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Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy

I grew up as a military brat, where my family moved on average once every two years to follow my father around the globe. Military brats take on special characteristics as a result of these circumstances. They become very adept at conforming to the new society in which they are placed and are often called social chameleons for their ability to blend into any group. However, it is difficult for them to develop long-term relationships because they think what’s the use? I’m just going to move anyway. They usually have a very black or white mind-set when it comes to authority, either embracing it or hating it, depending on how they feel about the rigid patriarchal society of the military. I’ve often felt that this is a good background for the superhero in training.

A week ago, Kristi and I went to see the the “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy” exhibit at the Met, during its last week there. The exhibit was very crowded, but the people didn’t annoy me as often happens with the more highbrow exhibits, where conversation seems obnoxiously loud and designed to be overheard by other museumgoers. The “Superheroes” exhibit viewers were enthusiastic and younger on average compared to those I saw strolling out of the “J.M.W. Turner” exhibit.

It wasn’t quite what I expected. There were actual costumes from superhero movies and TV series–the main attractions–blended in with designer fashions on mannequins against bright, colorful backdrops of the superhero cartoons, which often overshadowed the costumes. One thing I noticed is that all of the male costumes (excluding Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 3 leotard) are about accoutrements emphasizing masculinity while costumes for women are almost plain, meant to showcase the female body almost exclusively. Sort of a peacock and peahen dynamic going on there.

There was Wonder Woman’s costume, as worn by Lynda Carter in the 1970s, with her poor blue star-spangled briefs faded to a shade of purple. Her bustier held up thanks to lots of sequins stitched onto the red silk to emphasize her boobage. With the Catwoman costume that Michelle Pfeiffer wore in Batman Returns, it’s difficult to see how she even put the skintight creation on. The mannequin was posed in a crawling position so the zipper may have been hidden, or the costumers could have sewed the actress into her costume–Kristi said Hollywood is not above doing that.

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