A lot of the recent conversations surrounding what could be considered fashion in comics has been in reference to superhero uniforms. Now, we know that everyone’s new uniforms are rad. But what’s even radder is that some of the components that make up these costumes, as well as our favourite heroes’ civilian clothes, are based on things we can actually buy. In shops! That’s right kids, super heroes shop the high street too.
While obvious examples of off the rack fashions within comics are still relatively few and far between, there seems to be something of a lean towards their inclusion as creators are finally realizing that girls and women really are reading comics and like it when they see their interests—themselves—reflected in their heroes. Not as power fantasies, not as sex objects, but as a people.
I, for one, have always found that the lack of attention superhero artists pay to current street style trends a little odd, especially considering these same creators are able to conjure entire universes from scratch. They can’t take two minutes out of their day to find out what cut of jeans is fashionable at the moment? It creates a strange sort of visual dissonance that only functions to pull me out of the story as I question where exactly they even found those garments. Boot cut jeans in 2015—I’m looking at you.
The choice to overlook fashion in this way is not uncommon, especially by guys in cleverly curated t-shirts declaring that they “don’t care” about “fashion” and that it’s a shallow interest, one which they are so clearly above. They reject the idea that fashion can be and is very important to a vast majority of people and ignore the notion that fashion tends to be one of the primary sites of creativity and expression for young people. Fashion is not shallow; it’s part of who we are, and it’s directly related to our lived experiences as humans.
Thankfully, artists like Babs Tarr, Jamie McKelvie, Annie Wu, and Kevin Wada, to name but a few, are making tremendous headway by outfitting their characters in stylish, fashion-forward designs that would not look out of place if one of your friends rocked up wearing them. They are outfits you can easily recreate, if not just straight up buy, on the high street! And beyond just looking good, they add a further layer to the character. They inject some humanity, a little bit of ordinary into an otherwise extraordinary life. They show us that our heroes are just like we are. They face the same problems as we do, like getting stuck in dresses in the Topshop fitting rooms and never being able to find a really great pair of jeans. They remind us that first and foremost our heroes are just people, people who are just living their lives and doing what they can to make the world a better place. They remind us that we can do the same.
The most notable example of off the rack fashion within comics are the yellow Dr. Martens worn by Batgirl as of Issue #35 and a result of the combined efforts of Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr in designing Batgirl’s new uniform. They sold out online before the comic had even hit the shelves and continue to sell as girls and women post selfies wearing them. That said, let’s have a show of hands: who here has a pair of yellow Dr. Martens? They’re great aren’t they? They’re super comfortable, plus they look killer. (These waterproof ones are even on sale!)
I wear mine to work sometimes. They make me feel like a total badass, but more importantly, they make me feel like I’m part of something bigger. They allow me to engage with nerd culture on my own terms and in a way that reflects who I am, that doesn’t shout my allegiance to the world, but still acts as a subtle visual cue, a sartorial nod to those with whom I align myself. They allow me to stand in the middle of a community that I’ve previously had to view from the fringes and participate in the fandom without having to deal with a grilling from some unwashed nerd-bro who really can’t stand the fact that I might know more about Batman than he ever will.
I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a matter of record that many female fans don’t have a space in which they feel safe or respected enough to fly their geek flag high. Not everyone has either the time or force of will to deal with the questioning stares or accusations of being a fake geek girl—why anyone would fake being a geek is beyond me; it’s like drawing a target on your back. I mean, honestly.
Off the rack fashion gives you an option beyond over-sized super hero shirts and the impracticalities of stealth cosplay. It allows you to hide in plain sight, rep your faves, and look excellent while doing so. It lets you feel empowered, knowing that not only are your heroes just like you, but maybe, you are just like them … or could be, if you wanted.
Editor’s note: to illustrate the point, the WWAC crew pitched in with their own off the rack super-wardrobe redesign possibilities. Marinate your spirits in the possibility of more, on any given Saturday…