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A History of Catwoman's Costume
February 5, 2012, 11:33 pm

Catwoman has been every latex-loving fanboy’s dream for decades, wrapping sex, cunning, and fatalism together into one neatly wound bundle of deception – and she is finally making a triumphant return in Christopher Nolan’s newest chapter of Batman. The Dark Knight Rises, which hits theaters July 20, will feature Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, bring back to life the role so craftily played by the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer and Julie Newmar on the big screen.

When you think Catwoman, you automatically think of the skin-tight, full-body catsuit. And when it comes to the actresses playing the super-villain, close in tow is always the question of her appearance, as the creative tides usually shift depending on the type of medium she is being cast in. The Catwoman costume made its debut in the comic Batman #1, even though it was not really the full-on garb one might expect from the double-edged heroine making her entrance in the world.

catwoman first appearance

Regardless of the fact that “The Cat” had an average visual demeanor, looking like little more than a sultry 1950’s housewife/vixen than a full-out feline, her inception cemented her as the femme fatale everyone would grow to worship over the years. Her markedly curvaceous figure and steely gaze would lay the groundwork for complex female characters in comic books and more.

catwoman cat maskSubsequent issues of Batman saw numerous changes in the infamous Catwoman garb. Her very next appearance was the first time there was an actual attempt at costuming the character; a furry purple mask was charged with transforming every semblance of her human face (not to mention a rather ridiculous outfit echoing the wardrobe in the parody sci-fi talk show Space Ghost: Coast to Coast). But it would not stop there.

One of the most enduring, memorable turns of Catwoman’s costume, at least in human form, came with Ms. Newmar’s representation in the popular 1966 television series. Since then, several aspects stuck: the pointy ears, the skin-tight suits, the shiny black exteriors (or in the case of the ’60s, green ones, following the era’s common codes of villainy.) By that point, it was already too late. Her transformation into a fully realized sex symbol was complete.

catwoman julie newmar

The comic representation would go on to feature a twisting series of alterations, from go-go boots to tails. Arguably her most true-to-form and dynamic portrayal was on the cover of Catwoman #1. The voluptuous Kyle looks ravishingly fierce, with her jet-black hair and bullwhip as she robs a museum of its jewels. Many regard this to be the best look for her days inside the pages.

Even the Catwoman of Batman: The Animated Series, 1992-1995, adopted much of this allure, save for the fact that the entire feline costume was toned down in color and abstraction to mimic the gray and barren universe of the TV show. Because of the virtually boundless rules of animation, her fictionalized agility and sass really came to life, complete with utility belt and all, however crude. It helped usher more legions of fans into the esoteric circles of The Caped Crusader.

batman tas catwoman
michelle pfeiffer catwoman

Even more movie-goers would come to know her feline hijinks as the cold-natured Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, whose dementedly stitched getup expertly matched her penchant for manipulation as a mainstay in the love life of Bruce Wayne. It was a time when comic-book films enjoyed a burst of creativity, from the color-drenched world of Dick Tracy to the hybridity of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – and Pfeiffer nailed it with her performance as Selina Kyle.

It was not until 2004 that we would see her again. Despite being dubbed a failure to the costume and character, not to mention at the box office, Halle Berry’s role was the most modern effort to date. The costume was heavy on the cleavage and slashed chaps ratio, and Berry wasn’t afraid to flaunt gratuitous amounts of skin overall, looking more like a biker bikini rather than the Catwoman people had known. Purists and critics of the villain cried foul, and it is regarded today as a major hiccup in the development of the character.

catwoman halle berry

Fans of Hathaway should feel safe for the most part, knowing that she has a rich history to draw from when it comes to filling out the familiar Catwoman façade. Physically she seems to be a great fit, possessing the appeal that made her counterparts famous in their own rights. And judging by her lines in the latest The Dark Knight Rises trailer, it seems the claws will come out in more ways than we can likely imagine. These screenshots tell even more of a return to Selina Kyle’s subdued looks of the past.

anne hathaway as catwoman

Throughout her costume evolution, one thing is clear: Catwoman is one of Batman’s major weaknesses. She is at the same time his love interest and a pesky double-crosser, like a James Bond girl, only with a far more stylized suit.

The cat-suit brings many a fantasy fleshed out by the nerds and comic book junkies all over the world. And so long as there are fans of Catwoman costumes, so too will there be an endless amount of buzz when it’s her time to scratch again.

This article is by Drew Nelson, who works for a Halloween costumes company that sells, among many other things, catwoman costumes.

Discussion

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  • Zubor
    Yikes! I never knew about the furry purple cat head version of Catwoman.

    Great article, sir!
    Reply  ·  5 years ago