12 Comic Book Fashion Icons of the 1980s
Back in the 1980s, most comic books (and the artists who drew them) were not usually up on the latest fashion trends. Still, there were a handful that stand out now as being very much keyed into the styles of their times. One of these was a little known comic called Fashion in Action by John K. Snyder III (who would later draw runs on Matt Wagner’s Grendel and DC’s Suicide Squad). Fashion in Action is being reprinted for the first time thanks to a Kickstarter run by editor Hope Nicholson. Hope was kind enough to co-write this list of comic book fashion icons of the 1980s with me. Special thanks to fashion designer Dani Vulnavia who also provided some valuable insights.
In 1983, the X-men’s Storm had one of the most unexpected and talked-about makeovers in comics history. In Uncanny X-men #173, the weather-controlling mutant, who had always worn a flowing cape that matched her long white tresses, suddenly showed up in a black leather vest, studded choker, and a mohawk. Her personality also underwent a shift that matched her new look. The serene young woman who was considered a goddess in her native Kenya was now more direct and aggressive and would soon grow into a strong, decisive leader—characteristics she would retain from that day forward.
Storm’s famous mohawk appalled some of her fellow X-men, who seemed to equate her cutting her hair with irrevocable change (and this is coming from mutants who see their teammates die and come back to life on a regular basis). Artist Paul Smith had actually proposed the “Mr. T” look as a joke, not expecting Marvel editorial to actually go for it. Made popular by punk rockers and non-conformists in the early 1980s, a mohawk was usually visual shorthand in comics for someone who was trouble—not a hero—but this look is what now comes to mind for many readers when they think of Storm. The mohawk will make its big screen debut this year when actress Alexandra Shipp plays Storm in X-men: Apocalypse.
2. DAKOTA NORTH
Dakota North first appeared in a five-issue mini-series in 1986 that wasn't much of a hit, and afterwards she was relegated to sporadic guest appearances in other comics. Nonetheless, comics fans from that era can recall this striking ad above drawn by series artist and Dakota co-creator Tony Salmons. Dakota’s short, sharp bob and motorcycle jacket signaled that this series would be taking fashion very seriously. In fact, the stylish private eye’s first case involved protecting a famous fashion designer.
North’s heavy tapered power suits were similar to those made popular by real-life fashion designer Thierry Mugler.
3. MAGGIE CHASCARILLO AND HOPEY GLASS
Jaime Hernandez’s contributions to the long-running comics anthology series Love & Rockets centered mostly around Maggie Chascarillo and Hopey Glass, two young women who become friends—and occasionally lovers—amidst the post-punk music scene of 1980s Southern California. Feisty and hard-edged Hopey is the true punk whose style rubs off on the more sensitive, feminine Maggie. They both experiment with spikey hairstyles, torn leggings, black leather, and punk band t-shirts. Maggie and Hopey’s fashion sense made them icons for the post-punk, new wave era of the early ‘80s.
4. FRANCES KNIGHT
Frances Knight was the leader of the stylish, expensive, and incredibly powerful all-girl protection agency called Fashion In Action. Her style was influenced by Annie Lennox and David Bowie, with some shades of "The Man in the Hathaway Shirt" ads thanks to her pressed suits and eye patch. She looked like she was right out of a Theirry Mugler-Helmut Newton collaboration. Her long, ragged coats that gave the appearance of a cape on top of neatly pressed suits reflected her powerful personality and her dark, tortured past.
Fashion in Action ran as a series of eight-page backup stories in Eclipse Comics’ Scout beginning in 1986. Written and illustrated by John K. Snyder III, it was set in the year 2086 where 100-year-old clothing styles were still in vogue. This mostly forgotten series has never been reprinted—until now, thanks to a Kickstarter running this month.
Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest was a pioneer of the independent comic movement in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Set in a fantasy world similar to Earth but populated by elves, the style of clothing was influenced by late-era hippie fashions of the ‘70s with lots of fringe leather. However, in 1987, Elfquest returned after a two-year hiatus with a new series called Siege at Blue Mountain in which you could see a shift to reflect a more contemporary ‘80s culture. Suddenly, winsome heroine Dewshine traded in the luxurious curly locks inspired by Twiggy for the blown-out metal hair of David Lee Roth. Even her makeup became more ‘80s glam rock with sharper contours and heavier eye-shadow.
As a successful lawyer, She-Hulk was a Melanie Griffith-style working girl in the late 1980s, starring in her own self-titled series written and drawn by John Byrne. She often wore stylish power suits like those designed by Ralph Lauren and, in her downtime, could be seen wearing oversized comfy sweaters and brightly colored party dresses with an Espirit vibe.
7. GALATIA 9
The heroines of the sci-fi series Starstruck—inspired by the off-Broadway stage play of the same name—had an aesthetic influenced by roller derbies and art-house fashion. Series artist Michael Wm. Kaluta was also the designer of the costumes for the show, along with Elaine Lee who wrote and starred in the play and wrote the comic. Kaluta cobbled together the costumes by dumpster-diving and finding discarded clothing on the streets. These days, superhero costumes are often designed with easy cosplaying in mind, but the costumes of Starstruck existed in reality before coming to the page, giving them a realistic, DIY feel.
Galatia 9, a captain and freedom fighter, wore an asymmetrical outfit that showed skin yet didn’t feel sexualized. One side of her body suit was all business with thick wrestler's boots and gold armor plating while the other side was mostly bare and featured a star-shaped breastplate where her right breast should be (she is of Amazonian origin, hence the lack of one breast).
8. RACHEL SUMMERS
When refugee mutant from the future Rachel Summers joined the X-men in their present world of 1984, she took her time before settling on a legitimate superhero name and costume. For a while, she would accompany the team while wearing jazzercise outfits, but she also rocked a lot of stylish gender-neutral attire like suspenders or a jacket and tie. She even offset her close-cropped red hair with a long, single braid.
Eventually, Rachel would take on the name Phoenix and don a series of costumes in homage to her mother, Jean Grey, the original Phoenix. But by the end of the 1980s, she had moved to a punky, spiked battle suit and, in her down time, wore aggressive and sexy red leather outfits much in the style that designer Jean-Claude Jitrois had made popular at the time.
9. GINGER FOX
In the 1986 graphic novel The World of Ginger Fox by Mike Baron and Mitch O’Connell, a single mother and businesswoman tries to resurrect a failing Hollywood film studio and gets caught up in the world of drugs, gangs, and martial arts. This is a mostly forgotten but wonderfully illustrated comic that you can now read in its entirety online. O’Connell drew Fox in big-shouldered corporate attire, but also featured tight party dresses, buttoned-down suit dresses, and high, teased hair. Her sexy, abstract style was very similar to the fashions of Claude Montana, who played a lot with volume, cuts, and color.
10. SINDI SHADE
Created by Peter Milligan and the late Brett Ewins in 1985, Sindi Shade was a back-up story in Johnny Nemo magazine. It featured a young girl trying to find the truth behind the mysterious Librarians in a dystopian future. Her look featured big purple hair with dark lightning streaks, clunky accessories, a ripped shirt, high-waisted tights, and fishnet pantyhose. Her cyber-punk look might have been influenced by Jean Paul Gaultier's constructivist lines mixed with elements of underground glam fetish.
11. CRYSTAL GALE MARAKOVA
The mid-'80s sci-fi satire American Flagg! envisioned an America in the 2030s that was drowning in mall culture and rampant sexual promiscuity. The look of the series is perhaps best remembered for every female character's penchant for elaborate lingerie (a few years before Victoria’s Secret would begin to make that trend mainstream), but series creator Howard Chaykin was a bit of a fashion maven and incorporated a lot of early 20th century retro-style (with an ‘80s twist) to the design of his characters' wardrobes.
Crystal Gale Marakova personified a fusion of all the styles that Chaikin seemed infatuated with: officer attire, garters and stockings, a 1920s Louise Brooks hairstyle, and a Cold War blend of Soviet and American chic thanks to Crystal’s own cross-cultural heritage.
DC Comic super heroines in the 1980s were awash in headbands, from Black Canary to Fire, but the original headband wearer was Supergirl. The look was derived from the 1984 Supergirl movie starring Helen Slater, or, at least what DC thought was going to be the look in the film. When test footage of Slater wearing the headband was revealed in 1983, the studio encouraged DC to have the comic book character begin wearing the accessory to create a visual continuity with the film. She debuted it in Supergirl #17 in November 1983, but then a funny thing happened: The studio changed their mind about the headband and Slater never wore it in the film.
The headband look would die with Supergirl and the entire multiverse about a year later in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths #7.