“Why does Superman wear his underwear on the outside?” asks every person I have ever met in my life at some point during their travels on this ball of mud we call home. Well dear reader, in the hopes of never having to hear this question again, I now present to you the answer.
What’s important to remember about Superman is he was the very first superhero, so when Siegel and Shuster were creating him they were inventing something new by pulling elements from the world around them. Super powered beings have existed in fiction for centuries, and masked do-gooders had existed long before two boys sitting in a room in Cleveland came up with an idea that would change everything. But superheroes as we know them, the colourful costumes, the catchy declarative names, the bold iconography, didn’t exist until the Last Son of Krypton did.
In terms of personality and powers Superman was a mix of elements from various popular pulps from the time of his creation. A mix of elements of Doc Savage and a more optimistic view of Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator formed the basis for the Man of Steel. When it came to look, though his creators drew on, instead of other popular works of fiction, something a bit worldlier. Searching for the ideal visual shorthand for their hero, Shuster based his uniform on that of a circus strongman. Now what’s important about this is that many strongmen or weight lifters of the period would wear an extra pair of short pants, over their skin-tight lifting costumes to prevent embarrassing tears when exerting themselves. These extra shorts were transposed completely onto Superman’s outfit.
Superman’s design became the archetypal design fro superheroes from which all the rest are derived, which is why so many other superheroes also feel the need to wear their underwear on the outside. Side note: have you ever notice how no one ever seems mention that Batman also wears his underwear on the outside?
Seriously, what’s up with that?