What we wear helps construct identity, and the warrior women we love most prove that kicking ass is not defined by traditional roles. Protection is the number-one purpose for battle-ready attire, which is why leather and metal dominate a warrior’s wardrobe. Armor also acts as a way to signify allegiance to a cause or clan, ensuring unity and avoiding mistaken identity — unless this is part of the plan.
War is dominated by men, therefore, some of the women on this best-dressed list have to conceal their gender to march, ride, or fight alongside their comrades in arms — and clothing is often a huge part of this ruse. But not all squads or vocations have these restrictions, and genre is particularly adept at celebrating women in a leadership role. It is also possible for armor to serve up a style lesson — chainmail and breastplates have long influenced the runway and red carpet — as well as offering protection. Different settings and eras impact the design, but the one thing the women on this list share are memorable looks that don’t sacrifice functionality for fashion.
From the MCU and DCU to graphic novel adaptations, the 10 women on the list below are all serving up battlefield sartorial lessons across the ages.
Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron) - The Old Guard
Andromache now goes by Andy, which matches her low-key 21st-century attire in The Old Guard. Being alive for thousands of years ensures there isn’t a single trend Andy has missed, so it makes sense for the world-weary warrior to choose the simplicity of jeans, T-shirt, and sturdy boots courtesy of Mary E. Vogt. Blending in rather than standing out is integral to protecting the immortality secret and what better way than looking effortlessly cool? Tactical gear has replaced armor, but Andy still keeps her deadly accessories close to hand. Fashion is cyclical, but in the hand of a mercenary, weapons are timeless.
Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) - Game of Thrones
Eschewing the lady status she was born to inhabit, Brienne’s suit of armor lacks any hint of delicate feminity. Early on, costume designer Michele Clapton avoided any level of curvature in Brienne’s breastplate to emphasize her embracing a role that is typically only undertaken by the men of Westeros. Her plain fighting attire gets an upgrade courtesy of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and she manages to keep the red and gold belt accessory even when she switches to the signature Stark leather and fur. Blending brands is not easy, but Brienne does this in style.
Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) - Wonder Woman
Over the decades, Diana Prince has gone through some changes. Kitsch star-print booty shorts paired with a red and gold bustier made famous on TV by Lynda Carter has given way to the ancient civilization-inspired armor in the current Gal Gadot iteration. Each has plus points, though one is more practical than the other. Bullet deflecting cuffs unite the two interpretations and both women score highly with their off-duty aesthetic. In the forthcoming Wonder Woman 1984, costume designer Lindy Hemming introduces a new winged gold suit of armor and delicate white gown perfect for twirling with a hot date at Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial — all while avoiding some extreme trends from this decade.
Elektra Natchios (Élodie Yung) - Daredevil
Elektra’s look on Netflix’s Daredevil keeps things simple for the deadly assassin. Ditching the leather vest and ultra low-rise pants worn by Jennifer Garner in the 2003 movie, designer Lorraine Calvert opts for a utilitarian approach to Elektra’s fighting style. Clean lines and a limited palette delivers a sleek aesthetic, which keeps with the moody atmosphere of this world. Elektra ends up fighting in a luxurious white knit, which isn’t entirely functional for the moment but looks cozy as hell. Keeping it blood-free might be a challenge, but it is ideal for post-skirmish relaxation.
Eowyn meets the Witch King of Angmar
Éowyn (Miranda Otto) - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Delicate frocks don’t make the best battle-ready attire in Middle Earth, nor do they hide the identity of a lady who is not meant to be on the field of war. Éowyn takes a more rustic direction on the battlefield, not wanting to draw attention to her presence. This isn’t a case of ethereal elven gowns — instead, she utilizes chainmail and armor. An oversized helmet and muslin sackcloth cape put the finishing touches to this hastily put together get-up. Éowyn doesn’t need anything fancy to pull off the big mic drop moment, in which she removes her helmet to show she is “no man.” Revealing her long locks without going full shampoo commercial is no easy task, but this warrior proves she has what it takes to bring down a stunt queen Ringwraith.
Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) - Mulan
As the live-action Mulan hits the big (and small) screen, it is worth remembering how the animated classic laid the costume groundwork. Incorporating a mix of gender-concealing armor and beautiful traditional Chinese princess attire, Mulan depicts a world in which it seems impossible for a woman to have it all. Rather than letting these restrictions impede her choices, Mulan uses clothing to aid her destiny. Whether handling a sword or a folding fan, Mulan elevates her accessorizing to prove both are possible. Not only that, but she also looks fabulous in a contemporary silk bomber and red Converse in Ralph Breaks the Internet. She can cut it in any era.
Okoye (Danai Gurira) - Black Panther
Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter created a variety of definitive looks in Black Panther, from the regal garments worn by T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) to Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) youthful athleisure. As the all-female elite Wakandan bodyguards, the Dora Milaje stand out in distinct crimson and gold uniforms with Okoye leading the charge. A fierce warrior, Okoye is just as effective at home in Wakanda as she is wearing a gown (in signature red) while undercover in a casino. Embracing the James Bond-style moment, Okoye even finds a use for her wig as a weapon. Her fashion instinct is killer.
Sister Beatrice (Kristina Tonteri-Young) - Warrior Nun
The title of the recently-renewed Netflix series is an accurate description of what you can expect from the action-packed antics of these less-than-average nuns. Avoiding the typical black and white ensemble, the Order of the Cruciform Sword is appropriately dressed to battle demons. Sister Beatrice offers up couture-level face protection with a chainmail number that is incredibly chic and ensures she doesn’t have to worry about a knife or claw to the face. Plus, it can be clipped back, doubling as a unique hair accessory.
Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) - Thor: Ragnarok
Talk about turning any surface into a runway! When Valkyrie makes her final battle entrance in Thor: Ragnarok back in her old uniform, it is as if the Led Zeppelin needle-drop has been made for this specific purpose. Combining her swagger with the silver armor and blue cape elite combo means this could be Paris, Milan, London, or New York during Fashion Week or a fight to the death in another part of the universe. Get you a warrior who can do both. A head-turning spectacle in a design by Mayes C. Rubeo, it is still guaranteed to leave your jaw on the floor.
Xena (Lucy Lawless) - Xena: Warrior Princess
With a second appearance on this list by New Zealand costume designer Ngila Dickson (she won an Oscar for her work on The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King), Xena’s everyday look is iconic as well as practical with the choice of leather and metallic breastplate detailing, but equally as alluring — see also, the leather and metallic breastplate detailing. Mixing history with fantasy, Xena is the quintessential warrior woman and a huge trendsetter to boot.