You want to instantly show a setting to be futuristic, or show that a character in present day has access to technology magnitudes more advanced than the norm, what do you do? Why, outfit characters in spandex costumes, of course!
Nothing says "future" like a character wearing a skin-tight outfit made of stretchable synthetic fibers, especially if you add some cool accessories or Tron Lines for added effect! While the material may not be identified as such (in-universe, it can be anything from high-tech polymers to even a coating of liquid nanomachines), the visual effect is pretty much the same. It's also a good way to provide a little fanservice.
This is a sort of Truth in Television: Spandex, Lycra and similar stretchable, form-fitting clothing material are a pretty recent innovation when compared to other fabrics, and its many distinctive properties (sheer fit, aero- or hydrodynamics, light weight, body support) have made it a favorite as a technological solution to solve problems that can be caused by less form-fitting clothes in a variety of physical activities.
While there's often overlap, this is not the same as Super Hero tights. While superhero tights are used to emphasize the physicality of the hero, Future Spandex is used to emphasize his technological superiority.
This trope tends to go along with We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future (no love-handles interfering with the lines of those sleek little outfits!) but it is equally compatible with Big, Fat Future (used to great effect in WALL•E, where the human characters looked infantile and helpless in enormous, stretchy jumpsuits).
Latex Spacesuit and Spy Catsuit are both SubTropes. A Sister Trope to (and often overlaps with) Space Clothes and Superheroes Wear Tights. See also Spandex, Latex, or Leather. Compare Crystal Spires and Togas.
Contrast Sensual Spandex, for when spandex is used for a whole other purpose entirely.
- This has been a trope associated with both the Real Robot Genre and the Super Robot Genre since the genre's inception. It is EXCEEDINGLY rare to show a pilot in an robot show that wears anything bulkier than form-fitting lycra.
- Played with in Code Geass. The Black Knight pilots get to wear some form-fitting spandex-like suits, but many Britannians wear their dress uniforms when inside Knightmare Frames.
- Macross is an exception until Macross Frontier. In the earlier shows, like Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Pilots wore space suits that, while less bulky than modern suits, were still not quite "form-fitting."
- Bubblegum Crisis. The Knight Sabers, underneath their power suits, wear form-fitting outfits. It's also justified, as it's explained that the outfits serve as a neural interface between the user and the suit.
- The heroines of Dirty Pair.
- Claymore outfits are this plus light armor, even the new ones after the time skip don't stray far from the original concept.
- The combat gear used by Section 9 from Ghost in the Shell is this plus tactical vests. Especially noticeable on The Major.
- Nena Trinity's season one outfit in Mobile Suit Gundam 00. Not to forget her brother Johann, who wears a midriff-baring top and short shorts. Also Tieria's in some shots.
- From InuYasha, Sango's fighting outfit include this under her body armor.
- Mobile Fighter G Gundam: All of the pilots wear skin-tight body suits as part of the interface for their mobile suits. The substance is sort of like spandex, but they actually have transformation sequences (not always shown) that make it look like plastic wrap. Nearly all of the pilots are male, but there is one point where Rain goes through the process.
- Female plugsuits from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Remember, Clothes Make Teh Rei. Especially Asuka's TEST suit (80% of the torso is transparent) from Rebuild 2.0.
- And in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers, the Numbers' skintight jumpsuits, in a blatant Shout-Out to Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse.
- Ryoko's skintight battlesuit from Tenchi Muyo!
- Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ's Puru Two, although not too noticeable since she doesn't have a figure to begin with. If she did, it would likely be similar to a Plugsuit.
- In more recent years, Tony Stark usually wears something along the lines of this under his regular civilian attire. Justified in that it's meant to interface with his Iron Man suit. Part of his Extremis upgrade meant that this "inner suit" was kept within his bones and he could manifest it at any time. This inner suit is also present in his The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! incarnation.
- When the Fantastic Four started the Future Foundation, they started wearing white spandex with black piping, as did their pupils- that included Spider-Man (though he only wore it when appearing specifically in that title, presumably giving him a chance to air out his standard red-and-blue).
- DC One Million has Superhero Spandex that is also Future Spandex — the present day heroes note that their future counterparts' costumes are shiny, seamless and even more formfitting, and wonder what they're made from.
- Worn by Fara Phoenix in 1993's Nintendo Power comics. It's a rather tight fit.
- N.O.W.H.E.R.E.'s uniforms, and the New 52 version of Superboy's "Containment Suit".
- TRON is a particularly noteworthy example, as is the sequel, TRON: Legacy.
- Flash Gordon (1980). Both General Kala and Princess Aura wear lycra/spandex costumes.
- In the Judge Dredd film, Judges wear a lycra/spandex bodysuit undergarment under their body armor.
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture has this in spades. The main cast threatened to quit if they didn't get rid of them seeing how not everyone looked good in them. Plus, the spandex costumes were hard to get into and out of, requiring the help of assistants every time the actors needed to use the bathroom, hence the uniform change in the rest of the Star Trek movies.
- Back to the Future Part II features this in its 2015 scenes. Of note: a woman leaving the Cafe 80s, making Marty do a Double Take, and Griff's female gang member Spike.
- Megaforce has these as combat gear, presumably as they're a Badass Army using "the most powerful weapons science can devise". They're gleefully derided in the RiffTrax.
"Well I guess they've all agreed not to laugh when they see him.""Are we supposed to wear underwear under these suits? I feel chafing in my sexy place.""Do they sell men's unitards where you bought that?"
- The Star Trek series have a few examples.
- The Next Generation uses this in the first season before phasing them out because they were so form-fitting that they were a health and safety hazard; Patrick Stewart had to seek a doctor because they were playing hell with his back, and they were also extremely hot and uncomfortable under the studio lights.
- Star Trek: Voyager used this with Seven of Nine. For obvious reasons. Ron D. Moore, in his brief stint writing for the show, commented that it was like having a nudist seated at the briefing table and handing out tactical instructions. The outfit had to be glued on with individual pieces ("That woman knows me way too intimately", Jeri Ryan spoke of her stalwart wardrobe assistant), and caused the actress to pass out a few times from lack of blood flow/oxygen. Makes those TOS miniskirts look like an Amish community, doesn't it?
Doc Oho: Whilst I am sure it appeals to the horny geeks out there who watch this show for kicks, Seven’s outfit here is so tight it ridiculously leaves very little to the imagination. Speaking as somebody who doesn’t unusually bother to notice such things about women, I could clearly see a precise representation of her genitalia which is demeaning for both the character and Jeri Ryan. She may as well walk around the ship completely naked since she is pretty much doing that anyway.
- Children in the Next Generation era always seem to be wearing colorblocked spandex outfits. Jake Sisko on DS9 modeled them until his teenage years, when he switched to more normal-looking things.
- Buck Rogers in the 25th Century First season. Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) and Buck Rogers sometimes wore spandex jumpsuits.
- Doctor Who had this in certain stories, especially in the late sixties:
- The human guest characters in "The Ice Warriors" all wear catsuits with circuit-diagram like patterns.
- Zoe's famous glittery catsuit from "The Mind Robber" and "The Invasion".
- "The Seeds of Death" has everyone in hideously ugly form-fitting jumpsuits that make all the guest characters look like diaper fetishists.
- The Disney Channel's Zenon, a sci-fi movie set in 2049 AD, has many of its characters wearing spandex and other form-fitting materials.
- Power Rangers: They embody this trope. In every season, beginning to end, the rangers always wear skintight spandex suits. These suits are so tight, in fact, some of the male (and female, at least until Disney took the rights from Saban) rangers have bulges, and the female rangers wouldn't even need to wear a bra due to the tightness
- In Mirai Sentai Timeranger, the Rangers' unmorphed uniforms are, perhaps because the aesthetics of a full thousand years in the future probably would be quite alien to us, are random-colors-on-gray skin-tight outfits, more Fanservicey than the Ranger suits (thinner material, perhaps?).
- The Power Rangers Time Force versions are a more down-to-earth futurish uniform, and are perhaps something you'd expect a police force in Star Wars to wear. (Fanservice duty goes to Nadira.)
- On Automan, it's easy to see that Automan is something different because he's dressed up in sparkly Future Spandex.
- Referenced in "I.G.Y." by Donald Fagen.
- Worn by Quorra and Gem from TRON: Legacy.
- The characters in Space Riders wear full-body jumpsuits that show off their perfectly sculpted bodies. Whether that makes them this trope or Space Clothes depends on the viewer's tastes.
- In Laser War, everyone wears identical sleeveless spandex jumpsuits, differentiated only by their Army's color.
- The joggers of Future Spa wear very tight, form-fitting jumpsuits cut to their navels.
- In Warhammer 40,000, Imperial Assassins (of all schools, but especially the majority-female Callidus), wear uniforms that are quite literally sprayed on — the substance (called SynSkin) comes in large aerosol cans and provides whole-body protection from various airborne toxins and temperature variation whilst allowing the skin to breathe properly, but only if applied directly to naked flesh.
- In the more recent Dark Heresy series of Warhammer 40,000 RPGs by Fantasy Flight Games, Synskin has been changed to 'a bio-reactive bodyglove with an inert non-reflective surface that molds itself to the wearer's form'. In other words, it isn't literally sprayed on anymore, though it's still Future Spandex.
- More generally, form-fitting outfits are referred to as "body gloves" in the setting, and typically fit tightly enough that they could be worn under cloths. Some characters make a point to wear armoured body gloves to add some protection to their freedom of movement.
- Most of the truly advanced RIG suits in Dead Space 2 look quite tight fitting.
- Common in the Deus Ex series.
- F-Zero plays with this a bit. While a large percentage of the cast is decked out in skin-tight spandex and latex, more than a handful of characters are instead shown wearing sleek armor (if not both). Others, in fact, sport attire not too different from present day fashion trends.
- Many of the uniforms and outfits in the Mass Effect series.
- The sneaking suits in the Metal Gear series.
- Samus Aran's Zero Suit from Metroid. Similar to Tony Stark's outfit, it's to interface with her Power Suit.
- Sam Fisher wears a similar (albeit completely black) sneaking suit in Splinter Cell, at least until the later games when he wears more conventional clothing.
- Fortified Suits in Muv-Luv Unlimited and Muv-Luv Alternative, though the role sort of crosses over with Latex Spacesuit.
- In PlanetSide 2, the Vanu Sovereignty infantry all wear form-fitting spandex. Most classes have varying amounts of metal armor over vulnerable spots, such as the Engineer carrying an armored backpack, and an armored right wrist. Additionally, all the Infiltrators armors from both games have form-fitting spandex regardless of empire, though the Composite Armor cosmetic item in Planetside 2 adds armor to make them look like some sort of cyber-samurai.
- Terran Ghosts in Starcraft and its sequel are elite commando agents who wear this sort of outfit, albeit liberally embellished with spy gewgaws. This is in contrast with run-of-the-mill troopers, who wear incredibly blocky Power Armor with Shoulders of Doom instead.
- All of the human-looking NetNavis in Mega Man Battle Network have this. In fact, according to the Complete Works the designers were expressly forbidden from having Navi characters wear any kind of cloth in order to reinforce the futuristic cyberworld vibe. The sole major exception is Bass.EXE with his Badass Cape, thanks to sheer Rule of Cool.
- In Code Lyoko Season 4, the new Digital Avatars of the heroes — boys and girls alike — have a serious Future Spandex look. Being virtual costumes, they don't have to be realistic... but still, they're supposedly designed by Jérémie, a 13-year-old Teen Genius (except for William, who got his custom-made by XANA). You have to wonder what was going through their minds... (though on the other hand, maybe that makes it a Justified Trope).
- Kim Possible:
- Many gems in Steven Universe wear skin-tight clothes, though none have a full bodysuit—if only because almost none of them have full sleeves. For many this is based more on such clothes' associations with dancing (since gems perform literal Fusion Dances and Pearl is a Dance Battler), but the single-piece, sleeveless jumpsuits Peridot and Jasper wear are definitely a form of Space Clothes.
- In 3-2-1 Penguins!, Zidgel, Midgel, Fidgel, and Kevin all wear orange skintight jumpsuits. Enforced, in that the low-budget computer animation wouldn't be able to depict looser clothing.
- In Real Life, form-fitting material is used in a wide range of applications. Extreme sports, the space program, the military, and many other activities and organizations require form-fitting outfits for optimum performance. However, in combat situations and where there is a high risk of fire, many form-fitting materials tend to melt when exposed to extreme heat, sticking to the skin and making burn injuries much worse.
- Space suits often have form-fitting under layers, to regulate temperature and/or to maintain pressure. But they will often have looser outer layers, to protect important things like air tanks and air tubes.
- "Jeggings", a portmanteu of "jeans" and "leggings", have become a popular fashion choice of the late '00s and early 2010s. They're considered more practical than jeans in many ways, including the ability to be worn under a skirt or dress, being thin enough to tuck into high boots, and of course, retaining a sexy snugness while still functioning similarly to jeans. Ditto for other forms of skinny jeans in the '00s.
- The largely popular yoga pants. Somewhere, a rich man is bragging to his buddies that he convinced women to wear skin-tight pants that are see-through when they bend over.
- Ironically, while the above examples prove that this trope is somewhat Truth in Television now, the height of spandex and lycra fashion is generally regarded as being in the past — specifically, the '80s and early '90s.
- In one respect, predictions of form-fitting clothing really have come to pass ... but with undergarments, not outerwear. Most of the people one encounters on the street are likely to be wearing briefs, panties, undershirt and/or bra that smoothly and snugly wrap their physique, unlike the baggy, elaborate linen or woolen underthings of times past, but (barring a Wardrobe Malfunction) you won't actually see it.