Spandex, Latex, or Leather
(fidgeting with the collar of his leather suit
) You guys actually go out in these things? Cyclops:
Well, what would you prefer? Yellow Spandex?
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
, and Leather implies "real world" (the X-Men
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
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
open/close all folders
- 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.
- Empowered has a side job of cosplaying as her own superhero identity for public appearances. The cosplay version is PVC, as opposed to the hypermembrane her real suit is made of.
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:
- Thor: Chris Hemsworth said his costume made use of chainmail and leather, but his chest armor looks to be latex and the clothes worn under the armor (seen briefly in the movie) appears to be fabric. So... all three? Tom Hiddleston, who played antagonist Loki, once referred to their costumes as "Leather and metal. That's how we like it in Asgard."
- Captain America: The First Avenger has Cap wearing a utilitarian, heavy-duty variant of his comic outfit◊ (explicitly stated to be made from carbon polymer) for most of the movie. He briefly wears a fabric, comic-accurate outfit◊ as part of Campy musical number.
- In The Avengers, he wears a brighter, sleeker outfit◊ that is both closer to his comic look and explicitly stated to be tights.
- The Darker and Edgier sequel to the first film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, has him in a darker spy outfit◊ for the first act, in street clothes for the second act, and finally his outfit from the first movie in the third act. The Falcon and Black Widow also wear darker◊ outfits◊ that resemble spy or military gear rather than superhero costumes.
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Mostly leather - jackets, vests, pants - combined with street clothing (or some sort of kevlar in the case of Rocket). The exception is Groot, of course.
- The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Darker and Edgier sequel to Avengers, has Cap in a darker costume◊ that's essentially a cross between the spy suit from The Winter Soldier and the utilitarian outfit from The First Avenger.
- 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.
- 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.
- Super Sentai/Power Rangers teams wear spandex and similar fabrics, firmly cementing them into the campy category they've always held (though in-universe it's supposed to be some kind of special armor that just happens to look like spandex).
- The first six installment (Himitsu Sentai Goranger, J.A.K.Q. Dengekitai, Battle Fever J, Denshi Sentai Denziman, Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan and Dai Sentai Goggle Five) averted this trope with the use of cloth.
- Power Rangers has twice used latex: Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie replaced the spandex with latex armor entirely, and Power Rangers Samurai adds a latex armor variant that never existed in the Sentai original.
- As just one of many Lampshade Hangings in Power Rangers RPM, the resident Mission Control becomes highly offended if you refer to the suits as "spandex". ("Tights" seems to be fine, though.)
- In recent years, Toei has been gradually shifting towards a material more like the Superman costume from Superman Returns. Compare the costumes from Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger to the ones from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. The difference is very obvious. Also, they've recently been using something that looks like a cross between pleather and mylar for EXTREMELY SHINY!! Rangers, as opposed to the old "shiny spandex" or "gold lame over padded nylon" they used for such things as Zyuranger's Sixth Ranger's gold shoulderplate, or most of King Ranger's accessories. Compare those two, Mega Silver, and Gao Silver to Bouken Silver and Shinken Gold. MAJOR difference in materials...
- Rumor has it that there has been substantial pushback from the Power Rangers team toward Super Sentai in recent years to switch to leather. Whether it's related to these rumors or not, Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters did make the switch (at least to faux-leather), but it didn't last. Since Go-Busters didn't do as well as Toei hoped, the following season Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger went back to spandex and Power Rangers ironically skipped over adapting Go-Busters.
- Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger used latex, though this is less about being gritty and more about playing up the Animesque aspects of the suits (apart from the Anime Hair molded into the helmets, there's the fact that the girls' suits have breasts...)
- In comparison to Sentai, Kamen Rider (appropriately enough) had a much faster evolution.
- The Flash
- The Flash, the live-action TV series from 1990, used a thick suit◊ for the Flash that may or may not have literally been latex (and looked like suede of all things), but was definitely similar. In-story it was based on a diving suit.
- The 2014 reboot uses a costume made of a mixture of leather and fabric◊. In-universe, it's stated to be a special material designed to be used by firefighters. In both cases the costumes are a darker hue of red than the Flash's costume is usually colored in the comics.
- LazyTown decided to go the spandex route, with both the hero Sportacus and the villain Robbie wearing tight outfits that helps explain why so many of the show's fans are adult women.
- Smallville does not have one set answer. Clark Kent wore wear red and blue street clothes for most of the how, before settling on Civvie Spandex (usually a red leather jacket with an S logo or a Badass Longcoat worn over a black T-shirt with the S logo) in the final few seasons. Leather seemed to be the superhero outfit of choice, from the Green Arrow, to Doctor Fate, to Booster Gold. Stargirl was the only hero seen in full spandex (save for her mask), though her mentor the Star-Spangled Kid was wearing his spandex top as part of a Civvie Spandex ensemble while on the run from Checkmate.
- As noted in a Cracked article, professional cosplayer Ruby Rocket has tried all three and finds all of them to be highly impractical choices.
- Dr. Horrible's 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.