clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man in Spider-Man (2002) Image: Sony Pictures

Filed under:

How superheroes made their costumes the first time

Get inspired by Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, and Superman

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

If there’s one thing that has set superheroes apart from other pulp adventurers, it’s the costumes. Whether bright or dark, skin-tight or voluminous, outlandish or fresh out of a regular old closet — the style of a superhero is just as important as their powers.

But where do superheroes get those wonderful costumes? And, in a year when dressing up for Halloween is more logistically fraught than ever, is there anything you, the average, not-super person, can learn from them?

As a service to our readers, Polygon has done a comprehensive review of superhero costume origins. We can’t advise that you steal your costume, like Booster Gold or Tim Drake. And we can’t realistically expect you to get your costume from your very own superpowers, like Shazam or Green Lantern or Iceman — although you do you.

But the annals of superhero history do offer several options for the busy, the budget conscious, and the novice costumer. Let’s look at some examples of how you could get your own costume, based on the experiences of real superheroes.

Make it yourself like Spider-Man or Captain America

Peter Parker in his first, homemade, Spider-Man costume in Spider-Man: Homecoming Image: Sony Pictures

Odds are, if you’re reading this, you don’t have access to unstable molecules like Mister Fantastic, or to industrial processes that will churn out custom carbon fibre cowls like Batman (not to mention a forge, did you know he hand-forges his own batarangs?). And you’re probably not a world-class fashion designer like Janet van Dyne, aka the Wasp, or a scientist and inventor like John Henry Irons, aka Steel.

You’re probably more like the superheroes who have to cobble together whatever they can as a quick solution. But don’t worry, you have lots of extremely prestigious company here. Spider-Man is undoubtedly the most famous superhero with a homemade costume, both in the comics and in 2002’s Spider-Man, where he somehow makes his entire ribbed costume with the money and knowhow of an impoverished and extremely busy high school student. It’s fine, when Spider-Man was made, superhero movies were still allowed to be a little camp, and, after all, I’ve seen college theater productions do amazing things on tiny budgets.

Most superhero origin stories imply that a character made their costume but omit the details, and it’s a pity. Because in the cases when we do get to see it, it leads to some of the best asides in comics history.

Granted, this isn’t his first costume, but there was one time that Steve Rogers sat down to reveal that he could not only design himself a new costume, and sew himself a new costume, but that he would freely choose a deep-V shirt split down to his belt.

Steve Rogers sketches his new costume, and starts cutting and sewing fabric for it, in Captain America #180, Marvel Comics (1974). Image: Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema/Marvel Comics
Steve Rogers buys some gloves and boots, and finishes sewing his new costume, in Captain America #180, Marvel Comics (1974). Image: Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema/Marvel Comics
Steve Rogers in costume as Nomad, in a blue suit and mask with yellow boots, gloves, belt, and a blue cape lined with yellow. His shirt is split open from the shoulders to his belt in a deep V, from Captain America #180, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema/Marvel Comics

But if you’re not down for a full DIY, don’t worry, there are other solutions.

Craft it from materials on hand

Kamala Khan uses craft supplies to turn her burkini into a superhero costume in Ms. Marvel #5 (2014). Image: G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona/Marvel Comics

As many a cosplayer knows, many a great-looking costume can be cobbled together from off-the rack items on hand. In comics and the movies, Miles Morales’ first costume started with a store-bought Spider-Man suit. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Peter Parker through his initial outfit together from sweatpants and some goggles. Kamala Khan started her career as Ms. Marvel in her own bathing suit, while Barbara Gordon began a new path as Batgirl with her streetwear-ready Batgirl of Burnside outfit.

And Jubilee of the X-Men literally raided the closets of several other X-Men to put together her iconic look, which makes sense the moment you look at it:

Jubiliee spies on Wolverine in green shorts, green gloves, a red shirt, pink shades, and a big yellow trench coat, in Uncanny X-Men #268, Marvel Comics (1990). Image: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee/Marvel Comics

But the tried and truest method of getting the best costume is one that any kid will tell you.

Let your mom make it for you

“Wow, cool costume!” says a little boy. “Thanks,” Superman says, handing him back his baseball cap, in Superman For All Seasons #1, DC Comics (1998). Image: Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale/DC Comics

Arguably the greatest superhero costume of them all — the one of which all others are necessarily a reflection — shares a common characteristic of many Halloween costumes: It was made with love in the stitches.

In many different interpretations of Clark Kent’s evolution into Superman, it’s not Clark who designs his outfit, or a Fortress of Solitude computer, or what-have-you. It’s Ma Kent, midwestern homemaker and farm wife, who decks her adopted son out in an outfit designed to inspire hope, confidence, and empathy. She made it out of the fabrics he was swaddled in in his rocketship — but she didn’t have enough to make a cape.

And now you know why Superman’s cape burns off all the time but his clothing, obviously made from advanced baby-safe Kryptonian weavings, does not.

Hovering in the air, Superman salutes a little boy. “My mom made it for me,” he says, in Superman For All Seasons #1, DC Comics (1998). Image: Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale/DC Comics

Madame Web’s connections to Sony’s Spider-Man films are tenuous as spiderwebs


X-Men ‘97 finally gets a trailer and a March premiere, bub


Marvel’s Fantastic Four movie teases its fifth member, HERBIE

View all stories in Marvel