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Wolverine: (fidgeting with the neck of his leather suit) You guys actually go out in these things?

Cyclops: Well, what would you prefer - yellow Spandex?

So, your comic book movie got greenlit, congratulations! Now comes the first big question: your Superheroes Wear Tights, but which kind? Spandex, Latex, or Leather?

Costuming for a superhero movie is Serious Business... or at least, it informs the audience how seriously the franchise takes itself. Spandex tends to say "camp" (The Spider-Man movies seem to buck that trend though), Latex is associated with gritty (Batman, Watchmen), and Leather implies "real world" (the X-Men movies).

The reason is mostly because of the era associated with the heyday of each. Spandex, the form-fitting, brightly colored "tights", is most associated with old school Superheroes thanks to the 1930's Superman serials. The later use of spandex in the old Batman TV show with Adam West would also give it a campy, childish association.[1] Latex, or hard rubber suits, is most remembered for Tim Burton's relaunch of the Batman franchise as a grim, Gothic and serious setting. Joel Schumacher attempted to shift this toward camp, but then Christopher Nolan shifted it even farther toward the "gritty" end than Burton did. Lastly, leather has been used in superhero movies since the beginning of the X Men film series, bringing with it a real world setting, implying these are "plausible" heroes who can and do exist in a world much like our own, behaving as real people do rather than people in tights. To each their tastes.

The choice can actually be quite complicated because -- of course -- the actors have to wear these things. In X-Men, nobody could move in the leather. There was a scene as they are approaching the Statue of Liberty and they have to climb over a brick wall that's about two foot tall. It took them several takes because Jackman, Berry and co could barely clamber over it. Likewise, it wasn't until Batman Begins that any Batman actor could turn their head while in costume (Clooney lampshades this in a late show interview about how conversations between him and Arnold Schwarzenegger would go; a similar lampshade appears in the Dark Knight Saga), though how much of this is the latex and how much of it was costume design is unknown.

See also: Future Spandex, Not Wearing Tights; Hell-Bent for Leather. Contrast the more civilian Coat, Hat, Mask.

Examples of Spandex, Latex, or Leather include:


Film

  • Daredevil: Leather, gritty
  • Iron Man: Metal.
    • Though during filming, they only had a torso made for live-action/non-CGI scenes as making something like a convincing Iron Man suit with actual mobility is difficult. In other words, you could say that Tony Stark runs around pantless.
      • Why does that just make so much sense?
  • Mystery Men: Leather/Spandex, Deconstructive Parody.
  • Sky High: Latex, Camp/Kid
  • Superman Returns: They had to choose something that could fit into the same world as the spandex of the 1970s films, looked impressive now and that the actor could reasonably wear. Well, two out of three ain't bad.
    • Noteworthy in that Toei appears to be using the same material recently in the designs of Super Sentai costumes.
  • Watchmen: All three, actually, and more. The 1940s-vintage heroes mostly wore Spandex or its period equivalent (rather amusing are the realistic canvas, silk or cotton home-made costumes, considering that the heroes in question were ordinary people having either a bout of schizophrenia or a surfacing vigilante streak); some of those that didn't - like Silhouette - wore leather. The later Comedian preferred leather body armor, and Silk Spectre II was in latex. (Malin Akerman famously commented that her costume made her "smell like a giant condom". Please refrain from comment.) Beyond that we had ordinary street wear for Rorschach (with a special mask that reacted to pressure and heat), assorted varieties of body armor for almost everyone else, and a bright blue birthday suit for Dr. Manhattan.
  • Judge Dredd: latex, gritty (even though he wore leather in the comic...)
  • Batman Begins has a suit that is mostly made of some form of kevlar. The Dark Knight adds ceramic plating for even more protection, and a lampshade for movie Batmen being unable to turn their heads.
  • Thor: Chris Hemsworth said his costume made use of chainmail and leather, but his chest armor looks to be latex and the clothes worn under the armor (seen briefly in the movie) appears to be fabric. So... all three?
  • X Men is the Trope Codifier for Movie Superheroes Wear Black (as noted in the page quote). On X Men First Class, however, the X-Men wear yellow suits made of fabric, inspired in equal part by the team's uniforms during their earliest comic appearances and the New X-Men suits. The only one in that movie to fit one of the three materials is Magneto in the ending.

Literature

  • As an Affectionate Parody of the Spandex of this trope, Captain Underpants flies around wearing only underwear and a cape (which is really a red curtain with black dots on it) since that's what most superheroes kinda look like.
  • In Wearing the Cape, superheroes use all three plus other materials. Choice depends on body-type (latex and leather can "hold in" bulges spandex can't), sex, attitude, and superhero personae. Most men wear cotton or leather bodysuits, for example. One female character wears a spandex catsuit under a tailored kevlar vest-skirt.

Live Action Television

  • Super Sentai/Power Rangers teams wear spandex and similar fabrics, firmly cementing them into the campy category they've always held (though in-universe it's supposed to be some kind of special armor that just happens to look like spandex). Though Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie used latex armor instead, and Power Rangers Samurai adds a latex armor variant that never existed in the original.
    • Rumor has it that there has been substantial pushback from the Power Rangers team toward Super Sentai in recent years to switch to leather.
    • As just one of many Lampshade Hangings in Power Rangers RPM, the resident Mission Control becomes highly offended if you refer to the suits as "spandex". ("Tights" seems to be fine, though.)
    • In recent years, Toei has been gradually shifting towards a material more like the Superman costume from Superman Returns. Compare the costumes from Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger to the ones from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. The difference is very obvious. Also, they've recently been using something that looks like a cross between pleather and mylar for EXTREMELY SHINY!! Rangers, as opposed to the old "shiny spandex" or "gold lame over padded nylon" they used for such things as Zyuranger's Sixth Ranger's gold shoulderplate, or most of King Ranger's accessories. Compare those two, Mega Silver, and Gao Silver to Bouken Silver and Shinken Gold. MAJOR difference in materials...
    • It would seem that the newest season, Tokumei Sentai Gobusters, has finally made the switch to leather (or at least faux-leather). There's a possibility that it is only a one-time switch (like going back to capes in Magiranger,) and there's no guarantee that Rangers had anything to do with it, but the switch has helped raise Gobuster's profile (which is already suffering from Tough Act to Follow after Gokaiger).
    • Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger is using latex, though this is less about being gritty and more about playing up the Animesque aspects of the suits (apart from the Anime Hair molded into the helmets, there's the fact that the girls' suits have breasts...)
  • In comparison to Sentai, Kamen Rider (appropriately enough) had a much faster evolution. The older Showa series used spandex bodysuits with plastic armor, upgrading to fully latex suits around the time of Kamen Rider Black, then swapping over to leather with FRP[2] armor around Kamen Rider Kuuga.
  • The Flash live action TV series from 1990 used a thick suit for the Flash that may or may not have literally been latex, but was definitely similar. In-story it was based on a diving suit.
  • LazyTown decided to go the spandex route, with both the hero Sportacus and the villain Robbie wearing tight outfits that help explain why so many of the show's fans are adult women.
  • Smallville does not have one set answer. Clark Kent used to wear red and blue street clothes and is now rocking some Civvie Spandex in the form of a red leather biker jacket and jeans until he finally puts on the tights of the Superman costume. Leather seems to be the superhero outfit of choice, from the Green Arrow, to Doctor Fate, to Booster Gold. Stargirl has been the only hero seen in full spandex (save for her mask), though her mentor the Star-Spangled Kid was wearing his spandex top as part of a Civvie Spandex ensemble while on the run from Checkmate.

Web Original

  • Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog: Spandex, Musical/Gritty
    • When does anyone use anything other than civvies (or labcoats)?
      • Well, Bad Horse, one assumes, goes au natural, as anyone who tries to put a saddle and/or blanket on him is likely to be trampled to death.
      • Captain Hammer wears Civvie Spandex.
      • And Loika wears her wedding dress.

Web Sites

Notes

  1. The term "spandex" is an anachronism, as this synthetic fabric wasn't in wide use until well into the 1960s. Superman and Batman, like their TV counterparts, likely wore cotton.
  2. fiberglass-reinforced plastic
  3. Reportedly, Toei also wanted to update Riderman for Decade, but couldn't get the suit in time, which gave us Gackt in Civvie Spandex before changing into the old suit for the final battle
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