The Obligatory Supergirl Costume Post

I’m going to indulge my inner geek for a bit and talk about my ideas of what makes up the perfect supersuit. Every Super fan has their own ideas about how the suit should look. The blue’s got to be just the right shade, the shield can’t be too small or too big, the cape should be such and such length, etc. When it comes to Superman’s suit, it’s the details we argue over. The overall suit remains remarkedly consistent and identifiable over time. That’s why the most casual fan, one who has never seen a comic, can immediately spot what’s off with the suit from Superman Returns. We expect visual consistency in such an iconic character, and squirm when things don’t “feel” right.

So why can’t DC give Supergirl the same respect? They’ve radically altered her suit numerous times since the 1970’s, and there doesn’t seem to be much effort to keep it consistent. Sometimes they can’t even get the colours right! The fact that Supergirl’s suit keeps changing so radically irks me. It reflects a lack of respect, or understanding, that Supergirl is a (visual) icon deserving of as much care as Superman. They had a great costume in the movie/Matrix version. (Although I recall wishing as a girl that it would be a cheerleader-style split skirt. If I were her, I would never fly around in a skirt.) But they keep wanting to “reinvent” Supergirl, and they’re not making things better. They’re making them worse. Supergirl is the number one iconic superhero character for girls, even though Supergirl herself rarely appears on merchandising anymore (scroll down to the comment by “jr”). If you see Supergirl on kids’ merchandise nowadays, it’s usually the animated version (which I have mixed feelings on). It seems to me that DC stopped promoting superheroes to girls sometime in the 80’s, while boys continue to have Superman, Batman, and Spider-man everywhere they turn. Supergirl barely appeared in the animated shows of the 90’s, and you certainly can’t give a girl a Supergirl comic.

Yet the concept of Supergirl survives and is incredibly popular with girls, no matter how her star may rise or fall in the comics or how infrequently she appears in media actually accessible to kids. It’s the idea of Supergirl that captivates us. Seeking Avalon sums up the appeal perfectly:

“SUPERGIRL. Just saying the name makes me feel eleven years old and oh so excited. She was a girl! She was just like Superman! A girl could be just as strong as Superman and just as smart and just as able…She was like Wonder Woman, only young enough and confused enough about Earth, that a little kid like I was then could relate to her.”

I believe the following elements make for an iconic Supergirl costume, one that the average person on the street would recognize as “Super”.

  • S shield
  • Blue, red, and yellow colour scheme
  • One or more of the following elements: cape, boots, blue torso, yellow detailing

Note that I don’t consider a skirt to be iconic. Its primary purpose is mark her as female and Not-Superman (based on the idea that men are the default and women are “The Other”, and therefore need to define themselves against men in dress and behavior). The cropped top and plunging neckline of the ’70s serve the same function. If DC had been keeping pace with real world trends in women’s dress, Supergirl would have been wearing pants for at least a couple decades now, but comicbooks and their media incarnations strongly resist a nongendered appearance for female characters.

When it comes to the S shield, it should always be the prominent feature on the torso. That’s what I most dislike about the early 70’s blouse & hotpants outfit (I rather like the shorts). By emphasizing her body with a plunging neckline, Supergirl’s shield is reduced to a barely noticeable badge on her left breast. Supergirl’s femaleness takes precedence over her heroicness, and the whole outfit suffers because it’s lopsided.

A feature of the 2005 costume that I do like a lot is the gold-hued trim around the collar of the cape and the sleeves. Very nice touch. Sleeves are too long, of course, and I would have preferred the pointed boots with yellow trim rather than the v-shaped cutout. Just looks cooler.

So assuming the traditional colour scheme (no white), a shiny big S shield, and tights/leotards, what would a Supergirl for the 21st century look like? The Elseworld’s Finest suit usually comes up in discussions at this point, but while I’m fond of that interpretation of an imaginary Superwoman Supergirl, the streamlined blue suit, high collar, and massive cape (and improbable anatomy) are all better suited for the Elseworld universe. I’d be quite be sad to see the traditional yellow “belt” left out of any Supergirl costume. (The v-shaped belt and waist slashes in this fan art are nice.) Anyway, I’m confident that professional comicbook artists (who are NOT from Image/Top Cow) can come up with something appealing for Supergirl that’s nongendered and in keeping with the supersuit spirit. (Superboy’s second costume is a great example of what can be done with some imagination.) They just need to approach her suit with the level of reverence that Superman’s inspires, so they can design her costume with “iconic hero” in mind instead of “sexy girl”.

Personally I’d be quite happy to see Kara in a blue one-piece suit and red boots, with golden edging around the collar, sleeves, and boots, and a v-shaped yellow or red belt. It would be a logical progression that keeps the best of past costumes and looks suitably “super”.

[Linked at When Fangirls Attack!]

Michelle Bacon

Michelle loves comics and code. A lifelong Superfamily fan, she's been collecting comics for 20 years, and running Supergirl: Maid of Might since 2000.

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