Mary Robinette Kowal – The Worst-Dressed Women Warriors in Fantasy


Today we are going to talk about the wildly inappropriate clothing that female fighters wear in fantasy movies. See, it’s like this: I can’t come up with any reason that otherwise intelligent and well-trained women warriors would choose to enter battle wearing what can best be described as lingerie except to fulfill a whole other kind of fantasy. Indeed, unless these women are disguising themselves as men (more on that later), their principle weapon is their knockers — and I’m not talking about medieval clubs. 

Red Sonja, Red Sonja (1985)
red_sonja_125.jpgThe titular character (Brigitte Nielsen) here is a strong willed young woman endowed with supernatural strength, skill with a sword… and judging by her costume, other attributes as well. When facing large groups of armed men, what makes her think that a leather sundress is the best thing for fighting? We’re talking about people with blades — giant pieces of sharp metal that they want to stick her with, and that scrap of leather just isn’t going to do a thing to serve as protection. Besides all that, she’s got the world’s longest mullet. If you’ve ever worn your hair long, you know that what it does — indeed, what it seems designed to do — is get in your eyes. This is a bad idea when you’re fighting.

Zulu, Conan the Destroyer (1984)
zulu_conan_125.jpgZulu (Grace Jones) at least has a sensible hair cut. This is the only good thing I can say about her wardrobe choice, though. The rest of it is… basketwoven leather? It’s like she wanted to pre-perforate her garment.I suppose it breathes better than, you know, armor. But Queen Taramis wears full body armor. Doesn’t this strike anyone else as a good idea? Just saying, you know, that wearing metal between you and the poky things might be a good plan.

Guinevere, King Arthur (2004)
kiera.jpgGuinvere (Keira Knightley) seems to have confused her belt with her bra here. No, wait, I know: She saw the The Fifth Element and thought that the fantasy version of the Ace Bandage Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) wears would be leather straps. I have news for you: If that group of women were actually facing male warriors dressed only in mud and straps of leather, they’d get slaughtered. I suppose it’s possible that their plan was to distract the men by fighting almost naked, but it’s still a bad plan.

The White Witch, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)
Narnia_125.jpgThe White Witch’s (Tilda Swinton) costume is both savage and graceful, and yet completely daft for combat — a recurring theme, you’ll notice, because wearing sensible clothing looks too masculine (see: Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings) and clearly a woman’s primary onscreen value is sexiness.The Witch has bare arms and is prone to striking poses instead of actually fighting. Any sane warrior would chop her arms off at the first opportunity. As if that weren’t enough, she’s wearing a chainmail skirt. Now, granted, this is the first woman that’s actually worn something to protect her legs, but have you ever tried to move swiftly in a long skirt? They tangle. And I don’t even like to think about how much chainmail weighs.

Elektra, Elektra (2005)
elektra-125.jpgJennifer Garner’s character here may not be your prototypical fantasy heroine, but as an assassin trained in hand-to-hand combat and medieval weaponry (everything from blades to bows), not to mention the fact that she’s been resurrected from the dead, I’d say she counts. And let me tell you, her costume might be the silliest of them all. Three words: Red Silk Teddy. Sure, it covers more than, say, leather straps, but it’s silk. I guess she’s counting on another resurrection to save her from this fighter faux pas. Either that, or perhaps a victim that’s too aroused to prevent his own death?

Granted, fantasy doesn’t have a total lock-down on the stupid clothes for women warriors. Check out the worst that scifi has to offer:

1. Barbarella (1968) – Four words: Undressing in zero gravity.
2. Blade Runner (1982) – Pris’s (Darryl Hannah) garb consists of netting, a dog collar and mime makeup. Admittedly, this is the only time Darryl Hannah has looked dangerous.
3. Sin City (2005) – Will someone please tell Gail (Rosario Dawson) that a thong will not be her friend during a shootout?
4. Watchmen (2009) – How tall are Jupiter’s (Malin Ackerman) heels? Three inches? I defy her to stand in those, let alone fight crime.
5. Transporter 2 (2005) – There’s a reason garters went out of style, Lola (Kate Nauta). It’s because they aren’t practical.

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To read about Mary Robinette Kowal’s feelings on male warrior outfits in fantasy (which tend to involve bared butts), click here.

Mary Robinette Kowal is the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a professional puppeteer. Her first novel Shades of Milk and Honey is being published by Tor in 2010.

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