Photograph courtesy of Warner Bros. & DC Comics

Fashion’s love affair with felines keeps the catsuit’s cultural motto alive.

When it comes to the femme fatale archetype, Catwoman reigns supreme.

The complex character – who distinguishes between villain and anti-hero – represents power, independence and perseverance. All of these traits are embodied in her signature outfit: the catsuit.

Since The Batman hit theaters on March 5, audiences were blown away by Zoë Kravitz’s performance as the infamous Selina Kyle. And although his uniform has been reinvented many times since the 1940s, the novelty of the suit has never waned. That’s thanks (in part) to fashion’s fascination with felines.

Photograph courtesy of Warner Bros. & DC Comics

By nature, cats are intelligent and independent, but these shy companions are often misjudged. Cats have long been used by fashion designers and have therefore been associated with women, but animals have a complicated history that falls into public favor.

In many ancient cultures, cats were revered in mythology and linked to blessings like fertility and protection. But in medieval Europe they became associated with witchcraft, hence the black cat’s reputation for bad luck. In the late 1800s, Queen Victoria helped bring the felines returned to public favor when she had her cats treated as members of her royal court. Animals then began to be viewed as pets and cat imagery in fashion marketing took off.

In more recent history, cats have been used to negatively portray women (we’re all familiar with the “cat-crazy” trope). On the other hand, they have been used to represent disruptive women, having been used by the suffragettes and lesbian rights movements in the 1900s. Through their associations with unconventional ideas about femininity, cats became an inherently feminist symbol.

fashionista note that cats were also compared to luxury buyers, thanks to their temperamental personalities, self-reliance and overall chic. This is perhaps why felines are constantly referenced on the catwalks, anchored in fashion vocabulary (cat-eye, catwalk, kitten heels). This brings us back to the catsuit, and why it remains one of the most iconic outfits of all time.

The one-piece swimsuit gained popularity in the space age era of the 1960s, when French designer André Courrèges launched a futuristic collection consisting of glasses, Moon Boots, astronaut helmets and long-sleeved suits.

Since then, they have been a marker of strong women in film series like The matrix, Kill Bill and of course, Batman. But this particular feline aesthetic has also been heavily sexualized, with the catsuit now considered the quintessential salacious Halloween costume.

The catsuit has an alluring mystique that reclaims hypothetical narratives surrounding cats and femininity. While her fitted silhouette is inherently feminine, it also invokes an air of power and authority.

With the release of The Batman, the feline maintains its powerful hold in the fashion world. Over the past year, catsuits have had a major style resurgencewith stars like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna opting for campy and bright versions of the piece.

The dramatized cat’s eye has also been highlighted in pop culture recently, thanks in part to Julia Fox’s Controversial Ink Makeup which was replicated on the runways throughout fashion month.

As new Catwomen come and go, Selina Kyle’s alter-ego is forever scarred by the catsuit she wears. In the ’60s, the Catwoman costume was definitely more embellished, from Julie Newmar’s chunky jewelry to Eartha Kitt’s redone ponytail. Michelle Pfeiffer introduced the ultra-sexy catsuit in 1992, complete with stitches and shiny latex. Halle Berry’s 2004 rendition of the costume featured a daring stomach-carrying latex ensemble, while Anne Hathaway’s 2012 reprise of the role involved an athletic full-body zipper.

Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman costume is less flashy than its predecessors. Because Kravtiz didn’t take on the Catwoman moniker in this film, her costume is a DIY, including a durable backpack and a cut-out mask she made herself. Personality-wise, she portrays a more vulnerable Selina Kyle, taking on the role of co-lead instead of the villain she experienced in previous films.

The catsuit represents the complex relationship between feminine energy, felines and fashion. With each new iteration, Catwoman captures the often misunderstood nature of cats with her elusive demeanor and bold outfit. It’s no wonder our obsession with her uniform never gets old.

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