Why Superheroes Wear Their Underwear on the Outside

The script for this video is an excerpt from our new book, The Wise Book of Whys available now: Print | Kindle | Nook | Audiobook

If you liked this video, you might also enjoy:

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.

Share the Knowledge! Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinteresttumblrmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinteresttumblrmail
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Enjoy this article? Join over 50,000 Subscribers getting our FREE Daily Knowledge and Weekly Wrap newsletters:

Subscribe Me To:  | 

26 comments

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

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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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)?

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

  • They don’t have wife and children, too O_o

  • Makes sense. But I also think there’s something missing–what about the fact that wearing underwear-like shorts also keeps the superheroes’ pants “up” so to speak. For instance, women wear stockings, but those stockings tend to go down slowly. I like to wear girl shorts on top of my stocking to avoid this. Just a thought, and experience thrown in there, haha. Great article by the way!

  • I’m not going to try to tell Superman or any of those other guys, where they have to place their skivvies, or how frequently they should change them. I don’t think they would listen to me anyway. (Just like any other sane person).

  • The skin-tight outfits are because it’s easier than drawing regular clothes (and to show off muscles). According to one of the original artists, the undies on the outside was make sure people knew they were wearing SOMETHING, as colorists often got things wrong (the early non-panties heroes, the original Green Lantern, were often in trouble by censors because “he’s nekkid!”)

    Why women always wore swimsuits… well, because guys are drawing them and guys are buying them (though Black Canary’s comment that if they’re looking at her “charms” they weren’t looking at her fists).

    Personally, I think the New 52 Superman and Batman look… unfinished.

  • I think the main problem is lesser intelligent people calling it “underwear” instead of ‘trunks’ or ‘briefs’. If anything you’d think it’d fabric is thicker and what’s actually keeping the thin tights from falling down.

  • Leandro Martins de Lima

    I read somewhere that in fact one of Superman’s author the authors created the character as a way to escape the sadness for having lost his own father, imprinting his hopes of a superhuman character that could have saved his own father.
    I don’t remember where I read this though.

  • Iv’e worn red speedo swim briefs over blue tights, with a long sleeve, back zipper leotard and microfiber briefs under the tights on Halloween. They really feel and do look great. The feeling of red swim briefs over my clinging soft, warm leotard and tights keeps my lower anatomy snug and secure underneath. After a special adult Halloween party , Ill be helped out of my superhero outfit by a lady friend later that night. I’m in no hurry to give up all those sexy leotards, especially the red swim briefs over the tights. i like how my yellow booties are unzipped and taken off, then loose my red cape, as she slow unties and takes it off. I now feel like I’m loosing all of my superhero powers, when she eyes my red briefs, then joyfully unites the long drawstrings and watch me wiggle and pout like a little boy being taken out of his Halloween superhero fantasy. It certainly tickles my excited genitals well encased blue leotard and tights, as she pulls and tugs the red briefs down. My first layer is slowly coming off when she says “party’s over superman, we’re just getting started,” while smiling in all her beauty. She’s captured her superhero and stripping me down to the bare essentials. It was over, once she had my red swim briefs off, then the blue leotard is slowly unzipped and peeled down to my upper waist, then unsnugged and off, despite all my playful resistance. She stepped back watching me plead for my warm blue tights and undies, still snug and secure in them. It was a slow and gentle process being defrocked of my superhero leotard and tights. It was such a sensational feeling, as she slowly peeled the blue tights down my legs, then she happily freed my kicking feet. “Okay, Halloween’s over for you, superhero” finally getting the clinging white microfiber briefs off and I.m totally naked for her. It was a beautiful Halloween night for both of us, but I certainly liked wearing those superhero leotard and tights.especially the red swim briefs over them, keeping me warm, snug and secure on a very chilly night.

  • It’s fun seeing Superheros in comic books and movies. I got to dress up as a superhero in blue leotard and tights with red swim briefs over them on Halloween. They felt great wearing them and I wonder how Superman felt in his superhero outfit. After the Halloween party, I had to change, but wasn’t ready to take off my blue superhero leotard and tights yet. They felt so soft, snug and secure, especially with the red briefs. When it was time to change, I was helped out of my superhero leotard and tights and complimented how good They fit me. It was some what sad to have the red briefs come off, then the blue leotard, tights and blue underwear. It was a great fantasy for me to dress up in superhero hero leotard, tights and red briefs over them, a great Halloween costume night.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *