In one episode of Netflix’s Jessica Jones, the eponymous superhero is sitting cross-legged on her friend Trish’s couch eating fistfuls of potato chips. Trish is pumped: “This is it,” she says, excited. “This is the one.” She’s brandishing a white sleeveless pleather jumpsuit striped with two wide bands of turquoise blue. The right hip is adorned with an enormous purple gem in the shape of a diamond. Jessica rolls her eyes. Trish has designed Jessica’s superhero costume and a name to go with it: Jewel.
This scene occurs about halfway through Episode 5, “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me,” and we already know Jessica well enough to predict how she will respond to the jumpsuit. “Tell me you’re kidding,” she says to Trish. “Superheroes wear costumes!” Trish protests. “The only place anyone is wearing that is trick-or-treating or as part of some kinky role-playing scenario,” Jessica says, looking disgusted.
In the end, she rejects the costume outright. Instead her uniform becomes light-wash jeans, motorcycle boots, and most importantly: a leather jacket that she wears like a second skin. Critics across the board have praised Jessica Jones for being “dark, funny, edgy, spooky,” and “startlingly different than anything Marvel Studios has done to this point.” The show is different because Jessica is different—she’s not running around New York in spandex and a mask. The jacket is her armor, and with a few exceptions, she wears it in every scene.
We first see the jacket about three minutes into the first episode, right after Jessica punches some poor asshole (or deserving asshole, depending on how you look at it) through her plate glass door. “People do bad shit all the time,” she says, walking down a Manhattan sidewalk in mid-winter. “I just avoid getting involved with [those people] in the first place. That works for me. Most of the time.”
These lines simultaneously sum up her character and tell us what her central dilemma will be: As much as she tries to isolate herself to protect others, they nonetheless become collateral in Kilgrave's deranged quest to win her love. And in the same establishing shot, of course, she’s wearing the jacket. Both hands are tucked protectively into its pockets, and her shoulders are hunched against the cold. The jacket is utilitarian in every sense of the word: it’s practical, simple, and devoid of embellishments. It’s also her armor—she uses it to repel other people and encase herself. After what she’s suffered at the hands of Kilgrave, she feels safer wrapped in physical reassurance of her own toughness—it’s as far as she can get from the delicate dresses and lush fur coats she wore under Kilgrave’s control. (Ironically, once she ditches the dresses, Kilgrave tells her several times that she’s “poorly styled.”)
She removes the leather jacket only to sleep and, notably, when she’s trying to disguise herself. In Episode 5, she sheds it to trail Malcolm, who’s spying on her for Kilgrave. She keeps it off while she, Trish, and Simpson carry out their grand kidnapping scheme, swapping it out for a grey hoodie and an olive green cargo coat. This is the rare moment when she leans on her friends to coordinate with them instead of barreling ahead solo. Jessica’s guard is down, thus the sartorial representation of her guardedness disappears also.
It’s back in the next episode after the plan fails and Kilgrave devises a new system to keep tabs on her, and it doesn’t disappear again except when she’s having ferocious sex with Luke, whom she trusts, or sprawled on a couch getting a pep talk from Trish, whom she loves, and waiting for her broken rib to heal. In other words, she sheds it only in rare moments of vulnerability.
Jessica defies all superhero stereotypes we’ve come to know so far. We don’t witness any dramatic discovery of her powers, and there’s no montage á la The Incredibles or Supergirl in which she’s fitted with a costume that will trademark her appearance and abilities under some flashy new brand. The leather jacket is the perfect non-uniform uniform for a reluctant superhero: It’s tough and straightforward, stripped of artifice and frills, exactly like Jessica Jones.