Man of Steel: What happened to Superman’s trunks?

Cast and crew explain DC icon’s radical new look.

There’s something different about Henry Cavill’s Superman suit in ‘Man of Steel’.

S-shield? Tick. Big cloak? Tick. Red trunks? No, not there anymore.

The Man of Steel’s iconic outerwear was axed for Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Chris Nolan’s super-serious incarnation of the classic DC character. But what prompted the drastic wardrobe redesign? We asked the cast and crew.

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“I tried, but I couldn’t make them cool” said director Synder. “I did fight to keep them, but lets not forget that the red trunks are left over from Victorian-era strong men, who had to wear flesh coloured leotards and trunks over it so they didn’t look naked. So I feel we’ve moved on a little bit.”

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Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster based the character’s iconic design on – amongst other things - traditional circus bodybuilders’ outfits.

‘Man of Steel’ star Henry Cavill was obviously happy that the suit got an update. He said: “That look was great for its era, the era it was first created, with circus strong men around, but now they’re not so prevalent in pop culture.”

Snyder said costume designers James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson drew dozens of versions of the suit, and the red shorts got smaller and smaller with each design until one day they were just no longer there. “I looked at designs over and over and over and over”, said Snyder, “and I would say ‘try again guys… no, still not cool, lets not do it’”.

The wardrobe rethink didn’t just extend to the red pants, with the familiar S-shield also getting a update and a change of meaning. The ‘S’ no longer stands for ‘Superman’, it’s now a heraldic symbol of the house of El, and stands for “hope.” 

Because the film featured a lengthy sequence set on Krypton, Acheson and Wilkinson developed totally new costume designs for the alien world, including personalized glyphs for Jor-El, Zod and other members of the Kryptonian high counsel.

The genesis of Superman’s iconic red and blue colour scheme was also changed, as Wilkinson explained in the production notes: “Rather than the traditional explanation that the suit was made from the cloth his parents wrapped him in when he was sent off from Krypton, we establish it as a foundation, the under garment all Kryptonians wear as a protective layer.  On Krypton, therefore, when we see Jor-El or the council members or the soldiers, they all have the same type of suit under various layers of robes and armor, and each bearing the glyph of his or her own family line.”

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When it came to actually making the suits, they ditched the spandex in favour of an incredibly complex process involving 3D digital body scans, computer design, and the high-tech fabrics.  Cavill had to wear a foam latex under-suit with chrome finish, and an over-suit involving “special mesh” with a chain mail design.
“We created our own fabrics to convey this sense of alien textures—we etched into velvets, embroidered and screen-printed over materials to achieve raised textures and, hopefully, a sense of a grand culture that was once very sophisticated but has long since gone into decline,”  said Wilkinson.

As if that wasn’t complicated enough, the red cape was also computer generated throughout much of the movie.

But the question remains: is the ‘Man of Steel’ costume better than the classic Christopher Reeve version? Please let us know in the comments section below.

‘Man of Steel’ is in cinemas now.