The Evolution of Harley Quinn


Harley Quinn is by far, one of my favorite characters of all time. Her strength, smarts, and quick wit set her apart and her charismatic nature is what really endears me to her. Most of all, she’s a well developed, well loved character and with the release of her own film, is understandbly popular. Birds of Prey and The Emancipation of one Harley Quinn, is a fan-love story. It’s an ode to who Harley is, and it’s a love song that is played out through the costume and wardrobe design choices all the way down to the writing.

Harley debuted in 1992 as a side character on Bruce Timm’s Batman cartoon. Then, appeared in a comic titled “Mad Love” which began her descent and story of being Mr. J’s gal. It’s evolved over time, different writers taking on different stories, but some things always stayed the same.

Harley’s evolution and character development wasn’t written by just one person, but by many. Her story is one of strength, of isolation, of domestic violence and survival. It’s a common story for a lot of women, and along with that, her sexuality being claimed by men, versus when she claims her own sexuality as she free’s herself from Mr. J.

Her sexualization didn’t even become a trope of her objectification as the Joker’s side kick until Arkham Asylum (WB Games). Something that held strong as men drew her for fan-service and cast aside her traditional Jester attire. This led up to the Suicide Squad film and comics, where it’s very obvious in the choice of direction that Harley is “an object” and not her own person. It’s only after earning her freedom from SS that she is able to reclaim herself-slowly over time. It’s the beginning of her seperation from Mr. J, and her acknowledgement that she’s a strong bad-ass woman.

The New 52/Rebirth comics do a great job of developing this and showing how trauma can impact someone’s own values, belief, and looks. How when you really love someone, you’ll do anything-even if it’s unhealthy. We see how much of an empath Harley is. She grows, and learns that real love isn’t having someone toss you in to a vat of acid, or leaving you locked up when they said they’d save you. Her emotions play out through her wardrobe, and her ability to express herself. She’s no longer dressing sexy for the male gaze, but rather, she’s doing it for herself.

The film seems to encompass these elements by paying key attention to her look with subtle nods at this in her fashion choices.
By wearing a shirt that says “Harley Quinn” repeated heavily in a bold serif font, to the clear jacket that has caution tape strewn about the sleeves along with electrical tape. As if to say “I’m here and beware”. Each costume in the film has emotional ties to Harley Quinn’s personality and style.

While on screen they tested a multitude of color combinations, I think the sparkly and shiny gold is a great basic wardrobe piece. It’s not a “costume”, it’s just “I have this in my closet” look. It’s a step away from her original jester attire but also plays tribute to it with the diamonds and over-all shape and structure. Harley is free to be herself finally, and doesn’t need to hide behind a mask any longer. We see this evolution of freedom spaced out across her journey through the comics, and into the movie.

Each outfit seems to have been a manifestation of her mind and a reflection into the soul of who Harley Quinn is. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She studied, went to college, and has spent time in Arkham Asylum. She is intelligent, caring, and loyal to the ones she loves. As she let’s go of the Joker, she also let’s go of being his shadow and doormat. She embraces her own style and find’s color that is more bright and happy.

With Birds of Prey, the film took a lot of my own favorite story line’s and incorporated them into the film. Harley Quinn is here to kick ass and take names. Her wardrobe is a commalgeration of her personality, and I feel that New 52/DC Rebirth Harley shows us just that.

Harley wears the caution tape jacket with a see-through back early in the film as she blows up Ace Chemicals and then runs through the streets of Gotham City in an attempt to outrun the cops and some of Black Mask’s men.

The designer Erin Benach did a piece for Business Insider that explains their own thought process behind the caution tape jacket:

“Harley, she’s anti-establishment,” said Benach of the inspiration for the colorful jacket. “Caution tape is the scene of a crime and the establishment. It made so much sense to me that she would take that symbol and essentially deface it and take it on as her own.”

Benach said the caution tape wings are supposed to have a do-it-yourself sensibility. 

“She would be able to maybe make that jacket and come up with that idea and just say, ‘I’ve broken up with The Joker. I’m independent now and I’m going to go party,'” said Benach of the symbolism behind the jacket.

Though feeling like a fun party, which is very much in line with Harley’s personality, the caution tape is also supposed to add another level of subtext. 

“The other part of caution tape is like, ‘Don’t f— with me,'” said Benach.”