by Quek Yoke Ling
What do White Queen, Starfire, and Witchblade have in common? Apart from being female superheroes, all three of them wear what most would consider to be extremely revealing clothing.
It’s safe to say that we all love our DC and Marvel superheroes: they are, after all, strong and bold upholders of justice, here to save Planet Earth from destruction. Of all the elements in a good superhero story, costumes are one of the most important.
Male vs. Female superhero costumes – why so different?
Regardless of gender, spandex is apparently a favourite (and over-used) material for superhero outfits. Spider-man, for instance, wears the same tight-fitting spandex suits as his fellow female counterparts. The similarities, however, end here.
While male costumes (see: Batman and Superman) typically cover the entire body, female costumes are deliberately designed to be sexually appealing. The male costume would emphasise the hero’s bulkiness – notably his pecs, abs, and arms. The female one focuses on the bulkiness of her bra size and sometimes hips, invariably with a tiny waist. This tells us that male heroes were strong, while women were eye candy.
It’s not uncommon for female outfits – like that of Witchblade’s or Starfire’s – to reveal the chest and torso. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find an outfit that is fully PG-friendly.
A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that comics have – for decades – been marketed with a male audience in mind: think young teenage boys with raging hormones. The sex appeal of female superheroes, therefore, ranks at the top of priorities, and skimpy costumes are the quickest way to achieve this. Female characters not only had to be powerful, they also had to be sexy.
Comics Redesigned: A More Equal Future?
Simply flip through the pages of comic books, and you’ll find that most female costumes aren’t exactly fit for war. However, there have been some amendments to female costumes, notably in TV and movie adaptations.
In Wonder Woman (2017), the Greek warrior influence is evident in the character’s outfit, which featured real greaves (leg armour), pteruges (defensive skirting), and cuirasses (torso armour). In the TV series Supergirl, the Girl of Steel herself will return in the fifth season with a costume change: she’s ditched the skirt-and-tights combo for more combat-worthy slacks.
More effort has been made in recent times to tone down outfits in order to portray female superheroes as strong, rather than sexy. We may not have noticed it, but the live-action versions of Scarlet Witch and Elektra have very toned-down costume versions of their comic counterparts.
Moving forward, the ideal design of female superhero costumes has to take into account their personality and fighting styles, and not just their sex appeal. This ensures that the costume does not derail from the true intention of comic or movie: celebrating the (s)hero.
Read more Design stories like this in our August 2019 issue of Campus! You can read it online here, or pick up a free copy from your school!