The Evolution of Captain America's Uniform

Captain America’s transition from comic to screen uniquely parallels Steve Rogers’ own journey to becoming the “greatest soldier in history.” True to the character’s debut in 1941, Rogers’ story begins during World War II. Despite his small stature that made him unfit for military service, he possessed qualities beyond the physical. His bravery and compassion qualified him as the first and most successful recipient of Abraham Erskine's completed Super Soldier Serum, which granted Rogers peak-human capabilities. As Rogers’ role in World War II evolved, so did his uniform. And as he struggles to find his place in our modern world after being awakened after 70 years frozen in the Antarctic, the needs of his uniform must adapt to fit his growing combat skills and the greater threats he faces.

Just as Captain America has been forced to adjust through different eras and emerge in our modern day, concept artist Ryan Meinerding and his team have had to draw from over half a century of comics to conceptualize Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's iconic creation for the big-screen. From there, costume designers Anna B. Sheppard (Captain America: The First Avenger), Alexandra Byrne (The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron), and Judianna Makovsky (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) work with their respective directors to further tailor and realize those concepts for an ever-expanding cinematic universe and increasingly savvy and scrutinizing audience.

In anticipation of Chris Evans’ return as Captain America in Avengers: Age of Ultron, we explore the evolution of his uniforms throughout the Marvel films. 

USO Uniform

“I finally got everything I wanted, and I’m wearing tights.”

Faced with being the subject of tests to replicate the Super Soldier Serum, Steve Rogers instead accepts an offer to serve his country on “the most important battlefield of the war” — a.k.a. using his newfound fame to help increase support for the war.

A nod to the classic Jack Kirby-designed costume from the original comics, this brightly colored [cotton] number — with its winged mask and shorts over tights — is worn by Rogers in fictionalized newsreels and in over 200 USO shows that prompt Americans to buy war bonds. Rogers initially uses the shield to hide notes that he could read while still learning his lines for the live shows.

Rogers last dons the full stage uniform while performing for troops near the frontline in Italy, where he is heckled off stage.

Ad-Hoc Rescue Uniform

Upon learning that most of the men from his friend James “Bucky” Barnes’ unit were captured or killed by the forces of Johann Schmidt (a.k.a. the Red Skull), Rogers mounts a one-man rescue mission.

To make his USO costume less conspicuous, Rogers throws on a leather combat jacket, pants, and boots, and arms himself with his stage shield and an “A” helmet that he swipes from one of the “U-S-A” chorus girls. With the help of Agent Peggy Carter, Rogers is flown 30 miles behind enemy lines by arms dealer and Strategic Scientific Reserve engineer Howard Stark — future father of Tony Stark. The successful mission earns Rogers a Medal of Valor.

The look of the ad-hoc uniform borrows design elements from Bryan Hitch's WWII Captain America illustrations for Mark Millar’s The Ultimates comic series.

"Well if it isn't the 'Star-Spangled Man With A Plan.'"

Howard Stark Field Uniform

“Carbon polymer. Should withstand your average German bayonet.”

Recognizing the value in the imagery of his USO costume and its ability to allow him to lead, Rogers submits ideas for the design of his field uniform to Howard Stark. Stark makes Rogers’ uniform (and all of the Howling Commandos’ uniforms) with carbon polymer, a bullet and knife resistant fabric.

Stark also designs several shields for Rogers, who happens upon a prototype made out of the rarest metal on earth: vibranium, a completely vibration absorbent metal that is stronger than steel and a third its weight.

This is the uniform that Rogers wore the longest, as it was what he was wearing when he was frozen for 70 years after crash landing the Red Skull's jet in the Antarctic.

Avengers Uniform

With design input from S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, an avid collector of WWII era Captain America memorabilia, Rogers’ Avengers Uniform evokes the spirit of his classic stars and stripes USO costume, but brings the brightly-colored look into the 21st century with modern materials and functionality. The uniform's design is unique in its use of exposed zippers (up the abdomen and on his legs). And while the lightly armored uniform is also the most aerodynamic of all his outfits, it’s the only one that doesn’t allow him to strap his shield to his back.

As evidenced in the uniform display photo near the top of the page, a heavily textured and open-eared helmet design was close to being used for the film (see alternate below). The final version of the helmet closely resembles Cap's mask from Marvel's Earth 616 universe. The uniform is last worn during the Battle of New York.

"With everything that's happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old fashioned."

S.H.I.E.L.D. Stealth Uniform

"I thought you were more than just a shield."

Inspired by the look of the character's costume in the Steve Rogers: Super Soldier comics, Captain Rogers' S.H.I.E.L.D. issued Stealth Uniform is dark blue with silver stripes across his chest and muted red stripes that run down the side of his ribs to his knees. On covert missions the red stripes on his shield are also painted blue. 

The bullet-proof nomex and kevlar uniform represents the latest in military war apparel while, according to the directors, thematically it is "an expression of the new soldier [Rogers] was trying to be." The uniform also features a communicator in his right glove, straps that allow him to magnetically latch his shield to his back, and is the first to feature an open ear design for his mask/helmet. The uniform is last worn during his escape from S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters.

Smithsonian Modified Field Uniform

After learning HYDRA has operated within S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades, Rogers sheds all ties to the organization and steals a modified version of the uniform he wore during World Ward II on display at The Smithsonian. There are many subtle differences between this and the original field uniform — from the different colored strapping in the chest and shoulders to the reinforced knees, differently designed belt, and embossed helmet graphics. But the most obvious difference is the addition of a third red stripe down the abdomen.

With the design differences, and since the fabric of this uniform is susceptible to knives and gunfire — unlike the carbon polymer used in Howard Stark’s design — one could conclude that this is a non-functional replica. However, Marvel President Kevin Feige suggests that Rogers presumably had multiple uniforms throughout WWII.

“If you're gonna fight a war, you got to wear a uniform.”

Tony Stark Avengers Uniform

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve Rogers may be the boss, but Tony Stark pays for everything and designs everything, including Rogers’ first post-S.H.I.E.L.D uniform. And in typical Stark fashion, Rogers is given some hi-tech upgrades to his uniform and shield.

Much like Thor’s ability to summon his hammer, Rogers can call back his shield, which now electromagnetically attaches to his gauntlet. 

Aesthetically, it marries the modern utilitarian look and functionality of his Stealth Uniform with the more obvious red, white, and blue iconography of his original field and Avengers outfits.

"Show 'em what we got."

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