The white battle suit Padmé wears for the final act of Attack of the Clones is one of her most iconic looks. It overwhelmingly appears in marketing and merchandise, rivaled only by the red throne room robes from The Phantom Menace. It links her visually and thematically to her children. And it’s her most traditionally “sexy action heroine” look.
In this beautiful shot during Shmi’s funeral on Tatooine, Padmé’s creamy white cloak references the Lars homestead, where her son Luke will grow up. She then chooses to disobey Jedi orders and head out to rescue her friend just as Luke does in The Empire Strikes Back.
The outfit clearly references both Leia’s and Han’s costumes in the parallel prisoners-who-confess-their-love scene in Empire. Both Leia and Padmé are styled in white jumpsuits and elaborate buns with braids, while the silver cuffs on Padmé’s arms are equivalent to Han’s restraints, also over a white top.
Padmé’s storyline in the Geonosis arena also parallels Leia during the sand barge rescue in Return of the Jedi. They both use their chains to fight back while showing off their midriff. The white suit becomes Padmé’s skimpiest look when it is strategically torn by a nexu in the battle.
Leia’s gold bikini and Padmé’s torn white suit show off their bodies — figure, build, skin — in a way that caters to the stereotypical male-gaze. They are petite and pretty and exposed. They are also both chained and armed, and Padmé is wounded. This is a very specific fantasy/trope that many feminists want retired. Similarly “Slave Leia” (or “Slayer Leia”) is an infamous costume and an ongoing debate. The Padmé version is not as controversial but I don’t love that both characters’ “sexy” and “iconic” looks include imprisonment.
The full design included a hat that can only be seen in Padmé’s hand during the funeral, but later shows up in Clone Wars, “Bombad Jedi”.
This Clone Wars episode takes place after Attack of the Clones, so the appearance of an identical and not torn version suggests the look is a kind of flight suit assigned to Padmé’s Naboo ship. I particularly appreciate that given Leia’s Rebel jumpsuit on Hoth is so similar.
While wearing the white battle suit, Padmé displays courage, compassion, recklessness, and leadership. She makes an argument for a diplomatic solution and she confesses her love to Anakin. These are significant traits and moments, and it is a significant costume.