Character design is more or less the "raison d'etre" of HeroMachine.com, so I thought we should take some time to figure out what, exactly, makes a costume "super":
Discussion after the jump.
- Underwear on the outside: I can't think of another job outside of being a "Victoria's Secret" model that so often requires you to expose your unmentionables. From Superman to Batman to the original Wolverine, the colored briefs are a staple of the basic super-hero. And I can't really figure out why. Looking back on the original characters of the 1940's, not all of them followed the convention. You see a lot of jodhpurs and full leotards, too. And the very first iteration of Superman featured one-color tights, the briefs were added a couple of issues later. Captain Marvel, the most popular character of the day, didn't have briefs on the outside. I suppose since Superman was the main engine driving sales after the collapse of the industry, and he wore them, everyone else who came along sort of built their characters along those guidelines.
- Mask: Not all popular characters wear masks, but most did. Of the Holy Trinity, for example, only Batman went cowled. A lot of the Golden Age characters were actually named for their masks, a carryover I suspect from the popularity of Western comics and their Lone Ranger style masked adventurers. This changed to a large degree, I think, withe the advent of the Marvel characters, like the Fantastic Four and many of the X-Men.
- Insignia / Logo: Logos seem to have gone out of fashion in the last few decades, but certainly most of the major Silver Age characters had them. Again, I think this was at least in part the result of DC being the industry giant, and basing their designs on Superman, whose logo in many ways defines him. Other than the early leader Spider-Man, most of your major Marvel characters are logo-less, and certainly with the move in recent years to more "realistic" costume design, you see them even less.
- Color scheme: It's hard to miss a guy in bright blue, red, and yellow tights as being a super-hero. Or cross-dresser.
- Cape: Sadly, no one wears capes in polite society any more, which means someone running by in a cape is probably a super. Like logos, though, capes have sort of gone out of fashion.
Looking that list over, I think it's hard to point to any one thing as being definitive. Football players sport logos on their helmets and bright colors in their uniforms. Gymnasts wear nothing BUT underwear on the outside. Wrestler masks pretty much defined the sport for quite a while.
About the only thing on that list you don't really see anyone but stage magicians sporting are the capes. But an awful lot of characters don't use them, so I am instead going to go with "underwear on the outside" because, come on, the only way you can get away with that is to have super-human powers so you can smite those who would mock you.
Which way would you go?