Nov 06 2013
Modern superheroines are easily the most abused type of character in any story. And while you’re likely aware that most of them are simply there to be cardboard love interests (all ravishingly beautiful, of course . . .), today I’m not going down that path.
Instead, today we’ll discuss superheroine clothing (or the lack thereof).
From Wonder Woman to Supergirl, costume designers seem to think the more bare skin the better.
As we all know, it’s pretty unpractical. Still, for superheroes, they might not engage in a lot of hand-to-hand combat, therefore, there’s no reason for her to have plate armor from head to foot. But that doesn’t give any reason to be wearing bikinis.
Obviously, any superhero or superheroine you’ll likely want to look good, some girls (or guys) might want to look hot, which would reflect in their suit. But, this also means no clashing colors, elf shoes etc. etc. etc. all of which you can identify and learn more about on this article. Nevertheless, with every variation of character you’ll need to modify your take.
Generally, lighter and brighter colors should be used for more youthful characters, and darker gloomier colors for older, more serious characters. But aside from the specifics of each character you will have to decide for yourself, there are a few stereotypes in the looks of superheroine costumes you will want to avoid.
First and foremost, practicality, but we’ll have more on that later.
Second is that not every female in a story that’s supposed to be beautiful has to have skimpy clothing.
You’ll want to realize not every girl is comfortable with showing much skin at all, even if that’s just a pair of short shorts. That being said, some might not mind as much. Still, even those who don’t pay attention to modesty will likely want to appear a heroine – and that means they generally have to look tough. You can’t take a superheroine seriously if she’s dressed as some supermodels. (As a side note, if there are in-story reasons for your superheroines trying to be uber-attractive, that’s not necessarily something to avoid.)
But this is where we start getting into cliches. And a lot of them.
Aside from a few exceptions, most every superhero or heroine should look tough. Though it does depend on the personality, because a carefree childish heroine might not be so tough, nor should she need to be, depending on her skills and ways of attack.
Yet a person whose job is to apprehend robbers, murderers, and supervillains – and no one can say it wouldn’t get pretty gruesome – would have to affect their personality. This is also part of the setting, however, and even part of the character itself, how likely they are to be affected by murder, robbery, other kinds of assaults, and all the other crimes of big cities.
Also, when designing a superheroine costume, you may summarize the theme of the costume, based on the character’s personality, to set the general mood and theme for the costume. This can be helpful, but if one of the words that you use to summarize it is “alluring”, or similar, you’ve got a big problem.
While it’s true some people may just be that way (and society is always heading more and more down that path, towards idolization almost), the majority of girls are girls, not attractions.
Cat-like superheroines are also cliched. Superheroine dress should not focus on revealing themselves, aside from a few extremes if the personality so calls for it.
There’s a great pitfall in superheroine costumes, and superheroine costumes lying in that. One or two superheroines might dress to expose themselves, but not every single freaking female is perverted.
There are ways to make a fully clothed superheroine (or female fantasy warrior, female science fiction character, etc) attractive without revealing. The face is the first and most important. Most of the time, an attractive face is all you need to make an attractive character. No low necklines, just the face.
That’s one possible (and successfully accomplished) way. Another is part of the personality. Mystery can be alluring, if done right.
But now I’m going to give you another cliche, that might be thought of as clever, but really isn’t – clothing damage. Clothing damage is almost always used inappropriately, as in used at the wrong times for the wrongs reasons. The reason for this is that, especially in movies and in comic book action scenes, slashing up the clothing mid crisis isn’t the most tactical place – because it’s not what the scene is even remotely focused on – and it distracts from the focus and the heart-pounding action you want. It might possibly be weird at first thought, but fights aren’t the only places clothing can be cut or caught on. Or possibly the slashes could remain after the fight, when it wouldn’t be so distracting to the important things.
But before I carry myself away, I’ll move on to another area of the superheroine dress code (that seems to be what is emerging after all – a dress code that demands immodesty).
Practicality. This is a major thing. Batman’s suit is made of fireproof (or at least fire resistant) and durable material. Very practical. Plus, lest you think practicality takes away the fun or iconic taste of a suit, Batman’s costume is incredibly fun. Think about all those gadgets. Wouldn’t you just love to have a batarang like Batman’s? And it’s iconic. The cape, the mask – you know it belongs to the Bat the instant you see it.
Now take a female hero’s costume. Miss Marvel. Her costume is very impractical. Even if the clothing she did have on was fireproof (which it is not), with her arms and thighs exposed, she would still be wounded severely at all of her bare parts. And overall, there’s no one thing about her costume that makes it stand out – nothing iconic, because no, a flashy lightning bolt isn’t a good icon.
Just about no popular superheroines who are practically suited up. But there are a few minor superheroines who are. Take Firestar for example. Her suit seems fairly practical – at least it covers all of her below the neck.
Yet a plain suit like Firestar’s isn’t premium either, despite it is moderately practical. She doesn’t seem to have any gadgets, which aren’t a necessity, but heck they have to be useful in some ways.
A few things to watch out for if your suit seems to be getting a bit too impractical, is if the superheroine’s body is majorly exposed just for a male’s attraction, and also if there is anything like long hair, a scarf, or a cape that could be caught on something and end in either defeat or death. A villain could easily grab hold of a long braid of hair, or a scarf could be caught in machinery.
But you also want to remember to keep your suit interesting – Firestar’s is simple, and works for her role, but it’s not eye catching. An exposed shoulder might be enough to keep the suit interesting, or an exotic (but sensible) piece of clothing would work. Dulling your character down is also a major bad-thing, but making a superheroine’s suit totally impractical and abstract (and also exposing) is a worse-thing, and to me, it’s the biggest of the two currently plaguing many superhero stories today.
Generally, you want a simple costume with a few things to interest a reader. Capes are fine, and so is long hair, but there is a chance either one could catch on something.
But in all of those things, the greatest thing in designing any costume of any kind, whether you’re writing a science fiction script, a fantasy novel, or superhero comic book, is that the costume should reflect a facet of the character’s personality, or even two or three, or a part of their history – something about them that’s unique. That is what creates any good costume.
Practicality can be bent, and superb visuals are needed, but defying the cliches will bring originality and a refreshing spice to your story, and in the end, that’s all that matters.