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"They showed me the costume and I said, 'You've got to be kidding me. Where are the pants? Where are the PANTS?"
—Bruce Boxleitner, on the costumes used in Tron
You want to instantly show a setting to be futuristic, or show that a character in present day has access to technology magnitudes more advanced than the norm, what do you do? Why, outfit characters in spandex costumes, of course!
Nothing says "future" like a character wearing a skin-tight outfit made of stretchable synthetic fibers, especially if you add some cool accessories or Tron Lines for added effect! While the material may not be identified as such (in-universe, it can be anything from high-tech polymers to even a coating of liquid nanomachines), the visual effect is pretty much the same. It's also a good way to provide a little fanservice.
This is a sort of Truth in Television: Spandex, Lycra and similar stretchable, form-fitting clothing material are a pretty recent innovation when compared to other fabrics, and its many distinctive properties (sheer fit, aero- or hydrodynamics, light weight, body support) have made it a favorite as a technological solution to solve problems that can be caused by less form-fitting clothes in a variety of physical activities.
While there's often overlap, this is not the same as superhero tights. While superhero tights are used to emphasize the physicality of the hero, Future Spandex is used to emphasize his technological superiority.
Latex Space Suit and Spy Catsuit are both SubTropes. A Sister Trope to (and often overlaps with) Space Clothes and Superheroes Wear Tights. See also Spandex, Latex, or Leather. Compare Crystal Spires and Togas.
Contrast Sensual Spandex, for when spandex is used for a whole other purpose entirely.
- Played straight in Totally Spies.
- This has been a trope associated with both the Real Robot Genre and the Super Robot Genre since the genre's inception. It is EXCEEDINGLY rare to show a pilot in an robot show that wears anything bulkier than form-fitting lycra.
- Bubblegum Crisis. The Knight Sabers, underneath their power suits, wear form-fitting outfits. It's also justified, as it's explained that the outfits serve as a neural interface between the user and the suit.
- The heroines of Dirty Pair.
- Claymore outfits are this plus light armor, even the new ones after the time skip don't stray far from the original concept.
- The combat gear used by Section 9 from Ghost in The Shell is this plus tactical vests. Especially noticeable on The Major.
- Nena Trinity's season one outfit in Mobile Suit Gundam 00. Not to forget her brother Johann, who wears a midriff-baring top and short shorts.
- Also Tieria's in some shots.
- Sango from Inuyasha: her fighting outfit include this under her body armor.
- G Gundam : All of the pilots wear skin-tight body suits as part of the interface for their mobile suits. The substance is sort of like spandex, but they actually have transformation sequences (not always shown) that make it look like plastic wrap. Nearly all of the pilots are male, but there is one point where Rain goes through the process.
- Female plugsuits from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Remember, Clothes Make Teh Rei. Especially Asuka's TEST suit (80% of the torso is transparent) from Rebuild 2.0.
- And in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, the Numbers' skintight jumpsuits, in a blatant Shout-Out to Evangelion.
- Ryoko's skintight battlesuit from Tenchi Muyo!
- Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ's Puru Two, although not too noticeable since she doesn't have a figure to begin with. If she did, it would likely be similar to a Plugsuit.
- In Code Lyoko Season 4, the new Digital Avatars of the heroes — boys and girls alike — have a serious Future Spandex look. Being virtual costumes, they don't have to be realistic... but still, they're supposedly designed by Jérémie, a 13-year-old Teen Genius (except for William up there, who got his custom-made by XANA). You have to wonder what was going through their minds... (though on the other hand, maybe that makes it a Justified Trope).
- Subverted in a Futurama episode in which the robot Bender steals lots of stuff from a public swimming pool in an attempt to gain notoriety; he also stole a banana hammock of sorts, which he wears.
Amy Wong: "They don't leave much to the imagination."
- In Kim Possible, where time-travelling shenanigans result in Kim and Ron having to save the world from Shego who has become a dictator, everybody not in La Résistance is forced to wear skintight suits in her signature colour.
- In more recent years, Tony Stark usually wears something along the lines of this under his regular civilian attire. Justified Trope in that it's meant to interface with his Iron Man suit.
- Part of his Extremis upgrade meant that this "inner suit" was kept within his bones and he could manifest it at any time. This inner suit is also present in his Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes incarnation.
- DC One Million has Superhero Spandex that is also Future Spandex — the present day heroes note that their future counterparts' costumes are shiny, seamless and even more formfitting, and wonder what they're made from.
- Worn by Fara Phoenix in 1993's Nintendo Power comics. It's a rather tight fit.
- Tron is a particularly noteworthy example, as is the sequel, Tron: Legacy.
- Flash Gordon (1980). Both General Kala and Princess Aura wear lycra/spandex costumes.
- In the Judge Dredd film, Judges wear a lycra/spandex bodysuit undergarment under their body armor.
- Star Trek the Motion Picture has this in spades. The main cast threatened to quit if they didn't get rid of them seeing how not everyone looked good in them. Plus, the spandex costumes were hard to get into and out of, requiring the help of assistants every time the actors needed to use the bathroom, hence the uniform change in the rest of the Star Trek movies.
- The Star Trek series have a few examples.
- Buck Rogers in The 25th Century First season. Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) and Buck Rogers sometimes wore spandex jumpsuits.
- Zoe Heriot from Doctor Who.
- The Disney Channel's Zenon, a sci-fi movie set in 2049 AD, has many of its characters wearing spandex and other form-fitting materials.
- Power Rangers: They embody this trope. In every season, beginning to end, the rangers always wear skintight spandex suits. These suits are so tight, in fact, some of the male (and female, at least until Disney took the rights from Saban) rangers have bulges, and the female rangers wouldn't even need to wear a bra due to the tightness
- In Mirai Sentai Timeranger, the Rangers' unmorphed uniforms are, perhaps because the aesthetics of a full thousand years in the future probably would be quite alien to us, are random-colors-on-gray skin-tight outfits, more Fanservicey than the Ranger suits (thinner material, perhaps?) The Power Rangers Time Force versions are a more down-to-earth futurish uniform, and are perhaps something you'd expect a police force in Star Wars to wear. (Fanservice duty goes to Nadira.)
- On Automan, it's easy to see that Automan is something different because he's dressed up in sparkly Future Spandex.
- Referenced in "I.G.Y." by Donald Fagen.
- A sadly-cut bit of GURPS IOU was the Department of Zen Aerobics. Classes consisted of sitting in a Lotus Position, watching aerobics on TV. "It has no known practical applications, but the classes are very popular."
- In Warhammer 40000, Imperial Assassins (of all schools, but especially the majority-female Callidus), wear uniforms that are quite literally sprayed on — the substance (called SynSkin) comes in large aerosol cans and provides whole-body protection from various airborne toxins and temperature variation whilst allowing the skin to breathe properly, but only if applied directly to naked flesh.
- In the more recent Dark Heresy series of Warhammer 40000 RPGs by Fantasy Flight Games, Synskin has been changed to 'a bio-reactive bodyglove with an inert non-reflective surface that molds itself to the wearer's form'. In other words, it isn't literally sprayed on anymore, though it's still Future Spandex.
- The sneaking suits in the Metal Gear series.
- Sam Fisher wears a similar (albeit completely black) sneaking suit in Splinter Cell, at least until the later games when he wears more conventional clothing.
- Most of the truly advanced RIG suits in Dead Space 2 look quite tight fitting.
- Common in the Deus Ex series.
- Many of the uniforms and outfits in the Mass Effect series.
- Samus Aran's Zero Suit from Metroid. Similar to Tony Stark's outfit, it's to interface with her Power Suit.
- F-Zero plays with this a bit. While a large percentage of the cast is decked out in skin-tight spandex and latex, more than a handful of characters are instead shown wearing sleek armor (if not both). Others, in fact, sport attire not too different from present day fashion trends.
- In Real Life, form-fitting material is used in a wide range of applications. Extreme sports, the space program, the military and many other activities and organizations require form-fitting outfits for optimum performance.
- "Jeggings", a portmanteu of "jeans" and "leggings" have become a popular fashion choice of the late 00s and early 2010s. They're considered more practical than jeans in many ways, including the ability to be worn under a skirt or dress, being thin enough to tuck into high boots, and of course, retaining a sexy snugness while still functioning similarly to jeans.