Superhero fashion is mainly made by the Superheroes themselves; we can see them sewing their suits. This activity connects them with cosplayers, but, do we see Superheroes in the same light when they sew or construct their suits? For many years, sewing has been an activity attached to feminine roles. Thus, women have been seen as more suited to sewing than men have. That’s why we might see Spider-Man complaining about having to sew his own suit again and again in the comics. But, do we see all Superheroes under the same light? Has Cosplay changed our views on what gender roles are attached to sewing? Think about Spider-Man trying to make his suit, and then think about Ironman. What are the images that pop into your head? Who is cool? Who is having trouble and no choice but doing the sewing because no one must know who he is?
What is acceptable or unacceptable for male audiences has changed through time. Even if the number of male cosplayers has grown, we still have the act of sewing attached to a particular gender role. A needle and some cloth seem to dictate that a woman is involved in the activity while steel and computers seem to dictate that a man is to participate in that activity.
In Superhero narratives, costumes are associated with masculinity and the display of power and aggression. Thus, Cosplayers willing to engage in sewing might be performing a similar rite of passage like Spidey does: he needs to finish his suit to become the Superhero. The transformation into a Superhero isn’t complete until the costume is present. Superheroes design their own costumes, sew them, and achieve their purpose in life once they are into their suits. Suits that they’ve made themselves.
Even stars who portray Superheroes are still bugged by the sewing act, and see it as a feminine one. Andrew Garfield described how Spidey sew his suit, in a very feminine and delicate way, but ending up with a very masculine costume. See the contradiction here? If sewing is an activity attached to women, then, there must be something masculine out of it: the suit!
But do all Superheroes end up having the same clashes with stereotyped gender roles and activities attached to them? Let’s take a look at Ironman for a second. He is a genius who designs the ultimate Superhero suit made out of steel, engines and it even has an artificial intelligence working for him as a secretary.
Yes, cosplayers engage in designing their costumes as Superheroes do, and in doing so, they follow the steps of their favorite characters. Cosplayers devote themselves to the costume, like the characters they love. As it happens with the rite of passage of the Superheroes, without costume there’s no Superhero; cosplayers too become so once they’ve finished their costumes.
If sewing is seen as a feminine activity, and designing a masculine one, then we must stress that aesthetics are the realms of women and manufacturing are the realm of men. Spidey is engaged in aesthetics with his suit. The webbing devices that he designs, however, are a manufacturing activity.
In the case of Ironman, designing the whole suit is manufacturing, however giving a particular palette of colors could be viewed as aesthetics. But, even then, Ironman chooses the palette from one of his cars (in the Marvel Cinematic Universe).
In short, designing a suit and making a suit that requires certain skills that are traditionally perceived as masculine, will make the whole process as an empowering act. However, if one of the activities is traditionally perceived as feminine, bet that the Superhero will start complaining about it and show that he has no choice whatsoever to do so to pass his rite of passage.
If a Cosplayer can create gadgets like Ironman, then he has the potential to demonstrate comparable skills to the Superhero he loves. Think about the suit of Ironman, many of the gadgets that the suit has, have already been developed by the US Army, or are in the process of doing so.
Superhero fashion is still a very masculine one. Not only suits will empathize muscles and skills, but the process that brought them to light also speaks volumes about our society. For once, Spider-Man should stop complaining about sewing and attach the activity to women only. Just as many Cosplayers are sewing devoted to creating the best suit to impersonate their favorite characters, so Superheroes should stop thinking of design, gadgets or sewing as activities attached to just a gender.
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.
(Note: this post contains an affiliate link. I only promote things that I like.)