'Wakanda Forever'’s Costume Designer Says 99% of the Looks Are Custom — But Shuri’s White Dress Is Totally Shoppable

From dressing hundreds of people for that opening scene to making replicas of a single Adidas tracksuit, Ruth Carter is breaking down your favorite looks from the film.

Black Panther Costumes


By now, you likely know: Marvel movies have a way of instantly transporting viewers to a totally different world, activating just about every sense and leaving them captivated for hours. There’s so much action going on paired with in-depth storylines, humor, and, yes, enviable fashion — especially if we’re talking about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which hit theaters Nov. 11.

While the first batch of looks may be a bit hard to see through all those tears (note: you’ll want to bring tissues), costume designer Ruth E. Carter continues to create outfits so spectacular and detailed, you’re bound to be frantically scanning the screen hoping to catch them all. She tells InStyle that her team began with the all-white funeral scene, and the planning process was just as intense as one might think.

Black Panther Costumes


“We dressed hundreds of people,” she tells us over Zoom. “The whole warehouse was full of white clothes and we had to really identify the tribes. You see the dancers who are more Zulu — they have the white fur and the shells. Then, the Jabari, who came through with white raffia skirts and white paint on their chests. We had West Africa, with Baaba Maal, who was singing and the guy with the talking drum. Queen Ramonda was in her white isicholo, representing South Africa, and she had a lot of Ndebele symbols all over her dress. And then Shuri, with the deep hood that covered her face, who also had the symbols of the heart-shaped herb on all over her piece. It was very spiritual, humbling, and emotional that day. You could actually identify all the tribes, even though they were all in white, but the white unified them in tribute to the ascension of [T'Challa, played by] Chadwick Boseman.”

Naturally, it was important to get every detail exactly right. Carter says she gave on-set dressers super-specific instructions for putting these looks together. She adds that an “aging and dying” team even came in to paint patterns on clothes and spray beads white.

“Even though it was all white, it was all a story,” Carter tells us. “It was racks, and racks, and racks of story.”

Black Panther Costumes


While many of the costumes from the Black Panther movies touch on tradition — especially those we see in Wakanda — one major task for Carter is to also make sure these looks feel fresh and modern, which she says “speaks to Afrofuture.”

“When you think of Afrofuture, it's taking tradition and using technology,” she explains, adding that sometimes, she’ll modernize a look with the help of high-fashion details or even 3-D printing. “Something that makes you feel like, ‘I'm not wearing a traditional costume. I'm actually wearing garments that could be worn anywhere today.’ I'm always looking at fashion blogs and things like that, where I can be inspired about silhouettes and shapes, and garments that people wear.”

Wakanda Forever

Marvel Studios

One great example of this is Shuri (played by Letitia Wright), who has the spotlight in this film. While the character wears a fairly simple dress in the opening scene, it’s her 3-D printed earrings that help make the look feel fashion-forward. “Sometimes, the simple accentuates the technology,” notes Carter.

Speaking of Shuri’s simple dresses, fashion fans will likely fall in love with the white gauze option she wears when entering the Ancestral Plane. While Carter reveals that 99% of the costumes "are made from scratch” (even Killmonger's sweater!), she says that particular piece was purchased.

“Everybody loves that dress! I bought that dress — it’s Jonathan Simkhai,” she says. (And yes, the Fira Maxi Dress is still available on some consignment sites, like Poshmark, and the brand still sells similar options.) “At that time, they had this white dress, and I had dozens of white dresses for that scene, but that was the one that we liked the most.”

Creating or choosing a specific look does not mean the process is over. Carter says multiples of each look are needed, especially for scenes that include stunts.

“We have a saying in costume land — one is none, so nothing was one,” she tells us. “I would say there were quite a few Panther suits, for stunt doubles — every kind of double you could think of. We had to have lots.”

 Even Shuri’s Adidas tracksuit needed to be replicated.

Black Panther Costumes


“We had to have one made for a man who was on the motorcycle, like a real cycle-stunt rider. Seeing this guy walking around in this monstrous purple tracksuit, we were like, ‘How are they going to make that work?’ They did. There were dozens of those tracksuits made — different fabrics, because we wanted the back of the jacket to kind of billow and blow like a superhero. So, we made it out of several fabrics to lift it. Yeah, there are a lot of those little movie magic tricks in there.”

One piece that was pretty hard to get multiples of was Shuri’s white sneakers, which were hollow and made from a special 4-D technology that Adidas is launching.

“When we were actually fitting Shuri, they were just prototypes,” says Carter. “I only had one shoe and I was like, ‘How are they just sending one shoe in a box? What's the deal with that?’ We finally got two. They had to make several for all of the stunts, which they weren't planning on. When you go outside of our industry, they're going, ‘What do you mean you need two?’ Two! We need two. We need ten. Because, you know, you can lose one, one breaks. You never know what's going to happen.”

Something we’ll definitely have to check out in our second (and third and fourth) viewing of Wakanda Forever are all the subtle symbols included in the costumes. Carter says to keep an eye out for M'Baku’s (Winston Duke) cowry shells, which “represent wealth and leadership,” along with hieroglyphics, jade, and Namor’s feathered serpent headpiece, which is a callback to Mayan culture.

“The feathered serpent usually wraps the head or the body of royalty, of leaders in the Mayan culture,” she explains.

Black Panther Costumes


“It could be a course in school just to pick it all apart,” Carter jokes, adding that she’d happily be a guest lecturer for that class. “The three hours just does not give you it all. You have to go back and see it again.”

It’s clear that so much effort, hard work, and talent went into each and every look seen on-screen, and Carter fully admits that making a movie of this size was huge process.

“A lot of artists that come together, and it's our job to direct that art into our story,” she says. “This is a masterpiece. I feel like I could call it that.”

Related Articles