Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

Meow

Nothing says Blockbuster like crime fighting world-saving witty superheroes. And what do superheroes wear to save the world? Skin-tight one piece Catsuits of course!  Since the creation of superheroes, our comic idols have donned form fitting one-pieces to fight crime in, male and female alike. While yes most male characters technically do still don a Catsuit, in the movies the term is almost exclusively on their female counterparts.  So let’s get started on re-counting some of the best Catsuits film and television have brought us over the years.

Catwoman

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Catwoman as she appeared in the early comics, with a purple dress and a green cape.

Catwoman first appeared in the Batman comics in 1940 wearing a dress with a furry cat mask that covered her face.  By 1947 Catwoman appeared wearing a more familiar version of her costume, a long evening gown with a cape and a hooded cat mask (similar to Batman’s).  Due to the Comic Code Authority’s rule about portrayals of females in comics, Catwoman did not make another appearance from 1954 until 1966, when she finally appeared in her trademark Catsuit, which was green.  The colors of Catwoman’s Catsuit have changed in the comics over the years but in film the Catsuit has always remained black.

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Catwoman’s Green Catsuit from the 60s, inspiration was clearly taken for the 60s Batman TV Series.

Julie Newmar- Catwoman from Batman

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Julie Newmar’s Catwoman suit was sparkling and much like the show played up the Camp of the comics.

Catwoman incidentally made her first TV appearance in 1966 on the popular Adam West Batman series and was portrayed by Julie Numar.  The costume was designed to look like the green Catsuit of the comics and was designed by Jan Kemp.  Wanting to play up the seduction and danger of Catwoman Kemp changed to costume’s color from green to black. She created the skin tight costume from sparkling black Lurex and added a gold belt with gold necklace with a blue gem. The gold belt was worn at Numar’s waist at her own insistence to show off her hourglass figure. The same basic costume was used for the other actresses who went on to portray Catwoman on the show, including Ertha Kitt and Lee Merriweather.

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Newmar’s costume even included cat references in the “claws” on her gloves and even her wild eyebrows.

Michelle Pfiffer- Catwoman from Batman Returns

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Pfiffer’s Catsuit broke many traditions with the look of Catwoman but her portrayal of the character, not to mention her curves in the costume, won fans over.

Tim Burton’s Batman Returns changed Catwoman’s back story and made her more than a cat burglar and made her a downtrodden secretary who discovers and evil plot and is subsequently killed then revived by cats. Due to her journey back from the dead costume designer Bob Ringwood  took the normally sleek design and added large jagged white stitches that were meant to look homemade (because you know everyone has some shiny black spandex sitting around at home).  The shine in the fabric was amped up to play up the way she is a opposite reflection of Batman.  The look of the costume even changes throughout the movie as more and more white stitches appears as Selina loses her nine lives. The costume remains one of Pfiffer’s most iconic looks and her portrayal remained so popular that a separate Catwoman was written for her, but took so long to get underway that Halle Barry took the role; the film was a massive flop.

Anne Hathaway- Catwoman from The Dark Knight Rises

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Hathaway’s Catwoman is a 21st Century interpretation of the character, even the fabric of the Catsuit looks high tech not to mention her high-tech “cat ears”.

The final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy features Batman’s most famous femme fatal as she was meant to be a word class cat burglar. While never referred to as Catwoman in the film Selina Kyle  bears resemblance to a Cat with her skintight leather Catsuit and her goggles which aide her break-ins which when worn on her head resemble cat ears. The costume was designed by Lindy Hemming and was made to match Nolan’s realistic approach to the trilogy. While many fans were initially upset with the look of Catwoman prior to the film’s opening, they seem to have taken to the look and it’s practicality within the film itself.

Selene from Underworld: Rise of The Lycans

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Selene’s Catsuit is unique in that it broken up by more than just a best but by an embroidered corset and wrist cuffs.

Another femme fatal in film includes the Vampire Selene from Underworld films.  Her trademark leather outfit is actually composed of three separate pieces, leather pants, a long sleeved leather shirt and a embroidered leather corset all paired with knee high leather boots and a flowing leather jacket.  The basic pieces (the leather shirt and pants) are made a shiny flexible faux leather laytex material and make Selene’s arm cuffs and corset look more like protective armor pieces.  The costume corset itself is modeled after a long line corset worn during the Edwardian era and is updated with side buckles rather than a back lace up or zipper. The embroidery on the corset is fairly simple and looks almost Russian in style (a nod to Selene’s Eastern European heritage) and is also continued onto her jacket she wears. Costume Designer Wendy Patridge designed Selene to be a combination of Masculine and Sassy; the leather is very masculine but it fits Selene like a glove. In the end you can see why Selene catches the eye of Lycan Michael yet she is one Vampire you do not want to mess with.

The Black Widow from Iron Man 2/ Marvel’s The Avengers

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The Black Widow as she appears in the Marvel Comics.

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The Black Widow’s costume breaks the Catsuit mold by being a midnight blue and minimizing curves.

When Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanov waltzed on screen and into the boxing ring in Iron Man 2, Tony Stark could hardly rake his eyes off her, and that was before she had even donned her Catsuit to become the super-spy the Black Widow.  Costume Designer Mary Zophres jokes that “…Scarlett’s built like a comic-book character is drawn.” Johansson’s famous hourglass figure became a challenge for Zophres, not because of how uncomftorable the “latex-like” material is to wear (The real material used for her and other marvel superheroes costumes is top secret and specially made.) but because she did not want to portray the Black Widow as a hyper-sexualized female. Instead Zophres designed the costume like a wetsuit to actually deemphasize the star’s curves.  The Black Widow’s costume still reflects her comic book counterpart very well. While the movie costume may not show as much cleavage it is a dark midnight blue and still features her essential utility belt with her trademark red belt buckle. For her second big screen adventure the Black Widow’s costume has some slight tweaks, the red accent on her belt became more pronounced and her costume became a shade darker, going from midnight blue to black. The Black Widow is signed on to appear on the big screen once more to steal hearts, secrets and kick butt, all while wearing a Catsuit!

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In The Avenger’s, the Black Widow’s Catsuit becomes more reserved and focuses more on her weapon power.

Emma Peel from The Avengers

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The original Emma Peel Catsuit from Season 1 of The Avengers, the outfit was supposedly so restricting to work in (as it was made of actual leather) that actress Diana Rigg requested a different outfit for the super spy.

Emma Peel may not be a part of The Avengers that first comes to mind with most modern audiences, but she is no less part of modern pop culture. The lead female super spy on the hit 60s British TV show The Avengers. Known for her beauty and wits Ms.Peele would often don many a Catsuit during her missions. During the first season of the show Emma’s preferred Catsuit is leather one piece that actress Diana Rigg greatly disliked. Thankfully costume designer John Bates was brought on for latter seasons, and put Emma in laytex and spandex suits instead. Bates brought along with him a Mod fashion for Emma out aide of the Catsuit, dressing her in black and white with bold accent colors along with miniskirts, which would eventually be lowered to fit TV standards.  Emma began wearing more styles of Catsuits, from a blue Catsuit with side cutouts with white piping, to a lacey white Catsuit to a black suede Catsuit with cutouts. Emma’s Catsuits became so popular that once the show was produced in color designer Alan Hughes put her in bold bright primary colors, which became so popular with fans that the Catsuits, called EmmaPeelers were sold in stores. Emma Peel in her Catsuit became such an icon that many latter versions of Catsuits were modeled after hers, proving that even femme fatal’s have nine lives.

Emma Peel’s versatile Catsuit looks, all worn while saving the world.

Emma Peel’s versatile Catsuit looks, all worn while saving the world.

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games

Katniss’s Catsuit is edgy yet clearly restricting; it’s a costume that unintentionally turns her into a symbol of revolution, when it was simply meant for display.

Katniss’s Catsuit is edgy yet clearly restricting; it’s a costume that unintentionally turns her into a symbol of revolution, when it was simply meant for display.

Although she is better known for her trademark side braid and leather jacket, Katniss receives her nickname the Girl On Fire, when she dons a Catsuit. Designed by Cinna in the books and film, it was designed by Judianna Makovsky in real life. Knowing that the black Catsuit that would have to literally light on fire, Makovsky had a challenge before her. She went ahead and decided to go in a different yet similar direction than the black leather jumpsuits described in the book. “I just wanted something that would have this incredible silhouette and have the shine of coal. In the books, it’s actually described a little bit blander to me. It sounds like leotards and tights with high boots. It has a cape. There were all kinds of things that had to change because of physical and practical things on a chariot,” Makovsky says.  The costume was made by with a combination of materials made to look like leather, including a stretch fabric with embossed plastic on top to create a bubbled coal like effect. Makovsky also decided to forgo the elaborate headpieces described in the books, citing that it would look too feminine on Peeta, instead Katniss get and elaborate braided hairstyle.  The flames, so essential to the point of the Catsuit were added on later with CGI to appear as if the entire Catsuit was literally on fire. In the end Katniss captured everyone’s attention both at the Capital and in the Theaters.

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This entry was published on September 26, 2012 at 1:04 am. It’s filed under Entertainment, September 2012 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Meow

  1. Fantastic post. I enjoyed so much. Love cat women all around the world! 🙂

  2. Rob van der Liet on said:

    As a six or seven-year-old/young child I already watched The Avengers, the first crime/spy series I ever saw, typically British, for John Steed addressed Emma Peel as “Mrs. Peel”, who dressed quite normal at home in dresses befitting the Mary Quant era, being charming as well. Once on a mission, however, she put on one of her catsuits for fierceness and feistiness. I distinctly remember her having a blue, a white, a green and a yellow one. She really set the fashion for the various Catwomen, for Selene, for Trinity (shinier in The Matrix Reloaded than in The Matrix), the Bride, the Black Widow, etc. What’s more is the fact that Mrs. Peel only sparingly used a weapon-no swordwielding, no gunslinging, but karate. Even though I knew each episode, I watched the various re-runs, which shows how
    iconic she was.

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