I saw Wonder Woman on Saturday. Oh, wow. I had all the reactions everybody else did, and maybe a whole lot more. In my day job, I’m a costume designer, and I can’t ever really turn that off. When I watch something period or fantasy, aside from my usual internal monolog praising or criticizing construction techniques, etc., I often find myself “reverse engineering” the designer’s work, looking for hints about their inspiration or research. Sometimes I can tell exactly which painting, which historical artifact, a designer was looking at when they designed a costume. It can be very annoying to watch a costume drama with me.
Wonder Woman tickled my costume designer brain so much that I was still thinking about it Sunday morning, dragging out reference books to look stuff up, and that got me even more excited.
I’ll preface my fangirly ramblings with the caveat that I am not a comic book person. I know the character has a long, complex history, and there have been numerous pop culture iterations I know nothing about. The whole of my Wonder Woman knowledge comes from the Lynda Carter series growing up, and now Gal Gadot’s amazing interpretation, with one or two things I’ve seen online in between.
That said, one thing immediately jumped out at me, comparing Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman to this new one: Intent.
When you’re designing for fantasy, a good designer starts with something real and builds on that. In the case of Wonder Woman, that starting point is EVERYTHING. What you start with informs what you end up with.
Case in point, let’s look at Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman:
Diana, and all the Amazons, are supposed to be warriors. This, my friends, is not what a warrior wears into battle. Why is it so inappropriate for what the character is intending to do? Go back to the starting point. And the starting point of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman is this:
Sexy lingerie. Sigh. No wonder she doesn’t look like she’s ready to go into battle.
And then there was the even more egregious failed Wonder Woman pilot from 2011 with Adrienne Palicki:
My God. Not only is it the shoddiest, cheapest looking thing I’ve ever seen a Hollywood costumer produce, it’s basically fetish wear. The only thing holding those girls inside is a case of toupee tape and luck. I’ve put a million women in bustiers and I can tell you, the minute she lifts her arms, those things are out. And she’s supposed to be a WARRIOR! The sad thing is, when I saw that picture online, as much as the overflowing boobs pained me, I let it go. I accepted it as inevitable that any depiction of Wonder Woman would be over-sexualized to an extreme degree. That’s all we’d ever get.
Then I saw Lindy Hemming’s work in Wonder Woman and I almost cried. Scratch that, I did cry. Lindy Hemming didn’t use fetish lingerie as her starting point, she used armor. Actual armor. Roman armor, to be specific. Romans made armor out of overlapping bands of very heavy leather. Because it was organic material, very little of it survived, but here’s a fragment:
You can see this same technique clearly on Antiope in Wonder Woman:
And you can see it here on Diana:
It’s been highly stylized on Diana, but the inspiration, the intent, is there:
Remember when I said sometimes I can tell exactly what a designer was looking at when they designed something? This is a piece of Roman leather armor made out of a crocodile hide:
This is one of Hippolyta’s costumes. I almost squealed out loud in the theater when I saw it!
All the Amazons had fantastic, warrior-based details. The folklore about Amazons cutting off a breast so they were better able to fight? (which has no historical basis, btw) Lindy Hemming gave them a metal breast plate on one side:
And, as a side note, can we talk about the casting of the Amazons? All those gorgeous, strong, athletic women of all ages… swoon!
Yes, Diana’s costume has been stylized and they made her attractive, but that costume first and foremost is armor. It’s functional:
That skirt? The shape is Roman, cut high over the thighs so it doesn’t impede movement:
Those aren’t sexy thigh-high boots:
They’re Roman greaves, meant to protect, and they buckle on. Again, ARMOR!
With Wonder Woman, the starting point, the INTENT, is everything. The reason I literally cried watching the Amazons fight is that FINALLY, somebody started at the right place. That design showed respect. The intent, right from the start, was to portray those women as warriors, and that, at least for me, made all the difference.
This post was originally published on WeSoNerdy.com and is reprinted here with permission.
We So Nerdy is a multifandom entertainment news and review website where we share our fangirl-flails over our love of TV, films, books, and more. Fangirls and fanboys of all shapes, sizes, and passions are welcome!
This post was published on BUST.com on July 14, 2017
Top photo: Wonder Woman (2017)
More from BUST