The 2018 movie “Black Panther” could be declared the best film ever in the area of using African folk clothing as stage costumes. These attires show the African flavor like no other. Black Panther costume designers did a very good job creating the outfits of Black Panther characters, including jewels, accessories, and makeup. Many of the fabrics were even handmade using traditional methods. But let’s take a closer look at the clothes of Black Panther’s main characters: T’Challa, Shuri, Ramonda, Zuri, and Nakia.
The costumes of “Black Panther” were created by American costume designer Ruth E. Carter. Carter earned two Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design for Spike Lee's “Malcolm X” and Steven Spielberg's “Amistad”, and more recently, an Emmy nomination in 2016 for the reboot of “Roots”, based upon Alex Haley's novel.
So, let’s talk about the costumes created by Ruth E. Carter for the “Black Panther”.
Here's an incredible production shot of all of the Wakandan tribes in full costume.
Here is the look of all of the tribes in the movie, each tribe with their own distinctive color.
The Golden Tribe or the Panther Tribe are the ruling monarchy of Wakanda.
Costumes of T’Challa
During his battle with M’Baku, T’Challa wears these shorts with a front flap that are made from cloth, block-printed with a variety of Adinkra Symbols, which are a symbol of the Akan people of the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
In the astral plane, T’Challa wears this intricately embroidered pure white caftan. Although, depending on the region, it might be called an “abaya”, “djellaba”, or “thobe”.
After T’Challa’s many costumes, Ruth Carter said, “Everything had to be created for him. Everything was specially embroidered. Everything had a special tailoring because he's the king. It had to have a certain swagger and flow to it. It was the king's cloth!”
And just as a side note, this type of decoration on the caftan is called “passementerie trim”.
Here are some examples of very fine passementerie, taken from Pinterest.
Ruth Carter says of T’Challa’s royal garb, “We felt that in the typical sense of what happens in a throne room – you have the king and the crown and maybe, he's head of the military. So we gave him two things: kind of an open sandal so that it felt like Africa, but also, he wore a beautiful tailcoat”.
And once again, this coat has passementerie detail on both the front and sleeves.
This is another one of T’Challa’s garbs. It incorporates more of the Adinkra Symbols that are block-printed onto the robe in silver. And of this look, Carter says, “I wanted him to have this look of a king and also a military leader. He has the Wakandan kingly drape that moves around very elegantly, and we see it on him early, when he's walking with Nakia through the town. Everyone else around him is dressed in full-out colors and Afropunk, and it separates him and presents him as the king”.
In a Collider interview, Ruth Carter says of T’Challa’s vibrantly-bordered costume, “We gave him a lovely cloak adorned with Kente, and then we gave him military boots and pants. So he gives you two messages that he is princely, he is elegant but he is also the head of the military and we are in Africa”.
Ruth Carter has sourced some of the kente from collectors who had real ancient kente. In tradition, kente is used only on special occasions. Kente cloth, a fabric produced only in Ghana and Togo, Africa, is woven by Asante and Ewe weavers, using specially designed looms in 4-inch narrow strips that are then sewn together. A characteristic Asante kente has geometric shapes woven in bright colors along the entire length of the strip.
These examples of Kente Wrappers made from kente are from the Textile Museum of Canada.
Here are pictures of T’Challa’s robe in the Black Panther workroom.
Costumes of Princess Shuri
Princess Shuri is T’Challa’s baby sister and she designs new technology for Wakanda.
This first look of Shuri is a teenage Wakandan outfit that appears to show her youthful expression while keeping some of her cultural roots. The natural hues of her shirt and her cowry shell choker contrast nicely with the silver metallic accordion-pleated skirt. And the motif on her shirt is an Adinkra Symbol. This symbol is the “wawa aba”, named for the seed of the wawa tree. It represents hardiness, toughness, and perseverance. Civilizations throughout the world, including the Norse and the Egyptians, have similar symbols.
Here's a panther jaw, incorporated into Shuri’s tribal costume.
This Shuri’s costume is essentially a sleeveless unitard, and it's made out of a similar fabric to the other Panther suits but it sort of softened with the addition of a short sarong. And you might notice that her collar ends at her jawbone with the lower portion of a “panther jaw”.
Costumes of Queen Ramonda
Queen Ramonda is T’Challa and Shuri’s mother and she's also the advisor to T’Challa in his peaceful transition to power.
While many of the inhabitants of Wakanda represent that future Afropunk look, Ramonda is all tradition in this stunning near-white court dress.
Ruth Carter says, “I wanted to present an image that was the quintessential queen – hands down, no mistaking it. And I feel like when she's introduced, you know exactly who she is because she has this shoulder mantle, this crown, and this big dress. Her silhouette is very, very much of the Queen of Wakanda”.
Ramonda’s headdress is inspired by the headdresses worn by married women in the South African Zulu tribe.
Being a technologically advanced civilization in many ways, while still steeped in African tradition, Ruth Carter turned to modern processes to create Ramonda’s look, saying, “She is the queen of Wakanda and they are forward-thinking in technology, so her crown would have been crafted in the most forward-thinking manner. The triangles are perfect, the shape of the circle is perfect, and the only way you could achieve this is by doing it on a computer and have it printed in a 3d printer”.
She adds, “I felt that if she was the queen, there needed to be kind of like a legend [about the hat]. Or some kind of words written about the queen's hat – that if it faced north, south, east, and west, it was perfectly cylindrical. There was no side that was not perfect”.
Ruth Carter also took some African lace and had it computer-generated, working with Julia Koerner, UCLA professor who specializes in wearable art.
Many of Queen Ramonda’s jewelry pieces were handcrafted by jewelry designer and artist Dorian Fletcher. Ruth Carter says of her collaboration with the young designer, “I liked how committed she was towards her craft. I thought her style – this sort of handmade Seminole style – fit into the African diaspora, and ultimately, what I considered to be the artistic direction of the costumes. But mostly, I liked her personality – we laughed a lot”.
And in the scene, Ramonda and her daughter are exiled from the court. Her white hair, as we see it here, is taken directly from the Black Panther comics. Disney says of this, “The wig was made up of 120 pieces of hair that were literally rolled and handmade into multiple dreadlocks for the actress”.
Costumes of Zuri
Zuri is the lead priest and spiritual leader of Wakanda and he's sort of a mentor figure to Prince T’Challa. The priests are the sole caretakers of the temple and all royal rituals in the kingdom.
Like the court, his robes are in royal purple – the color of the heart-shaped vibranium herb, which is a plant that only exists in Wakanda. So, this long vest worn over his purple robe is comprised of narrow strips of curled jersey fabric and that from a distance, it kind of looks like rope. And the beaded geometric pattern on the front tab is created by a variety of seed beads and shell beads.
Zuri's elaborately pleated robe is likely commercially pleated – perhaps with a pinetree pleat or zigzag coral plate. And his undertunic, while difficult to decipher, appears to be made from an African wax print and then, it's ornamented with a variety of beads, shells, and buttons.
Costumes of Nakia
Nakia, a member of the River Tribe, is also a war dog, a Wakanda spy, who's often embedded in countries outside of Wakanda.
At first, Nakia was going to have a rather brutal, militaristic clothes, but Ruth Carter softened up her spy outfit by adding an African printed headscarf and a woven top in an African print. In an interview, Carter told Collider, “I have examined every spectrum of green. Green is a wonderful color because, like nature, all greens work together well. That was fascinating because she's such a beautiful tone. She [actor Lupita Nyong] can wear the chartreuse and the bottle green and all those greens so well”.
Ruth Carter adds that Nakia, seen here on set just outside her trailer, is the #1 warrior in the River Tribe and her look was inspired by the Sury tribe in Africa.
The Sury tribe inhabits the mountains of the Great Rift Valley in the plains of Southwestern Ethiopia.
In this scene, Nakia wears a green and gold leather dress, leggings, and thigh-high boots. Ruth Carter usually has some sort of covering on the female warriors' legs, which is really a departure from the comic book costumes of the past.
There is still some sexiness to the dress, with these little cutout sections and the racer-style armholes plus the bias cut skirt.
The construction of the bodice is pretty complicated. It appears to have a base that's made out of khaki green leather – it's actually more green than it looks here – and then, an overlay that's created with this gold and green leather geometric pattern.
Ruth Carter has added this chartreuse beaded necklace and then some stud earrings.
Nakia then adds this beautiful bright-green infinity scarf, which was a fan favorite. According to Ruth Carter, there were 4 yarns used for Nakia's wrap, from 3 different dyers.
While Nakia's South Korean casino look was a Bond girl. Carter tells Vulture that, “It seems as though it would be a sky-is-the-limit thing, but it really isn't because this is a superhero film and she is a superhero. There were parameters: She's entering the casino undercover as an African princess. She has to wear green, because she is a part of the River Tribe. She needs to look elegant, and therefore needs to wear an elegant dress. She also needs to be able to fight, so she needs to have a dress that will allow her to move and to fight”.
Ruth Carter explains, “So this is an original pattern-and-line work that's laid and printed on a stretch fabric. It's the same process that we use to print the fabric for the Black Panther suit, and it's to give her stretch and enough flexibility so that she could fight, The armbands kind of informed that she is protecting herself. And you can imagine that because the dress is from Wakanda, it might have Vibranium laced into it, so we did a metallic paint so that in a certain light really does kind of illuminate. This dress was actually a warrior dress, but it's in disguise”.
Here's an onset shot of actor Lupita Nyong dressed in one of her costumes. Check out the split-toe boots she's wearing.
And here's Nakia in the final look.