Why Superman Wears “Underwear” Outside His Costume
Fans have wondered why Superman’s outfit looks like he’s wearing underwear on the outside, but Grant Morrison may have found the answer.
This is the question that is perplexing Superman fans for years: Why does the Man of Steel wear his underwear outside? Comic book legend Grant Morrison apparently discovered the answer by digging into the past.
Clark Kent’s fashion faux pas has been part of his image since the moment he burst onto the comic book scene. With a pair of crimson trunks breaking through a field of blue, Superman has perhaps one of the most recognizable costumes in all of comics. However, this recognition is not without a few jokes at the expense of the resemblance of the shorts to the underwear. Over the years, Superman has seen a few changes to his outfit, swapping out the trunks for a belt or simply ditching the red. But no matter how many changes Superman’s outfit has undergone, the red “underwear” look is just too iconic to go away for good.
Despite the popularity of the Superman costume, it’s still worth wondering why the outfit was designed that way in the first place. Comic book writer Grant Morrison found the origin of underwear perhaps in the most unexpected place: the 1930s. In their analytical book on superheroes, Supergods, Morrison tells a story where they discovered vintage photographs of circus strongmen. They noted that, like Superman, the performers on the show also wore tights and belts as part of their stage persona. Morrison explains:
“The undergarments over the tights were signifiers of extra-masculine strength and endurance in 1938. The cape, showman’s boots, belt, and skin-tight spandex were all derived from circus attire and helped emphasize the performative, even freak-show-esque aspect of Superman’s adventures. Raising bridges, stopping trains with their bare hands, wrestling elephants: these were feats of super strong men who benefited from the carnival flair implied by the form-fitting spandex.
Morrison’s discovery seriously helps contextualize Superman’s attire for modern audiences. After all, despite their prevalence in the early 20th century, circuses and sideshows aren’t nearly as common today. The odds of someone looking at the Man of Steel costume and thinking “strongman” are incredibly low due to how far society has come from the 1930s. Back then, the hero was basically a exaggeration of the “strong man” ideal, someone who pushed beyond the limits of what the average person could do. The costume and his colorful trunks easily communicated that Superman was a stronger and more capable being, something readers would discover for themselves upon opening the pages of action comics see Clark get ahead of a train or stop a speed ball.
The hero’s outrageous costume was designed to draw readers in by subtly reminding them of show performers who regularly bent steel. Although it might sound a bit hokey these days, “undies” helped by Superman early readers immediately identify him as a powerful figure who promised to delight and entertain the masses.
Next: The New Age Of Superman Redefined His Use Of Violence In A Huge Way
Justice League ‘deaths’ get a shocking twist from DC Comics
About the Author