Historical Costumes in Wonder Woman (2017)

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I take no responsibility for your spoilage if you haven’t seen Wonder Woman (2017) yet, because I’m here to talk costumes. Having grown up on Wonder Woman (as in “was freaking obsessed with Wonder Woman” with WW Underoos that I basically lived in from 1980 to 1985), I was pretty much going to see this film no matter how crappy it ended up. Thankfully, it didn’t end up crappy at all; I was pleased that the film delivered on all fronts, with a female director; a female lead that unambiguously kicked ass, but still stayed true to the deep empathy of the character; with a cast filled with badass female warriors that fought like actual warriors (well, OK, superhero warriors); and, of course, the unrepentantly non-male-ego-serving storyline.

But, the one thing I was admittedly apprehensive about was the fact that the film was set in 1918, and that meant that we would be treated to the obligatory Amazon-is-introduced-to-corsetry-and-skirts montage. I resolved that if Diana so much as balked at wearing a corset while dressed in armor that was basically a corset, I was going to unleash some serious side-eye on this here blog. Thankfully, that fear was subverted — Diana instead makes the logical connection to a corset with a type of armor and, dear readers, I may or may not have pumped my fist in the air in the theater.

Yes, Diana. It definitely is armor.

The costume montage also was much better than I was fearing, even with Diana performing all manner of Amazon katas to test the maneuverability of different outfits. It was amusing, but brief, and she ultimately ends up with a smart wool suit that both fits her personality and fits in with her surroundings. And never once does she complain about how encumbered she is with skirts, because a warrior knows how to manage her clothing, thank you very much. Except for that one hobble skirt, but I’m willing to forgive her that one.

The costume designer for this film was Lindy Hemming, who has designed most of the Bond films in the last two decades, as well as a stint in the Harry Potter franchise, and the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. In other words, this is a woman who is comfortable designing for action, as well as someone who understands the power of a well-tailored suit. Pretty good combo to have in a film like Wonder Woman, if you ask me. Setting the film in 1918 means there’s an awful lot of tailoring to take into account, in both men’s and women’s clothing. Also, this is a period (and a war) that is rarely represented on screen, so I was interested in what Hemming was going to do with it.

Etta’s snarky response to the glasses was perfect.

I liked how Diana’s suit had a very military-uniform feel about it.

This style of dress is a tad outdated for 1918, but the ruffles are ridic, so whatevs. Etta’s dress is spot-on, though.

The fuller skirts were all the rage in 1915; but by 1918, the skirt silhouette had narrowed considerably.

I want Etta’s dress.

I may, or may not have shouted “LOOK AT MARIA LUCAS ALL GROWN UP!” in the theater.

Practical and perfect for 1918. I basically loved everything worn by Lucy Davis.

Delicious Danny Huston being deliciously evil as Ludendorff.

The one weak costume was the blue “sword in the buttcrack” dress that Diana apparently mugs off a bitchy partygoer prior to arriving at the evil people’s party.

That bendy Amazon steel, yo.

The dress *is* pretty, and it’s not too far off from the actual fashion of the time, but there’s something about it that just strikes me as awfully bridesmaid-y. Maybe it’s the color.

The rest of the interesting costuming is fantasy-based so it’s not really applicable to this blog, but the historical stuff holds up under my snarky scrutiny, at least on the first theater viewing. Definitely go see it in the theater if you can (and this is from me, who haaaaaaates movie theaters with the heat of a thousand suns) because it’s worth every penny to support the nascent feminist superhero franchise.

 

Did you see Wonder Woman? What did you think of the 20th-century costumes? 

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, she enjoys the solitude of a long, hot bath. You can find her costuming trails and tribulations chronicled at Mode Historique.

52 Responses

  1. Sarah E.

    Glad to have my opinion that the purple frilly dress was a tad out of date, though as my spouse pointed out, Steve and Etta were trying to frump Diana up so she’d be less distracting. What did you think of the Belgian villagers’ clothes? I’m no expert but I thought they looked pretty accurate, especially the slightly high-crowned bonnets on the older women.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      The villagers’ costumes were fine, insofar as I could make them out under the layers of mud and oppression. Nothing really worth singling out, everything was dirt-colored so it all blended in with the destruction around them. Once the DVD comes out and I can do actual screencaps, I might have more to say about the villagers.

      Reply
  2. Jill

    Well, Wonder Woman did lift the “bridesmaid” gown off its original wearer, so I was willing to overlook the fact that it didn’t exactly work that well on her. The scene with WW literally sizing up the fussing German aristocratic lady, made me laugh out loud. So did the the sound of the hobble skirt’s seams/fabric ripping when she tried to kick box in it..

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    • Sarah Lorraine

      That was my thought about the blue dress, too: that the lady who was originally wearing it looked right for the period. When Diana wears it, though, it definitely looks way more modernized. Of course, we don’t see the dress on its original owner, except for the skirt. The rest is covered by that fabulous cocoon coat that I wish had more screen time. I was trying to find a shot of that entire outfit online, but since she’s basically a throwaway character, there’s no shots of her or the costume yet. Will have to wait for the DVD to get a good look at it, I guess.

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    • Emma Bull

      I did love that bit with testing the hobble skirt. I was dreading the cliché “rips her skirt to the hipbone up the side seam to fight in” thing. Instead, we have a woman warrior who thinks about fighting ahead of time and gives that skirt a test run. Nope, won’t do. Next!

      And I think the difference between the way the owner of the blue dress and Diana wear it is interesting; when Diana appropriates the dress, she drapes it in a way that suggests ancient Greece more than 1918 Europe.

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  3. sarcasmhime

    I think the things that make that blue dress look particularly David’s Bridal are the lack of gloves, and the total lack of any embellishments.

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  4. Dickerson Mitzi

    I saw it with my daughter, we both loved pretty much everything about it, especially the costumes. The blue dress felt a bit too modern but we decided later she is a goddess, so the Grecian style is something she would be familiar with. Since she, ahem, borrowed the dress from someone, it was technically someone else’s fashion choice; Diana just took it from meh to stunning. She knows a boat ton of languages, chances are she’s learned something about how to style a dress, aye? I was wondering if she was clenching her butt to hold that sword in or had she fashioned a sword sheath somehow, but I didn’t get hung up any aspects of the costumes besides feeling like everything was excellently sewn and tailored when it needed to be, a bit ill-fitting when it needed to be (Chris Pines’ borrowed German uniform in the gala scene.)

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    • Sarah Lorraine

      I also noticed Steve’s slightly-ill-fitting uniform in that scene, too. Actually, all the uniforms were gorgeously tailored. The one thing that I immediately look at is to see if the sleeve caps are smoothly tailored into the armscye on any suit, and all of them in the film passed muster with me. Whoever tailored those suits knew their shit.

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  5. Christine Geraghty

    I’m so in love with the smart wool suit she settles on during the shopping trip, that I’m considering cosplaying it. With sword, shield and bracers just peeking out from the cuffs, so that the cosplay is unmistakable. I’m glad that it is period-appropriate, though, because it would be nice to have something that would be appropriate for the local steampunk gatherings (though admittedly, it would probably be considered more dieselpunk than steampunk).

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  6. Raven

    Yay! Glad you didn’t wait to DVD release to cover this :) One thing I loved was the outerwear–necessary in the climate, and so spot on! Especially in the evening/formal scenes, the women’s Poiret-esque velvet and beaded coats were lovely. I wish I knew more about the male uniforms to judge.

    Also I laughed at Etta’s “spoke by a woman who has never needed to hold her tummy in” comment. Relateable AF.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I really don’t like posting about films I can’t screencap, but this is such a huge deal right now that waiting for the DVD would be criminal. I might revisit it in more detail once the DVD comes out, though, because there are things I really want to see in more detail (like the blue party dress before Diana gets a hold of it, the purple department store dress, ALL of Etta’s clothes, the Baddies’ uniforms, etc.).

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      • Jill

        I, for one, am hugely thankful to you for bucking the *ucking niceties. Thank you for your impatience.

        Reply
  7. Jamie LaMoreaux

    I’m just glad they FINALLY got men’s full dress done correctly. ie, NO WHITE showing below the jacket. it cuts the line and makes the full dress look horrific. the womens clothing on the extras was wonderful and well done. I also liked her final outfit, it was serviceable and logical for a military leader.

    Reply
  8. Erica

    Loved the movie, all of my childhood dreams came true. My sister and I used to wake up early to watch reruns of the original series. I also loved the costumes. Glad the stood up historically.

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    • Sarah Lorraine

      Ooo! Let’s trade Wonder Woman memories!

      When I was a toddler, I was a REALLY picky eater — like, I barely ate anything. My mom devised a method to get me to eat by putting one of those Wonder Woman posters with articulated joints on the wall opposite my highchair and she’d “feed” WW every bite of food before feeding it to me. To this day, green beans are “Wonder Woman beans” in my family.

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      • Lady Hermina De Pagan

        My sisters and I used to put on our WW underroos and play paradise island. We used jump ropes as our lassos of truth, our rubber bracelets as the gaunlets, and headbands as the crown. I have to search but I think there is a picture of us outside like this.
        I was literally crying during the ending of the movie because they got it right. I mean Gal Gadot’s thighs JIGGLED when she jumped and landed. They did not airbrush out the crows feet and age line on the Amazons…..

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  9. Andrea

    I’m handing in my notice. The fact that I never realised that Lucy was Maria Lucas mean I am a complete failure.

    Reply
  10. Sheena Cat

    Saw Wonder Woman and loved it. As for the blue dress, no, it was not historically accurate and it could go bridesmaid but, to me, it was Greek goddess-like, something that fit Wonder Woman’s origins very well.

    Reply
  11. klausrother

    I’m seeing the film this Friday, and I’m using it as an excuse to add some WWI uniform books to my library; I may have some observations in that department later.

    Reply
  12. Clair

    So much of this film was done really well… But I’m still hung up on the fact that WW’s classic costume appears on her out of NOWHERE, without any back story or explication :( I found this most disappointing as most every other super hero movie lends is this story or evolution of costume.
    We see Diana leave the island with the clothes on her back…so where did it come from? Are we supposed to think her cloak is some magical Mary Poppins contraption?

    Reply
    • Keith Fraser

      She took the red, blue and gold outfit from the same vault as the sword and lasso, but they deliberately never show it in full till the No Man’s Land scene. She’s wearing it under her fur mantle when she and Steve get on the boat, and Steve and Etta hastily stop her from taking the mantle off in the middle of the shop (because it would be scandalous, simply scandalous, larks almighty I do believe I have the vapours, etc.). She must have changed out of the suit-dress and back into the costume with the mantle on top sometime before they reached the front.

      Reply
    • Sarah Walsh

      THANK YOU. I’m glad it wasn’t just me who totally missed the moment where she stole the WW armor. My husband swore up and down she stole it right after stealing the lasso and shield and sword and I was like, “Where was I??”

      Reply
  13. Maddie Caffarel

    That movie was so, so, so beautiful, and if it didn’t mean also wearing a wig I’d be considering Diana’s London suit for a cosplay even more. Also, you didn’t mention the hairstyles! After having read the article about mysterious bobby pin shortages, I noticed that Diana wore her hair up whenever she was blending in with normal society, and then pulled what looked like a pin or comb out before fighting.

    My kingdom for more Steve Trevor in that sweater and leather vest. It looks so cozy and practical, and yet another outfit with on-point layering. Plus those puttees ftw.

    Reply
  14. Tracy Beville

    My first thought when I saw the scene with Diana in the blue dress at the gala was that it did look greek goddess like… Which also gave off a statue of liberty vibe to me.

    Reply
  15. Katherine Smith

    I stumbled across your blog searching for Etta Candy’s dress info. Can anyone here tell me what to search for in a pattern? My daughter is gojng to cosplay Wonder Woman and I would love to br Etta Candy alongside her. Help?

    Reply
  16. Lylassandra

    I went back and watched the movie again with your comments on the blue dress in mind (with my mom, a history prof who used to teach on this era– super fun!). It seems to me that you can glimpse a beaded, straight-cut band across the bust on the blonde partygoer beneath her coat– I’m guessing that the in-universe theory is that the dress is two layers, a beaded slip with the drapey thing over it, and Diana only “borrowed” the outer layer.

    Reply
  17. Sarah Walsh

    I totally, TOTALLY loved Lucy Davis and leaned over to say to my husband, “That’s Maria Lucas from Pride and Prejudice.” I wanted so much more of her, she was so underused!! And yes, loved her costumes, they were fantastic.

    Reply
  18. Susan Pola Staples

    Finally I was able to see the movie. I loved it. No, I lurved it. From the opening with the Wayne Enterprises ‘Brinks Truck’ delivery to the ending where Diana acknowledged that what makes us worth redemption is our ability to love. Something the Greek gods for all their lusting was unable to do or it was not thought worthy of mentioning or not capable of.
    Now the costumes were, IMHO 99% spot on. I loved the Selfridge scene. The black dinner dress Diana modeled was very Lucile Duff Gordon. And I giggled about the corset/armor too. I liked how the ‘fashion show’ took Diana on a clothing journey from dinner/theatre formal to day wear.
    Can’t wait for Sequel. Bought soundtrack, movie adaptation novel & my new forever stamps are WW.

    Reply
  19. Lynn S

    I saw this from a cosplay friend and thought y’all might enjoy another costumer’s take on the Amazons. I just saw it today. The blue dress is jarring in its modernity, to me, but everything else is so wonderfully done that I can forgive it. Not to mention the color is divine…. https://m.imgur.com/r/armoredwomen/qtocd

    Reply

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