Author Sarah Kuhn Geeks Out About Superhero Fashion

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Image: Melanie R. Meadors
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

This week, author and essayist Sarah Kuhn joins us to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: superhero fashion! I know I was tickled to learn that I do, in fact, own the same “Girl Gang Star Wars bag” Sarah mentions below. Check out her new novel, Heroine Complex, now available in bookstores everywhere.

I love clothes.

I’ve always been intrigued by the way people put together outfits as a means of expression and one of my great joys in life is pawing through thrift stores for those perfect pieces that convey my personal style. I am also fascinated by the various ways fashion is described in fiction: as a child, I obsessively re-read all the passages of the Baby-Sitters Club books that lovingly described Claudia Kishi’s “wild” outfits.

When I was writing Heroine Complex, which chronicles the adventures of two Asian American superheroines as they fight demons, work through friendships, and fall in love, I was very aware of the characters’ fashion choices because I felt it gave a lot of insight into them as people. Evie Tanaka, the protagonist and narrator, likes to be comfortable and blend into her surroundings, so she has a uniform of jeans, Chuck Taylors, and t-shirts with various cartoon characters on them. This is in direct contrast to Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang), Evie’s superheroine boss and childhood best friend, who prides herself on fabulousness and dons all manner of flashy costumes that utilize a wide range of spandex, leather, and glitter.

I take a lot of my own fashion cues from the comic book superheroines I grew up loving, so “designing” looks for both Evie and Aveda was one of the most fun parts of writing the book. Here are a few favorite superhero fashion choices that continue to influence my own style—and may have influenced theirs as well.

Dazzler’s boots: I know some fans find the whole concept of the X-Men’s resident rollerskating disco queen to be kind of dated, but I still think her style is glorious. I mean, she’s the only superhero I can think of who has skates that attach to her boots. I’ve never actually been able to accomplish that particular feat since I’m bad at staying remotely upright while rollerskating, but white boots are a staple of my wardrobe, particularly if they are vintage and involve any kind of fringe or sparkle element.

Supergirl’s and Emma Frost’s capes: The drama of a cape simply can’t be underestimated and Supergirl and Emma Frost both wear them particularly well—I am especially fond of Emma’s off-the-shoulder version, which gives the whole look an extra bit of flair. Capes can seem a bit costume-y in real life and I wasn’t sure if I could rock one until I went shopping at one of those “clothes by the pound” places and happened upon a ’70s gown with a bunch of floaty chiffon attached to the shoulders and wore it to my friend’s Second Chance Prom. Now I can definitively say that I would like to get capes attached to all my clothes—feeling that mass of fabric billowing gracefully around me totally gave me an extra layer of majesty and confidence, especially while dancing the night away.

Marvel Girl’s dress: While I enjoy a spandex bodysuit as much as the next person, they usually aren’t great for everyday wear. I’ve always loved the simple, skater-esque cut of Jean Grey’s little green dress back when she was Marvel Girl and I especially love it paired with those bright yellow boots. Marvel Girl Dress + Boots actually describes like eighty percent of my outfits. It’s a fairly easy, comfy look to assemble and it always makes me feel slightly more put together than those times when I just can’t deal and wear the same ratty leggings for three days in a row.

Jessica Jones’s jacket: Jessica Jones had cool jacket choices and an endless array of bad-ass tank tops in the Alias comic book. But on the Jessica Jones TV show, her signature leather jacket has fully ascended to iconic territory. An awesome jacket is another thing that makes me feel just that much more pulled together and I keep hoping it will also help me convey Jessica’s steely “don’t mess with me” attitude.

The Girl Gang’s Star Wars bag: I’m lucky enough to be part of multiple awesome geek girl gangs—something my outcast younger self would be absolutely floored by. Somehow one of the geek girl gangs ended up all owning the same Star Wars bag and there’s constant, hilarious confusion when we accidentally put them down in the same place during dinner or something. I love having a cool geek purse because I don’t remember such a thing existing when I was younger—and also because said purse is big enough to hold my laptop, several books, and everything else I insist on hauling around with me. And this counts as superhero fashion because my geek girl gangs are my real life superheroes—they inspire me every day.

Image: DAW Books
Image: DAW Books

About Heroine Complex:

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right… or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

Photo: CapozKnows Photography
Photo: CapozKnows Photography

About Sarah Kuhn: 

Sarah Kuhn is the author of Heroine Complex—the first in a series starring Asian American superheroines—for DAW Books. She also wrote The Ruby Equation for the Eisner-nominated comics anthology Fresh Romance and the romantic comedy novella One Con Glory, which earned praise from io9 and USA Today and is in development as a feature film. Her articles and essays on such topics as geek girl culture, Asian American representation, and Sailor Moon cosplay have appeared in The Toast, Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, AngryAsianMan.com, IGN.com, Back Stage, The Hollywood Reporter, StarTrek.com, Creative Screenwriting, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. In 2011, she was selected as a finalist for the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award. You can visit her at heroinecomplex.com or on Twitter: @sarahkuhn.

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