For decades now, fans have been reading comics featuring the X-Men. These heroes, “sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them,” have been translated to various media and have spawned many spin-off titles: New Mutants, X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur, and others. Soon, we’ll be getting the new live-action movie X-MEN: First Class in theaters. But what about the true first class of Charles Xavier?
In the continuity of Marvel Comics, Charles Xavier was a mutant with telepathy. Unlike other superhumans who get abilities from biological alteration or fantastic outside factors, a mutant is a human being born with a genetic bonus known as the X-gene. When activated, usually during puberty, the X-gene gives this person strange traits or abilities. As more and more mutants became known to the public, many people feared that humanity was being replaced by a new race: homo superior. Many people began to lash out at mutants, out of fear and hatred. Some mutants abused their abilities for profit or simple amusement. And some mutants felt that they had been chosen by evolution to take charge of the Earth.
Xavier decided to create a school where new mutant teenagers would be able to spend time with each other and learn how to temper and hone their abilities. He also decided that these students would work as a strike force to take down those mutants who chose to be criminals and terrorists, showing the public that they were all cut from the same cloth and that they could all benefit from co-existence. In reference to the X-gene they all carried, his called his team the X-Men. His first class included: Scott Summers (Cyclops), Warren Worthington III (Angel, later called Archangel), Hank McCoy (Beast) and, the youngest, Bobby Drake (Iceman). Weeks after his class was assembled, the team was joined by Xavier’s very first student, Jean Grey (who used the codename Marvel Girl).
Each of these heroes has worn a variety of costumes over the years. But for the purposes of this column, we’ll be focusing on the outfits they wore when they were still the first class to attend Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngers in Westchester County. Let’s begin, eh?
THE ORIGINAL UNIFORMS
The original X-Men class was introduced in X-Men #1 (later on, retroactively referred to as Uncanny X-Men #1), published in 1963. They were brought to life by the magic of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Kirby had previously worked on The Fantastic Four and Challengers of the Unknown, two teams of heroic adventurers who wore jumpsuits rather than flashy superhero costumes. With the original X-Men team, the same strategy is used.
Marvel had only begun producing superhero comics again two years earlier. The Fantastic Four was a family and the Avengers team was basically a club where loners occasionally joined forces. But the X-Men was a school. All five members were teenagers who were under the leadership and instruction of Charles Xavier, whom they lovingly called Professor X.
The original X-Men are Scott Summers (Cyclops), Jean Grey (Marvel Girl), Hank McCoy (Beast), Bobby Drake (Iceman), and Warren Worthington III (Angel, later renamed Archangel). The five teens had very different powers and certainly different temperaments. Yet they wore a uniform look. This was actually seen as a “school uniform”, since the teens were indeed attending a VERY private boarding school. So that idea definitely works. It wasn’t long, though, before the X-Men officially graduated and Cyclops was officially the leader and not just field commander.
Despite this change in the X-Men from literal students to graduates who still felt they had things to learn from their mentor’s guidance, the school uniforms remained. But in the case of this team, I think that works. The Avengers and the Justice League of America are heroes who, for the most part, have their own careers and only got together for regular meetings or emergencies. But like the Fantastic Four, the X-Men lived together under the same roof. They had not been superheroes before meeting each other and forming into a team. They worked together, they had breakfast, lunch and dinner together, they trained together in the Danger Room. This could be used to describe how a military unit works. And in some ways, that’s what the X-Men were, a counter-terrorist team trained to take down mutants who abused their abilities.
So with all that in mind, the idea of a uniform works for me. Still, it’s nice to have some sense of individuality. Staring with Uncanny X-Men #6, Marvel Girl began experimenting with her mask. The first of these was a fun Mardis Gras mask that implied the letter “M.” The second was a simple cowl that let her hair hang loose but didn’t compliment her as well, in my opinion. Another individualized trait was, of course, Cyclops wearing goggles over his mask and the Beast usually dismissing gloves and always dismissing boots so he could have complete freedom of movement.
One problem I have with the uniform look, other than the bagginess not looking terribly heroic, was that it could broadcast the end of a story. When the superhuman called Mimic (later said to be a mutant as well) joined the team and did NOT get a matching X-Men uniform, it was pretty clear that he would be gone before too much time had passed.
So we’ve discussed why a uniform look works for me. But what about THESE uniforms in particular. Initially, the color scheme was meant to be black and gold, with blue used to highlight the folds in the black fabric. But, much like Spider-Man, the blue became so dominant that eventually it replaced the black all together. I prefer black and gold, but yellow and blue work as well.
In flashback stories, modern day artists tend to make the original X-Men uniforms very sleek and form-fitting, but the old comics actually depicted them as somewhat loose, occasionally baggy, jumpsuits. And practically, that kind of works. The suits seems like they can be worn in various environments and situations and the looseness makes them a bit more realistic than a lot of superhero costumes where you imagine it had to be sewn directly onto the person wearing it. I could do without the shorts over the trousers, but that’s a usual gripe with me. And while baggy may be a bit more practical, in a comic book medium I don’t like it’s look as much as the form-fitting style.
Usually, the gold part of the shirt was shone as one large piece with blue sleeves, but this was not always consistent. In some stories and on some covers, the gold became a vertical or v-like section of an otherwise blue shirt.
But sometimes, even if a suit is practical, you just want a change. And after Jean Grey had been toying with different masks for some time, she decided to get to the sewing machine and update the looks of her partners as well. Which leads us to…
Jean didn’t do that much to alter the costumes, really. She made the belts red to add some contrast, complaining that their initial uniforms has too much yellow. She evidently fixed how Beast’s suit fit on him, giving him an “increase in freedom of movement.” This is also when it became standard for the yellow to be a vertical or v-like section of the shirt, which, as mentioned, had not been consistent before.
And she gave herself a lower neckline so she could show off just a little bit of skin. Maybe she was still trying whatever tricks she could to get Cyclops’ attention finally. The slightly lower neckline actually winds up mirror the shape of her mask nightly and doesn’t sacrifice any of her outfit’s practicality. The red X symbols also work stronger than the yellow X symbols and, from then on, this became the standard color for the X-Men badge or buckle.
DITCHING THE UNIFORMS
In Uncanny X-Men #39, published in 1967, Jean decided to alter the outfits yet again. But this time, she threw out the uniforms and created new designs, truly bringing the X-Men into an era where they would wear individual outfits. Only the belt buckles were identical.
But notice that these outfits are actually not a far cry from the original uniforms. Cyclops has lost the gold part of his shirt, but otherwise he’s wearing the same basic outfit. Beast just had his gold color changed to red. Jean grabbed a solid green dress in place of her old outfit, but the mask and cut of it is still similar to her old look. And Angel is wearing the same design, but has seriously altered the colors all over the place and now looks as if he’s wearing suspenders.
I wish Cyclops would stop wearing shorts over trousers, but everyone else works here for me except the Angel. Seriously, what is Warren doing in that outfit? Did he tell Jean to make him a suit that looks like he threw it together at the Salvation Army? Did he feel that looking as if he had suspenders would help intimidate evil mutants? Warren’s usually a fashionable guy in his civilian attire, I would’ve expected him to tell Jean, “You know what? This is nice, but it needs a few changes.”
Then again, maybe Warren didn’t complain because he was distracted by the hotness of Jean’s dress. Impractical? Yes. But man, she does look great in it, doesn’t she?
About four years later, the Angel went back to the red and black costume he’d worn as “the Avenging Angel”, when he’d briefly attempted to act as a superhero before joining the X-Men. Then, in Uncanny X-Men #63, his outfit was torn to shreds during a battle and he was knocked out. When he came to, his captor, the villain Magneto, had given him this new, blue and white costume pictured above. Now this is a snazzy look for him. It’s got a very individual flavor to it and the halo is a very simple but effective touch. But it also mirrors Beast’s outfit in a couple of basic ways, so Warren still seems like part of the gang.
The X-Men took on two new members, Alex Summers (Cyclops’s younger brother, codename Havok) and Lorna Dane (also known as Polaris). Each of them had their own individual costumes. Years later, when the X-Men completely reformed and added in new members such as Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee and others, there was no question that they would all have individual looks rather than adopt any kind of standard uniform. So really, this last redesign by Jean was the final outfit worn by the first class of Xavier’s.
THE NEW MUTANTS
In the early 1980s, Xavier decided it was time to recruit a new class of teenage students, mutants who truly needed training and guidance. This group was introduced in a special graphic novel and then began starring in their own series, The New Mutants, which began in 1983.
These kids, as students and not full-fledged superheroes, donned the old X-Men uniforms. The red belts now have golden buckles again. And now there’s now doubt that it’s gold and black rather than blue. They look good and definitely held up nicely. It also was a nice visual announcement that although these kids may have lived in the same house as the X-Men, they were not to be confused with the famous adult heroes.
For a brief period in the 1990s, the main X-Men team adopted a uniform look again, reminding us of the first class outfits. We’ve gone back to gold and blue, but there have been new tweaks by artist Jim Lee. The yellow part of the shirt now extends downward, eliminating the shorts look and modernizing it. They’re definitely more form-fitting, as most modern day superhero suits are.
And, because it’s the 1990s, there are added belts on the thighs and boots. I wouldn’t mind that if they had pouches on them, because the X-Men is certainly a team that finds itself in strange environments a lot and should be in the habit of carrying survival gear. The only other real change I would make is that I think these would look better in black rather than blue. And if Banshee gets to have the individual touch of a cape, the others should have individual tweaks as well.
The X-Men adopted a uniform look again in 2001, about a year after their live-action film debut. The live action film had the team wearing all-purpose leather outfits. Writer Grant Morrison decided to take a cue from this, arguing that the X-Men were not really super-heroes in the traditional sense but a volunteer anti-terrorist and rescue force. So the X-Men were dressed in practical leather jackets and dark pants, going back to the uniform look of black and gold that the first class had worn. A couple of issues later, the X-Men went public with their identities and the true purpose behind their school (which, by then, had been renamed the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning).
Some have argued that this look, designed by Frank Quitely, makes the X-Men seem like a biker gang. For me, it actually works. Black and gold with shoulder patches and ribbed sleeves, it makes them look akin to fire fighters or a security force to me. There’s the hint of a military team again. The only thing I would change is the shirts. The ribbed shirts with the raised X-symbols seem odd to me. But the rest, I’m fine with. I also liked that some of them more individualized jackets. Jean started wearing a long duster, Wolverine wore a plain shirt and had few symbols on his jacket. Little touches that maintained individuality.
There is the mainstream Marvel Universe, seen in most Marvel comics. And then there’s the Ultimate Marvel Universe, a parallel reality that began roughly a decade ago. The idea was to relaunch the Marvel characters from ground zero, reinterpreting their stories as if they were new. The series Ultimate X-Men was clearly influenced by the live-action films.
The classic gold and black colors were bought back and used to give a uniform look even when some characters, such as Nightcrawler and Wolverine, wore very different designs from the rest of the team. This is an interesting choice, making the matching colors matter more than matching designs. And I definitely think it works, though a couple of characters could use individual changes (Storm and Jean just seemed silly wearing the same bare midriff look) and Cyclops needed those pouches on his belt, not his heart.
One thing I definitely don’t like is the open areas on the thighs for several of the team members, male and female. The majority of the outfit seems to emphasize a certain utilitarian idea, but those open areas are purely for sex appeal and, on top of that, they’re actually not that sexy at all. They come off as silly.
FIRST CLASS REDUX
A few years ago, Marvel began publishing a new comics called X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. These were brand new stories that took place in-between the adventures of the original X-Men that had been published decades earlier. We also found out that the X-Men had possessed a second version of their original uniforms that we simply hadn’t seen in action before and now, thanks to these untold tales, we could enjoy them in all their glory.
Along with being a very fun series, First Class gave us some interesting redesigns on the original uniforms. These are truly modernizations of the classic outfits. Like Jim Lee’s design in the 1990s, the yellow extending downwards gets rid of the idea of shorts over trousers. They look like the original suits, but are sleeker and the gold pieces are a bit more stylized. And merging the belt with the black of the uniform is pretty cool. Jean also looks pretty great with the long gloves and boots, which resemble the ones she would later wear as Phoenix. Warren likewise has added a personal touch with the piping on his sleeves. And Beast has again personalized his outfit to not deal with gloves or boots. So it’s a uniform but just with a hint of individual flavor to each one.
And that brings us to a close. Different X-Men will be tackled in the future to discuss their many different costumes. This was focusing on just the times when the team has had a uniform look at all. Hope you enjoyed it. Until next time this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle. You can find him on Twitter: @SizzlerKistler