Why Superman Wears Underwear Outside


Does Superman have a problem dressing?

The guy is over 90 years old, and he still has problems getting his clothes in the right order.

The concept of underwear being under his clothes just seems to elude him.

But seriously, can you imagine the comic studio when they were first thinking of the Superman character?

One artist looks up and says to the other, “I think Superman should wear his underpants over his clothes.”

What sort of mind would first come up with that idea? Why was he not laughed out of the studio?

Superman wears his underwear, or what appears to be underwear, on the outside to emulate the circus strongmen at the time. These strongmen wore a tight-fitting pair of shorts over their leggings as a trademark costume.

How The Idea Of Superman Wearing Underwear Outside Started

Joe Shuster was the original artist that created Superman.

He died in 1992, remembered as the man who invented wearing underpants on top.

They inducted him into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1992, the same year he died.

In 2005 The Canadian Comic Book Awards Association instituted the Joe Shuster Award for innovative costume design (actually, that bit isn’t true), although they did institute an award in his name.

So why did Shuster think that wearing underpants on top was an idea whose time had come when he was designing Superman?

Well, he wasn’t actually looking forward, he was looking back to Circus acrobats and strongmen.

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In the early 1900s, the circus was a lot more popular than it is today and the acrobats had a trademark costume that involved wearing some fairly tight shorts over their other clothes.

Since Shuster was trying to signify strength, the idea of basing his drawings on a Circus Strongman seemed quite reasonable.

Just to clarify the shorts that these circus performers wore were not actually underwear, but just a tight-fitting pair of shorts.

They wore their underwear under the rest of the costume.

The costume signifies strength, or at least it did in those days.

The idea of using the outer shorts has caught on with many subsequent superheroes.

DC Officially Confirms That Superman Did Not Wear Red Underwear.

In a recent issue of action comics #967, Superman himself confirms that his so-called underwear worn over the costume were not in fact underwear at all, but were in fact a decoration sewn onto his tights to emulate the strong man outfits worn at the time by circus performers.

So now this theory about the strong man costume is official.

Over time the pair of red shorts have been replaced occasionally by a red belt, and in 2011 the costume was officially changed to a red belt.

Fortunately, Joe Shuster never got to see his brilliant idea dropped.

Of course inside the superman story, there has to be a reason why Superman wears that particular costume.

The writers of Superman explained the costume by saying that it was given to Superman by his birth parents (from the planet Krypton), who hid the costume in the Fortress of Solitude.

In an alternate storyline, it was stated that his parents left the clothes in a Kryptonian Scout Ship.

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Why Do Superheroes Wear Masks?

The very first masked superhero was “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” written by Emma Orczy in 1903.

The story featured an Englishman who was a hero during the reign of terror in France.

He had many adventures in the book. He had two identities.

The first was a really Genteel character, the total opposite of a hero (Percy Blakeney), and the second was the Scarlet pimpernel who wore a mask to protect his identity.

This idea was picked up in the United States when in 1919 an American pulp writer, Johnston McCulley, introduced a character called Zorro.

Zorro was an identity of a man called Don Diego Vega in late 18th and 19th century California.

Don Diego was very much based on Percy Blakeney from The Scarlet Pimpernell, once again very much an effeminate genteel character, who has an alternate identity as the skilled swordsman and hero Zorro. To protect his identity, he also wore a mask.

Moving on to 1936 and the era of comic books.

We first saw superheroes wearing masks in a pair of characters called “The Phantom” and “The Clock.”

Three years later, the real change was the superhero Batman who wore a mask to hide the identity of the mild-mannered Bruce Wayne.

Batman became such an iconic figure that it is impossible that future comic book mask wearers were not inspired by his look.

Why Do Superheroes Wear Tight Clothes?

Moving on from masks, we begin to look at the rest of the superhero costume.

One thing they all seem to have in common is that they wear very tight figure-hugging clothes (like spandex).

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The first reason given is not buried in the past, like the explanation of the masks, but something much more mundane.

The reason is quite simply that comic book artists have great difficulty drawing creases in pants, and eventually, they start to leave out the creases and make the clothes fit tighter, culminating in the tights and skintight top that we associate with modern superheroes.

It is also important that the superhero stand out in the comic book.

They always wear striking color combinations, and the public begins to associate the colors with the character.

Remember, different artists may draw the same character, and by training the reader to associate colors, it makes it less important that the face is drawn exactly the same by each artist.

Secondly, tight clothing allows the artists to show all the muscles of the superhero, ensuring that the readers fully understand how strong the superhero is.

Look at it another way. If the superhero was just wearing jeans and a t-shirt, how is that going to inspire terror in the supervillain?

A hero in jeans and a t-shirt has nothing to signify his great power.

Probably the real reason is that the earliest comic book heroes wore tight costumes, and later artists just jumped on the bandwagon and made a few variations to create a new character.

Final Thoughts

Superman is one of the most popular superheroes of all time, despite the fact that many people think that he wears his underwear outside.

Now, when you know the true reason/meaning of this, you can possibly educate a bit other people who still believe that it’s true.

Mojmir Trefulka

Fascinated with Superheroes since childhood. I'm 35 years old and I'm from the Czech Republic – a small country in the middle of Europe. I love comic books and superhero movies. Superheroes are my passion for a very long time and I love writing about them – let's have fun together.

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