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The Wednesday Waffle - Issue Three: Costume Party (Part One)

Supergirl, Batgirl and The Red Hood have all had new costumes announced over the last couple of months and as ever with such things fan reaction has been mixed. 'Twas ever thus...

Let's have a look at the latest entries into the comics wardrobe first of all. Take Supergirl's new threads, for example from this:

To this:

Now. Middle aged men like myself commenting on what young women like Kara Zor-El choose to wear is never a good look. At best we sound out of touch and condescending. At worst we sound downright creepy. So please, trust that I don't say this lightly.

But what the hecking heck is she wearing now?! Did she get dressed in the dark?!

It's not that the classic costume is perfect - it clearly isn't. While the red and blue evoke her cousin's outfit and point the reader to decades of tradition I can't really see that the thigh high boots are going to be either practical or comfortable (footwear is going to come up a later in this discussion - and at least she's wearing flats...).

More than that though, they really didn't think that skirt through, did they? It looks good when she's standing on the ground, but one of the key features of Kryptonians on Earth is that they don't stand on the ground, they fly above it.

I'll leave you to ponder that one...

The classic costume does have a couple of things going for it though. For a start, it's the classic. It's the one everybody recognises, and in comics as in everything else, recognition is important. But it also looks good, and it's the kind of thing real people might actually wear - in the same way her cousin's outfit was modeled after the attire of gymnasts and circus strongmen from the nineteen thirties, Supergirl's outfit evokes the cheerleader's outfits of the sixties and seventies*. (And probably beyond - I've only ever seen cheerleaders on Buffy...)

While I don't claim to be up on women's (or anyone else's) fashion trends, I really don't believe the new outfit is something anyone would choose to wear. I mean, just look at it! Perhaps the colour scheme will be explained, but even I know that it'snot a good idea to put black and blue together - it makes you look like a bruise. Then there's that cape.

Oh, that cape!

I mean, of course, capes are always impractical - especially if you're expecting to engage in any kind of hand to hand fisticuffs. But this weird cape/sash hybrid thing she's wearing now not only looks uncomfortable, it looks silly.

Is it the worst costume Supergirl has ever had? Well, that is obviously a matter of opinion, but I'm inclined to say "yes" - although there was this one which might count as one of the worst excesses of The New 52, maintaining the tradition for thigh high boots and inexplicably bare legs. Sometimes girls wear tights too, right?

Our beloved Barbara Gordon has fared a little better, as her costume is set to change from this:

To this:

Now, I'm sad to see the old suit go. I liked it because it was practical, looked not only comfortable but something you could actually fight in, and looked like something a young woman in her early twenties could actually put together without needing the assistance of her pointy eared mentor's bank balance.** The yellow Doctor Marten boots were a touch I particularly liked.

The new suit isn't bad though. It's basically what Batman wears, but with more yellow. From a practical standpoint I think losing the cowl is a bad move - it's the loss of the ability to protect both her head and her identity. She's Commissioner Gordon's daughter, for goodness sake - a lot of Gotham cops must surely know her by sight and I don't care what anyone says about Clarke Kent and his glasses, that mask thingie is fooling nobody.

From an aesthetic point of view though, I get it. Getting rid of the cowl allows artists to have some fun with Babs' long flowing auburn hair, offering another option for depicting movement in what is a static medium.

Of course the big man himself has seen a costume alteration recently (minor spoilers for Batman #53 ahead, but seriously, it's been out a couple of weeks now...) as he leaves behind this costume that he's worn since Rebirth:

in favour of this more classic look:

And of course I'm instantly torn, because I love the rebirth costume, but this classic outfit, reminiscent of the work of Bill Finger way back in Detective Comics #27 and David Mazzucchelli in Batman: Year One is pretty much perfect - and it allows us to address the perennial question about superhero costumes:

"Why do they wear their underpants on the outside?"

I've been hearing comments like this a lot lately, as Superman has also returned to the "keks on the outside" look since Bendis too over, and while the answer is simple, it's not a stupid question if you don't know the answer - and it does look odd to modern readers.

But the truth is, of course, they don't wear their undies over their tights. That would be absurd. No, they're gym shorts, of the type a male gymnast, wrestler or bodybuilder might well have worn over their leotard in the twenties and thirties.

Take these chaps***, for instance - engaging in traditional Cumberland Wrestling at some point in the early twentieth century. (Indeed, participants in this sport continue this style of dress to this day.)

You can also see the same sort of thing with this strong man's outfit*** from the turn of the twentieth century, although it's less obvious because his shorts are the same colour as his tights.

Their purpose is essentially decency. First, they keep your tights up. Remember we're in a world before Lycra here, tights were made from cotton, and they had a tendency to slide down. These belted shorts prevented that. They also helped keep a gentleman's package suitable concealed - the skintight fabric could be a little too revealing on its own...

Of course the shorts also serve an artistic purpose. With characters like Batman and Superman, whose shorts are different colours from the rest of their suits, they add a contrast to the image which can add interest to a panel. (I'd show you some examples, but I'm not nearly clever enough with photoshop, so I'll let you use your imaginations...)

Join us next time, when we continue to explore the weird and wonderful outfits our superhero friends have worn over the years - spike heels, massive collars, boob windows, thigh holes and crop tops galore!

*We'll leave the institutional sexism behind those costume choices for discussion at a later date...

**We all know that Batman's only superpower is money...

***Credit to the photographers and copyright holders, who I have not been able to identify. I regret that I have also been unable to identify the gentlemen in the images either.