After twenty-three episodes that ranged from very high highs to some very low lows, the third season of The CW’s Arrow came to a definitive close with “My Name Is Oliver Queen” on May 13. Now, with only a week left until the premiere of Season 4, fans are left trying to make sense of nearly two dozen episodes that changed the foundation of the show forever.
For better or worse, there’s plenty of material to consider. In fact, some of the material most deserving of careful consideration has more to do with aesthetics than plot. Elements such as lighting and makeup and even hair can be of massive great to an action series.
One particular aesthetic element with consequences that resonated throughout the subtext of the third season was the different design for the costumes of all of the masked marauders. So, without further ado, here is a look at what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next with the vigilante costumes on Arrow.
What Worked: Of all of the costumed characters, Oliver Queen as the Arrow was the one whose ensemble really allowed for practical function as well as fashion. Courtesy of Cisco Ramon of STAR Labs in the Arrow half of the Flarrow crossover extravaganza, Oliver’s original Arrow outfit got an upgrade from the common leathers that must have been rank with the stenches of sweat and blood and angst by Season 3.
The Arrow suit 2.0 wasn’t actually all that different in appearance from the Arrow suit 1.0. The angles of the jacket gave a more armored look without becoming outlandish, and it was about time that Oliver got a suit more elaborate than what green leather he could scrounge together back in Season 1. As Oliver said, the changes were subtle. There was no overabundance of buttons or toggles or buckles to give the impression that it would take twenty minutes and an army of handmaidens to get him geared up, and he got to keep his original hood. Of course, there are probably deleted scenes of Oliver chafing under a jacket that wasn’t as breathable as the one riddled with bullet holes and stab gashes, but the season is none the worse for it.
Since he wouldn’t have been much of a sidekick if he were still running around in a dirty hoodie and jeans, Roy got an update to his fighting duds as well. The silhouette of the Arsenal suit recalls the Arrow suit, and the stiffer leather of the hood affords some greater protection than Oliver’s flimsy Yao Fei hood. The pants had handy blunt object ankle holsters for Roy to turn to if he lost his bow. After Oliver’s first and second Arrow suits, Roy’s Arsenal suit was the most logically functional of Season 3.
It was also surprisingly adaptable, as proved by Thea donning the abandoned leathers and looking frankly adorable in her first outings as Speedy. The contrivances of Thea being able to wear Roy’s gear were explainable thanks to the laces all along the sleeves and torso of the jacket. Besides, the show trying to sell Thea as a fit for Roy’s clothes was a heck of a lot easier to believe than Roy fitting into Oliver’s.
Unlike Oliver’s and Roy’s updates to their previous ensembles, Laurel Lance as Black Canary got her very first suit in Season 3. Sure, it was basically a copy of her dead sister’s suit fashionably tailored to Laurel’s taste and figure, but the third season saw Laurel’s first venture out into the field in a mask. It was a relief to see that Arrow was allowing a female vigilante out on the streets without a wildly impractical corset top, and the longer sleeves gave her some extra coverage. The billy club holsters on the legs were ideal for Laurel’s style of fighting.
Another brand new suit for a brand new crimefighter came for a brand new character in Ray Palmer. The A.T.O.M. suit was unlike anything that Arrow had produced before, and fans who had never seen any of the Iron Man or Avengers films undoubtedly could enjoy Ray’s suit zipping around the sky and eating up the special effects budget. The A.T.O.M. suit was a game-changer, and it will carry over to upcoming spinoff Legends of Tomorrow.
Any recount of what worked for the vigilante suits of Season 3 would be incomplete without mention of Tatsu Yamashiro’s outfit as Katana. Although the ensemble was only on screen for a single episode, it was everything that a female fighter’s suit should be. The jacket and pants were sleek enough that she could move freely to slice and dice her way through assassins, and her mask both showed off some seriously impressive eye makeup and pushed her hair back enough that it wasn’t falling into her eyes with every move. Sure, that meant that she had a super clear look at her dying husband as he slid off of the end of her sword, but at least she survived. Overall, the outfit was simple enough that viewers could easily believe that her eye makeup took longer than getting dressed for battle yet provided enough coverage to avoid looking silly. Hopefully, Tatsu will make a return appearance as Katana in the future.
Finally, Oliver managed to surpass all of the other masks of Season 3 by wearing three different suits for battle. His transformation into Al Sah-him required a change from the traditional green leather of Arrow suits 1.0 and 2.0. He looked suitably evil in the garb of a League assassin, and the hood was bulky enough that it could cover up Oliver’s awful shaved head whenever he had it pulled up.
What Didn’t Work: Unfortunately, the Al Sah-him getup was bulky in more ways than just the hood. The dark draping of fabric around the torso and the thick pants made Oliver look chubby and ungainly whenever he moved, so much so that his final fight with Ra’s al Ghul was far less impressive than their earlier battle in the snow.
The Arsenal suit was certainly tight enough that it did not make poor Roy look pudgy, but the red ensemble comprised of all leather compacted the sidekick in a way that he really did not need. Without the slight variation of fabric that elongated the already tall Stephen Amell in the Arrow suits, Colton Haynes looked like a fun-sized archer in a red bodysuit. It wasn’t a bad look, but it could have been better.
The laces and buckles also set the Arsenal suit apart from the Arrow. As much as the laces helped justify Thea modifying the jacket to fit herself, they certainly would have made getting dressed to hit the streets much more complicated. The leather was much too tight for Roy to just shrug on as he would a hoodie, and the laces were too prominent to be overlooked. The buckles on the lower half of his body seemed more present for adornment than function.
Of course, it’s fairly easy to overlook the buckle transgressions of the Arsenal suit if the Black Canary suit is to be considered.
There are so many buckles on the Black Canary suit that Laurel in action sequences without the helpful Blake Neely background score must sound like she’s running around in metal corduroys. Who knows? Maybe the real reason why she needed that Canary Cry was to cancel out the clacking that echoed out whenever she hustled. Katie Cassidy and her stunt double do get some credit for managing to do more than a light jog without faceplanting due to buckles catching as she moves, but the feat would be much more impressive if those buckles had served any sort of purpose.
Well, any purpose other than distracting from the fact that the Black Canary’s gloves are actually fingerless.
Take a moment to process that.
The gloves chosen for the Black Canary ensemble are fingerless. The vigilante whose weapons are blunt objects that require close quarters to be of any use wears gloves that afford her no protection. The woman who is an officer of the law via her position as an assistant district attorney wears gloves that do not cover her fingerprints or even her distinctive nail polish. The buckles and garter belt and even eyes not blacked out beneath her bask are all somewhat excusable; the fingerless gloves are not.
The A.T.O.M. suit looks more designed to sell plastic armor for Halloween costumes than for a vigilante on Arrow. Quite aside from the suit coming with so many accessories and powers that would render other vigilantes obsolete, the color scheme and blinking lights make Ray look like he wants to be shot down. Oliver wears green because of Yao Fei and Shado. Laurel wears black to follow in Sara’s footsteps. Roy wore red because it was his signature color of hoodie. Ray…just wore blue and red, which would be easier to forgive were it not for the facts that Ray was a new character and would be shipped off to a spinoff that wouldn’t have to pay for his new suit.
Finally, John Diggle didn’t even have a suit for concealment. He would occasionally wear a balaclava, and he was sidelined often enough that he didn’t have as many chances to take to the streets as would have made sense, but he deserved more than the bare minimum.
What Needs To Happen Next: As much as Arrow is fundamentally is a comic book series, the show needs to make a point of showing that certain aspects of the vigilante costumes have function as well as fashion. If “Because it looks cool!” or “Because comics!” are the answers to the question of “Why?” when it comes to the costumes of the masked marauders, there are some narrative problems worth addressing.