“Real world” costume critiques

Comics fans tend to spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about female super-hero outfits (raises hand), largely on the basis that they're "impractical". Black Canary comes in for her fair share, as it's hard to imagine doing acrobatic martial arts while wearing both spiked heels and a bustier.

But I think we tend to overlook that for the most part, male costumes are just as "impractical". Luckily, the Black Canary herself is here to disabuse us of our prejudices in a way only possible in comics:

Preach on, sister.

My question for you, Mr. or Miss or Ms. or Mrs. or Dr. Comics Fan, is what other costume elements that we usually don't think twice about would probably be insanely impractical were they to exist in reality?

The first one to come to mind for me has been remarked on many times, and is the utility of wearing a unitard all night long with no easy way to ... um, relieve yourself. Just, no. Give me a Bat-zipper or something.

Your turn!

34 Responses to “Real world” costume critiques

  1. Mr. Q says:

    LOL! That is one of the best moments in Mark Waid’s JLA Year One story. You should definitely find this in TPB. Current DCU continuity be damned! This is a great 12 issue series.

    As for crime-fighting fashion faux pas, I think some of the skimpy outfits from the 90s bad girl phase have their downside. Case in point, Vampirella and her trademark costume. How that outfit stays on without any slips or atomic wedgies is a mystery that puzzles me to this day. And I seriously doubt double-stick tape can solve all those problems and then some.

    Mr. Q

  2. Gregg says:


    But of course there are more. Domino masks to conceal identity? Ha! Spandex against a world rife with knives, bullets, and heck, sharp edges? Ha! Spandex against a world where temperatures get below 30F? Ha! Extraneous belts of bulky pouches on every available limb surface? Ha!

    On the other hand, so what? Superheroes break the laws of physics on every page. Why can’t their costumes do the same? 😀

  3. X-stacy says:

    Most superhero boots seem to be like cowboy boots–tall, stiff, no laces–which are almost as impractical for martial arts as high heels. I’ll take hiking boots instead, thanks.

  4. Skiriki says:

    LOL! Oh man, that was priceless. 😀

    Er, anything that involves NOT holstering teh boobies. Speaking as a female with a good-sized rack, I wince every time when I see some really highly impractical way of containing human mammaries. I’m perfectly willing to forgive it in case of people with stuff like invulnerability, gravity control (in one form or another), non-humans, extra-ordinarily dense structure, density control, etc… but, seriously sister, those great tits are going to sag badly if you don’t pack ’em up properly. Not to mention how much it’ll hurt.

  5. Kalkin says:

    Tight fitting clothes themselves are probably uncomfortable after moving alot. There’s a good reason why judo outfits are loose fitting.
    Second thing is all sorts of loose flying bits that could be (but never are in comic books) grabbed on in battle.
    Third is armored mask with eye holes in it, like the one Iron man has. It hinders peripheral vision, even if there were wide angle lenses in the in the holes.
    Fourth is large cleavage. Things tend to pop out in battle.
    Fifth is wrist mounted cannons. You are likely to blow your back of the hand off that way, and its difficult to aim.
    Sixth is a full ski mask in hand to hand combat. It obstructs breathing and just about any punch in the face may cause the eye holes to misalign themselves.
    Basically the best suit for combat is whatever real life soldiers are wearing. Any deviation from that reduces combat abilities of the wearer. Superheroes wear more deviating suits from soldier combat uniforms, because their superpowers allow them to compensate the hindrance, but a hindrance it is all the same.

  6. joel says:

    I can’t believe that no one has said this yet, but UNDERWEAR ON THE OUTSIDE OF THEIR PANTS! WHY?!

  7. joel says:

    oh, and not that it is necessarily a hindrance, but why do superheroes with one piece unitard like costumes need belts in the first place.

  8. Steve M. says:

    I always wondered about the design choices for Wolvie’s costumes. Especially the boot “wings,” or whatever you want to call them, prevalent in the Jim Lee ’90s design. How he could run, let alone walk with those always escaped me. You ask me, Steve Rogers’ current costume is probably the most functional superhero uniform in use right now. Kalkin is right, in that it’s closer to what a soldier would wear. Function over form.

  9. CPrime says:

    Ok, I’d like to say, I’m not complaining about the impracticality of female costumes. I revel in the impracticality. In fact, I’m going to go design a heroine called Impractical Girl!

  10. Frevoli says:

    Ridiculously high collars, limiting vision (Yellowjacket, Ironfist)

    Juggernaut’s armour

    Psylocke’s various wrap around pieces

    although I think the most impractical costume is Silver Surfer… maybe also Deathlok

  11. Watson Bradshaw says:

    I have one name for you Witchblade! A costume that shreds your street clothes, is primeval metal plating just covering the bare minimum (can you even call it armor!) and you can’t tell me that the chastity thong on your who-ha doesn’t chaff!

  12. Wade says:

    How is Silver Surfer’s non-costume an impractical one?

  13. PapaKrok says:

    I was thinking a codpiece of sorts might deter the requisite-fist-to-the-groin standard for basic self defense…not to mention adding some mystery to the spandex enhanced details. Perhaps it could be heated to avoid a potential Costanza moment???

    Aquaman…”I was in the pool!!!”

  14. Watson Bradshaw says:

    his silver space junk broke off in the freezing cold of the universe 😉

  15. Master Batman says:

    I didnt see CAPES yet! Thats the first thing I thought i’d see here! cmon. Those things are dangerous, you could get it caught in a jet engine for example.

  16. Sutter_Kaine says:

    The early superhero costumes were based on the outfits worn by circus performers, like acrobats and strongmen. They wore a set of trunks over their tights in case their tights split open during a performance, so the trunks (or underwear on the outside) were actually practical.

    That said, a superheroe’s costume doesn’t have to be practical. In fact, unless he’s a martial artist (and I have to admit I actually like Iron Fist’s original look, as well as Deathlok and yes, even Killraven whose outfit would make Mr. Slave blush), it SHOULDN’T be practical. Is there any better reason to dress like a werido than super powers? If I could smash through brick walls or benchpress an ocean liner, I’d run around in a tutu and a miner’s helmet and dare anybody to make a wisecrack. And as a reader, if you can suspend disbelief long enough not to question how a guy can fly or shoot laser-beams out of his eyes (or how the Atom is still able to breath after he shinks down smaller than an oxygen molecule, or why when a superhero picks up a building, the building doesn’t crumble under its own weight), then why go through the trouble of questioning his ensemble?

    I’ve been reading comics since the 70s, and that’s still what I think of when I think “superhero” (capes, tights, impractical masks, etc.). I don’t find Emma Frosts’s outfit sexy at all. Or Witchblade for that matter. Sexy costumes? Barbara Gordon Batgirl, Poison Ivy and Black Orchid’s original costumes (before they got turned into plant ladies, which I guess somehow made them edgier and/or more interesting and relevant). Now those were costumes. I’d even take Owlman and Owlgirl over the X-Men in their boring movie-style S&M motorcyclist leather gear. I get the whole “we’re trying to make it cool and relevant for a whole new generation with different, more modern sensibilities” thing, but to me that implies an embarassment of the source material, like that stupid “no flights, no tights” thing for the Smallville tv show. It’s Superman!!! He’s supposed to fly and dress like a ballet dancer! That’s who the character is! If that embarasses you, then make up your own characters and your own show.

  17. Myro says:

    Funny thing, I’m in an RPG campaign where my main character is a guy called “Fluke,” who’s gone fairly old school with his costume design, and is wearing a suiy, hat and mask for his superhero costume (think Green Hornet or The Spirit). Problem is, he gets made fun of by almost every other super-being he runs into for his costume choice, as they’ve all gone the traditional route, wearing tights, trunks, capes, and full masks, etc. In a way, it’s kind of surreal.

  18. Myro says:

    Um yeah…”suiy” should read “suit.”

  19. remy says:

    I don’t mind capes. People use the whole “getting sucked into a jet engine” example, but the characters who wear capes and fly are all powerful enough to overcome that force, and invulnerable enough to survive even if it DOES happen. I have, however, always hated LONG capes, like when the artist draws Batman’s cape too long, so it trails behind him on the floor.

  20. John says:

    The early superhero costumes were based on the outfits worn by circus performers, like acrobats and strongmen. They wore a set of trunks over their tights in case their tights split open during a performance, so the trunks (or underwear on the outside) were actually practical.

    Huh! No kidding! I did not know that…learn somethin’ new every day!

  21. The Doomed Pixel says:

    Those little diamond-masks like Robin or the Incredibles wear. How do those things stay on, and seriously, it’s already been pretty well established that, to create a good seamless mask effect, eye makeup is a necessity. Not exactly quick-change material.

  22. TopHat says:

    Street-level heroes wearing capes. Let’s be honest, Batman would be tripping over that thing all the time if he were anyway realistic.

    Also shapeshifters with clothes shapeshifted onto their bodies (Mystiue and Martian Manhunter being prime examples). That’s just…Gross.

  23. Asherian says:

    Honestly, heels aren’t as big an issue as you think. There’s a reason dancers often wear up to 3 inch heels in performances, the biggest issue being if one snaps and then its often easy enough to just break the other off. Plus have you ever been kicked/stepped on by a spike heel? Those things are weapons in their own right.

    Honestly even spandex I can see a level of logic to. Especially considering from how most of it is drawn its not a thin cheap weave but something thicker and closer to a scuba suit (Cheers to KickAss for bringing that one up), which is really wonderful for temperature control and log term wear. Plus providing better protection at that point from grazing cuts then say a t-shirt and jeans would. Sure its not ideal, but a big part of the goal is creating an image. They want to be instantly recognizable, not easily faked, and at least somewhat intimidating. Honestly I’d be a lot more worried about the guy in the spandex then one who’s just wearing mundane cloths, crazy eyes going on there man.

    The mask.. are retarded on many many levels. The dominoes being the worst given they have all the disadvantages of the others without any real identity protection. I loved the old super girl for this, her method of wearing a wig in her mundane form to hide her identity just made so much more sense. Still barefaced, but that way she wasn’t actually encumbered at all during the combat, just the day to day.

    Cloaks I could take or leave, at least batman uses his as a tool most of the time. They aren’t that impractical so long as they’re tear-away. There is a Reason coats replaced them in modern dress though folks!

  24. Frevoli says:


    having no costume is very impractical… where do you keep your keys?

  25. Amscray says:

    @ Sutter_Kaine : Bravo!

    Remember the comment Spidey McGwire made in the elevator about his costume? That was real. Speaking of “real world” costume critiques, here’s something for you to ponder…


  26. Well, Green Lantern’s domino is actually generated by the power of the ring. Which makes me wonder how he doesn’t go blind with the glowing and the radiation and the hoyvenglaven.

    I’d say cape, but Batman actually uses his as a shield, a napsack, a glider, a net, etc. Superman’s costume might have its origins from his native Krypton, but a red cape flapping in the breeze? Might as well shoot a signal flare over the villains’ heads.

    Never cared for Loki’s horns. Actually, any headgear with ornamental protusions. If you’re motif is the Minotaur and you wear a helmet with horns, dang well better know how to use ’em!

    Insignias / emblems give the bad guys a target to aim at. Those really grind my gears. Sure, you want people to know who you are. You see a guy running at you with a bat on his chest, you know you’re about to get pummeled by the one and only Batman.

    Still, you can go overboard with the chest art. Look at Deadshot. His costume says “Insert bullet here.”


  27. Reader Kate says:

    Shoulder pads! “Yup, my armor doesn’t cover my vital organs, but at least my shoulders are protected!”

    Having only one shoulder pad is even worse.

  28. kingmonkey says:

    Kate beat me to it. ’90s shoulder pads are the worst.

  29. remy says:

    @The Atomic Punk: Sure insignias give an easy target, but that’s the point. In Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman reveals that the reason he has a yellow target painted on his chest is because he is more heavily armored there and it gives people something to aim at other than his face.

  30. @remy: See, that makes sense. He should be more like The Tick’s partner Arthur: “Not in the face!”

  31. Kalkin says:

    Actually shoulders need good padding. Broken shoulder rarely heals properly and loses lots of mobility. A shoulder injury is much more likely to result permanent crippling than broken hips or knees. Both can even be replaced with titanium implants, but shoulder joint not so much.

  32. knighthawk says:

    Cleavage, it looks nice, but unless you are either invulnerable or have true hypno-breasts put them away and http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_gjxxYNlvR8A/TL3rBVQW6gI/AAAAAAAAAMw/o-VR3vy8UOU/s1600/SaveTheTatas.jpg

  33. remy says:

    I’m also not a big fan of the whole “my mask/helmet is eating my face” thing.

    Example: http://blog.newsarama.com/gallery/albums/userpics/10087/Gold_Armor_Wonder_Woman.jpg

  34. knight1192a says:

    “I didnt see CAPES yet! Thats the first thing I thought i’d see here! cmon. Those things are dangerous, you could get it caught in a jet engine for example.”

    Yeah, sure. That’s only The Incredibles were the costume designer has absolutely no clue how to properly design a cape. Batman’s used his cape in a number of different ways. Properly designed they won’t get you sucked into a jet engine.