Nov 06 2013

Superheroine Costume Suggestions

Published by at 12:09 am under Character Design,Guest Articles

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.

30 responses so far

30 Responses to “Superheroine Costume Suggestions”

  1. Glamtronon 06 Jan 2014 at 1:14 am

    glad to be d 1st 2 comment here.. I must admit i’ve never given much thought on how to skillfully design a female costume with all these tips u’ve given in mind..(until now).. So i’m pretty lucky seeing this now.. Also, just add, i don’t mostly see marvel comics making this mistakes.(atleast in comparison with Dc)characters like black cat, viper,white tiger, and alot more, ain’t that exposed and they’re still attractive. Dc female character costumes fall into this alot. From wonderwoman, to supergirl, powergirl, etc..

  2. B. McKenzieon 06 Jan 2014 at 2:04 am

    If the characters are interesting and the story is otherwise publishable, I don’t think a publisher would reject a novel manuscript over a costume unless perhaps the sexploitation was exceptionally out of line. (Generally, I find that the more an author focuses on a character’s appearance/sexiness, the less interesting the character usually is).

    It’s a much bigger deal for comic books.

  3. Kevin Holsingeron 06 Jan 2014 at 4:35 am

    Good morning, all.

    I didn’t invent it, but I always liked the rule of “put it on a guy” to judge the worthiness of a female’s costume. For example, a male Star Sapphire…

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-69s6w55CiHw/Toah0_8VyWI/AAAAAAAAAFQ/kcMuaisFuXw/s320/Hal_Jordan_as_a_Star_Sapphire_by_beonarri.jpg

    Enjoy your day.

  4. John Bentonon 06 Jan 2014 at 7:41 am

    Since you mention the novel manuscript, you hit on another point: How much do you describe the costume in prose?

    We’re often warned about “infodump” descriptions for people. The best advice I’ve seen is to only include details which reveal personality while letting the reader fill in the rest.

    A superhero costume certainly imparts a sense of personality, but describing one can easily drag the narrative to a crawl. It also shines a really bright spotlight on the issues you describe above. For example, take Jim Lee’s New 52 look for the men of the Justice League. If you were do describe the costumes in prose, would you even mention all the seams and lines which were added?

    Economy of detail may actually spare the writer from the issues you describe in the article. Take Power Girl. Visually, the “boob window” is easy to deal with. In prose, it’s harder to describe that element of her costume without getting even more uncomfortable. More likely you’d just describe her as a well-endowed woman in a white bodysuit.

    Another thing to consider: Sports bras. Most women who are going to engage in vigorous physical activity are going to want proper support. Women with superheroic proportions even more so. I’ve yet to see a sports bra which is conducive to cleavage display.

    -J

  5. B. McKenzieon 06 Jan 2014 at 7:56 am

    “The best advice I’ve seen is to only include details which reveal personality while letting the reader fill in the rest.” I agree. I think it would also be okay to (gradually) cover anything relevant to the plot. For example, if a character meets a potentially hostile Batman analogue, any observations/deductions/rumors about what might be in the utility pouches would be highly relevant.

    “It also shines a really bright spotlight on the issues you describe above. For example, take Jim Lee’s New 52 look for the men of the Justice League. If you were to describe the costumes in prose, would you even mention all the seams and lines which were added?” Unless they’re made of human flesh or otherwise very noteworthy, I wouldn’t spend any space on them. There are probably better opportunities for characterization elsewhere.

  6. B. McKenzieon 06 Jan 2014 at 7:58 am

    “For example, a male Star Sapphire… Enjoy your day.” I’m enjoying it a lot less now, Mr. Sapphire. 🙂

  7. RJ Andronon 06 Jan 2014 at 5:47 pm

    “For example, take Jim Lee’s New 52 look for the men of the Justice League. If you were do describe the costumes in prose, would you even mention all the seams and lines which were added?”

    John, I’d suggest that descriptions would indicate the defining features of the clothing, and then taking the opportunity to add more characterization. For example, the 2014 Batman suit is “rugged synthetic fabric double-stitched around embedded, flexible armor panels; the suit was a generation evolved ahead of the latest special operations combat uniforms” and then let the reader fill in the rest from their own imagination.

  8. chrison 08 Jan 2014 at 2:32 pm

    One superheroine who’s clothing always gets slashed up is Empowered.

    Now you might not like Empowered as a comic because it’s essentially just about showing off a superheroine in bondage poses but the thing I always liked about Empowered is that there is a reason and a consequence behind the ripping.

    For those not aware, Emp gains her powers through her suit. It’s a pretty full skin covering suit too. But the more damage it takes the more she loses her powers, and it damages really easily.

    So Emp ends most fights nearly naked and tied up.

    Yes, it’s an excuse to have her nearly naked and tied up, but Adam Warren at least put a lot of effort into the suit design and into why she ends up nearly naked and tied up.

    Incidentally, I really liked Black Widows suit in Avengers. It’s sexy and practical, or at least it seems that way. I also liked the suits in the Incredibles.

  9. Rawle Nyanzion 11 Jan 2014 at 8:52 am

    For my own story, I went a fairly simple route: a plain blue dress. Protective features aren’t an issue because her costume protects using a force field. Plus, as you can see from the cover, she won’t be winning any beauty contests.

  10. Aj of Earthon 12 Jan 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Nice. The points made about actual practicality I feel are especially relevant (ie: boob window, long flowing capes that never get caught in anything, superheroes’ natural inclination to sport oft-revealing, skin-tight lycra, etc).

    Though to the point made about Ms. Marvel…

    Currently, under the code name Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers wears a neck-to-toe bodysuit… However, I think the reason less worked for her in the past is because she doesn’t really require extra armor. She’s more or less physically invulnerable so there’s not much need for lots of protective elements in her uniform/costume.

    This same rationale could also be applied to Wonder Woman.

    If we’re to go to the other side of the coin to the dudes, the same goes for the X-Men’s Colossus. His organic metal is righteous but when he’s not in his armored form, he’s really only walking around in briefs and boots. Also the Hulk has only ever gone around in those purple sweats (though as I understand it he is in fact wearing armor these days. Why the Hulk requires armor I’m not entirely sure…)

    And then there’s Namor. He wears so little that it’s actually become a in-story joke from time to time. But there again, he doesn’t require it because A) he possesses a incredible deal of physical durability, and B) perhaps most notably, he spends the majority of his time underwater, where extra clothing would only hinder his movement.

    So I think the maxim “less is more” can work for certain characters, if in fact it’s in line with their capabilities/origin.

    Just my $0.02 though.

    Otherwise, dig the article. Thanks for writing.

  11. ekimmakon 12 Jan 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Really roadblocked about Yuki Girl’s outfit. At the moment, I see white and cyan spandex, but that’s not in the least bit iconic or interesting. But at least she’s fully covered.

    And for some reason, this article reminded me of my time back in CoH. Big tip: Miniskirts on a character that can fly is a bad design choice. When somebody said “Hey, I can see up your skirt!” I immediately went and put her in long jeans.

  12. B. McKenzieon 12 Jan 2014 at 4:42 pm

    “He spends the majority of his time underwater, where extra clothing would only hinder his movement.” Generally, I’d recommend taking a lot of artistic license to make design decisions that might not be 100% practical, as long as it advances the story and/or makes it easier for readers/viewers to take the characters seriously. Here are some situations like that…

    1. It’s okay if artists make design changes to help characters show emotions more effectively/easily. For example, in most cases it’s okay for a hero not to have a helmet*, even though wearing one would almost always be more practical. Non-human protagonists almost always have human-like facial features and expressions (e.g. even robots will smile when happy).

    *Also, cop shows almost never show main characters wearing helmets, even during SWAT raids. It makes characters more recognizable and emotionally expressive. Unnamed SWAT officers always wear helmets, though — nobody needs to recognize an extra.

    2. Some characters wear their signature type of clothes even in situations where it isn’t practical. For example, some super-scientists wear labcoats pretty much full-time, Tony Stark wore a designer suit even in an Afghani war zone, and Agent Orange only wears trenchcoats.

    3. You are ALWAYS licensed to help viewers/readers take your characters seriously, even if that means doing something which would be a bit impractical in real life. For example, nobody would complain if you gave Namor or Robin pants rather than a Speedo and, frankly, it’d look a hell of a lot better. (Also, pants generally are more practical, even for swimmers — some full-body wetsuits have actually been banned by the Olympics as an unfair competitive advantage).

    4. It’s okay if a comic book’s palette is far more saturated than the real world would be. E.g. the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are far greener than actual turtles are (A Mutagen Did It), and Iron Man’s suit is impractically red-and-gold.



    Also, if at all possible, I’d recommend staying away from any design choice that is so bad that you plan on using it as a joke in-story. You’re taking on too much cost for too little a benefit.

  13. Aj of Earthon 12 Jan 2014 at 5:39 pm

    @B. Mac

    Heh, yes very much agreed. The finer points aside I personally wouldn’t dress any of my characters like Namor… 😉

    -AoE

  14. AlucardZainon 15 Jan 2014 at 2:40 pm

    I’m in the planning stages of my new story, and I dont know how to dress my heroine. I like the domino mask (the mask that Ms. Marvel wears) and I want to show a bit of her sexuality (maybe a little bit of boob or her midsection, but going towards her midsection). I dont have her personality down yet, but when she gets “powered”, She gonna be like a feral heroine and thats gonna be her theme. A feline theme, so I dont know how to incorporate that into her outfit. Any help would be appreciated.

  15. Marion G. Harmonon 27 Jan 2014 at 9:54 am

    On the subject of costume description for novelists:

    Speaking as someone who has to describe a LOT of superheroes, I suggest judging the amount of detail you provide by the impact you want it to have. For example, Hope/Astra goes into great detail about her first designer-costume–it’s a big moment for her, and it allowed me to sneak in fine details about her physical appearance. The heroes she meets get less detailed costume descriptions in general, but in referential terms when I can (“dressed like a Hindu tribal dancer”, black “Greek-style armor”).

    Costume tropes for superheroes are so well set that writers can paint the picture with a single sentence: “layered blue and white spandex bodysuit and cape.” Once is enough, unless some detail changes in a way significant to the plot.

    If you are writing First Person POV, the decision is easy; add detail or not, based on what is going on. For example, if Astra first meets a villain in a fight, she’s busy and isn’t going to be noticing costume details much. If she first sees the villain as a picture in a case-file, she might dive into the details as she tries to get an impression of the bad guy by psychoanalyzing his wardrobe choices.

    Third Person POV, the choices are harder but again come down to pacing. In an action scene you want to avoid slowing the pace at all costs; transition scenes give you time to fill in more detail, but avoid info-dumping.

    Costume styles are a whole different subject…

  16. shotgunon 07 Feb 2014 at 11:44 pm

    hi Brain…how are you?…i am working on my first superhero novel…my hero is based on a mythological goddess…a power fighter type…i have given her long hairs…but if the adversery try to grab those he will get deadly electric shocks…thats due to her super powers…what do you think ? is it ok?

  17. Silverstoneon 08 Feb 2014 at 2:07 pm

    I’ve always found Superheroines, skimpy costumes annoying from miss martian to Supergirls miniskirts
    even the new supergirl oufit is strange it draws a lot of attention to the crotch, athough i must say i like the boots

    but alot of costumes are only worn to look good they serve no real purposes

    such as Boster gold, Hawk man, stargirl even Green Lantern, all his power is in his ring.

    costumes that do have a purposes are the Flashes, batmans, Black Panthers.

  18. crescon 09 Feb 2014 at 12:56 pm

    My super heroine (click my link) has an exoskin similar to Bombshell and Captain Atom, though this gives her agility over invulnerability and strength.

    Basically she’s naked with the power alone and wears clothes over the second skin for modesty. I have her wearing functional work out clothes with sturdy boots.

    Also she isn’t always wearing the same suit. She uses MMA gear if she’s expecting a lot of fighting, pants and boots if she’s going to be jumping across buildings ect.

    Anyway i thought I would put the design on the chopping block. How stupid does it look?

  19. Clip-Clopon 05 Apr 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Hey, what would be a practical suit for a young (teen) girl superhero?
    Her powers do not change her outer appearance, so the main points
    Should be:
    Able to hide her identity
    And
    Not super hard-to-find materials

  20. AceofXon 15 Jul 2014 at 7:34 pm

    #Clip-Clop, does she want to have some flash, too? Because if she only wants to disguise her identity and stay on budget, sweat pants and hoody plus a mask could work. Of course, that depends on her powers. But if she wants anonymity but not flash, some form of work clothes plus mask, fire retardant or otherwise, should be sufficient.
    If she wants to be noticed, too, you’ll have to pick something that fits with her personality and decide how much she’s willing to put into it, time and money.

    Leather is still durable and a good choice 90% of the time—a leather costume doesn’t have to be slinky. Consider biking jackets, and the like. If that’s not good, for a material . . . compare car or boat upholstery fabrics. I can’t vouch for comfort, but it gives you a rundown on relative cost and durability under different outdoor conditions.

  21. Alaris Moonon 04 Aug 2014 at 12:42 am

    One of my female heroes (named Catnip) wears a full black catsuit with olive accents and has the Leo sign for her insignia. Would this be considered too cliche or is it fine?

  22. B. McKenzieon 04 Aug 2014 at 10:51 am

    “One of my female heroes (named Catnip) wears a full black catsuit with olive accents and has the Leo sign for her insignia. Would this be considered too cliche?” I think it would help to differentiate the character’s concept (e.g. theme/name, costume, and maybe slight alterations to skill-set and/or team role) from Catwoman (or secondarily Black Cat). Unless that’s the effect you’re going for, I would recommend taking a different approach to the character (e.g. cutting the cat theme would probably help).

  23. Alaris Moonon 04 Aug 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Gotcha

  24. Alyssa Rhydeon 04 Aug 2014 at 8:25 pm

    my main heroine (named Siren) wears a fuchsia and black outfit similar to a one-piece swimsuit with puffy things on the shoulders (like with Cinderella’s dress) with high heel boots that reach her thighs and an elaborately crafted pink mask. She also carries around a golden trident.

  25. Raksha Killianon 13 Aug 2014 at 4:53 pm

    my main heroine wears something a little like this:

    http://th03.deviantart.net/fs71/PRE/i/2013/198/2/d/rmwt___aradia_by_bananaramses-d6dxwen.jpg

    would it be considered ‘too revealing’?

  26. Alpha Flighton 17 Jan 2015 at 11:28 am

    Here are some questions you should ask yourself when designing a superheroine:
    1. Can she lift her arms without creating embarrassing moments?
    2. Can she sit or kick or be turned upside down without being too revealing?
    3. Does she wear high heels?

    If you answered yes to any of the above questions, please consider reassessing if this costume matches your characters personality or if you just gave her that costume because she looks hot wearing it.

    Here is the order I think costumes should be designed:

    Design something to be functional (heels are NOT functional for running, fighting, or going down hills or over cattle guards. Villains could keep out most heroines if they surrounded their bases with cattle guards.)

    Then add theme, and a touch of the characters personality.

    Finally, tweak it to make it look cool. (But not impractical)

    Now your heroin is functional, themed and stylish. YOU DONT NEED TO SACRIFICE FUNCTIONALITY TO MAKE A COSTUME COOL OR A HEROINE PRETTY!!!!!!

    I would buy a lot of comics if heroines costumes weren’t so annoyingly revealing. I know there are a lot of others who share my feelings.

    Sorry for the rant, but I really wish that people thought out costumes more.

  27. Poofon 13 Oct 2015 at 10:47 am

    I’m stuck on the costume for this one character. She’s a thief who likes to be felt but not seen. Her name is Dusk. Wherever she goes, mist follows. She can manipulate it, and is accomplished with spells and jinxes. While she is a sadist, she is a good person in the end. She can create anything with her mind provided she has enough time and concentration, and is great with illusions. She is an amazing hand to hand combat person who likes acrobatic flips and cartwheels. And she is around ten, forced to grow up quickly. She only wears grey.

    Can you guys help me with a costume?

  28. Andrewon 10 May 2016 at 5:14 am

    The females of my team don’t have REALLY revealing clothes. I mean, one’s a samurai, three are ninja, one wears a makeshift, one’s a sorceress, one’s a Star Sapphire but the only skin she exposes are her arms. Honestly, the most revealing of them is the team’s chemist. Her costume is a burnt up green shirt with trousers, the only skin she shows is her lower torso and arms. I think as far as practicality go, they have no problem

  29. Nickon 13 Oct 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Perhaps the most annoying thing about female superhuman costumes is the prevalence of high heels. As Alpha Flight pointed out, there are a lot of mobility issues, but there’s also the problem of being able to deliver a decent punch. There are mechanics at play. Unless the character is defying physics, she’ll need to plant her feet properly to make the most out of her body mass, which is something that already puts her at a disadvantage. Now, sure, maybe these people are flying around, but still, a 130 lb. woman is not going to fare well against a 200 lb. man, assuming their skills and powers are more or less evenly matched. Her first goal would be to get every edge she can.

    In my stories, high-heels on a female super is a dead giveaway that she’s a mentalist or something that will never, ever want to let things get up close and personal. Unfortunately, movies and comics never seem to take this into account.

    As for the skimpiness of the costumes, well, that’s just silly. I’m a man, and as such, I don’t mind the eye-candy, but seriously, I can’t imagine a woman fighting crime in a bikini unless her powers are somehow based on seduction. Maybe her moniker is “Fan Service”?

  30. B. McKenzieon 14 Oct 2017 at 3:16 am

    “In my stories, high-heels on a female super is a dead giveaway that she’s a mentalist or something that will never, ever want to let things get up close and personal. Unfortunately, movies and comics never seem to take this into account.” Movie superheroines wearing high heels in battle? Do any examples come to mind besides Catwoman? Not sure how often this comes up.

    (Or, when it does come up, how much it’d affect the movie — I’m thinking a main character’s shoes probably get something like 0-2 minutes of screentime, whereas horrible dialogue or plotting will tank large swaths of the movie).

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