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Superman Theory: Why The Iconic Briefs Might Be The Strongest Part Of His Suit

Who would Superman be without his iconic costume? His red cape, blue outfit, and the yellow-encased S along his chest have been quintessential in defining the man of steel throughout his over 85-year history. But over this period, even the most diehard Superman fanatics have questioned the hero's bright red briefs on the outside of his suit.

Redditor u/Jetsam5 shared their thoughts on the matter on a fan theory thread. The user speculates that Superman's adoptive mother, Martha Kent, was unable to create the hero's entire suit solely using the blanket he was found, as many versions of his origin story purport, given the limited amount of material and the ultra-strong quality of the Kryptonian fabric. Martha could only manage to make undergarments from the blanket, with the rest made of durable, Earth-made materials. Being the only part to derive from Krypton, his underpants are indestructible, which explains why you never see them torn up, even during Superman's toughest battles.

On top of their functionality, the user also believes that Clark has more personal reasons for wanting to keep them present, commenting, "Superman wears his underwear on the outside to honor Ma Kent and his Kryptonian heritage ... When Superman learned more about Krypton he probably learned how to make more Kryptonian fabric but he still wears the underwear on the outside to keep his iconic look." That's a substantial reason enough, but for a figure as significant as Superman, even his underwear holds a deeper meaning.

There's some important historical context behind the iconic red briefs

Across Superman's many decades of comics, movies, video games, cartoons, and beyond, he's stood for many things. But above all else, Superman remains a symbol of strength and goodness against the forces of evil. It's a simple yet timeless allegory that was especially needed when the character was introduced during the Great Depression. In this regard, every aspect of Superman's design exemplified what society during this period considered the archetype of resilience and power — all the way down to his briefs.

Undergarments have been important signifiers of masculinity over the centuries, from 14th-century codpieces to 19th-century frontiersmen union suits. The start of the 20th century continued this evolution with boxer shorts and jockey briefs, which became immensely popular due to their association with athletic figures such as boxers, bicycle jockeys, and circus performers. In Grant Morrison's book "Supergods," the famed DC Comics writer justifies the look on Superman as an extension of this trend, saying, "Underpants on tights were signifiers of extra-masculine strength and endurance in 1938. The cape, showman-like boots, belt, and skintight spandex were all derived from circus outfits and helped to emphasize the performative, even freak-show-esque, aspect of Superman's adventures. Lifting bridges, stopping trains with his bare hands, wrestling elephants: These were superstrongman feats that benefited from the carnival flair implied by skintight spandex."

Over his long and epic history, Superman has gone through many changes. The idea that his red underpants have sparked so much conversation, debates, and even fan theories may sound silly, but it also speaks to just how popular the flagship hero is.