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Credit: Marvel Comics

The looks of Carol Danvers

Contributed by
Mar 3, 2019

Carol Danvers has been around for many years — more than 50, in fact! In that time, our girl has gone through a heck of a lot of looks, some good, some bad, and some that bizarre mix of good and bad that could only come from the time known as ... the '90s.

Sometimes a style icon, sometimes a fashion don't, and sometimes willing to leave her house in the morning dressed kind of like RoboCop, Danvers' penchant for accessorizing and her love for trucker hats have given us much to ponder. Join fashion expert Emma Fraser and comic book nerd Sara Century as they team up to cover the many looks of Carol Danvers.

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Looking Mar-Vellous

Emma: Carol sticks to the “boobs or legs” golden style rule, but her take on the original Captain Mar-Vell costume has an unconventional superhero sartorial twist. Even as an aesthetic choice, the cut of this exposed navel doesn’t make a whole lot of sense stylistically, other than to be mildly provocative. This is the decade in which bras were becoming less restrictive, or not even worn at all. However, there's less restrictive and then there's this confusing and impractical design. This line of work already includes plenty of high risks, adding a potential wardrobe malfunction is just unnecessary; underboob is under-represented in superhero costuming for a reason. Making a big first impression is important, but there are better ways to go about it than taking the original costume and cutting bits out of it. It isn’t all bad as the cape and mask are very cute, plus the feathered bob is a fun spin on Farrah Fawcett’s iconic Charlie’s Angels ‘do.

Sara: You know, the late ‘70s were a pretty weird time for Carol Danvers. When she first showed up, she was the damsel in distress to the original Captain Marvel’s hero, and it was not too cool. By the time of this look making its first big splash in 1977, she had quit the Air Force and very randomly become head of a surprisingly anti-feminist women's magazine. I guess taking a male character's costume and making it sexier and much less effective as a clothing item is surprisingly anti-feminist, too. This costume looks cool when they tweak it later but it can never change the fact that Carol didn't even warrant a unique costume design even in the debut issue of her solo series.

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Lightning Strikes

Emma: Barbarella (Jane Fonda) led the way in bodysuit fashion, a decade later and Paco Rabanne’s costume design is still having an impact. Carol’s huge makeover — courtesy of artist Dave Cockrum — is perfect for a “trying out various hilarious outfits” montage sequence before landing on this sleek silhouette. She’s ditched the derivative Mar-vell red and blue ensemble, switching out a star motif for a lightning bolt. This is much more streamlined, thankfully ditching the head-scratching cut-out aspect. Gone is the mask, but thigh high boots, long gloves and a red sash show Carol’s accessorizing game is strong. Designers keep returning to this decade for inspiration and it is my personal style favorite, which is probably why this kitsch ensemble is the one I find most appealing.

Sara: This is a pretty iconic look for Carol, although I doubt we’ll see a return to it any time soon. Danvers changed to this outfit in Ms. Marvel #20 as a symbolic break from her debt to Mar-Vell. It was definitely pretty great to see a return to her midriff and also her own unique costume like most superheroes get in their first appearance, not their twentieth. While I understand not wanting your feminist character to be flying around in a bathing suit in 2019, I can’t deny that this outfit served Carol pretty well over the years, and for a long time it was her definitive look.

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Binary

Emma: Holy boots and gloves on fire! This is not something we would recommend trying at home, but this is a bold statement by Carol Danvers as Binary. In the 19th-century extremely flammable clothing led to several deaths, but Binary is taking this to the next level. Unlike the first costume, this is the way to go if you’re gonna employ some costume cut-outs. A white one-piece with matching gloves and thigh high (flame) boots have replaced the black lightning bolt leotard as she goes Binary. Star imagery returns, which is a nice nod to her cosmic abilities, as well as paying homage to Carol’s space exploration ambitions.

Sara: This is not just one of my favorite costumes for Carol; it’s one of my favorite eras. Although creating Binary more or less meant giving Carol incredible powers just to ship her off to space and forget about her until years later when she suddenly lost said powers, what we got to see of her in the iconic Brood Saga and the significantly less iconic Operation Galactic Storm was pretty great. Her time as Binary was relatively brief, but you still see nods to this look in the comic every now and then.

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RoboCarol

Emma: Black is back, but with some added armor. Did Carol take some style notes from RoboCop? Sleek metallic pieces replace the now retro-seeming leotard. There is also no room for cut-outs or thigh high boots in this get-up. Fashion is cyclical whether on the runway, in film or comic books, which means the return of the eye mask! It probably isn’t the greatest way to conceal identity, but it is a fun throwback. New additions that aren’t particularly elegant also include elbow and knee pads, which is also a repeated theme you will see across a number of these ‘90s looks.

Sara: I think this is the most ‘90s, Linda Hamilton in T2 look, but also I’m pretty sure this outfit is from like 2003, which makes it a truly perplexing piece of art. This was from one of Carol’s kind of directionless, “girl, wyd?” stints after she’d briefly retired her Ms. Marvel look once more but before she’d switched it up to her modern look. There isn’t much to say about this one, except it was a time, it was a place.

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The Modern

Emma: Time for another transformation; this one goes all the way back to the beginning for inspiration. Rather than the awkward early attempt, which saw Carol wearing a stripped back Mar-Vellous garment, now the design embraces the full bodysuit. This aesthetic goes back to the origins of this character, but with a sleek 21st-century silhouette. Sure it is bodycon to the max, but it matches the style of the period. The red sash is back, but with rather than blowing in the wind — with the potential to get snagged in something — it is reined in. Speaking from experiences, chopping all your hair off is invigorating, Carol has gone from long flowing blonde locks to something a little punkier. That quiff gets 10/10 from me.

Sara: This is going to be Carol’s look for a good long while. It does a pretty great job of tying various staples of that old Danvers style together to make a cohesive, iconic design. The slightly militaristic look makes perfect sense for former Air Force officer Carol Danvers, and the time this design made its debut was a time of rebirth for her. This is exactly the iconic look she needed to make the switch from Ms. to Captain Marvel.

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Mangaverse

Emma: In the Mangaverse, Carol takes a page out of the Steve Rogers style book in red, white and blue. This color configuration coupled with a star is a classic for a reason; it is equal parts bold and simple with strong brand recognition, even if this brand is not Carol’s. No frills needed, but once again her accessory game is strong. Much to my delight, the mask is back, plus she’s gained a utility belt and Cap’s shield.

Sara: You know, even as a huge comics fan, I struggle to explain the Mangaverse. It seems like you should just be able to say, it's Marvel but manga, and have that be the end of it, but it also kind of reads like Marvel comics if written by people who had never read Marvel comics, so you end up with some really strange takes on characters. This outfit I feel is disappointing if only because flag-themed superhero costumes are a dime a dozen. I'm over it.

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Age of Fashion Don'ts

Emma: It is hard to style it out when living in a dystopian alternate reality, particularly when it has the title Age of Apocalypse, but there is still no reason to wear an approximation of a trucker hat. At least it isn’t Von Dutch, I guess. Carol looks like she is auditioning for a part on The Walking Dead in her ammo-and-gun heavy ensemble. This feels like the most extreme version of Carol’s superhero costumes as it leans the furthest into combat attire. It is also probably my least favorite of these ten looks.

Sara: An interesting thing that was happening in the mid-'90s was people showing up with lots of guns, lots of pouches, and sudden unexplained face tats, and all of those things are represented pretty well here. If this were a contest for which outfit is the most 1995, this look would probably win, but that was a pretty rough year for fashion so you can keep it.

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Mutant X-Treme fashion statements

Emma: Did Carol start the Uggs trend? While hanging out with the X-Men, Carol gets another outfit rebrand. A black jumpsuit is probably the most simple of the garments, it has a few flourishes including one kneepad and at least one elbow pad. Remember, safety first. She doesn’t look all that thrilled with her costume here, but I am here for the utilitarian vibe even if it is missing some of the classic Carol Danvers flourishes.

Sara: I feel like this was the standard manga-inspired look of most superheroes of the late ‘90s. You can tell they’re not trying super hard with this one, and honestly when someone doesn't respect Carol's usually impeccable fashion sense they just don't respect Carol, period. She was hanging out with Cyclops as a space pirate in this reality and all she got was this weak redesign.

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That one reality that's just Arthurian legend with superheroes

Emma: From one extreme to the next; here is what Carol would look like if she was performing in a community theater version of Camelot. This is the only explanation for this headscarf situation. That or they time traveled back to the reign of King Arthur. It also looks like she borrowed the gold headpiece from Wonder Woman, which would be quite the Marvel/DC crossover. Carol is serving up a Project Runway version of superhero chic and she is more than making it work.

Sara: I’m obsessed with this look but I’m not sure why besides the fact that I’m a huge fan of terrible production values and vague costuming. This story is super weird. After all the Avengers were lowkey banished to the very ‘90s Heroes Reborn alternate reality for about a year, the folks at Marvel were kind of at a loss over what direction to head in next. They ended up bringing writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez together to very randomly take the team to yet another alternate reality, this one with way more highly uncomfortable looking corsets. It’s cool that they mix Binary’s trademark bright red skin with the dark blue lightning bolt look from later days Ms. Marvel. I don’t know why they did it, but it’s cool they did it.

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Cinematic Excellence

Emma: Drawing on different elements of Carol’s comic book attire, costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays has delivered a flight suit that is sleek, but also practical in its design. It fits in with the overall MCU aesthetic, while not looking like anything we have seen in previous movies. There is also a Tron-esque vibe, but that is hard to avoid with garments like this. Captain Marvel might be set in the ‘90s — which explains Carol’s “Rachel” adjacent cut — but teal is having its moment in fashion in 2019. Way to stay ahead of the curve, Carol.

Sara: I don’t know! This isn’t a comic book! I’m powerless here. I think that Brie Larson looks great in green and I would definitely allow myself to be saved by Captain Marvel. And would maybe also write a fanfiction about it and maybe already did.

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