I am an entertainment enthusiast with six years experience as an online pop culture writer.
I have written a number of articles about superheroines and their costume history. It is a look back on how their clothing designs have changed over the years to reflect the time periods and the character’s development. To make my articles unique, I also try to insert humor as a commentary on how these heroines tend to get sexualized. Often, the costumes are designed to flaunt sex appeal, rather than functionality.
As Halloween approaches, I can’t help but notice that many of the superhero costumes sold in the mass market fall into this same trap. The female superhero costumes tend to be more revealing than their male counterparts. Below are the heroes and heroine costumes that make it onto store shelves everywhere. Walk down almost any costume aisle and these will be the costumes available for purchase.
In this article, I'll discuss:
- Batman / Batgirl
- Captain America
- The Flash
- Green Lantern
- Iron Man / Iron Woman
- Spider-Man / Spider-Woman
- Superman / Supergirl
- Wonder Woman
Batman / Batgirl
In the comic books, both Batman and Batgirl dress in full-body suits. The main way to tell their costumes apart is because of their well “developed” bodies. Batgirl also likes to have her long hair flowing outside of her cowl. However, for her Halloween costume, she is constantly getting a short skirt with the signature batwing outline. Her arms are almost completely exposed except for the bat arm guards. This goes a long way from wearing a protective costume to both protect her from physical harm and keeping her secret identity a mystery. When a costume is made to cover her body, it stops at the bust line, rather than going all the way up the neck.
This one might make sense if you take the origin of Captain America’s costume being designed for the USO show. The female version looks like it could have been inspired from a USO Girl’s outfit. However, when Captain America started fighting in battles they upgraded his costume with a little more padding. The female Captain America was upgraded by cutting a star out of the bust and exposing a little more cleavage. This will do her little good in a combat situation.
Catwoman may be the one costume that becomes more decent when put on store shelves for Halloween. I imagine this is for a couple reasons. First, it is probably impractical to create a mass market costume that fits as tight as it does in the comics. Second, most women do not naturally possess the exaggerated curves of this comic book villain. If they did, they sure would not be able to perform her acrobatic feats or jump around the city in those high heels.
The Flash costume is not as revealing as many other female heroine costumes. Men get a full bodysuit with built-in upper body muscles. Women get a skin-tight, sleeveless dress. The skirt may be short but this costume comes with red stockings. Most runners don’t wear a skirt but they don’t wear high heels either, so they probably did not design this costume with her super speed in mind.
This is interesting because of the completely different designs used. The man wears a relatively thick fabric in the style of Hal Jordan, which includes the typical fake upper body muscles. One of the women’s costume is more true to the design of the comics and movie than the male costume. It is a thin form fitting outfit that molds to the body. Rather than adding plastic muscles, the colors of the clothing are used to accentuate the bodies natural form. It is obvious that women need to be in far better shape to pull off this costume than the padded male version. The other female Green Lantern costume is actually Arisia, but is often sold as a women's Green Lantern costume. The typical boots and short skirt found in many superheroine Halloween costumes are present but she has a white halter top.
Iron Man / Iron Woman
Iron Man’s transition to Iron Woman is probably the most ridiculous of all the costume revisions. Tony Stark is a billionaire who created a mechanical suit of armor to fight crime. He takes on the codename Iron Man, because he is a man-made of metal. Yet when they decided to create a female version they gave her a short red dress with yellow lines to represent circuitry. Shiny red fabric does not represent iron. The only things that could be considered “armored” would be the boots and safety goggles. "Woman in Red" might be a more fitting name for this costume.
The Boy Wonder is probably one of the most scantily clad male heroes in comics. However, when Halloween costumes are designed for men to wear, they get a lot more fabric. Most times his tights are turned into a green bodysuit with the middle section colored red. Sometimes they give him a baggy red shirt. When they do have the speedo bottoms, there are also skin-colored tights included. With a female Robin costume, they look for ways to remove fabric. She is given a short green miniskirt, that often has a slit all the way up to the belt. The arms are mostly left exposed, but the costume might cover some of her shoulder or forearms. The top of her shirt is always left open to reveal the bust. Not a lot of wondering going on with this costume.
Spider-Man / Spider-Woman
Spider-Man has always been a hero but his public image has been in flux. At some points he has been a savior, and at other times a menace. No matter what, he is always protective of his secret identity to keep his loved ones safe. All his costumes are created to completely covered his body from head to toe. Yet when Spider-Women costumes are created, they show off a lot of leg. Instead of wearing a full mask to cover all the facial features, her mask uses a slim masquerade style that draws attention to her eyes and mouth. The costumes will vary on how much or little they cover but they all give new meaning to the phrase friendly neighborhood spider-woman.
Superman / Supergirl
Supergirl’s costume was always more revealing than her younger/older cousin. While Superman went with the full-body suit, Supergirl preferred the mini skirts. However, Supergirl normally wore a full top with long sleeves, while her Halloween costumes tend to be more low cut. There also seems to be a need to reveal a little more midriff than she does in the comics. Unlike the men’s costume that let you add super muscles to compensate for a person’s lack of physical fitness, women need to have super confidence to put on this costume.
Ok, this costume might be a little hard to make decent, if you are sticking with the source material.
The costumes above were displayed multiple times in Google image search results. These are the sites that I went to for the images. If you know of an image that belongs to a different site please let me know in the comment section below and I will make sure to give appropriate credit. Thank you.
Geekdom (author) on November 14, 2014:
Thank you for the correction. I will have to update this article at a later time.
T on November 13, 2014:
One little detail: the "bad" green lantern costume is actually Arisia. It's a pretty good costume actually (here is a reference http://img3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110929071042/... )
Kathryn Lamoreux on November 05, 2012:
Great hub! I've always been disappointed in female superhero costumes for this reason.