Red, Purple, Orange, and Blue: TMNT Fashion Over Thirty Years
Speaking broadly, “fashion” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind in a discussion of comic fandom – in fact, the stereotype runs completely contrary: comic fans (including we TMNT fans) are traditionally “style challenged,” to put it mildly.
But in the last ten years, superhero properties have enjoyed an unprecedented mainstream success. Movies are the big money maker, but the success off feature films like Spider Man, The Dark Knight, and The Avengers have in turn done much for the popularity of other related consumables: naturally, the comics that predate the films have enjoyed a boost in sales, as have action figure lines, spin-off animated videos, and lastly: clothing.
Spend an afternoon at your local mall, or just walk downtown, and you’re likely to see Captain America’s shield or Iron Man’s helmet on somebody’s tee-shirt. Furthermore, these representations are increasingly stylized and stylish: rapidly vanishing are the poorly produced and unflattering tee-shirts you could order from the back of X-Men, and in their place are distressed fashion tees, superhero-inspired sneakers, and even haute couture pieces debuting on Milan runways – but what’s available for the TMNT fan, and how does it fit into the culture at large?
It seems like most TMNT-themed clothing merchandise reflects only one specific line of fandom: the 1990s cartoon. There are shirts, bags, and the occasional hoodie representing the Mirage comics, but many of these are knock-offs or unlicensed reproductions. However, there’s also a swelling market and production of alt-art apparel – Michelangelo’s Pizza tee-shirts, for example, allude to the Turtles in a fun and stylish way without directly depicting the good guys in green.
Although most Turtle fashions revolve around the 1990s cartoon, the style and presentation have changed radically since the first TMNT shirt rolled off a screen printer in 1984: fans today can pick up sweatshirts, tees, backpacks, and even baby onesies. There are also fun looks like zip-up costume hoodies representing The Shredder or Krang.
Costumes make up a lot of the current TMNT clothing market, and there is a reasonably wide selection ranging from simple plastic masks held on with elastic bands all the way up to custom-made full-body latex and foam suits with plastic weapons costing upwards of five hundred dollars. Of course, there are also “Sexy TMNT” costumes for the ladies.
But in all Turtle fashion ventures, we fans have an interesting reverse stigma to deal with: while other comic properties have gone from kid-friendly Comics-Code-Authority approved newsstand fair to grittier, darker, and more modern versions, the Turtles took an opposite track, starting as characters in a gory, violent underground comic and evolving into a Saturday morning parody – evidently, this limits the “cool factor” of wearing your favorite TMNT garb in public as such clothing tends to evoke irony rather than true fandom.
It’s tough to say where coupling of Turtles and style will go next, but it’s likely that the new Nickelodeon series will probably reinforce the perception of TMNT as kid’s fare, and so we probably won’t see our favorite celebrities sporting red masks and nunchaku with the same swagger as they now sport rhinestone-encrusted Superman T-shirts (at least, maybe, until the new movie comes out), but that doesn’t mean that we fans can’t express our pride by wearing our green hearts quite literally on our sleeves.