Halloween is coming, and that must mean, surely as pumpkins and sexy cops, zentai! Well, this is a new association – a new trend in costumes – but it is coming on so strong it might soon be entrenched, like orange and black, as a staple of late October.
Zentai, as I have written about here before, is a Japanese word for a skin-tight, full-body spandex suit, one that covers face and hands and feet, turning one into a silhouette. The word derives from the Japanese for “full-body tights.” They are increasingly called, in North America, morphsuits, as a result of a branding campaign by one company that makes them (a company called Morphsuits). The word morph in the name comes from the use of such suits in movie-making: If you wear one made out of a particular shade of green, your shape can be easily lifted from a video image by an animator and set against a different background.
Anyway, you will be seeing, in the next week, a lot of zentai suits on offer in the pop-up Halloween stores that are now filling the malls, and in online advertising. They make excellent cheap Halloween costumes because they can be printed with detailed shapes: They are perfect for zombie and skeleton costumes, since they can make you look like a naked person with entrails or bones exposed. They are entirely to be expected in the superhero genre, since cartoon superheroes tend to wear tights anyway.
Where they are a little less expected is as variants on more traditional costumes – why do clowns need to have their bodies outlined now? Or witches? Or orcs? You can get a sexy zentai-based costume now based on almost any character from a popular film: Austin Powers, a Minion, a Ghostbuster.
And sexy they are, of course, as they are quite clingy and you have to think pretty carefully about what underwear you are going to wear under them. This is also now an expected part of Halloween: The holiday is, for adults, largely an excuse to wear something overtly sexual once a year. The best thing about a full zentai suit is that your face is covered, too – anonymity facilitates exhibitionism.
So zentai-based Halloween costumes are a strange combination of gleeful pop-culture nerdery – what the Japanese call otaku – and sanctioned exhibitionism.
These two things have long been linked, oddly enough. Cosplay – dressing up as cartoon or movie figures – mixes childish entertainments with troublingly grown-up sexiness. Anime conventions that celebrate obscure Japanese sci-fi graphic novels will have on their grounds a parade of young models dressed up in variations of Japanese schoolgirl outfits – usually some version of Sailor Moon, or one of the wide-eyed girl characters from Chobits – with very short skirts and knee socks and pigtails. Some of the sexiest anime characters – such as the tightly spandex-zipped girl warriors in Evangelion – are teens or preteens. The line between children’s or YA entertainment and adult pornography has long been blurred in Japan. There is a lot of spandex in cosplay.
Does the recent Western embrace of body-conscious costuming reflect any societal change? Probably, yes: First, it reflects the effects of a couple of decades of Hollywood’s obsession with superhero and cartoon characters in movies for grown-ups. A few hundred collective hours spent looking at Catwoman and Silk Spectre and Poison Ivy are going to have an effect on a society’s fashion sense.
That fashion sense also fetishizes an ideal and yet increasingly rare body shape. As the population grows fatter, our paragons grow ever slimmer and shinier and machine-like. Zentai Halloween can only exist in a culture obsessed with fitness. The fetish that now affects men as well as women. (Male zentai outfits easily equal female in popularity.)
Zentai fashion also poses another problem for a security-obsessed society: Masks are being made illegal in public places, even in Western countries (France, for example).
Niqabs are being prohibited all over the place, and so are scary clowns. Who knows what terror-minded authorities are going to make of the trend. The zentai suit is an odd combination: a mask that is also revealing.
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail