For a team that began with every member literally wearing the same costume for the first few years of their series, the X-Men have come up with some remarkably different costumes. This is especially true in recent years, when it seems like every new “X-Men” comic book relaunch is accompanied by a brand-new set of costume designs for every character. Heck, for a period at the start of the 21st Century, the X-Men practically abandoned costumes altogether for their “leather period.” That didn’t last long, and they were soon back to traditional superhero costumes.
While there a veritable ton of X-Men costumes to sort through over the years, these 15 are our quick picks for the very best of the best, of all time (some characters appear on the list more than once).
15. SCHOOL UNIFORMS
As noted, when the X-Men debuted, they each wore the same basic uniform, albeit with modifications to match each individual’s powers. However, for the most part, the uniforms were, well, uniform in their appearance. While that does not make for the most dynamic look, they really are strong designs for uniforms by Jack Kirby, who famously also designed the uniforms for the Fantastic Four, and everyone’s cool with them all wearing the same thing, right?
When the “New Mutants” launched in the early 1980s, they initially wore slightly updated versions of the uniforms and they looked really good in them. Marc Silvestri updated the standard uniform in the late 1980s and for a time there, in the early 1990s, the X-Men went back to wearing a standardized uniform while Jim Lee was drawing the title. The look really worked for a few of the characters, especially Banshee (whose original costume was no great shakes) and Forge (who didn’t really have a costume). In recent years, Kitty Pryde has mostly worn a modified version of the original X-Men uniform as her main one. It has suited her well (although we also do like her blue Shadowcat duds).
14. ARCHANGEL (ORIGINAL COSTUME)
The Angel’s first few attempts at a solo costume were not particularly strong, but Neal Adams then gave him a pretty streamlined look that served him well for a number of years, even as he left the X-Men and joined the Champions and the Defenders. When the original X-Men formed a new team called X-Factor, though, they all got matching uniforms with giant Xs on them and it was not a good look for any of them, Angel included.
Then the creative team on the series, Louise and Walter Simonson, decided to revamp Angel by taking away his wings and having him strike a deal with the evil Apocalypse to be reborn with new, metal wings, serving Apocalypse as Death of the Four Horseman! Archangel broke free, but he kept the striking Simonson-designed costume, which really stood out for a number of years. When X-Factor merged back into the X-Men, all the other members of the team changed their look (well, besides Beast, who just wore a pair of blue swim trunks). And then there was Archangel. He eventually changed when he no longer had metal wings, going back to a modified version of the Neal Adams’ costume.
13. CYCLOPS (ORIGINAL SOLO COSTUME)
In “X-Men” #39, the original X-Men finally “graduated” into their own individual costumes. The issue was penciled by Don Heck, so presumably he was the one who designed the costumes (Heck also designed Hawkeye’s classic purple-cowled costume), as the cover artist, George Tuska, noted that they gave him reference when he drew the cover. Thus, the costumes must have already been designed. While Heck missed on a few of the new costumes (Marvel Girl’s mini-skirt is a weird look), he hit a home run with his Cyclops design.
Cyclops’ most prominent feature, design-wise, has always been his red visor (and the red force blasts that come from it), so Heck counter-balanced the prominent red with a bold use of the other two primary colors, a blue suit with yellow gloves, belt and boots. It is noteworthy that neither Dave Cockrum nor John Byrne, no strangers to costume design, chose to alter the costume during their tenure on the series. Jim Lee’s 1991 re-design is iconic, but its asymmetrical chest pouches don’t add enough for us to put it ahead of the original (and the later Alex Ross re-design was basically just a riff on this design).
12. STORM (JIM LEE DESIGN)
Soon after being re-designed into her infamous punk design (a look that we really do like, just not enough to make the top 15), Storm lost her mutant powers. The loss of her powers really did fit her new punk look really well. However, when she eventually got her powers back, it naturally was accompanied by a new costume. Marc Silvestri went with a very compelling silver/white costume with a lightning bolt on her chest. It was a cool costume, but the lightning bolt was a bit too reminiscent of the lightning bolt on Ms. Marvel’s famous Dave Cockrum-designed outfit.
Instead, we chose the Jim Lee re-design of the Silvestri costume. The outfit probably would look better without the shoulder pads, but in general it worked as a sort of “power suit” for Storm, as it was a very bold look, befitting the leader of the X-Men. It lasted for five years, which makes it one of Storm’s longest-lasting looks.
11. ROGUE (OLIVIER COIPEL DESIGN)
When Rogue debuted in the pages of “Avengers Annual” #10 (in a costume likely designed by Dave Cockrum), her look, especially the hood, stressed the fact that she was sort of cut off from the rest of the world due to her powers, which entailed absorbing the abilities and life force of other people (as well as their personalities and memories). You could easily imagine her retreating into that hood at any moment.
Over the years, while her personality grew more and more assured, she maintained a lot of the aspects of that original look, especially green as her “main” color. After a number of years in different outfits, Rogue returned to a version of her original costume when Chris Bachalo took over “Uncanny X-Men” in the late 1990s. Almost a decade later, Bachalo again re-designed Rogue’s look, giving her a cape, as well. Rogue then was rocking a tunic look for a while there. Olivier Coipel, on the 2013 “X-Men” series, took Bachalo’s inspired update of her original costume plus the tunic design and merged it all together, complete with a hood, for probably the best version of the classic Rogue look.
10. PSYLOCKE (KRIS ANKA DESIGN)
Psylocke had worn some of the most garish outfits of the mid-1980s before she was sent through the Siege Perilous and ended up in the body of an Asian ninja in the early 1990s. Jim Lee gave her a new costume that was basically a riff on Frank Miller’s Elektra ninja outfit, only blue for Psylocke versus red for Elektra. Really, though, it was essentially a bathing suit. However, it also proved really popular, especially as drawn by Jim Lee.
After many years of wearing that costume, though, Kris Anka was brought in to re-design the character and he came up with a striking tactical suit that kept elements of the original Lee design, but updated it to more of an outfit that an actual ninja would wear. Anka spoke about the fact that he covered Psylocke up a lot more than the original costume, explaining:
I wanted to have her covered because I felt that a character who is performing stealth assassinations would want as little would-able flesh showing.
9. HAVOK (ORIGINAL)
When Havok was added to “X-Men” in the early 1970s, Neal Adams gave him one of the most distinct superhero costumes of all time. He wore a helmet with three interconnected metal rings, giving off a cosmic vibe to match his cosmic-esque energy powers. He also wore a complete black costume except for the concentric circles on his chest that would grow larger and larger depending on how much energy he had in his body (when he would expel it in an energy blast, the circles would become small again).
[T]he costume isn’t really a costume; it is a kind of energy container through which you can actually see the energy inside of his body. So many guys draw Havok with this thing on his chest and that’s not the idea; you’re supposed to be able to see in the middle of his chest the energy no matter where he turns.
8. STORM (ORIGINAL)
Typically, it is not a good idea to be all that ornate when it comes to your costume design, because you are designing a costume not just for yourself to draw, but in a shared universe, many different artists are going to be drawing your characters, so it is typically a good idea to “keep it simple, stupid.” However, Dave Cockrum managed to split the baby perfectly with his design for Storm’s original costume, where it is quite ornate (and regal, which works since she was being worshiped as a goddess when Xavier found her) but done in fairly broad strokes, so other artists could pick up on it fairly easily.
The costume was also functional, as Storm hid a number of lockpicks throughout. In recent years, there have been some good Storm costumes that mostly try to evoke the original, just with a slightly more updated design (Alan Davis had a particularly good one). We still slightly prefer the original look to the more modern ones, though.
7. GAMBIT (ORIGINAL)
Gambit is another example where a lot of the design really shouldn’t work, as it is extremely ornate. Like the purple stripes on the leg — what are they even there for? It is also armored, for some reason. So there are a number of things working against Jim Lee’s design from the start. However, somehow, Lee really made it work… probably because he’s Jim Lee.
In part, it worked because of the great choices for the color scheme. Purple and blue are not common superhero costume colors, but they go together really well on Gambit. Moreover, Lee added the trenchcoat, which sealed the whole deal. Remember, this was not when every one and his brother was rocking a trenchcoat. This was still novel and it really, really worked. There is a good reason that no one would touch this costume for over a decade, which is just unheard of in terms of X-Men costumes. Even today, the trenchcoat has become a trademark of Gambit’s design.
6. WOLVERINE (JOHN BYRNE DESIGN)
Really, John Byrne is correct in noting that blue and yellow are not colors that you would typical associate with a wild animal, especially a “wolverine.” So, after a few years of asking and when he had finally gotten to a position on “X-Men” where he could pull off a major costume change like this (back in the days when major costume changes were still relatively rare), he gave Wolverine a much darker new costume that was brown on a different shade of brown.
The look certainly did fit the character well, and this was the outfit that Wolverine was wearing when he exploded in popularity during the 1980s (including the famous “Wolverine” miniseries by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller and Joe Rubinstein) and the one he was wearing when he got his first action figure from ToyBiz. That’s why this look will forever have a strong place in the history of Wolverine. And it’s just a really well-designed costume, period — it’s very symmetrical.
5. ROGUE (JIM LEE DESIGN)
As we noted before, as Rogue continued with the X-Men, she moved on from being a former criminal that the team begrudgingly kept on because Professor X insisted that they help her work on her powers (it wasn’t like she had a big change of heart to stop being a supervillain, she just couldn’t deal with her abilities anymore) to being a stalwart member of the team. She continued to serve with the team even after most of the members that were there when she joined had left the group. Also, as time went by, she came more and more out of her shell, letting her plucky side shine through.
With that in mind, then, Jim Lee’s costume design for Rogue in “X-Men” #1 perfectly captured her personality by this point, finally freed from sharing a body with Ms. Marvel (whose personality Rogue has permanently absorbed) and letting herself cut loose and just have fun. The yellow contrast to the green worked well and the bomber jacket was a distinct look (again, this was before everyone started wearing bomber jackets over their superhero costumes, so it was still a novel design idea by Lee).
4. PHOENIX (ORIGINAL)
As mentioned before, Jean Grey did not exactly have an inspiring costume when she was finally given her first costume, as she was wearing a mini-skirt with a pointed mask for many years. When the All-New, All-Different X-Men joined up, Jean was one of the original X-Men who decided to let the new kids take over. However, after being gone for a few months, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum brought her back in a storyline that ended in “X-Men” #100 with Jean seemingly sacrificing herself to save her teammates by flying a spaceship through a cosmic storm back to Earth.
The end result was that she was “reborn” as the Phoenix (the new name reflected that the costume wasn’t the only thing outdated about “Marvel Girl”), she naturally also needed a new costume. Dave Cockrum was a master of costume design, although he also had certain go-to design elements he loved, and one of them was sashes — but boy, was the sash cool-looking on Phoenix’s costume! The costume is so good that even with the whole negative connotation with the Phoenix brand (as she became “Dark Phoenix”), later artists couldn’t keep from putting Jean into this costume again decades later.
3. COLOSSUS (ORIGINAL)
There are a few notable “rules” when it comes to the colors that you use in your superhero and supervillain costumes. Obviously, like anything else in design, the rules are made to be broken, but generally speaking, superheroes are dressed in primary colors (red, yellow and blue) while villains wear purple and green (Doctor Doom, Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus being three of the more prominent villains known for their green outfits, with Lex Luthor often wearing green and purple). Thus, it was very telling that Colossus was given a red, yellow and blue costume.
This spoke to the original view of the character that his creators Len Wein and Dave Cockrum had for the hero, that he would be the “star” of the “X-Men.” That did not exactly work out after Wein left, but the costume design is still excellent. When Jim Lee re-designed almost all of the X-Men’s costumes, one of the few he kept mostly the same was returning Colossus to generally his Cockrum-designed costume.
2. WOLVERINE (MODIFIED ORIGINAL)
Yes, it is weird that Wolverine’s colors are blue and yellow (and yes, it is especially weird when you consider that those are also the colors of the Michigan Wolverines football team, but Wolverine’s original designer, John Romita, denied any conscious connection between the two), but man, the design really comes together to work. Well, that is the re-design works. The original outfit had whiskers on it and a more animal-like mask. Gil Kane accidentally gave Wolverine a winged mask on the sides when he drew the cover for “Giant-Size X-Men” #1 and Dave Cockrum liked it so much that he went through the comic book and just re-drew Wolverine’s helmet on each page to make it match Kane’s mistake.
The look lasted almost until the end of John Byrne’s run, when Byrne finally got to change it a few issues before he left the series. Oddly enough, it was then brought back one issue after Chris Claremont ended his famous run on “X-Men,” as well. Artists have done slightly different variations on it over the years, but for the most part, that original John Romita/Dave Cockrum/Gil Kane design has stood the test of time.
1. NIGHTCRAWLER (ORIGINAL)
Few costumes have quite captured the personality of its wearer as much as Nightcrawler’s costume matches his. When we first met Kurt Wagner, he was being chased by a group of angry townspeople who thought that he was a demon. Instead, Kurt was one of the sweetest people that you would ever meet – he just happened to look like a demon. His costume, though, fit his true personality, which is that of a showman and a swashbuckler. It was the costume he wore when he was a popular circus performer in Europe.
In a world where superheroes re-do their costumes constantly nowadays, this classic Dave Cockrum design (which Cockrum originally used as a design for a new character for “Legion of Superheroes,” back when Cockrum worked on that series for DC Comics) has somehow managed to keep on going strong. With the new “X-Men Gold” series, Nightcrawler is wearing the same outfit he wore when he debuted, over 40 years ago. That’s remarkable — and well deserved.
You probably have your own personal favorite X-Men costumes. Share your thoughts with us in the comments section!