clothing, that does not make them stylists or fashion designers. When was the last time a woman asked a geeky man to help her buy clothing (other than maybe some fetish wear)? Men have a tendency to take one glance at mall fashion in their teens, and never look again. Never was this more obvious than in comic books, and the new Wonder Woman costume has to be the pinnacle of this kind of folly. In comic books luckily men are rarely called upon to draw civilians, but when they do, men consistently draw women in clothing that would only have worked 10 or 20 years ago. Sadly, none of them think to employ the advice of stylists or designers. Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood have designed superheroic clothing that is 20 years ahead of it’s time. For the first time in history, fashion is looking to comic books for inspiration, so why is Jim Lee throwing out everything that is so super about Wonder Woman’s costume now? Let us dissect some of the most egregious errors that have been made here:
1. The Jacket:
At the moment, while fashion is pretty eclectic, I personally like the military influences and fitted jackets that are going on, they are neat and tailored while still showing a woman’s waist. I have broad shoulders, so I’m always happy when clothes like that are in because I look better with well-tailored jackets instead of slouchy ones. What I’m not seeing anywhere are oversized cut-off bolero jackets. This is something that was briefly fashionable in the 1980’s, and it only ever looked good on very thin women with no asses (hence the short-lived appeal. Wonder Woman is an Amazon warrior. As an Amazon, she’s got a nice muscular ass (or I want to know why not) and she’s not going to dress like a teenager from Flashdance.
Similarly, legging are currently so abused and so heinous a fashion crime, that even American Apparel (that bastion of irritating hipster-wear) have had to clearly label their leggings as tights, and not pants. Wonder Woman is timeless and godlike, not a trashy teen
In a similar militaristic influence as the fitted jackets, people have been wearing wrist wraps and cuffs as fashion accessories for a while now. Finally, after 70 years of being drastically unfashionable, why would Wonder Woman suddenly stop wearing them and move on to some glove-things which could inhibit wrist mobility? It’s nonsensical. Wrist cuffs are finally a mainstream fashion accessory, so let’s get rid of them? No, it’s ridiculous.
Chokers were kind of big in the early ’90’s, remember that? It was to sex up the fact that grunge for women was pretty hideous at times. How do you remind people that you’re hot when you’re generally wearing plaid shirts and jeans which are 4 sizes too big? Throw on a choker. I do sometimes still see them on underwear models, so that’s probably where Lee got the idea.
As an emissary of the gods, a brave warrior sent to do battle in a foreign land, Wonder Woman comes from a race who cut off a breast to be better bowmen. No matter how this character is changed, she is not going to stop being an Amazon, so what is the thinking behind this feeble attempt to clothe her? I’m having a very hard time with Jim Lee’s take on Wonder Woman’s new costume.
As an art director, the idea of simply throwing away 70 years of strong brand recognition of this first lady of super powers is an absolute horror story. I am consoling myself with the idea that this is probably just a temporary marketing idea (and as despicable as I find that, it makes some sense.) Other characters have been through similar phases, for example Superman’s blue period, or Spider-Man’s black suit, but in both of those instances, they looked simply strange, otherworldly even, which made some sense in their universes. This low-rent anti-fashion statement cheapens the brand of Wonder Woman, and it’s a brand which cannot take this kind of abuse.
I’ve always sort of liked Wonder Woman’s ludicrously old school costume. The subtle tweaks that it’s had over the years are perfectly acceptable to me (a higher leg on the pants, or hipster shorts, small changes to the bodice, etc), but it always remained essentially the same, and spoke volumes about her power. Most superhero costumes are revealing, after all, they’re physically perfect (though even the Blob wears a form-fitting costume, so maybe it’s not about the physique, but the job), whatever the reason, a lot of the most powerful heroes are practically naked. Complete nudity is almost always a sign of incredible power, for example the Silver Surfer and Doctor Manhattan do not wear clothing because they’re all-powerful. By dint of the same logic, I like the fact that Wonder Woman shows some skin, it implies that she is so strong that she never even considered wearing restrictive, protective garments.
On the rare occasions that Wonder Woman dons her ceremonial white robes for royal functions and ambassadorial duties, or her battle armor in times of epic battle. She is aware that her simple, daily uniform only fulfills some functions and isn’t appropriate for all situations. She’s not crazy. But she also knows the power of a god-like legend, and doesn’t work mess with it. The costume she has is like that of the emergency services, it is unchanging and functions to let people know what she is and what she does. Yes, it is a fantastical creation, and it is unrealistic. So are Amazons and superheroes. She is our link with Greek mythology, and her brash, obvious, American flag-inspired costume cements that bond. Drastically changing Wonder Woman’s costume is absolutely criminal, and to do so to a geeky man’s specifications is doubly criminal. She is a brand, and icon, and a hero.
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