Superman has had, more or less, one costume his whole career. There have been some minor tweaks since the early days. But he’s essentially worn the same getup since about 1945. But his cousin Kara, a.k.a. Supergirl? She adds to her Kryptonian closet with some regularity. Here’s the history of Supergirl’s costume, from the 1959 “girl next door from space” look, to the badass Sasha Calle costume we will soon see in The Flash.
Note: Since the character has appeared in many costume iterations, we’re sticking to outfits worn by the main DCU comics character, not any alternate Earth or Elseworlds versions. So no Power Girl, who is almost an entirely different hero, and no Injustice Kara. And no one-offs, used for a single story then forgotten just as fast. We are including the movie and Arrowverse versions, as well as the animated ones, because they made a big impact and, in turn, the comics started to reflect them.
The Prototype Supergirl Costume
Less than a year before Kara debuted in the pages of Action Comics, DC tried out a Supergirl character to see if readers would respond in 1958’s Superman #123. DC had flirted with a female counterpart to Superman before, like in the ’40s when Lois Lane got powers. They created this Girl of Steel when Jimmy Olsen wished for a Supergirl to help Superman out by wishing on a magic totem. She died the very same issue they introduced her in. But readers liked her enough that DC introduced a real Supergirl one year later. She’d be just a footnote, if not for one thing. The costume she wore, which had a red skirt, would become Kara’s most recognizable costume. But Kara herself wouldn’t wear it until 26 years later in the Supergirl feature film.
Kara Zor-El’s Original Costume
The Supergirl most people know, Kara-Zor-El, first debuted in 1959’s Action Comics #252. When she arrived on Earth from Krypton to greet her cousin she wore this outfit, which remains one of her most iconic. She wore this particular costume for over a decade. It’s basically just her cousin Superman’s costume, but with a skirt and no pants. In many ways, this remains the most iconic Supergirl costume of all, except these days, most people think of it with a red skirt instead of blue. We’ll get to why in a bit. Oddly enough, Kara didn’t wear any version of her costume with a red skirt until 1983, nearly 25 years after her debut.
The Fan-Made Supergirl Costume Fashion
We know, we said no “one off” costumes. But this Supergirl costume phase was too important not to mention. In 1970, Supergirl fans started feeling like her costume was dated. The look she arrived in was a relic of the Leave it to Beaver era, and it was now a post-Woodstock world. So DC asked fans to send in their best costume designs. And the fans complied. They sent in dozens, and DC actually used a few of them. Since this was the early ‘70s, the aesthetics were, shall we say, very groovy. Most of these costumes were just worn once or twice. But one of them was the first time a Supergirl costume included pants. Something her prime-universe comics counterpart wouldn’t ever really wear until very recently.
The Cocktail Waitress of Steel
In 1972, Supergirl finally got her own comic book series instead of merely being a feature in the anthology title Adventure Comics. To celebrate, she got a new costume once again. Only this one stuck for the better part of a decade. It’s another costume very much of its time with a choker, low-cut blouse, and hot pants. Fans have often referred to this one as “the cocktail waitress costume.” As the decade rolled on, the hot pants became regular shorts and the pixie shoes became red boots like she had before. But the basic look remained for a decade. And this costume made it into much of the Supergirl merchandising of the time.
Kara Gets Physical in a Costume to Die For
In 1983, with production about to begin on a live-action Supergirl movie, DC decided to update Kara’s look for the MTV era. To reflect the workout craze, they have the Girl of Steel a perm and a headband. It was all very “Jane Fonda Workout” tape. Actress Helen Slater wore a version of this costume for screen tests, but the producers ultimately ditched the headband and the cape attached to the “S” symbol for the final film. However, they kept the red skirt, which people associate with Supergirl to this day. This costume only lasted a couple of years, but it was the outfit Kara famously died in saving the universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985.
The Hollywood Costume
Supergirl finally made it into live-action in 1984, in a big-budget feature starring newcomer Helen Slater. A spin-off of the Christopher Reeve Superman films, it sadly totally tanked at the box office and was a critical disaster. However, more people still saw that movie versus reading any one Supergirl comic, especially once it went to home video and cable TV. So this costume instantly became Supergirl’s most well-known. Ironically, it was a costume first worn by the version of the character that was just the prototype, and not the Kara version everyone knows.
The Replacement Supergirl Keeps it Classic
Kara Zor-El was dead and buried in DC continuity from 1985-2004. But in the interim, DC introduced a different Supergirl to the Superman family. And her origin was a tad complicated. But here’s the short version. This version of Supergirl was a protoplasmic lifeform called Matrix that could mimic human appearance. She came from an alternate Earth, where that world’s Kal-El died, and Lex Luthor created her to replace him. She eventually “fused” with a human woman named Linda Danvers, becoming an angel on Earth. Yeah, “Superman’s cousin” makes more sense to us as an origin, too. In any event, the costume worn by this Supergirl from 1988 to 1998 or so is almost exactly the same one we saw in the movie.
The ’90s Supergirl Cartoon Costume
Speaking of the ‘90s, Superman: The Animated Series eventually introduced their version of Supergirl, in the 1998 episode “Little Girl Lost.” This version was Kara, but not Superman’s direct cousin. Instead of Krypton, she was a survivor of the neighboring world of Argo. Her costume was very of its time. Belly T-shirt, Doc Marten boots, a super mini skirt, and a headband that looked like Alicia Silverstone’s in Clueless. In a change of pace for Kara, her shirt was white and not blue. She also had white gloves, a first for her. The comics version of Supergirl, who was not Kara at the time but Linda Danvers, eventually adopted the costume herself. Another example of outside media influencing the comics.
Supergirl’s Costume in the 21st Century
In the early 2000s, DC decided it was time to reintroduce Kara Zor-El. They didn’t resurrect the original Kara, but reintroduced a younger version as a brand-new character just arriving on Earth. This Kara 2.0, designed by the late artist Michael Turner, essentially had the same outfit as her original counterpart did in 1959. Except she now had a bare midriff, much like Britney Spears would have in that era. The costume has more yellow highlights as well. If not for the ridiculously over-exposed mid-section and wildly short skirt, we’d consider this one an all-timer.
The New 52 Costume
In 2011, DC rebooted its entire universe thanks to the event called Flashpoint. The result was “the New 52,” a new timeline with a new Supergirl. She was still Kara, but now more Kryptonian, more aggressive, and with a very weird costume. It definitely evoked the Jim Lee era of early ’90s comics the New 52 was mimicking. Her cape made a statement with a very dramatic collar. But the boots that leave the knees exposed? The weird red diamond shape over the crotch? All that extra piping in the costume itself? This was an overdone look and we weren’t sad to see it go.
The Supergirl Television Show Costume
When Supergirl got her own live-action TV series on CBS (later the CW) she appeared in a costume that reflected what most people thought of when they thought “Supergirl.” So basically, actress Melissa Benoist wore a more muted version of the 1984 movie costume for the Arrowverse. Actually, it’s a cross between the classic version and the then-current DCEU Superman costume worn by Henry Cavill. So, bright colors were not “in” at this time. But everything else about this costume was fantastic, and worked well on screen for four seasons of television.
The Rebirth Uniform
In 2016, DC Comics undid the New 52, and go back to something more classic. This era was called “Rebirth,” and it was a rebirth for Supergirl as well. The militaristic look of the new 52 was out the window. With the success of the TV series, DC decided to give Kara a look that reflected her live-action counterpart. Except the colors were brighter, and more dare-we-say, comic booky. And this might be the best Supergirl costume yet. It’s also the one worn by the Girl of Steel in Tom King’s excellent Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow series. Which will soon be a major motion picture.
The TV Costume, Take Two. Pants at Last!
In the final two seasons of the CW’s Supergirl, Melissa Benoist got something she’d been asking for since season one: pants. Yes, Kara got a new costume this season, which covered up her legs at last. Although Supergirl was barely ever allowed to wear pants in the comics, this outfit changed the game. It definitely drew inspiration from a short-lived costume from the early ‘70s, only it improved on it. The latest comics costume for Kara took a cue from Melissa Benoist and finally added pants. But in a shocking twist, she has no cape, and has a jacket instead! We’re not sure how we feel about that.
The Flash’s Supergirl Costume
Sasha Calle will play Supergirl in The Flash, and this Kara Zor-El is different from anyone we’ve seen before. Just from the trailers, we can see she’s definitely harder-edged, and her costume looks more than a bit like Henry Cavill’s version. Although she is Kara, her costume was inspired by a non-Kara version of the Girl of Steel. It’s strikingly similar to Injustice’s Lara Kent, the daughter of Superman and Lois Lane. If Sasha Calle’s Supergirl returns, we expect yet another costume. After all, as you can see, the Maid of Might changing uniforms is as normal for her as flying.