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Spandex, Latex, or Leather
Wolverine: (fidgeting with the collar of his leather suit) You guys actually go out in these things?
Cyclops: Well, what would you prefer? Yellow Spandex?
X-Men

So, your comic book movie got greenlit, congratulations! Now comes the first big question: your Superheroes Wear Tights, but which kind? Spandex, Latex, or Leather?

Costuming for a superhero movie is Serious Business... or at least, it informs the audience how seriously the franchise takes itself. Spandex tends to say "camp" (the Spider-Man movies seem to buck that trend, though), Latex is associated with gritty (Batman, Watchmen), and Leather implies "real world" (the X-Men movies).

The reason is mostly because of the era associated with the heyday of each. Spandex, the form-fitting, brightly colored "tights", is most associated with old school Superheroes thanks to the 1930's Superman serials. The later use of spandex in the old Batman TV show with Adam West would also give it a campy, childish association.note  Latex, or hard rubber suits, is most remembered for Tim Burton's relaunch of the Batman franchise as a grim, Gothic and serious setting. Joel Schumacher attempted to shift this toward camp, but then Christopher Nolan shifted it even farther toward the "gritty" end than Burton did. Lastly, leather has been used in superhero movies since the beginning of the X-Men film series, bringing with it a real world setting, implying these are "plausible" heroes who can and do exist in a world much like our own, behaving as real people do rather than people in tights. To each their tastes.

The choice can actually be quite complicated because — of course — the actors have to wear these things. In X-Men, nobody could move in the leather. There was a scene as they are approaching the Statue of Liberty and they have to climb over a brick wall that's about two foot tall. It took them several takes because Jackman, Berry and Co. could barely clamber over it. Likewise, it wasn't until Batman Begins that any Batman actor could turn their head while in costume (Clooney lampshades this in a late show interview about how conversations between him and Arnold would go), though how much of this is the latex and how much of it was costume design is unknown.

See also: Future Spandex, Not Wearing Tights; Hell-Bent for Leather. Contrast the more civilian Coat, Hat, Mask.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 
  • Dave Lizewski goes with a wetsuit as Kick-Ass. He gets harassed by two girls for looking like a gimp, before he comes across the beating that gets him famous.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Daredevil: Leather, gritty.
  • Iron Man: Metal (any heroes/villains in Powered Armor also avert this).
  • Mystery Men: Leather/Spandex, Deconstructive Parody.
  • Sky High: Latex, Camp/Kid.
  • Spider-Man: Spandex; unique in that, since Spider-Man is explicitly very acrobatic, both leather and latex would be inappropriate.
  • Superman films:
    • Superman: Spandex, in a costume true to both the comics and the strongmen inspiration.
    • Superman Returns: They had to choose something that could fit into the same world as the spandex of the 1970s films, looked impressive now and that the actor could reasonably wear. Well, two out of three ain't bad.
    • Man of Steel: A texturized latex/leather that seems more outerworldly (Justified, as its actually a form of Space Clothes, he is an alien after all).
  • Watchmen: All three, actually, and more. The 1940s-vintage heroes mostly wore Spandex or its period equivalent (rather amusing are the realistic canvas, silk or cotton home-made costumes, considering that the heroes in question were ordinary people having either a bout of schizophrenia or a surfacing vigilante streak); some of those that didn't — like Silhouette — wore leather. The later Comedian preferred leather body armor, and Silk Spectre II was in latex. (Malin Åkerman famously commented that her costume made her "smell like a giant condom". Please refrain from comment.) Beyond that we had ordinary street wear for Rorschach (with a special mask that reacted to pressure and heat), assorted varieties of body armor for almost everyone else, and a bright blue birthday suit for Dr. Manhattan.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • Judge Dredd: latex, gritty (even though he wore leather in the comic...)
  • Dredd: leather, along with an armor similar to real-life special forces.
  • Batman films:
    • Batman: latex, as it had to be protective (the comics version always seemed like regular fabric, a look which at least one Fan Film goes for).
    • Batman Begins has a suit that is mostly made of some form of kevlar. The Dark Knight adds ceramic plating for even more protection, and a lampshade for movie Batmen being unable to turn their heads.
  • X-Men goes for leather, and it is the Trope Codifier for Movie Superheroes Wear Black (as noted in the page quote).
    • On X-Men: First Class, however, the X-Men wear yellow suits made of fabric, inspired in equal part by the team's uniforms during their earliest comic appearances and the New X-Men suits. The only one in that movie to fit one of the three materials is Magneto in the ending.
    • In the sequel, most of the heroes wear black costumes or no costumes at all, but the young Magneto wears a red outfit that is overall pretty close to his comic counterpart.
  • Deliberately averted in the Green Lantern movie. The nature of the suit is a construct of the ring, after debating on a CG enhanced suit they decided to make the entire suit CG superimposed over Ryan Reynolds wearing a motion capture suit (the same process was in fact used with Robert Downey Jr. for Iron Man). The same goes for all human-performed Lanterns in the movie. The process was almost seamless, but fan reaction to the look varied.

    Literature 
  • As an Affectionate Parody of the Spandex of this trope, Captain Underpants flies around wearing only underwear and a cape (which is really a red curtain with black dots on it) since that's what most superheroes kinda look like.
  • In Wearing the Cape, superheroes use all three plus other materials. Choice depends on body-type (latex and leather can "hold in" bulges spandex can't), sex, attitude, and superhero personae. Most men wear cotton or leather bodysuits, for example. One female character wears a spandex catsuit under a tailored kevlar vest-skirt.

    Live-Action TV 

    Web Original 
  • As noted in a Cracked article, professional cosplayer Ruby Rocket has tried all three and finds all of them to be highly impractical choices.
  • Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog: Spandex, Musical/Gritty (often masquerading as Camp)
    • Bad Horse, one assumes, goes au natural, as anyone who tries to put a saddle and/or blanket on him is likely to be trampled to death.
    • Captain Hammer wears Civvie Spandex.
    • And Loika wears her wedding dress.
  • Justice Squad: Having had a large cast, all three have shown up on one character or another.
  • France Five: Spandex for the heroes, naturally, since the series tries to stick very closely to classic Sentai. The villains are a bit more varied, with leather, dominatrix-style, for Extasy, spandex shorts and little else for Warduke, and flowing robes for Cancrelax and Glou Man Chou.


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