Emily S. Whitten: Dress for Success, Superheroine Style
Remember that time when Lois Lane dressed up as one of the most ridiculously named superheroines I’ve ever heard of on Smallville? And that superheroine was named “Stiletto” because at the time when she beat up a dude who was mugging Chloe, she happened to be wearing stilettos? And then she needed to find a way to draw out “the Blur,” (a.k.a. the non-Superman Superman of Smallville) so she used that incident to create a superheroine persona that wore a leather bustier and super-high stiletto boots, and then almost got her ass handed to her (despite being, really, pretty kick-ass for a normal gal). Yeah, that was a pretty silly episode. (And on a related note, I swear it’s just happenstance that I’ve started my last two columns by reminiscing about Superman shows. Next week, I promise I’ll reminisce about a different show. Or something.)
Anyway, despite being silly, I got to thinking about it recently, after some discussion about how female superheroines are dressed in comics. Let’s say I lived in a comic-book world, where I was, e.g., a lawyer by day and a superheroine by night. What would that be like? Well, first, I’d be really good friends with Matt Murdock and Jennifer Walters, because of course. (Man, we would have the most awesome happy hours ever.) Second, I’d have to pick a costume. And really, I feel like that wouldn’t be an easy task. I mean, in part it would depend on what kind of superheroine I was, e.g. what powers I had; but let’s say for the sake of general thought that at the very least my style of superheroine fighting would require athletic moves, as most do. What would I wear? And in comparison with what we see in comics, would it, or even could it, look “sexy,” as most supeheroines do, while still being practical? Let’s “give it a think,” as Winnie the Pooh would say.
Undergarments: Yes, I’m going to start with this, and here’s why: 1) Well, obviously, we’re talking about all the practicalities of superheroine-ing, and that includes everything from the inside out; and 2) I’ve seen so many comics in which a superheroine is fighting and there’s a lot more wear-and-tear than you’d expect from just a physical fight, and then, voila! Clothes are ripped and we can see, omg! their unmentionables! (Or, you know, sometimes they just go out to fight crime with one boob hanging out. Sure, why not?)
Well; if I was going to be running around trying to karate-kick (or whatever kick) thugs and stuff, I’d definitely wear something comfortable underneath. And it is possible to wear comfortable underwear that’s still pretty or cute; but for any of those superheroines out there who I’ve seen drawn wearing even somewhat skimpy panties under their costumes – well, all I can say is, those ladies’ superpowers must include the power to fight wedgies. At the very least I’d be wearing underpants that cover and stay on my butt; and in all likelihood, as a superheroine my new favorite thing would end up being boyshorts. Also, for any artists out there who are drawing superheroines wearing thongs? AHAHAHAHA. *snort* Right.
Likewise, if I had plans to be backflipping all over, or hanging upside-down, or elbowing baddies, or pretty much anything involving gymnastics or a physical fight, the last thing you’d be seeing is my cleavage. I mean, who can spare the concentration to worry about flashing the world when you’re trying to save it? Also, low-cut shirts are an easy thing for someone to catch onto or snag during a fight – yikes! Despite her other hilarious costume choices, Ms. Marvel has it right when it comes to the practicalities of how much cleavage I’d want to worry about while I was fighting. (Power Girl! You were so close to having a practical top! What happened?? Oh yeah. Dudes.)
I’d also want to wear something very breathable, unless one of my superpowers was not sweating. So that means goodbye to all of the heavily padded “Wonderbra” type things that would boost cleavage to the level seen on most superheroines (and if that’s all natural, then whoo-boy, the back problems those ladies must have!). One of my friends who grew up in Florida once compared those bras to “wearing two warm wet sponges” when it’s hot outside, and she’s not wrong. Maybe I’d opt for a little padding so the world wouldn’t take notice every time it’s cold outside, but probably the very “sexiest” thing I’d try out as a fighting superheroine is a sports bra like this, which is what you get when you cross a “sexy” lingerie store with an attempt to be practical. And even that has underwire, which is not super-comfortable in athletic situations, so my likely favorite would be something like this. (P.S. Sports bras don’t usually have lace on them. Sorry, dudes.)
Pants and Top: I actually think in most fight situations, a tightly tailored costume would be beneficial. It means less clothing to get caught on stuff; easy movement; and comfort, particularly if you’re wearing a breathable material, e.g. cotton spandex instead of something like bathing-suit material (though that probably holds up better and shows perspiration less). Spandex isn’t super-durable, though. If I had something like Supergirl’s physical invincibility, which supposedly extends to at least form-fitting clothes, then sure, the protection of spandex might be all I’d need; but if I was less-than-invulnerable, I’d probably want at least a few layers, and/or some padding around the joints; or maybe some leather, like motorcycle riders wear, if I could make it flexible enough. If I was less of a gymnast and more of a heavy fighter, I might even go for some sort of flexible body armor, like Batman.
I’d say there would be a range of decent choices for design here, as long as it: 1) covered and provided some protection for all exposed skin, unless invulnerable; or 2) If invulnerable, was still comfortable to fight in, so no unitards (wedgie problems again, as well as the worry about flashing everyone, for reals). The closest I’d go is spandex shorts to, like, mid-thigh. Or, if I absolutely had to wear a unitard, I’d at least wear tights or hose underneath. Also, let’s be frank, us ladies don’t shave our legs every single day ever, and crime waits for no beauty regimen. So even as Supergirl I might prefer something that covers my legs.
Oh, and I might opt for a belt of some sort, both a) to stave off butt cleavage; and b) for pouches, because seriously, as much as we make fun of comic book characters with myriad pouches sometimes, where else would I keep my weapons, grappling hook (because of course I’d have a grappling hook), communication and/or time-telling devices, and other necessaries (deodorant might be welcome, if I’m constantly fighting)? I might even go for a leg sheath too, if I were a guns-and-knife-y sort of gal. (Ooh – or maybe boots with leg knife sheathes! Rad.) If no pouches, or maybe in addition to them, I’d probably have zip-pockets sewn in all over the place, pants and shirt.
In the tops department, I’d go for full coverage unless I was invulnerable; and if I was, again, Ms. Marvel had the right idea for necklines. Oh, and I’d never, ever, ever wear a corset or bustier of any sort, unless my super-powers were being able to not breathe while exerting myself, and winning fights without bending too much in the middle. I’d also never, ever wear a cape, no matter how cool it might look if I could fly, because hello – how seriously easy is it to get tangled up in something like that, not to mention baddies literally yanking you around? (The exception being, I guess, Batman-types, who actually use the capes to fly, and even then I’d want it to, like, retract into a pouch or something.) I’d probably also opt for some good short, tight leather fingerless gloves with velcro wrist-adjusters and grip on the palms, especially if I was a climber or gymnast-y type fighter.
Shoes: No heels, no way. Hell no. Or, to be more precise – up to maybe 3/4 to 1 inch of a sneaker-style heel could be acceptable, but there would be no stiletto or spike heels, no square heels, no narrow-heeled wedge heels, etc. A short wedge that was wide and actually designed for stuff like fighting and running could be acceptable, I guess (it’d have to be tested). A low platform also might work. (Although of course, both of those options would be solely for the vanity/fashion desires of the superheroine, since I can’t see either of them being a fighting advantage). But again, short and low means like, 0.75 to maybe 1.25 inches, which is a lot lower in appearance than most comics artists realize. Even flying superheroines wouldn’t really be exempt from this, because they don’t do all of their fighting in the air, and they’d still need to keep their balance and speed while kicking someone or running on the ground.
If I was a superheroine that ran a lot or fought like a martial artist, I might actually want something closer to racing flats, Puma Speed Cats, or the like (racing flats are so nice to run in). I’d also want rubber soles with excellent grip (and maybe hidden knives in the heels if I did have thick soles, because knives in the heels. So cool. As far as a question of boots or sneakers, I actually might prefer boots with a soft but flexible leg – for more ankle support, as well as more leg and ankle protection. And I’d definitely get some good breathable athletic socks that stayed up and had arch support.
Accessories: Along with the aforementioned pouches, I’d definitely have my hair either very short, just long enough to stay in a short ponytail (a cut at about shoulder-length, maybe?), or in a bun at all times. As someone who’s done sports with hair that’s not super-short but too short to really tie back, and hair that was long enough to sit on, I know how annoying hair in your face/mouth/eye can be; and that doesn’t even consider it being a really convenient thing for people to grab in fights. No no, my superheroine hair would not be flying everywhere. A neat bun, perfect short ponytail, or super short ‘do is the only way to go. Barring or on top of that, I might opt for a skullcap, or similar tight hat, or a bandana like Elektra wears (but with all of my hair actually inside, and no flowing ribbons to catch on things).
If I was the sort to need to hide my face and keep my secret identity, I actually like the style of Black Canary on Smallville, where she paints a mask of elaborate makeup on as opposed to wearing a mask. She also has short hair and wears a wig in regular life, which is quite practical. Well done there, Smallville. Makeup is super time-consuming, though, so I might also have a fitted demi-mask to throw on as needed. Or, seriously, a ski mask-style thing. keeps the hair and identity under wraps!
And with that, I’d be (hopefully, somewhat) practically fitted out to go fight crime! And now we are back to the question, how “sexy” would I be? Well, I’d have low-to-no heels, and no cleavage or skin flashing. I’d also be lacking the flowing hair worn by so many superheroines, and maybe be wearing a cap or even a ski mask (and those things are ugly). Pretty much, I’d be Batman. I would, however, probably be wearing tight clothes. So I guess that’s, like, one sexy point in favor of practical costuming? But more importantly than any of that, I’d be comfortable, incognito, and giving myself the best advantages for winning the day and staying alive; and I have to think for most superheroines, those would be the most important considerations.
Looking at how superheroines dress in comics today, I occasionally see evidence that character and costume designers have at least thought of some practicalities; but I also see many egregious examples of “this would never happen in real life, wow.” And I see an imbalance in the practicality of design for male vs. female heroes. I’m not an idiot, or an unreasonable person – I know comics are for looking at, and people want to look at nice things; and superheroines having at least some prettiness or sex appeal is (almost always) inevitable. And that can be okay; I like looking at nice things, too. I also understand that for some heroines, invulnerability or other powers change the costume metric. But I do think it’s great when I see at least some thought being put into what it would really be like to be a superheroine, rather than just “what I want to look at.” And since male professional creators in comics still greatly outweigh female creators and can’t know what it’s like to actually live in female bodies and wear women’s’ clothes…maybe my little foray into musing about practical superheroine-ing will actually be helpful to someone. And if not…well, if I create a superheroine, now at least I know what she’ll be wearing!
Until next time, dress for success and Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Does The Sgt. Pepper Rag
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold and The Nerddom Intelligentsia