The 'Wonder Woman' Costumes Are a Celebration of Female Empowerment

June 05, 2017

"Wonder Woman" is seriously the superhero movie we need right now, with glowing reviews and history-making box office stats to prove it. It's feminist battle cry, a kick-ass action movie (with plenty of laughs, too, thanks to the magnetic leads) and an inspiring reminder to uphold moral and humanitarian values. The long-awaited (and way overdue) film, directed by Patty Jenkins, tells the origin story of Princess of Themiscyra, a.k.a., Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, both badass and charmingly naive, but never hokey. The superhero (and her updated supersuit) stole the show in last year's male-led DC comics installment, "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," and now the focus is rightfully on her — with an assist from costumes that span both Diana's ancestral home on the secret Amazonian island of Themiscyra to World War I-era England, thanks to Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming.

Of course, designing for superheroes, both official and not, is old hat for Hemming. Her portfolio includes Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy, starring Christian Bale (and featuring Heath Ledger as Joker), Angelina Jolie's two "Lara Croft" vehicles and five James Bond movies, so she knew to plan in advance. While she was prepping "Wonder Woman" and costume designer Michael Wilkinson was updating the superhero's iconic supersuit for "Batman v. Superman," Hemming set up meetings with him and director Zack Snyder to coordinate a seamless costume through-line back to Diana's origin story and vice versa.

So she based the "style-lines" of Diana's "training armor" — the gold-hued, one-shoulder cuirass (breastplate), girdle and skirt ensemble — on Wilkinson's supersuit from "Batman v. Superman" (and to be seen in the upcoming "Justice League"). Hemming heavily researched periods pre-dating ancient Greece and "places where there had been societies run by women: queens and warriors." She also looked at current day fashion magazines for athletic-wear trends, both for action-scene functionality and to make the costumes feel relatable to today's fashion-savvy audiences.

"But the same time, I didn't want them to look too fashionable," she says. "I wanted [the Amazons] to look like they were sporty and strong and they were able to ride horses. Hopefully, they looked elegant, but elegance was not what they were originally striving for." 

Hemming also kept the narrative of Themyscira in mind when designing the off-duty "palace" and on-duty "warrior" ensembles. "They live on this island, and everything they have has been made by Amazons," she explains. "Amazon jewelers, Amazon goldsmiths, Amazon leather workers. Everything had to feel like that was what was going on." 

The warrior armor was actually made out of traditionally handcrafted leather, which was then dyed, gilded and/or leafed with faux metallic finishes. The leather was then steamed and molded onto mannequins made out of body scans of each actor for the perfect, streamlined fit. Although, each of the Amazons had distinctive color combinations and silhouettes to differentiate from one another, especially during the epic battle scene on the beach.

Great warrior (and Diana's aunt) General Antiope (Robin Wright) wore a palette of blackberry, mimicking a natural-dye process and armor embossed in crocodile and ostrich skins. "It made it look like she had hunted and caught animals and made her armor, rather than her being delicate and feminine," Hemming says. "She was tough and a warrior and fighter and a hunter." In contrast to Diana's more fashion-forward training look or Queen Hippolyta's (Connie Nielsen) regal gilded palette, Antiope's look skewed toward the "battle worn."

"She was almost like the one who always wears her tracksuit, do you know what I mean?" laughs Hemming. 

But then dreamy spy Steve Trevor (now my favorite Chris, Chris Pine) lands on the shores of Themiscyra, bringing mankind's lust for war (and men, in general) to the female-only island — and new wardrobe possibilities for Diana. To help stop World War I with Steve, she leaves her ancestral home in her supersuit, obscured by a black mohair and lambswool cloak roomy enough to hide her sword, shield and lasso of truth, for gray, "hideous" London. First stop: Selfridges for an appropriate outfit, since a onesie doesn't quite meet the female dress code of 1918 London. A delightful dressing room montage ensues as the Amazon warrior finds the restrictive and overly frilly, early-20th Century womenswear ridiculously limiting for a real woman ready to take names — exclaiming at one point, "How can a woman possibly fight in this?!" while splitting a long column skirt with a kick.

"It was great to design all the things she had to wear at that point," says Hemming, about the oppressive undergarments, itchy collars, fluffy petticoats and superfluous taffeta. "So things were a bit tight and a bit short and gave her something to fight or argue against or not like."

Diana ultimately settles on tailored military uniform-like outfit made from a sturdy tweed found in North England. Hemming designed a menswear-inspired jacket, a cotton petticoat under an A-line skirt, which hinted at a more front-kick-friendly culotte.

"She wore it with lace-up boots — pretty boots, but strong boots — so that you could imagine that she could actually go to the ministry, talk to the ministers and not be thought of as looking strange," the costume designer says. (Although, just being the lone, highly intelligent and very outspoken woman in a room full of old crusty white men made for an unanticipated moment, kind of like the American White House in 2017.) "Then from there, she could set off to go to the war wearing those clothes without being too ridiculous."

Diana and Steve, and his misfit band of brothers, head to the harrowing and humanity-starved Western Front, which calls Wonder Woman to reveal her true self — and the full supersuit, which had to be tweaked since its debut last year.

"We spent quite a few months adapting it," Hemming says. She sent the original polyurethane suit to experts who literally took it apart to decipher the construction and remake it in a "much more lighter, supple, moldable way so that [Wonder Woman] would be able to jump, kick and run." The red, gold and blue hues were also enhanced.

Hemming lined the suit in faux fur to keep Gadot warm during the outdoor action scenes. "She was working in the snow, she was working in the rain, she was working in the mud," the costume designer says. The team even remade the coronet in a lighter weight material. "So that [Gadot] wouldn't end up getting a headache basically and be able to ride and fight, because she did lots of her [own] fighting."                                Hemming also redesigned Wonder Woman's over-the-knee boots into a sportier sandal-boot hybrid. Although, she did have to maintain the much-discussed, impractical high wedge. (Last year, director Jenkins defended the heel choice to Entertainment Weekly, saying, "It's total wish-fulfillment. I, as a woman, want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass and look great at the same time — the same way men want Superman to have huge pecs and an impractically big body. That makes them feel like the hero they want to be. And my hero, in my head, has really long legs.")

"I found it a bit difficult myself, but, you know, superhero films... ," Hemming says. "You have to go along with what's happening. There are some things that you can't change. I just tried to make them look more believable. That was my plan." (Note: Gadot, herself, wore gladiator flats to the Hollywood premiere of "Wonder Woman.")

And some might also question the possible cognitive dissonance of celebrating female empowerment, while putting Diana (and Wonder Woman) and her Amazonian sisters in more flesh-baring clothing, than her male counterparts, like The Flash and Batman, whose supersuits show as much skin as a burka.

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