After 69 years in the same costume, Wonder Woman changed her clothes this summer. Gone are the star-spangled panties, the red boots and red bustier, even the curly puff of dark hair playing out over a tiara. Instead, the super-heroine now sports a full-body outfit in sinuous red and blue-black, topped by a snug little motorcycle jacket that underscores the muscle power in her 6-foot-6-inch frame.
And what is the public reaction?
“She’s gone from Paris to Poughkeepsie,” complained Kelly Cutrone, a fashion publicist.
On the other hand, Jimmy Contreras, a Philadelphia boutique owner, had nothing but praise. “I’m actually not a comic fan, but I have to say the new outfit is pretty fabulous,” he declared.
So why the change, other than the hard fact that even super-heroines can be hard on an outfit they wear for 69 years?
According to news reports, the answer centers on a desire to make Wonder Woman “less American, and thus more global.” Maybe so. But I don’t think that’s a theory that resonates with many American women. They’re more likely to look at the new Wonder Woman and see a person who, for all her differences, looks like them. Moreover, they will see a woman who looks a lot more like women who achieve in the world that surrounds them.
I’m not talking about rock stars who take center stage in outfits that mimic Wonder Woman’s new tight-fitting duds and then double up on her gravity-defying stunts. Quite the opposite.
In all the publicity that has had to do with Sonia Sotomajor and Elena Kagan in their journeys to the U.S. Supreme Court this year, few stories have had to do with their clothes or their fashion sense. The two women most often resemble respected college deans, wearing comfortably styled jackets and skirts, which they are all too eager to cover with judicial black robes.
To the extent that clothes play a part in this, Sotomajor and Kagan are dressing their interior selves – their knowledge, experience and compassion – and paying only secondary attention to the bodies that enclose them. Maine’s Chief Justice Leigh Staufley does much the same thing when she dons her black robe. Women no longer solely record and administer court proceedings. They define and delineate those proceedings, as well.
Wonder Woman, dressed like the American version of a tropical drink parasol at Trader Vic’s, has no relevance here.
On the legislative front, too, neither U.S. Sens. Olympia J. Snowe nor Susan Collins needs a tiara and knee-high red boots to define her role in making the laws that govern this country. Both dress well and both dress conservatively. Both understand, too, that Wonder Woman in full costume has long had little guidance for them as they confront serious issues like jobs and financial reform.
It’s by no means a limited awareness. As women have gotten more serious, their perception of themselves has changed. They turned away from Wonder Woman and her alter ego Diana Prince to follow a path pioneered a half-century ago by women such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Chase Smith.
Some things don’t change as speedily as others, however. Witness our super-heroine’s change of clothes. Wonder Woman’s exodus from tap-pants to a long and seductive new costume was designed by a man, artist Jim Lee, recently named co-publisher of DC Comics, which has printed more than 600 comic books featuring the super-heroine.
J. Michael Straczynski, who’s taken over writing the Wonder Woman saga, recently told The New York Times, “If you’re going to make a statement about bringing Wonder Woman into the 21st century, you need to be bold and you need to make it visual. I wanted to toughen her up and give her a modern sensibility.”
Fair enough. For a genuine modern sensibility, the creators of Wonder Woman might have done well to consult Portland writer James Hayman. In his new suspense novel, “The Chill of Night,” set in Portland, Hayman describes a young woman standing at the ocean’s edge, saying, “McCabe (his lead detective) never would have called Abby pretty, but she was still appealing in that open, outdoorsy way so common in Maine.”
Women ready and able to pursue serious goals in serious ways. No star-spangled panties need apply.