Superman Costume Comparisons
By Steve Younis..
Originally Published: April 10, 2006
Updated: December 10, 2012
When people think of Superman, they basically think of the following seven standards in regards to the way he looks and what he wears:
- Black hair, spit curl (strand or lock of hair curling onto forehead)
- Blue tights (full body)
- Red cape (attached at the collar/neckline of blue tights)
- Red “S” shield (on chest)
- Red briefs (worn over the blue tights)
- Yellow belt
- Red boots
So, with those seven points in mind, I’m going to be comparing these aspects of a number of Superman costumes throughout various eras.
Below you’ll see a grouping of 12 images showing a number of hair styles employed by various incarnations of Superman.
The first image is of Superman as drawn by Joe Shuster, co-creator of the Man of Steel. Next is Kirk Alyn, George Reeves, Johnny Rockwell (from the unaired Superboy TV pilot), Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, John Haymes Newton and Gerard Christopher (from the 1980s Superboy TV series), Superman from “Superman: The Animated Series”, Brandon Routh, Tom Welling, and Henry Cavill.
What’s interesting to note is that eight of the twelve examples incorporate the spit-curl.
There isn’t much to examine in regards to the blue tights. Throughout time it has basically been the same full-body tight-fitting blue suit.
It is interesting to note that the color has not always been a constant. The shade of blue has varied dramatically throughout the various incarnations. Looking at these examples below, it’s amazing how much noise some fans made regarding the shade of red used in “Superman Returns”.
I know colors can’t be accurately measured or judged on screen, and that the sample photos may not be color-corrected images… but I thought it was an interesting experiment nonetheless.
Click on the color swatches to see which color belongs to which version of Superman.
The cape is an interesting item. Who’d think that a simple piece of red fabric could have so many facets to its existence!
When examining the cape you could look at its length – how far down the back of Superman’s legs does it stretch? The color – how red is red? The material – is it wool, is it indestructible, does it super-stretch?
Seeing as how we’re examining the visual element of the appearance of Superman, I’m going to examine the stylistic appearance of the costume, and most specifically how it connects to the blue tights.
Once more we see below a group of images highlighting the neckline of the blue tights and the position of the red cape at the point at which it is attached to Superman.
It’s interesting to note that there are actually two Dean Cain “Lois & Clark” examples here… They changed the way the cape attached to the costume a few times in the TV series.
It’s also interesting to note that the George Reeves, Johnny Rockwell, and Brandon Routh examples are very similar. While the Christopher Reeve, Superboy TV series, “Superman: The Animated Series”, and “Man of Steel” examples are also similar to one another.
The one example most removed from the others is the “New 52” comic book design, in which the position of the cape attachments is quite different mostly due to the high collar.
We can’t touch on the cape without talking about whether or not it has an “S” shield on it, and if it does, how big is it? What color is it? Below are another group of examples from various incarnations.
Much was made of the fact that the “Superman Returns” costume doesn’t have an “S” on the cape. Same goes for the upcoming “Man of Steel” movie. The fact is that this hasn’t always been a feature of the costume. As you can see below, there was no “S” on the cape in the original comics drawn by Joe Shuster, nor in the Fleischer Superman cartoons, nor in “Superman: The Animated Series”, and not in “Justice League” or “Justice League Unlimited” cartoons.
In the versions where the “S” is used on the cape, it’s not always consistant. When the “S” was first introduced on the cape (by artist Paul Cassidy in Action Comics #13) it was only in occasional panels. In other comics of the time, Joe Shuster and Wayne Boring never drew it on the cape.
In the 1950s “Adventures of Superman” TV Series, the costume worn by George Reeves had an “S” on the cape, but the “S” was red and yellow like the one on the front of the costume. Kirk Alyn had the same thing before him (in the Superman Serials).
When it is on the cape, the “S” is most commonly seen as a fully yellow “S” shield, with black outlines. A notable difference is the cape seen in the TV series “Lois & Clark”. Dean Cain’s costume had a fully yellow “S”, but no black outlines. Interestingly, the “S” seen on the cape shown in the opening credits of “Lois & Clark” had a yellow and red “S”. In the mid-1990s, a promotional photo of Teri Hatcher wrapped in this cape (with the red and yellow “S”) was one of the most downloaded internet images.
Take a look below, you’ll see a block of 20 different “S” shields from various time periods.
The first one (top left) is from the Golden Age of comics, drawn by Superman’s co-creator himself, Joe Shuster. A very small yellow triangle with a red S inside.
Next is the “S” from the famous Fleischer Superman cartoons. A black shield, with white outline, and a red S.
As you can see, the design changes across time. Sometimes even the colors were different. The size varies greatly, yet all are actual “S” shields that belonged to Superman at one point in time or another. Whether it be in the comics, TV shows, movies or cartoons.
How much can you say about the briefs. Again, the design is pretty standard… except the length of them has varied over the years.
The only other exception really, is that the briefs look somewhat black with a red highlight in “Superman: The Animated Series”. This look is also something that has been mimicked in the comics in later years.
However, DC Comics and Warner Bros. have decided to remove the red briefs. Originally, Joe Shuster was inspired by the circus strongman of the 1930s as his model for the red briefs. It was a design that most superheroes that came after Superman employed. But over the years many of those superheroes did away with this part of their costume… and now so too has Superman in both the “New 52” era of comic books, the “Smallville: Season 11” comic book, and the “Man of Steel” movie.
The yellow belt is also something you might think as being fairly standard. The belt buckle has varied in different incarnations. Some times it has been drawn as a simple yellow circle. Usually as a yellow oval. Some times it has a little bevelled interior edge (sometimes raised, sometimes indented).
Kirk Alyn’s and George Reeves’ costumes actually had an oval gold belt-buckle. The Fleischer Cartoons had a black belt with a yellow buckle. Dean Cain’s costume went with a rectangular belt buckle and also featured a diamond design on the belt (not the buckle).
Artist H.J. Ward beat “Superman Returns” by at least 50 years when he put an “S” on the belt buckle in a painting that hung for years in the DC Comics offices.
It’s also interesting to note that Yvonne Blake, costume designer for “Superman: The Movie”, originally intended for Christopher Reeve’s Superman costume to have a gold metal belt with an “S” on the buckle (as seen in this picture and detailed in the description text shown at a 2007 auction in which the Blake sketch was sold).
With the removal of the red briefs from Superman’s costume in the “New 52” era of comic books and the “Smallville: Season 11” comic book, the design and color of the belt has been varied considerably. The “Man of Steel” movie did away with a belt altogether, and replaced it with some bodywork designs, although the oval buckle shape is still there.
Last of all we reach the red boots.
The design hasn’t changed drastically over the years, the only real variant is how high up the leg the boots sits.
Usually the top of the boot (nearest the knee) has a dip in the middle. Although, once again, there are a few exceptions. In the examples shown below the boots worn by Dean Cain in “Lois & Clark”, the “New 52” and “Earth One” comic book versions all have the top of the boot point to the knee rather than a dip pointing to the toes.
Looking at the live action versions, the material also varies. Dean Cain’s and Brandon Routh’s have a leather-type appearance. While Reeves’, Reeve’s, and Rockwell’s all seem similar to one another. Kirk Alyn’s appear to be more material-like, with stitches up the sides. While Henry Cavill’s appear to be made from the same material as the rest of the suit.
Christopher Reeve’s boots definitely go higher up the shin than any of the other designs. While Brandon Routh’s boots and the Golden Age boots seem to be the lowest.
The only conclusion to be drawn from this comparison of the look of Superman since his debut in 1938, is that the character’s appearance, while usually consisting of the seven basic elements which we’ve just examined, is always in a state of flux, seeing adjustments and variations with each new incarnation.