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Look of the Week: Vicki Vale's investigator chic in Batman
Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
Released in 1989, Tim Burton’s Batman was a big turning point in the long and storied history of this legendary DC character, ushering in a new era both for the Caped Crusader and for comic book movies in general. Academy Award-nominated costume designer Bob Ringwood revolutionized the superhero costume with his iconic Batsuit design, ditching underpants over tights in favor of a suit that matched the gothic Gotham streets. Every incarnation of Batman that has followed in Michael Keaton's footsteps owes its look to Ringwood.
Jack Nicholson’s Joker is instantly recognizable in an eggplant color suit with a contrasting bold shirt, appearing far less serious than any other recent versions. This bold style wouldn't look too wild on the red carpet in 2019, as menswear has stepped up a gear in the last few years with stars like Chadwick Boseman, Ezra Miller, and Donald Glover stepping outside the usual navy/black tux comfort zone. However, as this movie turns 30, the sartorial star of Batman we want to celebrate is a journalist and noted photographer with an outfit for every occasion: Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger).Vicki is quite the style chameleon. As someone who needs to slip in and out of various situations, this makes a lot of sense, even though she stands out more than she blends in. Her work attire flips between two decades. Little black dresses with massive shoulders showcase an '80s power-dressing standard, coupled with menswear-inspired ensembles, as if she has been watching the 1940s classic His Girl Friday on a loop and picked out the best Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant outfits. Moments of research into Bruce Wayne's past incorporate the tailored pants look, demonstrating this is when she is at her most studious. This pre-dates the internet, so she must rely on files and scrolling through microfiche to discover Bruce’s childhood trauma. Oversized specs and pulled-back hair are a vital part of this “I am a serious reporter” look. The red lipstick is a power move I can abide, even if her introduction involves the line “Hello, legs” as she manipulates fellow reporter Alexander Knox into what she needs.
The collectible Topps cards from 1989 were far from subtle at pointing out that Vicki is both smart and hot, with one stating that "Brains + Beauty = Vicki" and another reading, "Beauty. Brains. And the courage to go where no woman has gone before ..." Ah, that rare combination of being tenacious, intellectual, and attractive (that sound you can hear is me cringing).Glasses are still used to "hide" beauty or identity in movies (thankfully, Patty Jenkins pointed out how dumb this is in Wonder Woman). And while there isn't a makeover scene in Batman, the next time we see Vicki she has gone from serious journalist attire to a frock that could feature on Say Yes to the Dress, a late-‘80s Disney princess prom floral sleeve dream with perfectly tousled hair to match. In the same way Bruce wears a mask for the work he does, so does Vicki.
Sadly this means leaving the red lipstick in her work drawer, as it doesn't go with the whole innocent theme of the outfit.Scoring a date with Bruce off the back of this, Vicki keeps up the whole minimal make-up paired with pastels trend, and leans a little into her work with a belted pink jacket that is far more business casual than delicate princess attire. Vicki has fashion multitudes. Across the course of Batman's running time, she shows off an issue’s worth of clothing that could easily be featured in Vogue.
When they are meant to meet for dinner, Vicki switches things up again in a layered blue knit dress. This is the bridge between her work wear and that of a love interest. With her white tights and pumps in this scene, the look edges toward the latter. But when she wants to get her sneaky investigation on, a black oversized beret does this trick. Again, a lot of Vicki’s costume feels like she is trying on different hats (sometimes quite literally).Vicki Vale spends a lot of time screaming in Batman — something Prince even samples on “Batdance” — and she suffers from being the love interest of the hero. She could be smart and independent, but instead she gets caught between hero and villain, faints a lot, and has to be rescued on multiple occasions. Her costuming shows just how resourceful she can be, so it is a shame the narrative cannot do the same. Along with pastels, black and white dominate Vicki's costumes (though never together). This isn’t the bold geometric prints and neon colors the ‘80s are best known for, but the look of Gotham is not meant to reflect the decade the movie was filmed in. There is an ambiguity and timelessness to a lot of Vicki’s clothing even if silhouette and shape betray this neutral aspect. Shoulders that big and oversized dresses are strong indicators of trends from this period.
Regardless, there is a lot about Vicki’s style to inspire in 2019. Exaggerated glasses frames are making the rounds once again, masculine-meets-feminine tailoring is prevalent, and a black turtleneck remains timeless. In fact, at one moment during my rewatch it occurred to me that Elizabeth Holmes’ signature look is very Vicki Vale.White is worn for romantic moments, but the duster jacket and matching frock are also her final kidnap ensemble. In a scene with the Joker, Batman, and Vicki, it makes her easily identifiable, but it also plays into the damsel-in-distress aspect that is so disappointing. Give me Vicki in a suit any day over this.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.