“Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… that guy who wears his underwear on the outside!” I know that sounds like a ridiculous introduction but when it comes to the superhero genre, being ridiculous is actually a part of the gig.
Besides, most of these super-powered beings, for some reason, wear their undies on the outside as part of their uniform. From Superman and Batman to Wolverine and Cyclops to many others in between.
Wearing underwear on the outside has been a long tradition in the superhero genre.
Whether you’re a fan or not, you’ve probably wondered why these spandex-clad champions wear their undies that way.
It is a weird design feature indeed but if you look at history, you’ll learn its really not unique to superheroes in any way.
In fact, former DC Comics Editor Julius Schwartz revealed the source of inspiration for the costumes in his biography Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics.
According to Julius Schwartz, superhero costume designs were inspired by aerial circus performers and wrestlers from the 1920s to 1930s.
Schwartz, who served as an editor for DC Comics from 1944 to 1986, said that Superman’s uniform (one of the first superheroes to wear external underwear) was indeed modeled after the costumes of aerial circus performers and wrestlers.
Meanwhile, a Gizmodo article gives us additional details about this:
“Now, it should be noted here 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.”
Aside from Superman, who catapulted to popularity in 1938, Flash Gordon was among the first to don the style in 1934.
So yes, the next time you notice those strange undies in comics, just remember their ‘secret origin’ as shared by Schwartz.