In the back pages of (the new) Captain Marvel #1 there is an interesting write-up about the decision-making process behind her new costume compared to her older one, including how it was a product "of its time" and that

the overt sexiness of the outfit would often - rightly or wrongly - cause the character to be dismissed outright.

Is there a consistent shift across comics for less of the legs-and-cleavage style of uniform for female characters these days? Have many other existing characters also featured a similar uniform change?

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    I would add a couple of quantifyable measures to make this more answerable and SE friendly – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 7 '12 at 13:46
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    A more interesting question is, leaving 100% things the same, would a costume change affect sales figures – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 7 '12 at 13:46
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    Shifting away compared to when? New 52 is probably some of the worst objectification and sexism in the history of comics. – user1030 Aug 7 '12 at 22:33

In a word, no. The comic and science fiction industries have always had issues around the appearance of its tightly-clad sexually-charged images of men and scantily clad images of women. This is endemic to the culture and often one of its worse features. It creates tension with the more conservative and sometimes puritanical culture of the nation at large.

Is there anything wrong with the images in and of themselves? No, it is more often the context of the images that creates the fervor than the quality or even the imagery.

Considering how often hyper-sexualized images are used to sell products world-wide, it is often hypocritical of modern media to single out comics, science fiction or fantasy images when their film equivalents are often exactly but there has always been the claim that comics are consumed by youth and as such should present better, more wholesome images.

This too, is hypocrisy at its finest.

So, should characters like the former Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel), Lady Death, Witchblade, or bad costume designs like the costume Susan Richards wore when she was Malice or the current revamp of Harley Quinn's costume be considered less than proper?

Lady Death, Witchblade, Malice, Harley Quinn

Lady Death, Witchblade, Malice, and Harley Quinn

How about the inability of comic companies to put women in costumes more appropriate to their in-story needs? And yes, this particular rant is on DC but I could do the same for Marvel Comics or nearly any comic company that produces superheroes today.

  • Why can't Supergirl get a pair of pants or a full costume like Superman? Her latest design has a pair of boots with the knees missing...

  • Why can't Wonder Woman get and keep a pair of pants at all? Yes, she had a redesign for a hot second and when DC finished its DCnU reboot, she was right back in a variant of her classic look, again. Or how about a costume more appropriate for an acrobatic sword-wielding fighter to wear or an outfit that doesn't look like a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen?

  • For the love of all that is holy, why can't Black Canary stay out of those fishnets into an outfit that is bulletproof? (Yes, for a minute she managed to get some armored leggings, when a writer INSISTED) but she is back in them again. She spends most of her time dodging bullets but can't get a pair of armored leggings? ROBIN got a pair of pants nearly twenty years ago!

And you Marvelites, don't gloat, because all you need to do is look at the old costumes for Mantis, Moondragon, Valkyrie, Clea and Mockingbird; embarrassing to say the least.

The solution to this problem lies with the writers, editors, producers and to a lesser extent, the readers. Comic companies are catering to their presumed needs of their readers. Granted, they create the costumes and therefore the desire, but they use sales as an indicator of whether they are doing a good job or not. Scantly clad female heroes in strange, completely unbelievable costumes (Witchblade) and anatomically impossible poses sell books and its as simple as that.

Recently, the comic companies have been catching a little heat from female readers and female writers wondering why in this supposedly modern age do we still insist on dressing female superheroes like ladies of the evening. This has prompted the tiniest response from most comic companies and a few costume redesigns have taken place. The question is why does the industry still suffer from the double standard of allowing men to wear more modest costumes than women and why is that deemed necessary and acceptable?

Is this a major trend? Not really. Wonder woman still has no pants and that crazy, spiky halter top.

JLA with all the guys in a variation of WW’s swimsuit.

JLA with all the guys in a variation of WW’s swimsuit - Cynthia “Thea” Rodgers

Power Girl still has a circle where her cleavage is (rumor has it she will be getting an upgraded, circle-free costume) and Black Canary is wearing something that looks like fishnets that double as body armor. Grrrr.

Ms. Marvel got an increase in rank to Captain and a complete costume for the first time in thirty years. It's a step. There is still a long way to go.

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    Interesting point about it depending on the writers, etc. I noted Finesse, Veil and Hazmat from Avengers Academy all covered up much moreso than Mantis, Emma Frost and Psylocke (examples drawn from comics I've read recently), so it makes sense that a conscious decision from the writer/runner caused that consistency. – dlanod Aug 7 '12 at 22:27
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    not that I disagree with your rant on principal, but if you look at the uniforms of the female athletes (esp. gynmasts) they are often quite revealing because cloth = restriction of movement. Granted they're wearing skin-tight leotards not string bikinis, but the idea's still there... if anything, the guy heros wearing full body suits is what's unrealistic (c.f. mens diving/swimming and pray the comics never catch up with them.) – KutuluMike Aug 7 '12 at 23:47
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    Not opposed to athletic gear for athletic types. But let's look at Mockingbird/Black Canary. Both engage in Martial Arts and more often than not their opponents carry firearms. A thigh that is unarmored is a large target, so it would make more sense to dress like Huntress (nearly head to to in armor) wouldn't it? Dress everyone for the occasion and not in a way that makes you question the purpose of the work. – Thaddeus Howze Aug 7 '12 at 23:50
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    you're right, it depends; someone who relies on hand-to-hand or brute force would be better off armored, but those tend to be mostly guys. im not sure if a super-powered martial artist would do better off fully armored, or free to avoid the bullets in the first place. it's a good question... – KutuluMike Aug 7 '12 at 23:53
  • Sigh... I cannot but think about poor Red Sonja. – Matemáticos Chibchas Sep 25 '16 at 5:41

The outfit still doesn't leave much to the imagination...

The general trend for female superhero costumes (and many male ones too) has been to reduce skin while retaining the ultra-form-fitting look. It's a bit of false modesty; you know the skin's right underneath a thin layer of clothing, and it's so "painted on" that you don't miss a single curve.

In movies, there is a hint of practicality as well; put a character in a form-fitting suit and they can do the necessary acrobatics without worrying about a wardrobe malfunction. But, there's also an extra layer of aesthetics involved; you cover skin, which can be noticeably imperfect when filmed with the ultra-high-def lenses, with a material like leather or latex which can be buffed and polished until it's perfect. Again, you get all the same curves, but now the surface of the costume shines like glass, further accenting those curves (with the assistance of the DoP and gaffer providing just the right light from an implausible source).

In comics, the ink drawings don't have the minute surface detail of a photograph (it's possible but much too expensive for a comic book; maybe a graphic novel), and the artists never have to worry about slippage, but with the popularity of comics as movies, the movie production designers' choices are filtering back into the comics, not so much to make them easier to market to movie studios but because it's what we expect to see.

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