From star-spangled briefs to skintight pants, Wonder Woman is still a wonder

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 1, 2010; C02

Wonder Woman has traded in her signature superhero briefs for skintight black pants. They are the centerpiece of a head-to-toe makeover that includes a navy motorcycle jacket and a pair of gold, bullet-deflecting gauntlets.

Why the change, and what does it mean, if anything?

First off, in her more modern comic-book costume, Wonder Woman (a.k.a. Diana Prince, a.k.a. Lynda Carter) looks like a glamorous athlete instead of an unusually muscular Miss America who happens to fight crime. The sleek lines of the new wonder pants evoke sci-fi warrior agility, while the cropped jacket -- with its studded epaulets -- adds rock star, Balmain flash.

Historically, superheroes have been closely tied to patriotism. Wonder Woman's look has not been substantially altered since 1941 (except for the late '60s and early '70s, when she gave up her costume entirely). The makeover purges the Americana from her clothes. She no longer looks as though she's wearing a flag. She has shrugged off parochialism to become an international sophisticate.

Because the superhero universe is dominated by men, Wonder Woman has always been burdened by the politics of gender. She appeared on the first cover of Ms. Magazine in July 1972, her corset and high boots announcing that feminism, beauty and sexuality could forge a powerful coexistence.

Now that she's been given a pair of pants -- that Western symbol of formalized male authority -- it's tempting to declare this makeover an advance in gender equity. But not so fast. In superhero land, where everything is exaggerated, the boys are sketched with a nod to extreme masculinity. Batman's suit, for example, gives the slender Bruce Wayne perfectly etched pecs. It was only fair that Wonder Woman's leg-revealing briefs gave mousy Miss Prince a goddess's sexy, lithe figure.

Pants make Wonder Woman look chic, fit and contemporary. They imbue her with bourgeois authority. But power? From her lasso of truth to those legs of steel, she's had that from the beginning.

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