Poll Position: Costuming

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?

12 Responses to Poll Position: Costuming

  1. The Eric says:

    Cape. Having things on the back is just better, i find.

  2. Hammerknight says:

    I’m thinking Insignia/Logo because you can have a really cool costume and miss it up with something stupid on the front of it.

  3. Xstacy says:

    I went with color scheme, because 1) it’s really the only thing all supers have in common–no superhero just shows up in whatever he happened to be wearing to class that day–and 2) your discussion of it reminds me of Eddie Izzard’s routine comparing superheroes and transvestites.

  4. Gero says:

    I think the color scheme, because, as Jeff said, not many heroes sport insignias anymore. With all the super-people running around in most comic multiverses, and with insignias out of fashion, your color scheme is really the only thing that will allow you to be recognized by others…

  5. Demented The Clown says:

    I Love Insignias, But Color Schemes Go’s Along With It.

  6. JesterTheGreat says:

    I was thinking of going with insignia – for an established hero, its almost like their identity. You see the symbol and think – “That’s ___man!”

    But ultimately I went with color scheme. Even if the character doesn’t have an insignia, they usually have a color scheme, and even if it isn’t unique to the character, they’re ususually identifiable by their colors.

  7. Runt82 says:

    *is jumping on the bandwagon*

    I chose color scheme as well, because there are instances of many costumes that have lacked the other four choices.

  8. Jose Inoa says:

    I voted “Color Scheme” before the dicussion jump, too.

    I had the “Kick-Ass” movie and the RLSH community in mind. I mean, if someone’s gonna stand out in a crowd of models wearing Nike cross-training gear it’s the ‘superhero’, cuz no professional fashion designer could come up with a ‘super’ color scheme. Ya gotta have the ‘super’ mindset, I think. Even Batman, Punisher, Blade, and Zorro have a sliver of color next to the black. (And don’t make fun of Hulk, Elektra, Superman, or Vampirella just yet – that’s another discussion altogether.)

  9. knight1192 says:


    Color scheme is meaningless since we all have a color scheme we were on a daily basis. For most of us that scheme changes on a daily basis, but if you work someplace which requires a specific uniform (or go to a school which has a school uniform) then you wear that color scheme pretty much on a daily basis.

    Underwear on the outside seems a good way to identify someone as super. But let’s face it, whatever the “current” trend in fashion is could mean clothing on the outside is seen as the thing to do. Current in this case means current at the time, in other words the present time and not the future. I can still remember being in high school back in the ’90s and having kids wear baggy jeans so low that at least half of their boxers were on clear display. That was the current trend back then (and I think I’ve heard it’s making a comeback) and can be seen as underwear on the outside.

    A mask is a good way to hide one’s identity, as long as you don’t talk or you change your voice. But you know it’s not only superheroes (or super villans for that matter) that wear masks. There are folks who go skiing who put masks on. And masks are worn by members of a pit crew at auto races. There are going to be places and reasons why normal folks wear a mask, some of which are going to be for protection from their job or outdorr activity rather than hiding their identity.

    Insignia/logo has never been strictly for superheroes. A police officer’s badge is a kind of insignia which identifies them as being a police officer. Military personnel may wear insignia denoting what their job is. Athletes on team sports may wear the insignia or logo on their uniforms. Folks working at a chain retail store, supermarket, or a fast food joint wear an insignia or logo either on their uniform (which may be nothing more than a smock over their regular clothes) or their clearly visible name tag. Heck, we can even buy t-shirts with popular insignia or logos on them. I’ve got a t-shirt with the Autobot emblem on it, doesn’t mean I’m a Transformer. And I’ve seen t-shirts with the Superman insignia, the Batman insignia, even the Spider-man insignia. Does that mean that every single person who wears ’em are those superheroes? Nope.

    But as stated, capes are virtually never worn anymore. And it doesn’t seem there’s any fashion trend anymore that makes wear a cape the thing in “current” fashion trends.

  10. I said ‘color scheme’ because that, I feel, is the make-or-break between a super costume and ‘what the hell is that?’. A cape, insigna, and trunks* are all finishing touches, should you elect to use them. But if you decided that your super color scheme was going to be puke green and orange… well, no amount of accessorizing can save you now.

    *it does serve a practical purpose, ask any dancer. They keep your tights from sliding down.

  11. Gero says:

    @Phoenix: I don’t think the Creeper would take kindly to that second to last sentence…

  12. @Gero: The Creeper only proves me right. šŸ˜›