Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why do superheroes wear their underwear on the outside?” you ask? Good question. (Besides, it beats answering the question: “Why does The Hulk’s shirt always rip to shreds but She-Hulk’s top never comes off?” Seriously? So what grade are you in now anyway? Gee, is it just me or do my readers seem to be getting much younger?)
On the other hand, comic book costuming is the topic of the day. If you study the iconic images of most major superheroes –not recent, trendy revamps—you will notice that they do appear to be wearing their underwear on the outside of their tights. The question is, of course, why is that?
Yours truly is no stranger to this medium. He has met numerous artists, writers, editors and publishers in the industry. Far too many years ago now, when the late Bob Kane–the artist behind Batman—was promoting his biography Batman & Me in L.A., he briefly responded to that very question noting that at the time heroic figures such as circus acrobats, wrestlers and the newly-created Superman all had shorts over their tights.
Daven Hiskey, contributor to Today I Found Out, and fellow comic book aficionado, confirms this. He says that “there have been many fantastical proposed origins of this seemingly odd modish style amongst comic artists -my favorite of which being that most superheroes lost their parents at an early age, so they had no one to tell them underwear goes under your clothes -the true origin is pretty simple.”
Hiskey adds that the late Julius Schwartz, a longtime editor at DC Comics, where at different times he was primary editor over Superman and Batman, also stated that this “underwear-on-the-outside” look “was simply modeled after the garb of aerial circus performers and wrestlers of the era in which the first superheroes proudly donned their underpants over their tights.”
Hiskey also points out (what should be) the obvious adding that “the wrestlers, circus performers, and superheroes weren’t actually wearing underwear, but rather tight underwear-like shorts over their leggings. As superheroes are generally incredibly gifted athletically and perform amazing acrobatic stunts while crime fighting, it was natural enough for this style of dress to get adopted by the earliest superhero artists for their characters.”
Hiskey even provides perhaps the earliest examples. He points to “Flash Gordon (1934), which in turn was partially the inspiration for the garb of Superman (1938).”
Why do superheroes wear their underwear on the outside? Now you know.
You ask the questions. We provide the answers.
American Live Wire . . . Listen and be heard.