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Spandex, Latex, or Leather

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Wolverine: [fidgeting with the collar of his leather suit] You actually go outside 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 Trilogy seems to buck that trend, though), latex is associated with gritty (Batman (1989), Watchmen) and leather implies "real world" (the X-Men Film Series).

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 1930s Superman serials. The later use of spandex in the old Batman (1966) 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 note  is unknown.

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


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    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Di strted out with none, but by the time Wonder Woman (1942) started she'd switched out her starry culottes for starry spandex bike shorts.
    • Wonder Woman: Odyssey: Changes Diana's usual costuming makeup of armor and short shorts for lots and lots of leather.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Daredevil (2003): Leather, gritty.
  • Mystery Men: Leather/Spandex, Deconstructive Parody.
  • Sky High (2005): Latex, Camp/Kid. The kids all wear Civvie Spandex as they aren't fully-fledged heroes yet.
  • Spider-Man: Spandex, regardless of whether it's the original, Amazing, or MCU continuities; unique in that, since Spider-Man is explicitly very acrobatic, both leather and latex would be inappropriate.
  • Superman films:
    • Superman: The Movie: 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 otherworldly but still has the skintight quality of spandex (justified, as it's actually a form of Space Clothes, given that he is an alien after all). In real life, it's actually a black flexible bodysuit with silver colored muscle shaped pieces over it, with a semi-transparent blue silk-like material (with the tiny pattern printed onto it) stretched over that. This is actually a pretty cool fix to the problem of spandex (or any skintight material for that matter) not showing off muscle definition the way it does in the comics. This costume gave the illusion of comic book spandex without the camp factor.
  • 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 (1989): 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 Bruce use a prototype military suit made mostly from Kevlar. The Dark Knight adds ceramic plating for even more protection, and a lampshade for movie Batmen being unable to turn their heads — his integrated mask and cowl is separated into lobstered neck protection and a mask that's reminiscent of a motorcycle helmet.
    • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Batman's suit is very similar to the Dark Knight Returns version, which was itself based on Year One, which was itself based on Batman's original costume. Which means it looks like skin-tight fabric in the grey areas, and latex for the black areas. And yet Batman's cowl can take a point-blank 9 to the dome, and his black gauntlets deflect knives. However, the grey areas prove vulnerable to a knife stab.
  • X-Men Film Series
    • X-Men goes for leather, and it is the Trope Codifier for Movie Superheroes Wear Black (as noted in the page quote). A seen in bloopers, the leather suits aren't very flexible (James Marsden and Hugh Jackman had difficulty scaling a short concrete wall) and Marsden himself said the cast didn't enjoy wearing them.
    • In 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 X-Men: Days of Future Past, 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.
    • Deadpool (2016) lampshades this by having its title character mention that, as an Origin Story, it tells "how I got my ass into this spandex outfit". The villains and Colossus wear leather, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead wears a version of the First Class uniform underneath her leather coat.
  • Deliberately averted in Green Lantern (2011). 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.

  • In Animorphs, they wear skintight clothing (often under their clothes) as morphing outfits, since it's the only kind of clothes that stay with them when they demorph (the morphing technology was invented by a species of alien centaur that finds clothes so confusing they refer to it as "artificial skin").
  • 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 
  • 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). Though they tend to do it for the similar reasons such as Spider-Man in that the people wearing the suits to plenty of manuevers and acrobatocs.
  • In comparison to Sentai, Kamen Rider tends to incorporate more armored elements into their suits. While still a kids' franchise made to sell toys, Kamen Rider is less "campy" and more "gritty" than Sentai is.
    • In the older Showa series, the original Kamen Rider initially used a mix of leather suits, FRPnote  helmets, and latex chestpiecesnote . Halfway through the original show, the leather was permanently changed to tights, although it briefly came back with one of Kamen Rider X's prototype suits and the upgraded Skyrider's arms. Kamen Rider BLACK introduced full latex suits for the heroes, and later Kamen Rider Kuuga went for a modernized old-school look with a mix of vinyl tights and latex/foam armor.
    • The Kamen Rider The First / THE NEXT series returned to the original series' leather for the first Riders, while giving a similar design to the originally tights-wearing V3. Electro-Human Tackle from Kamen Rider Stronger was redesigned with a similar look in the the Kamen Rider Decade finale movienote , while Kamen Rider Amazons revamped the old Amazon designs into full latex suits.
    • However, the franchise still uses spandex on occasion, mainly for suits that see a lot of action and therefore will need to be repaired more. In Kamen Rider Blade, the four Riders' suits are mostly elaborately-decorated vinyl, but the torso portion (mostly hidden beneath their breastplates) is spandex.note  Starting with Kamen Rider Ghost, spandex undersuits became more prominent presumably because it's easier to repair/replace and some of the fancier vinyl costumes have started showing their age; Kamen Rider Double's suit, made in 2009, had visible signs of wear when it showed up in a Kamen Rider Ex-Aid bonus episode in 2016.
  • 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. Come Season 4, Barry upgrades to a mostly leather, sturdier looking, bright red suit with extra gold detailing. He receives yet another major redesign in the form of a textured spandex bodysuit after the fifth Season's premiere.
  • 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 show, 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.
  • Supergirl, similar to Man Of Steel above, uses a textured yet flexible bodysuit with a leather cape. The show acknowledges the character's spandex (and Stripperific) roots during a montage in the pilot, with Supergirl rejecting the outfit immediately.
  • Arrow: The heroes wear almost exclusively leather (though the suits have kevlar padding). Definitely "real world".
  • Charmed (1998): "Witches in Tights" sees the Halliwell sisters being turned into superheroes by a spell. Their costumes are leather (or possibly faux leather) in bright colors. The Aggressor, the villain of the week, wears a bulky latex costume to make him look more intimidating.

  • M9 Girls!: Closer in look to Magical Girls' outfits, the M9 Girls wear high resistance polymer suits, designed by Karla and paid with her boss' money.

    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.
  • 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.