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!
The Batman costume has undergone some major changes since Adam West played the Caped Crusader in the 1960s television series. Not every style ages well, and the original live-action Batsuit falls into this category. On the other end of the scale, there is still something very cool about Cesar Romero’s outlandish magenta pinstripe Joker ensemble, and for a truly timeless sartorial aesthetic, look no further than Catwoman. Sure, there have been modifications over the years, using a wide variety of different materials to deliver a slinky appearance, but most versions of this character have proved the Cat in a catsuit is a winner. As far as we can tell, this fashionable garment didn’t actually get its name from this character — even if it was born in the same decade as the TV show — but the cultural significance over the last 50 years cannot be ignored.
Julie Newmar’s original (and instantly recognizable) costume from 1966 is on display in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History, as one of the designated “National Treasures of Popular Culture.” When Anne Hathaway stepped into the all-black look in the final part of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, she had some big shoes to fill. Not only did she deliver an excellent performance as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, but the Oscar-winning actress manages to make this revered character her own.
As Selina Kyle, Hathaway proves she is just as multifaceted as the cat burglar she is playing. When Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) catches her with his mother’s pearls around her neck — stolen from an uncrackable safe — she goes from simpering shyness to a sardonically laced statement. “Oops. No one told me it was uncrackable,” she taunts before kicking Bruce's cane from out of his hand, thus setting the tone before she makes her dramatic exit via the window. Not only can she get into any safe, but she quickly transforms her service maid uniform into a fancy gown so she can slip out with a congressman. Martha’s pearls do look great with a simple black dress.
A master of disguise, Selina uses her femininity as a weapon. Sure, Bruce didn’t fall for the whole simpering act, but there are plenty of other men in this movie who are fooled by her charms and overt sexuality. And while she is an ultimate grifter, she does have an honor code: “I take what I need from those who have more than enough. I don't stand on the shoulders of those with less.” Conning wealthy men is how she survives, but she does pre-warn Bruce that “there’s a storm coming.” Luckily for Bruce, he’s not like all those other guys.
Before The Dark Knight Rises, Hathaway had played plenty of stylish characters, including royalty, spies, and fashion magazine writers. Selina Kyle keeps it classic with her outfit choices, leaning into Audrey Hepburn as a visual reference for when she is extorting men. Costume designer Lindy Hemming also looked to La Femme Nikita and Thierry Mugler for inspiration. High fashion isn’t a stretch for Hathaway, and she looks at home in the custom-made garments by Hemming. The same can be said for the catsuit, which actresses like Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Michelle Pfeiffer have previously worn defining versions of. The concept details vary depending on the decade, but there is a timelessness that makes this signature costume so appealing.
Hemming is no stranger to superhero costumes, having worked on all three of Nolan’s Batman installments and the two subsequent Wonder Woman standalone movies. She has an eye for using the source material to bring a costume to life. At no point is Selina Kyle referred to as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises; rather her original nickname from the first Batman comic is used in a newspaper headline. “The Cat” catsuit nods to past designs while keeping in line with the aesthetic of this particular Gotham world.
Hemming pays homage to the original cat ears of the 1960s television series with a contemporary twist. The campy styling of Newmar's pointy headpiece is hard to beat, but this doesn’t match the rest of the Nolan gritty vision. Nevertheless, Hemming found a way to incorporate the iconic look into the costume by making Selina’s pointy ears part of her cat burglar kit must-haves. Her ears are night-vision goggles and a jeweler’s loupe: talk about multipurpose accessorizing. Taking a note from the James Bond villain school of shoe design, her boots don’t scream practicality but the bladed high heels are a useful backup weapon. Sometimes fashion can kill.
In 2021, Zoë Kravitz will be taking on this character in Matt Reeves’ highly anticipated The Batman. She has already provided the voice for Catwoman in The Lego Batman Movie, in which she wore a very cute and traditional mask. It is probably safe to say the costume will be black, but other than this signature aspect, everything else is a mystery. In The Dark Knight Rises, Lindy Hemming put a contemporary twist on a legendary design, which aided Anne Hathaway's ability (and not just because of the knife high heels) to stand tall alongside the other fabulous incarnations of this character.