'Catwoman' Turns 10: The History of The Catsuit Includes Evening Dresses & Whips

With the recent announcement that a woman will soon replace Thor, the Marvel fandom has become a battleground. Some fans think a female-identifying Thor will ruin the franchise, while others feel she might blaze a new trail in a tired section of the multiverse. A few comics writers have politely reminded us this isn't the first time Mjolnir has been wielded by a woman, and the results in past comics have been sometimes hilarious, sometimes terrifying. Nonetheless, few people have continued the conversation about female superheroes' costumes, which I think deserves another look. Between the upcoming superhero movies and exciting new frontiers in comic gender diversity, it's time to reevaluate the state of the spandex. Since it's the tenth anniversary of Halle Berry's purrfectly cheesy Catwoman, let's look at this modicum of costume fan service. 

Although she has changed over her 74 years as a character, her primary objective has always been seduction over crime, sexy outfits over successful capers. The comic book Catwoman has gone through a number of costume iterations. When she was introduced in 1940, "the Cat" simply wore a purple cat-head mask and a myriad of other disguises that aided her quest to steal jewels. When she was unmasked, she was drawn as an attractive, seductive woman with "great legs." From that already-sexualized starting point, "the Cat's" costume has only gotten more titillating. She started with a purple evening dress-and-cape combo, after which Catwoman was banned from comics for being too obscene. During this time, Julie Newmar began playing Catwoman on television, and with her character, the tight, black catsuit was born. As you can see from this clip, she also increased her flirting with Batman on the small screen, and the cringe-worthy results make even the early comics look protofeminist.

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When Catwoman returned to the page, the catsuit came with her. Although it was briefly green, from 1969 on her costume was some variation on the black catsuit, often equipped with claw gloves, a tail, a whip, and some sort of ridiculous black mask. Although some female superheroes have undergone major costume changes in the last 45 years, Catwoman's black spandex has stayed relatively constant as her cup size has exploded. While many female superheroes have gone through muscular phases or opted for less sexualized costumes in the '00s and beyond, Catwoman remained mired in some sort of mildly-superhero-related BDSM fantasy. Her zippers have come undone, her spine is irrevocably twisted, and her breasts and gluteus seem to be her superpowers. Seriously, look at this cover from 2011; doesn't she still resemble a pin-up?


The Hollywood version of Catwoman has been similarly imbued with sex-symbol status without packing much superhero punch. Although Halle Berry tried her best to humanize the character in her ill-fated 2004 interpretation, the film was jammed with as many sexy acrobatics scenes as its 104 minutes would allow, while giving its main character cheesy lines and many variations on the black uniform. The dialogue and plot development were so bad that she won a Razzie for "Worst Actress." Halle took this in stride, and her acceptance speech may be the best slam of a studio by a still-successful actor ever. 

In the 10 years since Halle's big cat-moment, things are looking up for Catwoman, no thanks to Christopher Nolan. Anne Hathaway's portrayal of "the Cat" may have been smarter than previous attempts, but it still resorted to high-heeled boots and stretchy black fabric to keep crowds appeased. But at least this iteration allowed Hathaway to show some cunning beyond flirting with and seducing Batman. It also seems that Catwoman's situation in comics has improved: Nebula-award-winning writer Genevieve Valentine has taken over Catwoman's solo series, and she aims to introduce an individuality-versus-responsibility battle to the title. With her comes a new artist (Gary Brown), so we'll have to see what's in store for the catsuit. Personally, I'd love to see it morph into some sort of technologically-advanced black ensemble, but we'll just have to wait until October 22.

Images: Warner Bros., DC Comics

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