Marvel’s Black Panther has been one of the biggest films to hit cinema, breaking several box office records in its first few weeks including overtaking Deadpool in having the largest President’s Day weekend opening, already having earned over $500 million worldwide since its release.
It has been hailed as a tremendous milestone for media and has been inspirational to people all over the world. Whilst the actors are of course credited for their amazing performances, a recognisable achievement is also the breathtaking work of costume designer Ruth Carter.
When coming up with ideas for the costumes to be worn in Black Panther, Carter drew inspiration from traditional and contemporary African fashion, the influences spanning from contemporary fashion designers who implement African techniques into their work to traditional African dress of various tribes and cultures. Particular peoples that helped inspire her work included the Tuareg, Zulu, Maasai, Hinga and Dinka tribes.
Carter was fascinated by the jewelry of the Tuareg, and their intricate beading techniques inspired much of the detail seen in the Wakandan’s everyday outfits.In Tuareg culture, it is the men who create all of the jewelry. They are especially famous for their silver work which includes hand-etched traditional designs often with symbolic meaning.
The hat that Angela Bassett’s character, Ramonda (T’Challa’s surrogate mother), wears in her first scene was inspired by hats traditionally worn by married Zulu women. The hat is large and features a perfectly cylindrical shape plus exquisite lace-work, the immaculate shaping most emphatically being inspired by the work of the Zulu. The type of hat she was influenced by is called an izicolo. Traditionally, the hats were to be intertwined with white or red cotton thread, were made out of grass, and were made to be up to a meter large so as to provide protection from the sun.
The Maasai are tribal natives of Kenya and Tanzania and heavily influenced the look of the Dora Milaje warriors. Recognisable is the influence of Maasai beading techniques, beadwork being an important part of Maasai culture. This can be seen in the large flat beaded disks around the necks of some of the warriors, traditionally worn by unmarried Maasai girls to promote their grace and flexibility through the movement of the disk.
These costumes give Wakandans their own outstanding form of expression, particularly being free of any colonial or western influence.
Commenting on what she hoped to achieve with the fashion on Black Panther herself, Ruth Carter stated to The Atlantic that:
She kept four words on her vision board as she designed: Beautiful. Positive. Forward. Colorful. The costumes had to fit seamlessly into the film, telling a story of their own but not competing with or distracting from the plot.