Fashion moments in the Marvel Universe are limited because function takes precedence over aesthetics when designing a superhero suit. The daily wearability of a skintight ensemble or even a machine-like visage is low — but there are notable exceptions on the style inspiration front, including Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) youthful athleisure, MJ’s (Zendaya) laid-back attire, and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) dipping her toe into the ‘90s trends in Captain Marvel.
Contemporary fashion and vintage from the last 20 years is not the only source of influence since the MCU timeline stretches back even further. Sartorial standout Agent Peggy Carter is an example of how form and function combine to create a highly covetable look. Hers is a decade-spanning journey of five movies, two seasons of her own show, and three Agents of SHIELD episodes — plus an appearance in the upcoming animated Disney+ series What If? — all of which have depicted a woman who knows her worth.
And what better way to celebrate actress Hayley Atwell's April 5 birthday than with a look back at her showstopping introduction in Captain America: The First Avenger?Military uniform has gone from standard issue to the runway via fashion designers who have taken cues from clothing that was originally crafted to protect those in the trenches and fighting battles in the sky. For the majority of Captain America, Peggy sticks to tailored uniforms, which includes outerwear that wouldn't look out of place in fashion magazines but was originally designed for practical purposes while under fire. The TV series spinoff leaned into the mid-century shift toward a masculine-meets-feminine style favored by movie stars like Katharine Hepburn, but Peggy is also a purveyor of this look when we first meet her.
WWII changed the norm for what women would wear daily; it is hard to turn the clock back after pants had become such a staple of working women. This transition is underscored in Agent Carter through Peggy's closet full of pantsuits and dresses. The costumes as designed by Anna B. Sheppard in Captain America are an MCU interpretation of the uniforms worn by the Allies during the war. Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) lapel pins are a reminder they are under the command of neither British or American forces, even if the overall aesthetic is similar.Peggy’s introduction is a lesson in how not to talk to a woman — an accent and fantastic lipstick is not an invitation to disrespect. From the first scene she appears in, there is a touch of glam, but the practicality of her uniform also comes into play. Pants and combat boots are worn out on the training field and in combat, denoting her active duty role. A pencil skirt in the lab depicts the on-trend '40s hourglass silhouette, while a cinched-in jacket accents the waist. It's a slight clothing restriction, but Peggy doesn't let her skirt stop her from rushing into the street to stop a dangerous thief. Her marksmanship and courage are underscored at this moment. She doesn't take a backseat either, later sneaking Steve into enemy territory and joining the last assault.
Leather is a fashion item now, but it began life as protective clothing — not that this stops Peggy from looking cool af in both her shearling flight jacket and the belted ground version. It is easy to see why these pieces are still appealing 80 years later.
It isn't all military issue ties and blouses; a brief sojourn to the pub delivers a jaw-dropping dress moment. In a 2011 Clothes on FIlm interview with costume designer Sheppard, another SYFY FANGRRLS favorite dress was mentioned as a reference point: “The red dress has become somewhat of my trademark for a showstopping number after using one in Inglourious Basterds. I designed this particular one as I wanted to show Hayley at her finest.” Red is the color of Peggy's signature lipstick — I own the Besame lip color she wore on Agent Carter and it makes me feel like I have special powers whenever I wear it — that stands out even when all other color is muted. It is also a repeat shade in her closet, from the signature hat in Season 1 to the dresses and suits she wears throughout. Significantly, the frock she wears in Avengers: Endgame when she finally gets to dance with Steve is also red. (It is worth noting that in Steve's Age of Ultron nightmare illusion, her dress is blue.)
A woman dressed in crimson can signify many things and for Peggy, it is more than just her tether to Steve. It stands for power, romance, and the fire that makes her a character to emulate both in her closet choices and attitude. From the very first moment she appears in uniform, she is a superhero. She might not have any extraordinary powers, but she doesn't need them to be important. So many have been drawn to this character (though sadly not enough to keep the show on for longer than two seasons) thanks to the potent combination of tenderness, optimism, and determination. Even in the movies in which she makes a wordless appearance, Atwell's performance speaks volumes. Both commanding in dress and manner, Agent Peggy Carter will always be in fashion.