The Importance of Pepper Potts’ Pants

Posted by Anika

The following contains many SPOILERS for the film The Avengers (2012). The first sentence is a spoiler. Please do not read more if you are concerned about spoilers for this film because this essay contains many!

Pepper Potts wears cut off denim shorts.

Pepper Potts wears cut off denim shorts. And an untucked, wrinkled, button down shirt. And no shoes.

This is an opening scene. Iron Man’s opening scene, of course. My reaction to Pepper appearing on screen cannot be expressed in words, I must resort to emoticons:

!!!!!

O.O

. . .

O.o

!!!!!!!!!

: D

Pepper (my favorite character in the Avengers movie franchise) has maybe 90 seconds total screentime in The Avengers. It was probably a day’s work for Gwyneth Paltrow to film her three scenes. And I’m using the word “scene” loosely; she only speaks in that first opening scene. In cut off denim shorts and bare feet.

And it is perfect.

I’m not going to review or recap the movie; there are more than 50 billion reviews and recaps out there and I trust everyone everywhere is going to go see it for themselves anyway. I want to talk about the clothes. Because the costume design of this film is genius.

The things done with color are amazing. When not in his standard red-white-and-blue, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is dressed in muted browns. Only the scientist Selwig (Stellan Skarsgard) wears anything similar and he is an older gentleman who’d been living in small town middle America, where the world hasn’t changed as much since 1943. During the emotional scenes after the first battle, Steve is dressed in his Captain-America-Blue undershirt — neither in costume nor out of it while he discusses his future as an Avenger.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) wear black on black accessorized with black. They are the three most morally ambiguous characters. Natasha has splashes of red throughout, which tie in directly to her dialogue about having “red on her ledger” — debts left over from her dark past. Her main, and familiar, uniform has the Black Widow spider hourglass design on her belt. She wears a red blouse on the helicarrier. And in her opening scene she is dressed in a very little Little Black Dress and stockings, and her knee is bloodied.

This scene was released as part of the promotional push. I was avoiding all spoilers (and all reviews before I’d done writing this) so I haven’t read any but I can imagine a negative reaction to the first shot of the Avengers only female team member being dressed as a disheveled and bloodied tart and tied to a chair. It’s in line with the character however, and the situation. Natasha dressed that way on purpose. She plays roles and she uses her whole arsenal. And because her first red-mark in styling is literal blood, our mind associates her red touches worn throughout the rest of the film with blood. Clint doesn’t get any red, or purple, splashes but has a very similar silhouette to Natasha’s. It seems deliberate.

Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) does get purple. Specifically, the costume he wears for the majority of his non-Hulked scenes is a slightly too big, slightly wrinkled purple button down. It is a perfect reference to Hulk’s purple pants in the original comics. And I have to say the CG for Hulk was incredibly well done. And the characterization was even better. I am not a fan of the character but I really liked him in this film (aside: please don’t make another Hulk movie and screw it up; make the Black Widow movie that was so well set up in this story).

Then there were the people costumed specifically to either stand out or blend in. Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and the rest of SHIELD wore dark blue uniforms. I liked that there was some variety in the cut and style but they were all clearly the same uniform. Even Natasha wears a version of the same uniform, in black. Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) wore his traditional Man In Black suit which made him Everyman (so of course he is the one Joss Whedon killed off).

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) had the most distinctly Other costumes because they are aliens. Thor’s costume changed slightly from his first appearance, in my view to make him appear even bigger and a little bit meaner. Loki has two distinct looks: the Midgardian aristocrat and the Asgardian king. It’s telling that neither look is in line with either his birth planet or the army of evil aliens he is working with. Loki wants to be accepted and all powerful as he is. The Devil Wears Prada earther look he goes about in shows that he understands Earth is populated with people who have been conditioned to revere money and status. His horned look — aptly dubbed Reindeer Games by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) — is scary, but it is also how Loki sees himself when he thinks of ruling the worlds. And it is Asgardian.

Tony Stark wears a Black Sabbath t-shirt. Black Sabbath released a song entitled “Iron Man” in 1970 which is about the time Tony was born in the movieverse timeline. The song has nothing whatsoever to do with Iron Man the superhero but it was used in the first Iron Man film and has become somewhat irrevocably tied to the character as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. So he, RDJ as Tony Stark as Iron Man in The Avengers, wears a Black Sabbath band tee. Tony Stark as Iron Man in The Avengers has appropriated the song and made it all about him. And that is the most perfect characterization of Tony Stark as told by clothing since he asked JARVIS to add some Hot Rod Red to his Mach 2 suit.

Which brings us back to Pepper and her pants. Tony Stark would tell you, RDJ would probably tell you, and most of the media, fans, and people-in-the-know would probably agree that without Iron Man, the film and the man, there would be no The Avengers. I’m not in-the-know but I don’t disagree. I just have one addendum: without Pepper Potts there would be no Iron Man. Imagine that first movie without her. Imagine Tony without her. He can’t, can you?

Pepper is the proof that Tony Stark has a heart.

Pepper appears three times in The Avengers. At the very end, when Tony leaves our planet briefly and thinks he may not survive the trip, he tries to call her. She doesn’t pick up because she is watching disaster unfold all around him. She’s too focused on what’s happening to Tony (and the rest of the world) to notice his phone call. I imagine Pepper will keep that missed call alert in her phone log FOREVER. But luckily for us all, Tony does survive and the last scene of the film proper is Tony and Pepper gleefully redesigning Stark Tower into Avengers Tower.

For these two ending scenes, Pepper is dressed in her standard well dressed businesswoman attire. Professional but feminine, and notably expensive. Even in her distress she is impeccably put together. In the opening scene with Tony she is wearing cut off denim shorts, a generic white button down shirt, and no shoes. She is relaxed.

Tony and Pepper are a couple and the only couple who appear on screen. This makes Pepper the stand in love interest for the entire story. Tony has to be the one in the most peril at the end because he is the one with someone to say goodbye to. In contrast, when Coulson dies, Steve asks if he had a wife and Tony answers no. He had a flirtation with a cellist — a detail Tony and we only know because Pepper knew. Pepper was Phil Coulson’s friend. She gives us what’s behind the Agent, too. That first scene with Phil, Tony, and Pepper in pants seems like a simple character piece when we watch it. But it comes back in two very important scenes — Coulson’s death, which is billed as the push they needed in order to be a team; and the final climax with Tony redirecting a nuclear weapon somewhere on the other side of the galaxy.

So Pepper becomes us. The audience. With no superpowers, no supersuits, no superweapons. Watching, mourning, fearing, cheering, and unable to look away.

And that’s why Pepper Potts’ pants are important. At the very beginning and at the very end of the film Pepper is happy.

Costume design for The Avengers by Alexandra Byrne.


Posted by Anika
email: anika@fantasticfangirls.org
twitter: magnetgirl

  • Caroline

    Great writeup! I watched various parts of the movie thinking about which of my friends would be MOST happy with them, and of course I thought of you with Pepper.

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  • http://NintendoLegend.com NintendoLegend

    This… was cool, well-written, and much enjoyed by me. Thank you.

  • Jo

    Wonderful! I had noticed the colors of the costumes myself, but I loved Pepper in a casual dress, too. She and Tony are happy, relaxed, flirting, slightly bickering… I was so pleased to see that Pepper was treated well in the film. Are people really upset over the costume choices for her?

  • Anika

    Jo: I wouldn’t say people are upset (beyond a few silly comments on tumblr) but I did read a baffling review that said both Pepper and Natasha were ‘nothing more than scantily clad eye-candy’… I don’t think the author saw the same movie I did.

  • http://www.simplysuperheroes.com SimplySuperheroes

    Thanks for the eye-opener on another layer of movie-watching. When I see the Avengers again, I’ll be paying more attention to what they’re wearing.

  • LexiconAficionado

    Oh my goodness! What an amazingly written article! I truly adore it and agree with it on many aspects! It’s so refreshing reading from someone who truly appreciates the finer aspects of the film. Definitely gonna follow your site now! Thanks again!

  • Sy

    I really enjoyed this article. Well-written and well thought out! Thank you for writing it. I too thought it was very nice to see Pepper so relaxed and happy, it makes me like stark even more.

  • Jack

    I’m pretty late to the party here, but I just found your article. I love film criticism which enables me to reflect and also to learn about aspects of a movie I hadn’t considered before. Just a wonderfully written and illuminating look at The Avengers. Kudos!