The effects of this strange placement can now be better seen, thanks to information from a new book.
Black Widow Retcon Explained
Director of Visual Development at Marvel, Andy Park, explained in Marvel's Black Widow: The Art of the Movie that the little Easter egg of the vest worn by Natasha Romanoff in Avengers: Infinity War being identical to her sister Yelena Belova's was not originally planned.
Park said that he "retroactively gave that vest meaning," adding that "there's love" in the vest, now that fans know it is actually Yelena's:
"Working on 'Black Widow', we retroactively gave that vest meaning — that it’s actually Yelena’s vest. If you ever watch Infinity War again, your eyes will get watery because Natasha’s wearing her sister’s vest, and there’s love in there. That’s what we do as concept artists, because we’re all storytellers."
The "tactical vest," when it was designed during the production of Infinity War, did not have any particular meaning beyond what would make sense in the story:
"When I first designed Natasha in 'Infinity War', the Russo brothers didn’t want her to have a whole new suit. They wanted to take her existing suit from Captain America: Civil War and add something to it. When I came up with the tactical vest, they liked that idea, so that’s what stuck."
Years later, when it was time to work on Black Widow, Park had the idea to [incorporate] the vest we see in Avengers: Infinity War," though the original plan was for it to be part of Natasha's design:
"Her look has stayed fairly similar in her various appearances, so a lot of it is playing with details — different lines and materials … I did versions where she’s just wearing a jacket and other types of everyday clothing, and that’s where I started to think that incorporating the vest we see in 'Avengers: Infinity War' might be a good idea."
Then, Park realized that it would be even better to include the vest in Yelena's design, saying that "it worked really well with the white suit:"
"With Yelena’s snowsuit design, I did a lot of versions. I had played with incorporating the vest from Avengers: Infinity War into Natasha’s design, but I had the idea that, maybe, what if it’s Yelena’s vest? I presented that idea and the designs I was playing with, and it worked really well with the white suit. And, of course, the vest became a thing."
Park is meticulous about his designs, careful to include details like "a subtle black widow spider motif" in the lines of Natasha's suit, ensuring that there is "deeper meaning" to anything he designs:
"So, as I’m designing a suit, it’s not just a question of, ‘What does it look like, how do I make it cool?’ You’re also thinking, ‘What is the story behind what she’s wearing?’ Even though the viewer might not always be able to see the story I’m telling, it should be there. So once you tell it, it gives it deeper meaning."
Park finally gave costume designer Jany Temime a shout-out, saying she "did a fantastic job of taking these suits and making them real:"
"Jany Temime did a fantastic job of taking these suits and making them real. When I designed them, they were very tight, tactical suits. But she gave Yelena’s a uniqueness in making it more baggy, with a thinner material, based on her research into a Russian jumpsuit. Jany’s additions just add so much more."
A Vest With Meaning
Marvel making the call to retroactively give Natasha's vest in Infinity War a deeper meaning shows the studio's willingness to pull from other projects as it crafts multi-project narratives for its characters.
With so many individual projects in the MCU, fans may not remember little details like a vest from one movie. But, on re-watch, fans will notice the vest and — perhaps without even realizing it — comprehend the meaning behind it.
As such, the fact that this vest's usage in a later project gave it meaning in an earlier film encourages fans to re-watch other films. What details might fans have not known to comprehend on first viewing?
Black Widow is currently streaming on Disney+.