Warning: Spoilers for ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ below.
One additional benefit of the unprecedented pandemic streaming premiere of “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max? The unlimited opportunities to pause and skip back to take in all the nostalgic ’80s references — especially the pop culture throwbacks (aerobicizers in Jane Fonda leotards in a bustling mall!) and high fashion homages in the standout costumes by Lindy Hemming.
In her followup to the 2017 blockbuster, “Wonder Woman,” Hemming knocked it out of the park again, deftly creating a through-line from Diana (Gal Gadot)’s Amazonian warrior origins to the Internet-breaking winged Golden Armor. (The Oscar winner has also costume designed three Batman films, five Bonds and two Paddingtons, so there you go.)
Now in the Reagan era, Diana is dedicated to her anthropology department job at the Smithsonian (when she’s not rescuing civilians as her “mysterious female savior” alter ego, that is). For her day job, she dresses the part in smart, silky blouse and high-waist trouser ensembles. “Patty [Jenkins]’s and my decision was to keep her in shirts,” explains Hemming, over Zoom. “Her thing.”
Diana’s classic looks establish a theme carried into the fateful fundraising gala, packed with decadent ’80s signatures: massive shoulder pads, lots of sparkle, Gordon Gekko tuxedos and neon party décor straight out of “Less Than Zero” (which, incidentally, is also streaming on HBO Max). Diana makes her reluctant but grand entrance in a glamorous shirt-dress style gown with a wrap front and high-slit skirt billowing in the breeze (below).
The streamlined white look stands out from the flashier, overdone party guests, while also paying homage to her Themysciran goddess roots. Hemming and Jenkins originally considered a more literal Grecian draped evening style. But then: “We thought, ‘No, she’s a woman for all seasons. She’s not giving into fashion. She’s just sophisticated and classic,'” says Hemming. As a “nod to fashion,” though, she referenced an ’80s Chanel magazine ad found online and designed the shawl-collar top silhouette off of a vintage Claude Montana blouse pattern. “So she could push her sleeves up still, which is her character thing,” she adds.
The “really heavy double crepe silk” of the gown flows with Diana’s movements, especially as she walks the National Mall after reuniting love of her life Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). (You know, after the late World War I flyboy was resurrected via the wish-granting Dreamstone.) Also evergreen, yet spot on for the period: a gold Tiffany & Co. cuff, hinting at her superhero persona.
The next morning, Diana and Pop Tart-noshing Steve — no longer seen by her as his vessel, “Handsome Man” (as actor Kristoffer Polaha is billed) — need appropriate daytime outfit changes. Diana resourcefully heads to Handsome Man’s closet to piece together a chic, yet adventure-seeking pantsuit look for herself (below).
“It’s quite a common film thing, isn’t it?” asks Hemming, referencing Hollywood suiting icons Katharine Hepburn and Annie Hall. In terms of ’80s designer influences, she also looked to Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. “Because Diana has innate sophistication and good taste, when she wears them, she just looks fantastic,” she notes.
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But at the last minute, Hemming and her team needed a finishing detail to bring the custom-designed tweedy linen mix jacket, pleated high-waist khakis and button-up shirt together. One of her assistants suggested a pinstripe vest just shopped from Ralph Lauren’s contemporary collection. “The best thing: It was blue, which is a Wonder Woman color and it was just perfect,” says Hemming.
Diana also dons a second supersuit — or, rather, had it stashed in her surveillance lair/second bedroom for the right moment. Wonder Woman’s iconic armor continues its evolution from the original design by Michael Wilkinson, but the Golden Armor, complete with eagle headpiece and accordion-style wings, is Hemming’s original design.
The lines and shape connect back to her Amazonian starter armor from the first movie, inspired by ancient Greek women warriors. “But in the end, I always go back to referencing people, like Thierry Mugler or Alexander McQueen, who’ve spun armor [on the fashion runway],” says Hemming. (See: the former’s Fall 1995 couture metallic supersuit-y leotard complete with gauntlets and, oh wow, golden wings in Fall 1984.)
Hemming worked with London-based FX designer Pierre Bohana, who created the ultra-lustrous and non-reflective metallic-like urethane material to illustrate the “magical quality,” per Jenkins’s vision. (Bohana also brightened up the red, blue and gold Wonder Woman supersuit to fit into the eye-popping ’80s aesthetic of the film.) Hemming took practicality and functionality into consideration by designing an arm, chest and leg-covering modular full-body armor, which required an innovative metal-embossed catsuit. Key textile artist Steve Gell designed the intricate scaled armor and chainmail pattern. Diana relies on the ultra-protective golden armor to save the world overrun with self-serving wishes and ultimately take on her new colleague-turned-frenemy, Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig).
Barbara undergoes the biggest, most ’80s-celebratory costume journey to become Cheetah. She starts her first day at the new job as a fashion-allergic museum nerd, who’s immediately enamored with Diana’s spirit and leopard print pumps by London-based Gina. Accentuating her awkwardness, her slouchy pink batwing T-shirt and mousy button-front skirt over white footless tights (that’s what they were called back then!) and plain black Gina pumps.
“We looked in really quite naff mall photographs of people,” says Hemming. “We didn’t look at high fashion.”
But after wishing to be more like Diana (and needing a quick change after an overnighter in the office), Barbara seamlessly turns that “dowdy” outfit into a smokin’ off-the-shoulder mini-dress over liquid leggings. The concept came to Hemming after a fitting with Wiig, who spontaneously stretched the initial top over her hips. “We would just be able to make the T-shirt four inches longer and it would just be able to pull down over her revealing parts and she could just wear it,” she says.
Barbara becomes more confident, but also increasingly power hungry, as illustrated through a “punky” evolution, featuring a custom-made body-con lace dress inspired by Azzedine Alaïa and Madonna circa-“Like a Virgin” plus a shaggy faux fur black and white coat (above), based off a vintage “cheap thing from a market stall.” Hemming also “riffed on” fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez‘s work for a pajama graphic T-shirt featuring an art-y cat sketch, briefly seen as Barbara rips off her refrigerator door. “It was just a little nod [to Cheetah],” she notes.
But Barbara’s studded moto jacket — worn with the leopard-print mini-skirt and over-the-knee Gina boots, just before her final “Cats”-like transformation — involved a specific tweak requested by Jenkins: Hemming first designed a snakeskin-print version of a power-shouldered biker jacket and added a mix of studs for extra intimidation, but “when Patty saw the ordinary amount of studs that we put on, she said, ‘No, I want studs all over it. I want it to be so horrible that if you bumped into it, you’d be injured.'”
Barbara’s fellow baddie with layers, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), seems to reference a certain sore loser, insurrection leader and shady businessman through his inept grifter character, tacky gold office décor and taste for boxy suits, as some people have also noticed. “My wall was full of all kinds of references. All kinds of people,” says Hemming. “And, yes, there were Donald Trump pictures, because in the ’80s Donald Trump and businessmen surrounding him wore the kind of clothes that we wanted this guy to wear.”
Maxwell’s double-breasted pinstripe suits, point collar shirts, matching printed tie and pocket square sets also incorporate “naff” fashion references, like Armani and Calvin Klein of the era. “There’s really nothing of that man’s [current day] look in it,” continues Hemming. “It’s an earlier ’80s: big shoulders, thin fabrics, baggy trousers. Trying to keep tailoring, but keep it baggy at the same time.”
When it comes to exemplifying the ’80s, we must look to now-fish-out-of-water Steve, who enjoyed sampling ‘fits out of Handsome Man’s closet and treating us to a montage of the best, worst but absolutely most fun fashion of the era.
Hemming, who is not the biggest fan of the ’80s, credits her team for really pulling out all the stops. “It’s my worst part, really,” she laughs. “I wasn’t sure about it, but my fantastic assistant costume designer Nat Turner had lived through that time and just pushed and pushed me.”
They referenced loads of pop culture imagery, including “boybands” for the most choice looks to custom-design, including his trusty fanny pack (an “American issue bag!,” per an excited Steve) and the intentionally too-tight black and red parachute pants look (above), which gave me mid’-80s Duran Duran-meets-Van Halen vibes. Diana ultimately styles him back into his fighter pilot-referential Members Only jacket, white tee by Japan-based Pharon, custom-designed trousers and vintage Nike sneakers. “He looked like Diana. They are very very simple. They’re not over the top or silly in any way,” says Hemming. But shooting the scene, however …
“We were all excited when we did the big trying on day,” says Hemming. “Everyone was screaming. Patty was screaming with laughter. There are so many other looks, including an urban cowboy — that he looked fantastic in — which had to be cut for time. But it was a laugh.” (*Said in “release the Snyder cut!” bro voice*: Release the full Steve outfit montage!)