Ever since superheroes took to the small screen, costume designers have been trying to find a way to bring comic book costumes to life. Since what works on the page often doesn't work on a living human, they tend to have their work cut out for them. Often, even despite their best efforts, the results end up looking too campy, too unrealistic, or too sexualized for middle America audiences sitting at home. This is especially the case with female superheroes, and we'll be looking at the worst of the worst on this list.
Fashions change with the seasons, and superheroes tend to fall victim to these trends. Capes tend to age the fastest, and the regret comes the quickest. Nonetheless, these butt-kicking ladies still manage to leave an impression on their respective television shows. First up, a ground rule. Each of the ladies on this list are separate characters in their own right but at some point they put on a mask and/or took up an alter-ego in order to get involved with crime, either to defend against it or perpetuate it. Otherwise, it's open season on terrible fashion. Starting now.
SPOILERS for Smallville, Batman, Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow, Daredevil, both versions of The Flash, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Birds of Prey.
15 LOIS LANE
Lois Lane isn't usually known for fighting crime in a mask, but audiences got to see just that in Season eight of Smallville. During the 19th episode of the same name, Lois started wearing a mask to fight petty crime after she fought off some muggers who attacked her friend Chloe Sullivan. Since her weapon of choice was the stiletto heels in her hand, Lois started using the name.
It doesn't last long, and the fighting is only part of it. Her costume is a shiny, squeaky mess of pleather with an over-dramatic cape and impractical heels. Lois might have been staying on brand, but it makes fighting increasingly difficult as the night wears on, even to the point where Lois makes a joke about it in the episode itself. In the end, the costume looks about as cheap and impractical as a look for one episode is usually meant to be.
14 LORELEI CIRCE
Lorelei Circe, or The Siren, appeared in two consecutive episodes of season three of Batman, which aired between 1967-1968. The episodes, "Ring Around The Riddler" and "The Wail Of The Siren" first introduced Lorelei as a partner of the Riddler to fix boxing matches. The next episode had Lorelei use her hypnotic voice to learn Batman's identity and then hypnotize him in order to acquire Bruce Wayne's immense wealth.
This plan ends up working about as well as her outfit during her time on the show. Clearly the costume is inspired by ancient Greek fashions with a silver rope coiled in her hair and wearing a toga that looks like it's made out of a space blanket. However, it's still pretty dignified in light of the rest of this list.
13 KARA KENT
No, you didn't read that wrong. Kara Kent is the version of Supergirl who made several guest appearances on Smallville during season seven, eight and ten. During her time on Smallville, she definitely had some costumes that seem to be based on the familiar blue-red-yellow pattern, but the results were... not so super. However, this entry is focused on Kara's costume when she debuted as "The Maiden of Might" in the season ten episode "Supergirl."
In that particular episode, Kara's costume is more inspired by the comics than anything else, with a blue cropped top and red skirt with matching boots. However, since there's no uniting element and everything looks like it's made out of cotton, the costume ends up looking like it was schlepped together from a clean laundry pile.
12 DINAH LANCE
Okay, okay, Smallville will get a break after this one but it's another example of nobody really being able to pull off Black Canary in a way that everyone enjoys. Alaina Huffman played Dinah Lance in this version, and first made her debut in the eleventh episode of season seven, entitled "Siren." She wears different outfits in later appearances, so the first one is the focus here.
Smallville often fell victim to trying to make the Hot Topic version of superhero costumes out of normal clothes to underwhelming effect. In Dinah's case, her supposedly stealthy outfit had bright yellow racing stripes and Wrestlemania eyeshadow functioning as a mask. The Daisy Dukes and fishnets were a callback to a more classic version of the costume, but by then it's too little too late.
11 SARA LANCE
Sara Lance earned her stripes by becoming a fan favorite on Arrow before becoming a lead in her own right on Legends of Tomorrow. She's been a member of the League of Assassins to moonlighting as the Black Canary's predecessor in the alleys of Starling City. However, it's her identity as the White Canary that gets her on this list.
The CW has been criticized for its affinity for leather-clad superheroes, and all of those points are evident here. The worn white leather looks perpetually dirty, even before she's ever been in a fight. Secondly, the cut of the bodice between the neck and the waist looks baggy and unfitted. This is probably in order to give actress Caity Lotz full range of motion for stunts, but in reality the entire top needs to be remade.
10 DINAH DRAKE
Dinah Drake is the second incarnation of Black Canary on this list and on Arrow. After the death of Laurel Lance, the original Black Canary with a better costume, former police officer Dinah took over the mantle when Team Arrow recruited her and her super-sonic scream. She spent most of her appearances in season five as a solo vigilante, but since she eventually got a proper mask, we'll count her field clothes as a costume.
Again, the live-action series falls victim to trying to make vigilante street-fighting look realistic through the costuming department. In Dinah's case, she's been stuck in the same black leather jacket and jeans all season. This makes her look boring on screen, or like the budget wouldn't allow for the design of another costume.
Elektra Natchios didn't make an appearance until the second season of Netflix's Daredevil, but the wait ended up being well worth it. Elodie Young's portrayal was nuanced, complicated, and more than a little sadistic. However, her costume was anything but.
Daredevil's tone was always trying to stay more on the side of realistic (even inside the MCU) with the portrayal of violence, so it makes sense intellectually to make Elektra's costume more muted and able to blend in. However, when she's constantly being paired in battle next to a man in a scarlet suit with literal devil horns, she looks like the one out of place. The only distinctive part of her costume is the red mask she wears on her face, but the effect is more like she's just pulled a turtleneck sweater over her head.
8 CAITLIN SNOW
When The Flash introduced Dr. Caitlin Snow as one of its principal characters in the pilot, viewers were waiting in anticipation to see if she would follow in the footsteps of her comic book counterpart. There Caitlin Snow was known as Killer Frost, a metahuman with ice-cold powers and an on-brand style to match.
Unfortunately, this costume is made up of a wig stolen from the Daenerys Targaryen makeup trailer and shiny blue fabric with plunging necklines, which is a complete 180 degree shift from Caitlin's normal wardrobe. This was probably inspired from the costumes made in season two for Earth-2 Killer Frost, but those worked because the metahumans were campier and meant to seem removed from our reality. On Earth-1, she just sticks out like a sore thumb.
7 DIANA PRINCE
Now that we have a second live-action Wonder Woman adaptation, it feels fair to aim at least some criticism at the TV series that started it all. Wonder Woman, a.k.a. The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, will always be a classic, but it's probably best the original costume serves as inspiration for later costumes. Costs need to be cut on pretty much any project, but unfortunately the costume has aged the worst out of all of these.
The strapless bodice is covered in tacky-looking lycra as defining features, and making arguably the most powerful woman in comics run around in glorified panties was a problem from the beginning. Furthermore, Diana's bracelets and tiara look like they're made out of gold-painted tin foil than objects made to defend mankind.
6 ZOEY CLARK
Nowadays, the 1990 version of The Flash is probably best known as inspiration for the still-running 2014 version by casting its Barry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) as both Henry Allen and Jay Garrick. However, fans of both series may remember Mark Hamill's turn as the maniacal Trickster. He's had a number of sidekicks over the years, but the one who makes this list is Zoey Clark's Prank.
Zoey is actually the second Prank in the 1990 show, being an obsessive fan of Trickster who builds her own costume to become his partner in crime. The loud and mismatched colors are a big reason that the skintight leotard hasn't aged well. In the end, the biggest reason is that it looks like an ugly one-piece bathing suit with a cheap cape attached.
5 KENDRA SAUNDERS
Kendra Saunders was only included on the first season of Legends of Tomorrow and even in those 16 episodes, she doesn't spend a whole lot of time in the Hawkgirl costume. Given that the Legends are meant to be moving discreetly through history, this is probably for the best.
The bodysuit part of Kendra's costume isn't terrible, despite being uncomfortably shiny. The biggest accents of the costume end up being the silliest: the wing-shoulder pads and the helmet. The feathers jutting out from Kendra's shoulders should be unnecessary given she's got the real thing. However, since CGI is expensive, that doesn't happen very often. Therefore, when her wings don't appear, the pads remind you what you're missing and seems like overkill when the wings are present. The helmet is inspired by the comics, but it ends up looking more like Wolverine's mask from Marvel; something that was wisely cut from every live-action adaptation.
Believe it or not, the reappearance of a character portrayed by Laura Vandervoort on this list was entirely coincidental. This is Indigo, a secondary antagonist on CBS' Supergirl. She appears in a few episodes in the first season (changing to sister network CW) before getting axed in the finale. Given that she's tangentially related to Brainiac, it's possible that Indigo might return in some form or another. Let's just hope it's with a new costume design.
This costume would have been lower on the list by virtue of being too boring to look at: a lycra catsuit with two colors that look almost exactly the same and a barely distinguishable gauntlet on one hand. However, because Vandervoort's visible skin has been painted the same shade of blue, it looks like the costume is meant to blend seamlessly with Indigo's physical body. Because this wasn't accomplished, Indigo looks like a villain from the original series of Star Trek.
3 HELENA KYLE
2002's Birds of Prey live-action television series will probably go down in history as one of the worst comic book properties adapted for anything (on television or otherwise). It was a cavalcade of bad decisions made worse by the trends of the time and what producers thought would resonate with fans. Birds of Prey had a lot of problems in the costume department but the show's protagonist got it the worst.
Helena Kyle (biological daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle) works as Huntress, arguably the only legitimate vigilante in the show. However, one could be forgiven for thinking she's a vampire cosplayer with the gauzy cape with a wide, raised collar. The rest of the outfit is the same low-cut leather bodice and thigh-high boots used in any other sexualized female costume.
2 HARLEEN QUINZEL
This is stretching the definition of the word "costume" a bit, but since Dr. Harleen Quinzel is revealed to be the main villain of the series, wearing this outfit, which is clearly meant to harken back to the harlequin outfit that mirrored the famous sidekick's name. It's necessary to this plot twist that Harleen seems like a non-insane person, and that's why this outfit is saved for the end.
Granted, the leather skirt with shapes cut out of it was something that was allowed in 2002, but the real travesty is the top. Maybe the costume department thought a live-action version of the Batman: The Animated Series costume would be too much, which is probably true. So why did they make the only recognizable influence be the diamond pattern on her collarbone? Why does it show skin? Would that be too frumpy?
1 QUEEN BEE
Super Spidey Stories premiered in 1974 as a part of the CTW series Electric Company and therefore isn't a property in its own right. Since this was a sketch show targeted at small children that lasted around five minutes (often narrated by a pre-fame Morgan Freeman, believe it or not), it seems a little mean-spirited to criticize it when even Marvel wasn't making money on it.
Nonetheless, Queen Bee is the silliest costume on this list and looks like it was most difficult to act in. The half-human, half-mutant bee supervillain wears hilariously huge goggles that look impossible to see through, and is buried in huge pieces of fabric in order to make her cape look like wings. The actress, Hattie Winston, is is drowning in fabric, which looks nearly impossible to move in. The costume is made even sillier with the tiara on her head, presumably to remind everyone that she's the queen. Naturally.
Which female costume on TV do you think is the absolute pits? Let us know in the comments!