Superhero fashion get’s all too real when the costume and the Superhero jump from the comic book pages or the screen to the real world. What does it mean to wear a mask on the streets? Is spandex a good idea to fight meat and bone criminals? Is it legal to “Cosplay” and work as a Superhero in our free time?
Wearing a Superhero costume and decide to work as a Superhero in real life can be challenging. Even if the appropriation of the costume and the mask might be symbolic, wearing them introduces real legal concerns that fictional Superheroes don’t tend to face in fictional narratives. Think for a moment: what would you think if someone dressed in a flashy costume wearing a mask faces a thief who is trying to get your purse? Would you take him seriously? Or, would you think it’s a mad man who wants to make things worse? Would you freak out and think it’s a terrorist?
Yes, there are Superheroes out there who dress in flashy clothes and wear masks on their free time to ask for justice. One example is the group Pussy Riot. Their members are female dressed in flashy colors and with masks that cover all their faces.
If you visit the World Superhero Registry, you’ll find out that fashion and Superheroism go hand in hand. But most importantly: idealism and the reality of wearing a practical custome is what troubles Superheroes the most. According to the World Superhero Registry, “the purpose of a costume is not simply to protect the identity of the Real-Life Superhero from criminals that might seek revenge, but to make a statement both to the evil-doers that you fight against and to the world at large: you are not simply someone who happened upon crime or injustice and made an impulsive decision to intervene. You have vowed to actively fight for the betterment of humankind and to serve as an example for others. The costume of a Real-Life Superhero must be of sufficient quality to show some care went into its creation..” Not only there’s commitment to an idea, there’s a serious will to make the costume a practical tool to protect the identity of the Superhero from possible revenge on them and their families and a costume that might make a statement while also protecting the person.
But, is this fashion that began with comics or Superhero movies?
Masked vigilantes have been out there as soon as poor people had no other means to organize themselves against tyranny. Sometimes, groups of vigilantes would appear, but these did not necessarily align their interestest with those of the law enforcement of the times. They weren’t seen with good eyes by the general public and ended up feared and not cherished.
Today’s real Superheroes rely on pop culture to make their motives known. In appropriating the pop culture Superhero fashion, they can position their status as crime-fighters and not wrong-doers. However, it’s also true that most of the times the general public meets them with a laugh on their faces.
These real Superheroes get their inspiration from the fictional world and craft their Superhero identities, mission and suits accordingly. These suits might also include insignias and a very particular color palette so that people can identify the Superhero.
Real Superheroes are not Cosplayers. They take their work seriously and do try to make the world better. Cosplayers are playing a role for entertainment without the will of engaging in any dangerous activities such as apprehending a criminal.
Many real Superheroes have taken Lucha Libre masks to hide their identities. In using humor and drama, they try to pass their message to the public. They play with secrecy and becoming popular. Using social media and other promoting devices, they hope to make the world a better place. Using a mask while promoting oneself through social media is liberating.
But is a mask the only thing that worries this real-life Superheroes? Nope. Their suits need to be practical. Wearing a bullet-proof vest under the suit is desirable, or having a spray in hand might help in performing a civil arrest. Hence, patrolling the streets in costume isn’t an easy thing at all. Suits must have been somewhat technologically advanced, and this means that suits are super expensive.
Real-life Superheroes that wear armor-like suits anticipate real combat. However, those who tend to wear spandex expect to perform good deeds and use the suit and the mask for symbolic reasons. When these Superheroes put on the suit and the mask they want to fight social injustice, like the punk rock band Pussy Riot. They wear balaclavas (mask) to hide their identities. They want to promote free expression.
There is a significant risk to demonstrate with masks on. In many countries wearing a balaclava can get you arrested, and not only in Russia. In several countries across Europe, like in Spain, wearing it marks you as a terrorist. Many countries have laws by which faces must be seen and not hidden so that police officers can recognize you easily.
While it is true that wearing a mask makes supporters anonymized, and able to temporary abandon their identities, it’s also true that masks can put the wearer into deep trouble. Like in V for Vendetta, when the crowd adopts the identity of the hero, they make an open-source hero identity to fight the establishment. The more people wears the mask; the stronger gets the idea that the mask represents. And ideas cannot be killed.
The mask from V for Vendetta was appropriated by Anonymous as a means to protest against tyranny around the world. In here we see how a comic book hero ends up in the real world (or better, the idea that the V for Vendetta mask hides in it).
In the real world, the Superhero fashion represents a set of ideas and values that everyone recognizes. If someone puts on the costume and the mask, then the person who wears them becomes irrelevant. The identity and values of the fashion the wearer has on takes on. Hence, the costume and the mask have their own identities and so, if one wearer disappears, another can appear in its place.
Want to read more? Try reading: The Superhero Costume : Identity and Disguise in Fact and Fiction.
Also, find more interesting info here:
- Geek Fashion: We Love Fine Marvel Superheroes.
- Lessons on Geek Anthropology: When Superhero Fashion Makes You Feel Super.
- Comics THORsday: Comics, Women and Fashion. Spider Gwen and Silk.
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