When I look at HalloweenCostumes’ “The Evolution of Wonder Woman” infographic, the first thing I notice is that it took dang near 70 years for Wonder Woman’s classic comic book costume to add pants. Granted, she had pants in the 1974 Cathy Lee Crosby TV movie, but that version of the character was Wonder Woman in name only. Plus, the fact that she started out wearing shorts in the early days was progressive for the time. Still, 70 years of no pants. Her legs must have been so cold for so long.
Actually, there’s an explanation for that, from Justice League Unlimited:
That settles that, and you’d do well to keep it in mind when you watch Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. She can rock the skirt and Xena breastplate because she’s got those good Amazon genes.
However, for the majority of Wonder Woman’s history any suggestion that maybe she should wear something more practical has misunderstood her place as a feminist icon. As Tim Hanley wrote in Wonder Woman Unbound, “She is as important and beloved as the most famous superheroine of all time, a bastion of female representation in a male-dominated genre, but she’s a symbol more than a living, vibrant character […] She’s become a blank slate to which we attach our modern ideas.”
But those modern ideas don’t always agree about whether or not her costume is antiquated or classic. When DC tried to modernize her in response to the women’s movement of the early 70s Gloria Steinem successfully campaigned for them to bring back the old Wonder Woman, and when Wonder Woman finally gained a pair of jeans in 2010 Steinem again fired back that “jeans give us the idea that only pants can be powerful – tell that to the Greek warriors and Sumo wrestlers.”
She can’t have pants because of tradition, i.e., that’s not how we popularly picture here. She can’t have pants because of feminism, i.e., it would imply that wearing a skirt makes you less powerful. She can’t have pants because of historical accuracy, i.e., the Amazons and Greek female warriors didn’t wear pants.
Or so the arguments have gone over the years. However, and this is a story I’ve told before, my nephew first saw Wonder Woman in an episode of Justice League we watched together when he was six. He quickly turned to me and asked, “Why is she just wearing her underwear?” He’d later ask me something similar about Superman (“Why is he wearing his underwear on the outside?”), the Hulk (“Why don’t his pants rip off?”) and Supergirl (“How does her skirt stay down when she’s flying?”).
Those are some of the classic superhero questions, just the same as “Who would win in a fight – Batman or Superman? Captain America or Iron Man?” To my nephew, Wonder Woman’s costume wasn’t a bastion of femininity nor a historical artifact from Greece. He just wanted to know, from a practical standpoint, why she’d dress like that. “Because that’s just what Wonder Woman looks like” was an insufficient answer.
Justice League commented on it:
As did the animated film Justice League: War:
Superhero costumes, I ultimately told my nephew, have to look cool, regardless of whatever larger symbolic or nostalgic meaning we ascribe to them. So gaze through HalloweenCostume’s Evolution of Wonder Woman and decide which look was the coolest. Is the pants/briefs issue not at all important to you? Is Gal Gadot’s Xena-esque version the best of the bunch? Or are you a sucker for the classic Lynda Carter costume?