The Costuming in 'Captain Marvel' Serves Major Lesbian Energy

Or is this just wishful thinking?

by Emma Specter
Mar 19 2019, 2:35pm

"My name is CAROL!" shrieks Brie Larson, aka Carol Danvers, aka Vers, at a pivotal scene in the new fantasy/sci-fi film Captain Marvel. As she engaged in battle, my mind wandered—as it so often does—to the 2015 lesbian drama Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Could this possibly be a coincidence? (Also—her Kree name is Vers?)

All joking aside, there's something decidedly queer about Captain Marvel, with LGBTQIA+ fans devising endless conspiracy theories about the film's protagonist, Carol, and her "close friend" Maria. Of course, it's possible that we're just so unused to seeing female action heroes chart their own path, without hetero romance to guide them through, that a merely platonic friendship is setting off Sapphic alarm bells; the movie's costuming, though, tells a different story.

Photo via IMDb.

Clothes aren't the main point of Captain Marvel, by a long shot—indeed, Carol spends half the film in her skintight crime-fighting suit, which looks more or less like what we've come to expect female superheroes to be dressed in, no matter what year it is. Still, there's an irrepressible esprit de queer to the outfits Carol wears in flashbacks to her life on Earth, from her perfectly fitted Air Force flight suit and aviators to the muscle tee she dons to party with Maria at a local bar.

Photo via IMDb.

When Carol is brought back to Earth from the Kree Empire's capital planet of Hala, it's 1995, arguably the peak era for dressing like a lesbian; Carol drapes herself in an oversized leather jacket, Nine Inch Nails tee and baseball cap and steals a motorcycle, with Samuel L. Jackson's S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury telling her at one point to "lose the flannel"—homophobic!

Brie Larson is the kind of petite, dewy-skinned celebrity who looks perfectly at home in a flowing Oscars gown, yet somehow, she makes Carol's '90s trappings look like a second skin.

Photo via IMDb.

Leather serves as the de facto fabric of Carol and Maria's bond, with Maria's daughter Monica hanging onto Carol's faded, brown leather jacket after her presumed death. When we meet Maria, she's wearing a denim flight suit over a striped tee with a gold cursive necklace spelling out "Monica"—her bond with Carol is immediate and not in the least bit femme (they joke about racing to work, accusing each other of cheating). Their eventual separation on Maria's front lawn, as Carol prepares to go back to Hala to take care of business, is perhaps the film's most tearjerking moment; it's clear that Carol is saying goodbye not just to friends, but to chosen family.

Photo via IMDb.

Carol and Maria aren't the only ones serving lesbian energy in Captain Marvel; my deranged gay thesis is perhaps best proved by the appearance of Annette Bening, a firmly established member of the queer film canon thanks to her role in 2010's The Kids Are All Right. Mama Bening takes no prisoners in Captain Marvel, from her skintight Hala suit to a pivotal jeans-and-leather-jacket moment of her own. (If I may paraphrase one of Oscar night's greatest tweets, top—and I can't stress this enough—me, Annette Bening.)

Photo via IMDb.

All this gets at a bigger question, one of what it even means to "dress queer." Political correctness says queerness is an identity, an orientation, not an outfit, but it can't be denied that the process of selecting a new wardrobe can be a pivotal part of the coming-out process for newly minted queers.

In my small Ohio college town, I saw female and nonbinary friend after friend commence dating women and immediately shove half of their femme-presenting clothes into the shadowy, spiderwebbed back of the closet, jettisoning the floral-print Madewell sundresses we'd sported for freshman convocation and squinting appraisingly at themselves in the Goodwill full-length mirror—"Am I the Hawaiian shirt kind of gay?" "Do these pants tell the world I like women?""Can I pull off a carabiner?"

I anxiously evaluated the length of my hair in my rearview mirror on my way to my very first date with a woman, wondering whether I needed a feathery Shane chop to tell the world I was officially out. Watching Brie Larson jam a grimy baseball cap over her flowing locks and save the world while communicating strong futch vibes feels like an emphatic "no" in answer to that question.

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