Why Superheroes Wear Their Underwear on the Outside

Daven Hiskey 13
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Why Superheroes Wear Their Underwear on the Outside

While there have been many fantastical proposed origins of this seemingly odd modish style amongst comic artists -my favorite of which being that most superheroes lost their parents at an early age, so they had no one to tell them underwear goes UNDER your clothes -the true origin is pretty simple. According to Julius Schwartz (famed editor of DC Comics from 1944-1986 who edited the most famous of all external-underwear superheroes, Superman), this was simply modeled after the garb of aerial circus performers and wrestlers of the era in which the first superheroes proudly donned their underpants over their tights.

Now, it should be noted here that the wrestlers, circus performers, and superheroes weren’t actually wearing underwear, but rather tight underwear-like shorts over their leggings. As superheroes are generally incredibly gifted athletically and perform amazing acrobatic stunts while crime fighting, it was natural enough for this style of dress to get adopted by the earliest superhero artists for their characters.

Two of the earliest major representations of this can be found in Flash Gordon (1934), which in turn was partially the inspiration for the garb of Superman (1938), with the principle difference being the colors of their uniforms and the fact that Superman had a cape (as far as I can find, the first major superhero to wear one).

Of course, if you still want to think of the superhero tight-shorts as underwear, given that Superman and others often wear their uniform under their normal clothes, it kind of makes sense.

Bonus Fact:

The original Superman character envisioned by Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster was not the crime-fighting hero from another world we know today. Instead, they made him a bald bad guy set on ruling the world in the 1933 The Reign of Superman. In this story, a character by the name of Bill Dunn is waiting in a soup kitchen line when Professor Ernest Smalley offers him food and new clothes in exchange for his participation in an experiment.

The Professor proceeds to give him a potion that makes Dunn telepathic; he then becomes a super-man, and tries to take over the world. However, in the process, he kills Professor Smalley, only to discover later that his powers are temporary unless he has more potion to drink, which he can’t figure out how to recreate. Ultimately, the former Superman finds himself without his powers and back in the soup kitchen line.

A year after writing that story, Siegel re-cast the character of Superman, this time making him a hero bent on righting the wrongs prominent in society at the time. They also decided to switch Superman’s name from “Bill Dunn” to “Clark Kent,” after famed actors Kent Taylor and Clark Gable.

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13 Comments »

  1. Carl December 28, 2013 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Question.
    Why did all Superheroes wear socks and not shoes or boots?

  2. Rodrian Roadeye January 3, 2014 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    They weren’t socks as you couldn’t see their toes through them. More like a lightweight boot.

  3. Rodrian Roadeye January 3, 2014 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    This may have been brought up before, but in the B&W series with George Reeves, the badguy empties his gun at Superman, then throws thye empty gun in a futile effort to hurt him. Superman, who was immune to the bullets…ducks. LOL

  4. Carl January 4, 2014 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    Drawing superhero characters for children in hospitals to color, in the 1940′s, I could find nothing that would indicate any kind of footwear other than socks. There were no soles, and one could see the complete outline of the foot.

  5. LOVEPAREEK January 9, 2014 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    DUNNO WHETHER THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A PIECE OF HUMOR, BUT I CUDNT HELP SMILING THRU OUT. SOME MORE WEIRD EXPLANATIONS WUD HAVE BEEN THE ICING (I M SURE …. WITH SUCH A JUICY TOPIC, NETIZENS MUST AV SPAWNED A MILLION THEORIES BY NOW…MEBBE EVEN SOME CONSPIRACY-THEORIES) :-)
    PS: ANOTHER SIMILIAR QUERY….WHY DU CARTOONS SHOW FOUR FINGERS ONLY (N NEVER FIVE)?

  6. Louise January 28, 2014 at 5:07 am - Reply

    Great video, very interesting. Quite a few typos in the onscreen text, though. You might want to have someone check that…

  7. No name March 1, 2014 at 11:28 pm - Reply

    They don’t have wife and children, too O_o

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