Supergirl Costume History
Supergirl first flew into the comic book world in the 1950s. The character of Kara Zor-El has been rebooted on several occasions. Not only has her character undergone several changes throughout her history but so has her costume. Although mostly keeping with the style of her cousin Superman, she has sometimes gone off in a totally new direction. Here we will explore the history of Supergirl’s costume.
In a 1958 issue of Superman #123, Supergirl made her first appearance in the DC universe. It is probably the most recognizable Supergirl costume and the style used in the 1984 movie. The majority of Supergirl’s costumes will be some variation of this design.
She has the form-fitting long sleeve blue shirt with the iconic S-Shield on the chest. Like Superman, she has a red cape, red boots and a yellow belt. The major difference between her outfit and her male counterpart is the short red skirt. Of course, short is a relative term. At the time its length may have been risqué but future interpretations will make this dress seem conservative.
In 1959, the Supergirl most readers know crash-landed on earth. The cousin of Superman wore a long sleeve, solid blue dress with the S-Shield still front and center on the chest. Modeled after her Kryptonian cousin, she still has the red boots, cape and yellow belt. With very few exceptions this would be her costume till 1970. It was a simple modification of Superman’s outfit and worked for a backup character in Superman comics.
Reviews of her all-blue dress were less than stellar. In what would be a very different opinion from today, some thought she looked ugly. The solid color made her appear short and more masculine.
Supergirl's Wardrobe Gets a Makeover
In 1970, Supergirl would get a major overhaul to her costume. Now that she was starring in Adventure Comics, it was time for a change. With the help of Wonder Woman and fans, Supergirl was about to get a makeover in Adventure Comics #397.
For the next decade, Supergirl would have a variety of different costumes. Some would make more appearances than others and as to be expected each was received with different levels of enthusiasm. These outfits would vary drastically. While one takes on an angular military look, another looked more like a bathing suit. The S-shield was almost always presented on the chest. One full-body jumpsuit, that looked to be inspired by the Fantastic Four, had the S-shield placed on the belt buckle. Most of the time she was given red gloves but her red boots were always present. Don’t worry; they never forgot to include the cape in their designs.
Yes, I had to use hotpants for the title. In the mid to late 70s, Supergirl was known to wear hot-pants. As easy as it is to make fun of these short shorts being used in a comic book they make a lot more sense for a heroine to wear if they have the ability to fly. Kara was putting her red shorts on before Daisy Duke came on the scene in 1979. Instead of the form-fitting top like her cousin Superman, Kara switched to a blue blouse with puffy arms. Since the blouse opened up at the top her S-shield was placed on the left side where you might find the logo on a polo shirt.
Supergirl finally found a semi-permanent costume in the 1980s. There would be some slight modifications as always but it would be there until her death in the storyline Crisis on Infinite Earths.
This costume was very similar to the first appearance of Super-Girl, the classics are usually the best. The short red skirt is back but possibly a little shorter. The S-Shield on her long-sleeve blue shirt has been moved higher and stretches across the shoulders. The slimmer gold V-shaped belt would in introduced here and be one of the more popular belt designs. The plain red boots would also have this popular gold outline added to their tops.
It would not be till 1984’s issue of Supergirl #17 that she would get her much-ridiculed and very dated headband. She was also sporting a perm so there is no doubt from what era this design came from.
Fun little fact, it was the movie producers who requested the headband be added. They then dropped the headband from Helen Slater’s costume when it tested poorly. The movie lost it and the comic kept it. I guess Supergirl in the comics sweats more.
After her death in Crisis, there were a lot of different versions of Supergirl flying around. Thankfully, this is about her costumes and not her origins because I would not know where to begin when it comes to clones, aliens and earthlings.
The first Supergirl to make an appearance after Kara’s death looked very similar to the original version tested back in 1958. The costumes are almost identical. The biggest noticeable difference is the V-shaped yellow belt that was used in the 80s replaced the standard Superman belt from her first appearance.
Of course, thanks to technology, not only can you clone superheroines, but you can also draw a lot more details and have it transferred from a printing press. Supergirl’s curves and muscles are a lot more prominent and there can be no confusion that this time Supergirl is a woman.
Supergirl's Animation Inspiration
The 1996-2000 Superman: The Animated Series version of Supergirl inspired the comics to take on a similar look. In 2000 Supergirl #51 and until the end of the series in 2003 it became her costume. Rather than being assembled from some indestructible fabric from Krypton she could easily replace pieces as needed at her local clothing store. No more trips to Kandor where it not only has to be assembled but blown up to a halfway decent size. Of course decent is another one of those relative terms.
A simple white t-shirt with black trim has the S-shield prominently placed on the front. Very similar to any graphic t-shirt that might be sold as promotional merchandise. With a bit more midriff showing but this is a comic book superheroine and there are expectations to fill. She goes back to the blue skirt we saw before her makeovers in the 70s. She is sporting solid red lace-up boots but the gold belt is gone. She does add hairband to hold back her long hair, which considering she is flying around up in the air it is probably the most practical of all Supergirls accessories. Speaking of practical, she also wears a pair of white gloves. I am really surprised in a world with fingerprinting technology that more heroes and villains don’t wear them. Last but not least, no Supergirl costume would be complete without a red cape.
When you start cloning, imagination goes out the door. This Supergirl wears a one-piece leotard and blue cape. The S-shield is gone and instead, there is a red S splashed on the front in what appears to be inspired by the Nike swoosh. To complete the ensemble she has on a pair of black boots and gloves. At least she matches. Cir-El did not last long and was soon erased from the DC universe forever. Sadly, like The Star Wars: Holiday Special the internet will make sure it never truly goes away.
Kara Zor-El Is Back
After a very long hiatus, Kara returned to the DC universe. Her costume once again draws its inspiration from the original design. However, this time around all modesty is tossed into the wind. The long sleeve blue top is back but it does not come all the way down to her skirt. How much of her torso is exposed depends on the artist but the S-shield is always centered. There is now a gold belt buckle holding up her skirt and the rest of her outfit is trimmed in gold, even the cape.
With the revamping of the DC universe, it makes sense that Supergirl would get another makeover. Several of the old styles are blended into a very new look. The larger and higher S-shield from the 80s is modified. The gold outline of her cape comes from the design right before the launch of the new universe. Her boots are bigger than ever. They look to be part boot and part knee brace. It helps to have extra support when kicking villain butt. The one-piece bathing suit with outer red underwear more closely resembles Superman’s old outfits. The V-shaped belt is back but this time there is a solid shield buckle added to the mix. Not sure what the belt is supposed to be holding up though.
Movie and Television Appearances
Helen Slater played Kara Zor-El in the 1984 movie Supergirl. Despite being a box office flop, it has been able to imprint the image of Supergirl into the minds of the general public and comic fans will continue to watch it.
In season seven, Kara was introduced to the Smallville television series and for four years she would make recurring appearances on the show. During that time, the costume department had a lot of fun playing around with her outfits and referencing many of Supergirl’s past looks.
Just as Superman is a popular costume for guys, Supergirl is well-liked by women.
Superhero Transformed To Superheroine is an article exploring why many superheroines are copies of their male counterparts. Have a look at their creation and how they have been interpreted in real life.
Google Images (Images appeared on several sites and was unsure of original)
And of course: Reading way too many comic books.