Peter Parker’s Shirts And How Outfits Build Character

Hi everyone, and welcome to the second week of “Things You Never Noticed You Noticed”! This time around I wanted to talk about a character near and dear to my heart: Spider-Man. Marvel released their third take on the character about a month ago now, and I absolutely loved it. There are plenty of reasons why, of course: Michael Keaton is excellent as a fiercely protective Vulture, the story makes the trivialities of high school feel as life-or-death important as they truly are to high schoolers, and the ending shot is just phenomenal. Most of all though, I think the movie truly nailed the character of Peter Parker. Specifically, the movie nailed a subtle piece of characterization that I found myself appreciating all throughout the movie: Peter Parker’s shirts.

Let’s take a moment before I say anything more to discuss some of the most crucial aspects of Peter Parker’s character. First off, he’s always been something of a comedic character. He jokes around all the time in the comics, often throwing around wisecracks or puns in the middle of brutal fight scenes. Second, he’s incredibly smart. The man is a genuine genius, who designs his own web-shooters and sits in the top five of Marvel's most intelligent characters. Most importantly, though, he’s also something of a loser. Part of the power of Spider-Man as a character is that he’s a person whose life would be infinitely improved if the people who knew him knew he was Spider-Man, but who can’t tell them that he’s Spider-Man. He’s only cool when he puts on the suit, making the thrill of being Spider-Man something of an escape for him, just as reading about him can be an escape for us. 

With that in mind, here are some of the shirts that Peter Parker wears throughout the new Spider-Man movie:

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These shirts are decorated with, in order, an incredibly nerdy pun about atomic electric charge, a goofy design that declares theoretical particle physics fun, and a pun about telekinesis that can only be described as the epitome of dad jokes everywhere. As much fun as it is to simply laugh, let's consider just what these things say about Peter himself. First off, he's clearly a smart kid, one who both understands this nerdy humor and revels in it, the kind of person who could genuinely consider theoretical physics fun. Second, he's something of what in the world of high school could only be called a loser. Peter chooses to dress himself in a collection of nerdy puns, and you can imagine him having picked these shirts out as a nerdy middle schooler and simply never growing out of them. Finally, he's got a lively sense of humor. Seeing these shirts during the film, I burst out laughing at least twice, and the fact that he wears them proudly means that he appreciates them to. As we've discussed, these are three of the most central part of his character, and all of them are accentuated with nothing more than a graphic tee.

It’s easy to assume that this is a touch that’s simply meant to make the audience laugh, that some nerd on the costume team put Tom Holland in these shirts because he or she liked them. But that would be a diminishing of how much these touches matter. Our clothes, after all, say a lot about us. What we choose to wear offers insight into who we are and how think. Peter Parker’s shirts in the new Spider-Man manage to tie together all three core aspects of his character in a way few lines of dialogue could ever aspire to, and cement his character beautifully. Costume departments are just as much artists and integral parts of the films they work in as the writers, actors, and directors. Oftentimes, they just do the kind of things we don’t even notice that we notice.

With excitement and optimism,

Alex