"If Batman is so smart, why does he wear his underwear over his pants?"
Sister Trope to Leotard of Power, Underwear of Power is when a Superhero or a related type of character wears a speedo or something similar as part of their outfit. Speedos or briefs are usually used for this today. Initially used for nearly every hero (who didn't wear a full body suit) back when they looked like short pants or trunks instead of a speedo, this eventually became more associated with female characters, occasionally even going into bikinis, actual underwear, and thongs, although less often (and usually on women).
For most super heroes this was initially a reference to the Strongman uniform (i.e. a bathing suit) from the day, although then it became iconic of super heroes, mostly due to Superman, which the rest of the heroes then drew upon.
A subvariant of this is to wear them over tights, which was a staple of The Golden Age of Comic Books, but today only really exists in parody (or for characters from that time that are still around). Note that that version of this is a subtrope of this, and mainly occurs with just the speedos and such when it appears nowadays.
However, just like Leotard of Power, with the shift from trunks into anatomically revealing "underwear", this has become a Fan Service Trope and is also pretty much dead - dropped in favor of Leotard of Power, bodysuits, and pants. See Most Common Superpower and Show Some Leg for some related tropes. If the hero looks monstrous, expect the Underwear Of Power to be the only thing the hero wears.
Anime and Manga
- Astro Boy
- Franky from One Piece. 'nuff said.
- Parodied by the manga Miracle Lingerie, in which the heroine's powers derived from her Applied Phlebotinum underwear—which didn't function if she wore anything over them.
- Hilariously, besides the heroine and her rival, there's a 3rd character with the magic bra and panties—their principal, a giant burly man. Who hides his identity by wearing a lady's stocking over his head.
- Similar to the above, the OVA series Arcade Gamer Fubuki, wherein the title character's literal Underwear of Power would give Fubuki mad gaming skillz (but only when she exposed them to the world at large)
- Hiromu Arakawa, mangaka of Fullmetal Alchemist, depicts herself as a cow with glasses. Early in the series, she drew her cow self with "Fighting Panties," and has since commented that so many people associate her with that image over all the others.
- Lina Inverse appears to be wearing this over her clothes in the Slayers anime.
- Taken to the extremes with the shounen manga Hentai Kamen, a superhero who fights with a pair of panties to cover his face and a really small pair of underwear to cover everything else.
- In a direct reference to Hentai Kamen, the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Nano Fan Web Comic has this probably Safe For Work but probably not Safe For Eyes costume decision for the Mysterious Protector.
- Arguably a lot of early super robots, such as the Mazinger and Getter Robo families, where the mecha featured colourful, underpants-like waists.
- Saint Seiya: Unicorn Jabu has metal Underwear of Power.
- Strike Witches has its little girl soldiers wearing no pants at all, resulting in them walking and fighting around in underwears, or perhaps, something look like them.
- The Trope Maker (and also the Trope Codifier outside of the States) is likely The Phantom: Red-and-black-striped underwear on blue/purple has been a constant (and much-mocked) part of his costume since his first appearance in 1936.
- And for those not aware of the former there's always the many examples in DC Comics, particularly Superman and Batman, who had the interesting (but hilarious) quirk of wearing them over their regular clothes. In addition, Wonder Woman originally had one of these, until she traded it in for a Leotard of Power. In any case, listing all of them is, in itself, a job for Superman.
- Superman's costume was based on one of the kinds worn by the "strongman" in traveling circus sideshows, and his popularity most likely spread the trope around.
- Robin (Dick Grayson), is a notable example, as him wearing this is one of the things that started all the Batman Ho Yay that the early Batman comics are ridiculed for.
- Most of the heroines in The DCAU wore this if they normally wore a Leotard of Power instead in the comics, with the exception of Black Canary.
- A more modern example is Huntress, who has had many costume changes both to and from this over the past few decades.
- Marvel Comics had this on several characters, including Cyclops, Colossus, Wolverine, The Thing, Namor, several of Hank Pym's superhero identities, and a few others. While not as prevalent as in The DCU, it's still prominent.
Tabitha Smith: Oh my god. It's wearing underpants.
- Everyone from The Incredibles count as examples of the underwear on the outside variety.
- Could be justified since superhero designer Edna Mode is rather unconventional, and may have a strange sense of humor to boot.
- Parodied in The Return of Captain Invincible when one of the charges levelled against the titular superhero was of showing his underpants in public.
- The Spartan warriors of 300 all wear little leather man-panties and opera capes. The panties are probably to avert a Full-Frontal Assault.
- Entirely, since they didn't bother with them in the graphic novel.
- Although in real life, the Spartans wore bronze armor; part of their superiority as a fighting force was their use of bronze armor, shields, and weaponry.
- Entirely, since they didn't bother with them in the graphic novel.
- Sucker Punch features two female characters whose outfits specficially frame their panties in the form of a pair of pants with strategic cutouts and the strangest looking Longcoat-like-thing in the history of cinematic Fan Service.
- Parodied by Captain Underpants, a superhero who only wears a pair of underwear.
Live Action TV
- The Battlizer from Power Rangers SPD has a thong. Fan Nicknames are extensive.
- Kamen Rider Black RX in his main and Biorider forms, Kamen Rider ZX, and all of Kamen Rider Hibiki's Oni are obvious examples. Black, RX Roborider, ZO, and J have this as well, but it's part of the armor design and not as obvious.
- One memorable Round the Twist featured underwear that actually gave superpowers after being heated up in the microswave. Unfortunately, they were not pre-shrunk, and sharnk when they got wet.
- Spoofed when The Goodies try to ward off an Alien Invasion by convincing the aliens that humans are a race of supermen. Graham exits a phone booth in his blue tights with underpants on the outside, followed by Tim wearing his Goofy Print Underwear.
- This the most common type of outfit in Professional Wrestling, showing up pretty much on everyone, unless they're one of the few who wears normal clothes instead. Interestingly, this is, in an inversion of the usual way this is used, generally more often used by male wrestlers.
- This is because pro-wrestling is a remnant of circus style strongmen shows and some vaudeville acts that used similar clothing.
- Some Truth in Television, depending on the sport (and country), this is the way girls (and sometimes boys) sports teams' uniforms are. Evident in many Anime and Manga, where any time a girls sports team shows up you can expect them to be dressed in shirt and bloomers.
- In Japan this has become a sort of Undead Horse Trope as women's rights groups denounced bloomers as sexual harassment. There are no schools left in Japan that use them for this reason. It still appears in Anime and Manga because of the generation gap between writers and reality. Some anime like Lucky Star the writers have Shown Their Work and the girls wear shorts but most still live in the past.
- More Truth in Television : From the 1920s into the 1960s, trunks over tights were the preferred garb for highly masculine circus acrobats, wrestlers, gymnasts, and even professional boxers in some cases. Because tights were considered "too revealing" at the time, men covered their lower body with formfitting but loose trunks (that may look like underwear briefs or speedos to modern eyes but were actually baggier). A person has only to look at men's swimsuits in the days before speedos to understand this notion.
- Another major reason (also having to do with modesty) was that stretchy materials like spandex did not exist at that time. The feats performed by athletes and strongmen caused a lot of stress on the existing fabrics and had a high chance of tearing their costumes. So, to avert a rather embarrassing Wardrobe Malfunction, they took to wearing an extra pair of shorts or briefs on top of the costume. This way, even if the costume ripped, everything "important" was still covered.
- Batman and Superman of course were created right in the middle of this period, hence their underwear of power.
- The card game Super Munchkin has one card name "Underwear on the outside", that gives a free level to its player.
- The Mega Man Battle Network incarnation of Roll also qualifies. Also a rare example of a female who gets a full-body suit for the Speedo to go over.
- Soul Calibur 3 and 4 allow you to do this in their character creation, and, in fact, you generally have to do this in Soul Calibur 4, since Clothing Damage is almost assured anyway. The only four real options for underwear are Furry Loincloths (for men), Underwear of Power (for both) in all shapes in sizes (from actual thongs (for the guys) to a bottom and pantyhose (for the girls)), and a couple versions of Leotard of Power.
- For those who prefer their fights in Soul Calibur 4 to look less ridiculous by having your character actually be wearing something by the end of it, there are full suits of mail armor for both genders.
- Dawn Star and one of the female player character models in Jade Empire don't exactly have pants...
- Zangief, and, technically, Sakura, who usually wears a very short skirt to (poorly) cover it (in SFIV, she gets a very long gi top - a la Ryu- to barely cover it instead).
- And don't forget Gill and his brother, Urien. :3
- Li Mei, Jade, Mileena and Goro from Mortal Kombat all have costumes with thongs or speedos (in Goro's case), though Mileena and Jade also have Leotard of Power alternate costumes as well.
- In F-Zero, Jody Summer and Mrs. Arrow wear what look like bikinis over tights, while Kate Alen has the bikini without the tights. On the male side, Pico, Octoman, Billy, Bio Rex, and Leon have briefs and bare legs, while Mr. EAD has briefs over tights.
- King, a luchador from Tekken, can be customized to have these, although his usual costume has wrestling trunks over tights.
- The Magic Bikini in Dragon Quest III. In the GBC version, there's also a Sacred Bikini.
- And in Dragon Quest IX, now that legs are an equipment slot, there's a handful of underwear equipment choices for either gender.
- Space Channel 5 Part 2: According to its description, the Super Ulala Suit is "Rumored to be just underwear." (If that's the case, it'd be some pretty unusual underwear . . .)
- Death Spank wears naught but armored boots and a purple thong (called the "Thong of Justice") on his lower body.
- David Willis of Shortpacked! fame had a little fun explaining the Golden Age origins of this trope in one of his notorious Batman Fillers
- Mahou Shounen Fight's main charecter dosen't exactly feature underwear as part of his costume, but his mantisman briefs are the focus of his power, so he has to wear them everyday, Making this a much more literal take on the trope than usual.
- Xandir of Drawn Together.
- He Man and The Masters of The Universe, and, really, any barbarian hero/heroine wears a variant of this if they aren't using a loincloth.
- Loincloths are the male Underwear of Power today, usually with barbarian or Magical Native American types.
- Spoofed with Goofy's superhero identity Super-Goof, whose costume is a pair of long johns.
- Doug's superhero Author Avatar Quailman spoofs this trope by wearing white briefs over his trousers.
- In the Powerpuff Girls episode "Members Only," after the girls are rejected by the Association of World Super Men, they leave begrudgingly, but not before Buttercup says to Major Glory, "You got your underpants on the outside!"
- The really strange thing is back on "Dexter's Laboratory", Major Glory doesn't even wear those yet he does in "Members Only", this was never explained.