Since their inception as a genre, superheroes have never really dressed like most people. Sure, many of them have their secret identities and wear everyday clothes, so that they can hold down jobs or mix undetected with normal human beings. Yet when they really go to work, they wear clothing which is, to be fair, rather outlandish. That being said, this doesn’t stop those along the spectrum of fandom, from casual aficionado to full-blown expert, from trying to find ways to bring some aspect of their favorite hero to their own wardrobes – and that’s something we ought to encourage.
For those unwilling to don a garment made from lycra/spandex from fear of being photographed, like British Prime Minister David Cameron, there are of course other options. The now-familiar slanket, also known as the snuggie, i.e. a fleece blanket with sleeves, has been around for a few years now, and comes in a range of superhero styles at many retailers. However some new arrivals on the wearables market may prove to be just as popular with superhero fans who aren’t quite willing to fully suit up for themselves.
Take for instance this new product from Chilean company Selk-Bag: wearable sleeping bags designed to make the user look like a Marvel superhero. They fit just about any size, from kids to adults. They’re also waterproof, but only recommended for temperatures down to 45 degrees Fahrenheit – that’s about 7 degrees Centigrade for you non-Americans.
Although not designed for such temperatures, I can envision some people using these this winter, much to the envy of their friends. Particularly on warmer winter days when engaging in things like sledding, snowball fights, and ice hockey, a bit of padding can go a long way toward not being knocked about too much. Still, perhaps these types of garments are best-saved for those of you who live in more moderate climates, where winters are not too terribly cold.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the return of the beloved childhood label Underoos, but this time in adult size. If you’re of a certain age, you probably had a pair or two of these in your underwear drawer growing up. Underoos were matching underwear sets for kids, the most popular of which featured superheroes and sci-fi characters. From the late ’70’s through the 80’s, they were quite the rage for kids who wanted to run around the house torturing their younger siblings through acts of violent horseplay.
So far the offerings are limited, but include Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Batman, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, He-Man, and Skeletor. The underwear sets even come in the same retro packaging that you may remember from your childhood. In some sense others have already picked up the slack on this type of product, most notably athletic gear/underwear designers UnderArmour in their “Alter Ego” line. However one should never underestimate the appeal of a well-timed bit of nostalgia marketing, particularly when superhero culture is such a dominant force in the entertainment world at the moment.
The huge variety of characters in the superhero universe, who all dress rather unusually, allows people to explore different aspects of their own personality and values. Even if they happen to be drawn to one particular favorite, when purchasing garments like these, fans can naturally cross over into being several different characters – just as most of the serious cosplay folk I’ve been getting to know do in the projects they work on. The fact that such garments are even available to the general public only reinforces the impression that, while marketers may be taking full advantage of this trend, there is more going on here than simply choosing a logo and going with it.
Like in Greco-Roman and Norse mythology, comic book superheroes speak to something larger than themselves. By referencing their articles of clothing in what we ourselves wear, we also reference what virtues these characters stand for. So while today wearing the “S” on your chest is a kind of textile shorthand for saying that you value “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”, in ancient times the wedding knot in the girdle or belt worn by a bride around her waist was a reminder of the virtue of chastity, from the tale of Hercules and Hippolyta. Western culture is littered with many such symbols which try to pass on values, which even if we don’t realize it are still showing up in articles of clothing today, from the laurel leaves of Apollo and Daphne on a Fred Perry bag, to the Golden Fleece from the story of Jason and the Argonauts embroidered on a Brooks Brothers polo shirt.
People need and want to be reminded of what makes us care for one another, and why having a free, democratic, and civilized society is better than the alternative. I don’t mean to suggest that one must always try to dig deeply into the superhero world to try to answer that need, because let’s face it: sometimes you just want to have fun and play make-believe. Yet in a time when so much of contemporary society seems so lost and rudderless, awash in a sea of materialism and selfishness, and in need of rediscovering virtues like self-sacrifice, charity, and service to others, is your wearing a superhero t-shirt really such a bad place to start?