Clothes Make the Guardian: Fashion and femininity in the Sailor Moon franchise

By: Sydney Mae March 4, 20220 Comments
The five main scouts standing together holding umbrellas

Sailor Moon is a series that revels in its femininity. While the five core girls have a variety of interests and goals—from becoming a doctor to a stay-at-home mom—they all unashamedly enjoy “girly” things: they swoon over boy bands, enjoy going shopping, and have slumber parties where they talk about crushes and getting married.

However, liking these things doesn’t make the sailor scouts weak. Instead, Sailor Moon demonstrates, time and time again, that the power of femininity and female friendships makes the girls strong. Although this is a prevalent theme throughout the show, this celebration of unashamed femininity is most strongly reflected in its fashion. The outfit designs not only provide characterization and add to the overall aesthetic of the series, but contribute to the story’s emphasis on the strength of “girly” things on an understated but crucial level.

The silhouettes and clothing styles the characters wear in the original 1990s Sailor Moon anime, as well as the original manga, are consistent and intentional. Color gains additional meaning when critically examined, and style becomes not only an expression of oneself but an integral part of a character. What is feminine becomes something powerful. Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t carry through to modern Sailor Moon media, particularly in Sailor Moon Crystal and the 2021 Sailor Moon Eternal movie. The new adaptations betray the purposeful fashion of the original series in a way that undermines the story’s overall gender commentary.

the girls crowding around Ami, who sits at a computer, in shock. they all wear distinctive outfits with different silhouettes

Fashion is so often used as a way to stereotype women in media—teenage girls in particular. If she wears a pink miniskirt, she’s popular, and if she wears an oversized sweater and glasses, she’s probably a nerd. In the Sailor Moon manga and original anime series, the girls wear cute clothes that showcase their personalities without falling into these cliches.

There is a wide variety of silhouettes and styles present at all times, and it’s rare that more than two girls are wearing similar outfits at any given time. From the sportier outfits Mako and Rei wear, to Usagi’s soft pastels and oversized tops, to Haruka’s expression of her identity as a butch lesbian through her clothes, all their fashion choices directly speak to their personalities. 

Haruka and Michiru in a convertible at sunset. Haruka is wearing a blazer and Michiru a cardigan.

Fashion doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor is it created in one. The clothing in Sailor Moon tells us purposeful information about not only the cast, but also the world at large. Sailor Moon’s clothing is a key part of how it celebrates a multitude of ways to be a woman. The girls favor certain styles and color palettes, but none of their fashion forces them into a stereotype. In the black-and-white manga, these different clothing styles were even more important to conveying the girls as characters.

Although their clothes fall into categories that are generally considered “feminine”—short skirts and bright colors—they in no way undermine the strength of their characters. This fashion celebrates their femininity without making it a joke. Instead, they wear things that show who they are as people, showcasing that even under the label of “feminine” there are many ways to express oneself.

Ami’s fluffy sweaters and Mina’s bold fashion are both drawn to be cute, rather than pigeonholing Ami as “frumpy” because she likes books. Rei wears both miniskirts and overalls, because there’s no one right way to be a girl. They choose these outfits because this top or those pants speak to them, and in doing so, we’re reminded that our heroes are teenage girls, and that to be a teenage girl is a wonderful thing.

the main girls wearing long-sleeved outfits

However, in Sailor Moon Crystal, femininity is reduced to a monolith. This is especially egregious in Sailor Moon Eternal, the most recent adaptation in the series. Rather than the diverse range of silhouettes, color palettes, and styles seen in the original anime and manga, this new adaptation gives the girls each a “signature color” that works as the prevalent theme in their in-show wardrobe.

While Sailor Moon Eternal is a movie rather than a TV show, giving it fewer opportunities for a wardrobe change, the first half of the movie is full of flashbacks that put the girls in different outfits. Despite this, each outfit feels similar due not only to the extremely on-the-nose color-coding, but as a result of the silhouettes. The girls often wear what is essentially a recolor of the same outfits, and have very little difference among them in style. There is nothing unique to each girl about the outfits they wear, and nothing that gives the audience a deeper sense of their character.

In the below screenshot, most of the girls are all wearing what is essentially the same outfit. Minako, Rei, and Usagi all sport a pinafore dress with a long-sleeved shirt and neck accessory. Distinct silhouettes are an important part of good animation, and since the main girls all have the same basic body type (give or take a few inches in height), clothes are an important way to help differentiate them. Here, though, they’re identical.

Makoto, Ami, and Chibiusa are the only ones who have anything resembling a distinct silhouette in this scene, but their outfits still share elements with the other girls. Three of the five girls are in collared shirts. Usagi and Makoto both have the exact same necktie. It’s common for Usagi and Chibiusa to be dressed similarly because they’re family, but Chibiusa is still essentially wearing a younger version of the same outfit. Looking at their clothing, we can infer little about each of these three characters.

the main scouts, ChibiUsa, and Mamoru standing together at an amusement park

Presumably, this color-coding in lieu of more distinctive outfits is to aid in recognition and cohesiveness, as with the girls’ scout uniforms. But their hairstyles are already meant to do that, meaning that limited color schemes for their outfits feels unnecessary. All this simplified fashion does in practice is make each girl feel like a less distinct character. Their clothing adds little to each of them as people.

In addition, this simplified fashion undermines the diverse femininity the girls showcased in the original. When the characters are speaking about the universal importance of things like femininity and protecting the hearts of young girls, they implicitly are meant to speak for all girls. The characters themselves should reflect this, and one of the easiest ways to show that is to give them unique, distinct senses of style, to show that they represent a diverse variety of girlhood experiences. The heroines’ clothing should be distinct enough to drive home the differences between these girls and help to show that they’re friends not in spite of these differences, but because of them.

Mamoru with his arm around Usagi, both smiling for a photo

Masculine fashion is now drastically different from the source material too. Despite being a high schooler rather than a college student, in Sailor Moon Crystal Mamoru dresses like an adult man. He wears suspenders, jeans, collared shirts, and simple, uninspired color palettes. Gone are the flashy patterns and clashing colors of the 1990s series.

In the original anime, Mamoru’s style changed as often as the girls’, and his outfits frequently matched with the girls’ soft colors, fitting in perfectly with the gang. This meant Mamoru was often seen in feminine-coded pastels, a stark contrast to the monochromatic palette of blacks and whites he wears in Sailor Moon Crystal and Eternal. Even more egregiously, the recent Netflix movie insists on putting him in the same dull outfits and color schemes. 

The colors the sailor scouts wear are the colors the show teaches us to associate with heroes: pastel pinks, dreamy blues, soft yellows, deep greens, and brash reds. While Tuxedo Mask does wear a black-and-white tuxedo when transformed, he’s more of an accessory to the sailor scouts in their fights, especially in the 1990s anime. He frequently talks about not having as much power as they do, and is often more backup then a main fighter. He never takes center stage, despite looking like the more “serious” character in comparison to the sailor suit-wearing scouts.

When Mamoru does become the more powerful King Endymion, he doesn’t wear black and white. Instead, he’s dressed in a soft lavender and white suit. By dressing him in color palettes that are not traditionally considered masculine, the source material invited men under fashion’s transformative umbrella, offering a broader concept of what positive masculinity could look like. 

Haruka and Michiru standing together, looking at a hand mirror

One of the few stark contrasts to the idea of femininity, clothes, and style in Sailor Moon is Haruka. Haruka tends to wear neutral, simply cut clothes that have very similar silhouettes. Additionally, Haruka presents as butch, and her other half, Michiru, fulfills the femme archetype in their pairing. They’re a couple many young lesbians and bisexual women have seen themselves in, and their fashion is a huge part of this. Although Haruka dresses in colors that are different from what the source material has conditioned us to see as strong, she doesn’t wear harsh colors that set her too far apart. Her school uniform is red and green like Michiru’s, but outside of that, we generally see her in a very neutral color palette, tending towards beiges, creams, whites, and blues.

These colors mark her fashion as different from the other sailor scouts, but still a part of the overall group—something thematically fitting given that she and Michiru are initially introduced as morally ambiguous characters and uncertain allies. Essentially, her clothing is different, but cohesive. Her neutral tones lend her the ability to have an extremely distinct style, but still be a part of the group’s fashion trends, while her tendency towards soft neutrals also helps us read her as a powerful character. In the end, Haruka sets herself apart without being totally alienated from the rest of the cast. 

Sailors Saturn, Pluto, Uranus, and Nepture strike poses. Saturn is wearing a short dress and floral jacket; Pluto is in a long dark pinafore; Haruka is wearing a long-sleeved crop-top and striped pants; Michiru is wearing a short black dress with uneven socks.

Haruka’s existence as a butch woman is not always perfectly handled in the manga. She dresses far more masculine when the scouts believe she might be a boy and after she’s revealed to be Sailor Uranus dons more feminine clothing, which ties her clothing somewhat to a plot twist about her gender. 

The manga does not always treat Haruka’s fashion sense with respect, but it’s rare that she wears something solely feminine. When she wears pearls or a miniskirt, they are normally paired with a contrasting article of clothing that asserts her identity and leaves her visually distinct from the more straightforwardly feminine girls. In the scene where she wears a strand of pearls, she pairs the necklace with a white, masculine button up. This helps emphasize that she has a different sense of style than the rest of the girls, and that all her outfits are a deliberate choice.

Michiru, Setsuna, and Haruka in their Crystal outfits

However, in Sailor Moon Crystal, this delineation is far less clear. In an early dream scene, Haruka appears in a dress with puffed sleeves and hoop earrings. In the manga, this outfit is a blouse and pants. This deliberate change of Haruka’s fashion further erodes her butchness, a change in direct opposition to the ’90s anime’s decision to keep her in masculine-leaning clothing even after her secret identity is revealed.

Conformity is important in this adaptation. Mamoru is a man, so he wears black and white with few pops of color. The women dress similarly to each other, often with multiple characters styled almost identically in each scene. Haruka is butch, and although she remains butch in new media, the new media makes sure that the audience knows she is first and foremost a woman. She must perform femininity in the “right” way. She has pearls, she wears miniskirts sometimes, and when her shirts are low cut, you can see her bra. This serves to make her butch fashion, an integral part of her character, feel less like a distinct and consistent character beat and more like a fashion choice she sometimes indulges in. While fashion might seem to be an inconsequential detail, changes like these reduce the complexity of both the characters and the series as a whole.

Although Sailor Moon Crystal is an excellent adaptation in many ways, it falls short when it comes to the clothing. Each character is boxed in stylistically, making their choices feel less deliberate and meaningful. The show’s conception of femininity becomes uninspired and uniform where it had been vibrant and varied. In the end, Sailor Moon isn’t about being strong and a girl. It’s about acknowledging that girls, particularly teenage girls, are their own complicated people. The things they feel are important, the friendships they form are integral, and the clothing they choose helps define who they are.

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