Superheroes who couple a typical Cape's outfit with mundane clothes such as jeans and sneakers. This may also be an attempt to keep a classic design but update (or obscure) an otherwise flashy outfit.
The most prominent example is jackets, and most of the characters who wore them were originally the younger set created in the early 90s. Marvel Universe characters are especially notable for this, although the first popular character to do so may have been Animal Man.
This page may also contain examples of characters who identify as superheroes, but do not wear a typical costume of any kind, as Not Wearing Tights is a different trope entirely. (This type, such as the quoted Jenny Sparks, tend to have an set civilian outfit that does the same job.) See Coat, Hat, Mask for the minimum amount of spandex needed for this trope to apply. Also, Spandex, Latex, or Leather for other issues involving costuming.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
In Gantz, 8th grader Joichiro Nishi wears pants and a hooded sweatshirt over his black combat jumpsuit.
In Tentai Senshi Sunred, the titular hero, having largely given up the hero business, now wears only casual clothes and his helmet in most cases (though he does keep his full battle suit around in case of a potential serious battle). The other former members of the Weather Three are similar but go about it differently- Blue has reduced his helmet to a simple face mask, while Yellow just wears a jacket over his full suit.
Perhaps the first such character was actually The Spirit, who in most of his 60+ year run has worn a fairly ordinary business suit, trenchcoat and fedora, with only a Domino Mask and gloves to even hint that he is in costume. Of course, he's not strictly a superhero, being more of a two-fisted pulp detective; creator Will Eisner only added the mask as a token submission to his publisher's belief that a comic book hero is always a costumed hero. See also Coat, Hat, Mask.
Similar attire was adopted by Mr. A and The Question in the late 1960s (both characters were created by the legendary Steve Ditko, and bear a few more similarities to each other besides their mode of dress), and later still by Rorschach of Watchmen, an Expy of The Question and Mr. A.
The Green Hornet and Kato, in the 1960s TV series, were also dressed in normal clothes and a mask; in Kato's case, it was a chauffeur's uniform which goes back to the 1940s movie serials
The Green Hornet debuted on radio 17 days prior to the debut of the Phantom and long before Action Comics #1. The public thinks of him as a criminal for profit/racketeer, not a hero.
The Crimson Avenger and Wing, who were closely modelled on the Hornet and Kato, started out with the trenchcoat-and-fedora look, but quickly gained costumes to distinguish themselves, with a Chest Insignia resembling a sunburst. When the modern Crimson Avenger was introduced, she claimed the insignia was a stylised bullethole, and wore Civvie Spandex comprising leather pants, a Badass Longcoat and a T-shirt with a real, blood-spattered bullethole.
Of course, the ur-instance of this trope would be The Shadow, even older than The Spirit, who dresses in a black and red suit, cape and fedora with the only unusual garment being a silk mask over his lower face.
The Shadow debuted in the pulps and on radio, not comic books or comic strips.
The Golden AgeBlue Beetle originally wore a business suit and fedora,and only gained his iconic superhero costume later.
The Avengers had Wonder Man, who wore a red safari jacket over a black tee shirt and jeans through the late 1970s and early 1980s. When he was a member of the Mighty Avengers he wore the red safari jacket, but in his own mini series that largely took place in his own house he walked around in his spandex uniform.
Remember that Wonder Man is/was a being of almost pure ionic energy, so the fact that he has a body to wear spandex on is quite remarkable.
There was a point in the early 90s Dork Age of the Avengers where every member wore a leather jacket. This includes the Black Knight. Yes, he wore a jacket over his armor. And you wonder why they did Onslaught...
Black Knight started wearing a leather jacket again, in the pages of Captain Britain and MI13, but over ordinary clothes. He still wears his helmet, though.
X-Men: Rachel Summers, the alternate-future daughter of Scott "Cyclops" Summers and Jean Grey, did her thing for a long time in a plain, unmarked Danskins leotard set (and she referred to it by that brand name). She only changed to a "real" costume when she formally took on the "Phoenix" sobriquet.
Again from X-Men, Rogue wore a leather bomber jacket over her tights for a good portion of the 90s.
She also wore a trench coat similar to Gambit's over her uniform for a short period of time.
When Grant Morrison, who as mentioned below did a lot to popularize this trope, took over writing 'New X-Men', most of the team switched from skin-tight 'body armour' to leather jackets and trousers. Except Emma Frost, who after years actually wearing clothes in Generation X, switched to her most minimalist outfit yet.
Storm's initial definitive shift from her gentle Team Mom/Nature Goddess persona during the '80s was punctuated with both an Important Haircut and abandonment of her outfit for a black leather tube-top/vest/tight pants/boots ensemble. Some readers took it as her coming out as well, especially after her "night out" with Yukio.
Jubilee's signature look is a bright yellow coat worn over her uniform.
Animal Man: When the obscure character was revived in 1988 in his own series, writer Grant Morrison changed his image by having him wear a denim jacket over his spandex costume. This not only have him a distinctive look, but it was also practical as it allowed him to have pockets.
The pockets being for mainly carrying around his keys and notes from his wife.
It's generally accepted that Animal Man popularized the leather jacket motif for superheroes throughout the nineties (which is ironic because he'd never touch leather). It seemed like every superhero suddenly got the urge for a biker jacket after A-Man. If there is another reason for Black Knight sporting a jacket over his medieval armor, it is surely not a very good one.
Buddy Baker did temporarily switch to leather while hunting and culling those responsible for killing his wife and kids. Said wife and kids got better.
Jack Knight of Starman sported a bomber jacket ("it gets mighty cold up there") and a pair of goggles ("that staff gets really bright") over civilian clothes — this was in contrast with his father and brother, who as Starman wore the typical cape getup — complete with a green fin on the headpiece. (As The Rocketeer explained, the fin on the helmet helps you steer.)
The Post-Crisis Superboy in the DCU (Kon-El/Conner Kent) went through a number of uniform variants (mostly including leather jackets, like his original one, pictured above) before settling on a uniform (or lack thereof) that appeared to be a black t-shirt with a red Superman-style "S" Chest Insignia, blue jeans and work boots, which became his trademark since he first joined the Teen Titans.
In a deliberate homage to her fallen boyfriend, Wonder Girl's One Year Later costume consisted of jeans and a red tank top with her logo on it.
Of course, most of her earlier outfits during the Young Justice era were not much different.
In the New 52 continuity, Superman himself started his superhero career in an outfit that's similar to Superboy's pre-reboot costume - jeans and a t-shirt with the typical Chest Insignia. He still wears the iconic cape, as it's the only part of his outfit that's as Nigh Invulnerable as he is. It's also the blanket he was found in when his adoptive parents found him as a baby; giving it sentimental value.
Before Superboy, the Golden Age Superman replacement "Iron" Munro from the All-Star Squadron sequel series The Young All-Stars also wore an ordinary T-shirt and pants. He did try out a costume in one storyline, but it was promptly destroyed and he decided to go back to civvies.
Misfit, of the Birds of Prey, wears a cape, mask, and gloves, over a T-shirt, sneakers, and knee-length leggings. She also likes to shout 'Darrrrrk Vennngeannnce!!!' as she lands a foot upside some unsuspecting minion's head. The combined effect can be disconcerting.
Jason Todd's original Red Hood getup consisted of combat boots, cargo pants, a bomber jacket and a motorcycle helmet.
The second Mister Terrific started out wearing ordinary clothes, including a leather jacket with his predecessor's "Fair Play" logo on the back. He now sports a full costume, including a stylised jacket with "Fair Play" on the sleeves and "Terrific" on the back.
The Sleepwalker villains Lullaby and Bookworm were examples of villains who didn't wear costumes, doing their nefarious deeds in their regular street clothes.
Shadowman from Valiant Comics started out wearing a spandex costume. About a year and a half after his debut, he switched to wearing leather pants, boots, leather jacket and a shirt with the logo he used for the spandex costume.
In the 90's a number of characters adopted the Leather Trenchcoat or Duster look. It was essentially the modern replacement for the cape.
Crimebuster, a Golden Age teen superhero, started out with wearing his school hockey uniform and a cape for a costume. Several years later, he traded it for a more mundane outfit, wearing jeans and practical shoes with his hockey jersey. At the very end of the feature's run, he switched to wearing various civilian outfits, but by that point (thanks to the Genre Shift), he was barely acting as a superhero anyway.
Spider-Man related characters:
Subverted in Spider-Girl's Spider-Shoppe, where civilians can buy Spider-Girl costumes and clothes. Turns out it was founded by the heroine's mom to pay for her college education. May's seen sporting Avengers and Fantastic Five gear sometimes, as well.
Until he took over the Spider-Man title, Ben Reilly's costume was the standard spandex affair, all red, with a blue sleeveless hoodie with a spider on it. Though a lot of fans didn't realize it, the costume was actually supposedto look cheesy - the idea being that Ben didn't have time to make a real costume, but he ended up wearing it for so long that the justification stopped making sense.
Dr. Octopus' costume has traditionally consisted of a lab coat or sometimes just a plain suit. During the 70's and 80's, he wore green spandex, but otherwise, he stuck to civvies.
As quoted, Jenny Sparks (with one or two exceptions in her hundred years) has never worn a costume, favouring a completely white trousersuit and vest (she's also associated with Union Jack T-shirts of varying designs). (Jack Hawksmoor, her second-in-command, does the same with a black suit and white buttoned shirt.)
Jenny Quantum, successor to the above, also eschews spandex in favour of civilian clothing; however, her trademark combination of a yellow t-shirt and black leather jacket is a rather sweet callback to her parents' costumes. In the New Fifty TwoStormwatch she wears a Singapore flag hoodie.
The Flaming Carrot wears just a white button-up shirt and purple pants. Oh, and a 4-foot tall carrot mask (with a torch on the top). Also, a pair of flippers. The only function they serve is to keep things from being too easy for him.
In Johnny Saturn, Triops, tired of being tressed as a foppy stage magician, turns to wearing average clothing and a trenchcoat.
None of the Runaways wear any particular costume. They attempt to use code-names in their first major story arc, but quickly abandon them (except for the Cute Bruiser who likes calling herself "Princess Powerful."
The Vigilante, Greg Saunders, wore a pair of jeans and normal clothes.
While he's usually portrayed with a full body suit, The Punisher is shown as just wearing a T-shirt with a skull on it in his more "serious" outings including most appearances in The Punisher MAX.
The Savage Dragon wears normal clothes unless he's in his police uniform. He went through one arc wearing a patriotic spandex costume after joining the superhero team SOS. It was torn apart in that story, which was okay with the Dragon since he hated wearing spandex anyway.
Since the Savage Dragon is a humanoid dragon (with green scaly skin and a fin/crest on his head), it doesn't really matter what he wears; everybody's going to recognize him anyway, kind of like Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four (whose costume for much of the Silver Age was basically a pair of dark blue shorts).
The Hulk, in most incarnations, just wears a pair of pants. Some versions added a tank top or short sleeved shirt. As Joe Fixit, he wore suits. It was only during his time on the planet Sakkar (and maybe during the Pantheon era) that he wore any sort of costume: gladiator armor.
There was an obscure DC ComicsAnti-Hero named Wild Dog, who wore army pants, a football shirt, and a hockey mask. Max Allan Collins created Wild Dog in Amazing Heroes #119, as a modern version of The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Zorro and The Lone Ranger. Collins lampshaded that Wild Dog did not wear spandex by having a young boy talking with some other youths and wondering why they thought that spandex and a cape made a sensible costume. Collins notes that "I don’t see how any intelligent writer can approach a story about people in long underwear and capes without either removing their brain or putting their tongue in their cheek to a degree……. [On [presumably] the Christopher Reeve Superman films] The Superman movies have all, as far as I’m concerned fallen to a degree into the Batman TV show approach-maybe not quite as broad…..And I think they did that because because there’s no other way you can play it. It just doesn’t work. I mean, look at that costume".
As a makeshift costume, Kate Bishop wore her bridesmaid dress with Mockingbird's domino mask along with a bunch of other equipment from the Avengers' locker room.
Both Reptil and Mettle from Avengers Academy wear jeans and T-shirts rather than costumes, though Reptil at least has a shirt that resembles part of an actual costume.
Probably one of the most prominant users of this trope is Luke Cage: Hero for Hire, who has never worn a 'proper' costume, instead wearing normal civvies, usually ones with yellow. He did formerly wear a headband (*cough*Tiara*cough*), but has since abandoned it. He also sometimes wears a jacket, but mostly, he just wears whatever he was wearing at the moment he saw trouble. It helps that his ID is public, so he doesn't have to worry about any secret identity issues.
Daimon Hellstrom's more recent appearances have just had him in dark jeans and a trench-coat (he goes shirtless to show off the pentagram mark on his chest). He also commonly wears sunglasses.
Hank Pym, though still operating as Giant-Man, forgoes the costume when appearing in Avengers AI.
Cure Western from Pretty Cure Hollywood Stars is the first Cure, canon or fanfic, to wear a more normal-looking outfit as her battle attire. Pokémon fans will recognize the costume for both her Cure and Super Cure forms as being based largely on Misty's usualoutfit from the first five seasons.
The actual costumes used for film are spandex though. The director even admits it.
The funny part is that before they get their powers they wear these same suits under their spacesuits and the jumpsuits worn on the space station. That's right folks, they're literally wearing long underwear.
Sky High's Will Stronghold wears red-white-and-blue civvies when in action.
Pretty much all of the kids in Sky High wear ordinary clothes, but have some sort of recurring color motif that suggests uniforms.
Ghost Rider's biker gear, although of course that's how the comic character dresses as well.
The titular character of Hancock wears in the second half of the movie a leather suit similar to the ones the film versions of the X-Men wore, though it had small yellow stripes and an eagle emblem on the back. Lampshaded in the post credit scene.
In Unbreakable, the main character's green rain poncho becomes his de facto superhero costume, as Mr. Glass's purple outfits become his villain's costume.
As mentioned above, Hellboy has a large coat and his movie counterpart covers up more than the comic version: boots, pants, and sometimes a black shirt.
Also mentioned above, The Crow films always have the protagonists essentially wear normal clothes with face paint.
The Mask is a slight variation. The film version creates normal clothes to wear, but they're usually clothes from The Forties or therebouts.
The Rocketeer: Cliff Secord's "costume" consists of pretty standard '30s pilot's gear, a funny-looking helmet and a jetpack.
The titular Captain Underpants has his own version... going around wearing only mundane underwear (of which the title is rather Exactly What It Says on the Tin). The reason behind that by the characters who created him (it's a long story) is that many superheroes flying in spandex, and so, looks like they're flying around in their underwear. Captain Underpants, as you've been told, really is.
Zorro (the literary version and any versions in other media) wears standard clothes for the 1800's, aside from the mask.
One should note that Zorro, of course, predates the Phantom and Superman.
Live Action TV
For almost two decades, The Riddler wore green spandex covered with question marks, a purple belt, and a purple "burglar" mask. When Frank Gorshin portrayed him on the '60s Batman TV series, he switched between the traditional outfit and a classy Civvie Spandex ensemble: green suit, purple shirt, bowler hat, and a tie with a prominent question mark on it. Rumor has it that Gorshin disliked the spandex so much that he designed the new outfit himself. The Gorshin ensemble eventually became a Canon Immigrant, and these days, you rarely see Edward wearing spandex in the comics.
The Batman: The Animated Series version of The Riddler wears this outfit exclusively. Unfortunately, The New Batman Adventures changed his costume back to spandex.
In The Batman, it goes even farther. He's still in spandex with the question-mark cane and the long-and-lanky aspect of his hair is only beaten by the long-and-lanky aspect of his BODY.
Huntress on Birds of Prey wore black leather and, oddly, no mask. Somehow she still had a secret identity.
Lampshaded by the others. Her alter-ego barely stands up to scrutiny.
Kamen Rider Decade has an example brought about by Real Life Writes the Plot. During production of The Movie, the makers decided that they wanted to update the Riderman costume, especially since Gackt was signed on to play the character. Unfortunately they couldn't get the suit done in time, so during his cameo Gackt simply wears a leather jacket, white T-shirt, and leather pants, while during the final battle Riderman is portrayed by a stuntman wearing the 35-year-old spandex suit.
Although Black Canary's look is pretty close to the comic version save shorter hair and facepaint shaped like a domino mask, though the fact that her costume consists of a rather stripperific outfit with fishnets is most likely the cause.
Green Arrow goes full-out in this mode in the Season 10 episode "Beacon." Wisely, because at that point both his civilian AND his superhero identity were among the most-wanted by the Vigilante Registration Act officers. He adopts a basic hoodie in order to fight crime (as well as just to set foot outdoors in general).
In the Season 2 finale of Arrow, Roy Harper's "costume" is a red hoodie and Domino Mask. He begins wearing a proper, comic-accurate costume as Arsenal in Season 3.
In Gotham, the young Selina Kyle wears a black hoodie and a pair of goggles, serving as a bit of foreshadowing for her eventual role as Catwoman when she becomes an adult.
Alex Mercer and James Heller technically don't wear clothes; their powers allow them to grow their flesh into what appears to be normal clothing.
The President of the United States in Saints Row IV has access to superpowers while in the Zin's simulation (and thus, most of the game), and thanks to the heavy customization, the player can fight the Zin Empire in anything from bluejeans and a T-shirt, medieval knight armor, or while full nude
In Everyday Heroes, the Mysterious Watchful Presence wears a long-sleeved shirt, slacks, and boots, in addition to his fedora, cape, gloves, and full-face mask (all in black). He seems to be combining elements from the Golden Age Spirit, Shadow, and Sandman mentioned above.
Although the gloves are rather superhero-like in design.
Cracklin' Rose in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe wears a costume made up of a black leotard, a red cowl, and a red leather motorcycle jacket (the kind Italian cycle racers wear, not the kind American street gang biker's wear).
Justice Squad: This shows up on various characters, ranging from a simple leather jacket over a full-body costume, to jeans and a blue t-shirt.
Honorable mention goes to Launchpad McQuack of Darkwing Duck, who doesn't bother wearing a costume at all, whether fighting crime or at home. His own distinct pilot outfit makes up for it. Curiously, nobody ever connected Drake Mallard to Darkwing Duck through him, though granted, most of the cast aren't that bright.
FINALLY averted in the newcomic series. Of course, it takes Negaduck LITERALLY seeing Launchpad doing Darkwing's laundry at a laundromat. And even after that, he admits to spending months casing the house to make sure... As well as admitting that he's annoyed he never thought of doing something like that intentionally before.
The animated version of Morph from X-Men sometimes wore a jacket over his spandex and Rogue always did.
As in the comic book, Superboy in Young Justice is very adamant about this, perhaps as a way to differentiate himself from Superman (of whom he is a clone). When Wonder Girl joins the cast in season 2, she's shown sporting an outfit consisting of a Wonder Woman T-shirt and a pair of athletic pants.
Also while Harm wears a proper costume in the comics, his getup in the show consists of jeans, combat boots, and a Badass Long Coat.
Likewise, the abductees who later get superpowers (three of whom are based on Samurai, El Dorado, and Apache Chief of the Superfriends, and the other one who is Static) wear normal clothing. Since the bad guys already know what they look like, it's pointless to attempt a disguise.
When Virgil becomes Static, the only change from his normal civilian get-up is his shirt.
Honestly, Superboy sums the entire trope up in one line: "No tights. No capes. No offense."