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Like many a superhero before him, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) wears his suit underneath his street clothes at one point in Spider-Man: Homecoming. It's a strategy that's ostensibly symbolic: Beneath mild-mannered attire, he's hiding a secret that proves he's legions cooler than he appears.
But before Peter transforms into Spider-Man in a plan to impress his crush, he unveils another, even more revealing layer of clothing. Between an unremarkable plaid button-down and his arachnid-inspired spandex, he's wearing a T-shirt with a dopey math joke on it.
On the tee, there's the image of a triangle with the instruction to “Find X.” Said “x,” resting on the shape's hypotenuse, is circled in red and labeled with an arrow and the words “I found it.” In that brief moment, Peter isn’t someone wrestling with his powers. Instead, he's just a kid who loves STEM enough to make this kind of purchase, and apparently many others like it. Peter has an entire collection of shirts brandishing dorky slogans, featuring conversations between atoms and sayings like “The Physics Is Theoretical But The Fun Is Real.” They aren't always entirely legible, but they still provide both amusing visual gags and telling details, shaping our perception of the titular teen. They telegraph his intelligence — and his slight lameness — while simultaneously implying that he's bit juvenile. “We just wanted them because they were silly,” costume designer Louise Frogley says.
The idea for Peter's collection came from Homecoming director Jon Watts, but it was Frogley who scoured the internet for items that would fit the bill. Though she initially wasn't really familiar with the concept, she fell down a rabbit hole. “For every T-shirt that we chose there'd be about five or six that were discarded,” she says. “On the film it's like a throwaway thing, [but] actually it was very much thought about.”
They ended up using brands like SnorgTees, NeatoShop, and CrazyDog. “It's like a bottomless pit — you can find all things all over the place,” she explains. “Then we'd line them all up and give them to the legal department to make sure everything was cleared.” (As for the details of that process, Frogley defers to the studio, Sony.) After whittling down the options, those that were selected were bought in multiples and then washed, sanded down, and sometimes even sprayed with paint or bleached to make them look worn and ensure sure they wouldn't be too distracting for the audience.
Frogley believes Peter dons these punny creations in an almost wry fashion. “The idea was that the school that he was going to was for gifted children, who are gifted in the sciences, and that some of them were very nerdy and they would think that kind of T-shirt was really funny,” she says. “Peter Parker was sort of nerdy but not, and it was sort of like a sarcastic response, I think, to wear a nerdy, silly T-shirt.” But whether or not you believe that Peter's attire is winking, the fact that he owns it at all shows how little he's concerned with what's considered cool.
Groan-worthy science jokes make up a cottage listicle industry on the internet, and you can imagine Peter and his pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) — who prefers a large insect motif — perusing those and giggling. But online opinion of Snorg — where at least three of Peter's tees come from — is largely negative. The Urban Dictionary definitions are merciless (“A T-shirt company with absolutely no dignity” is one of the kinder ones), and Jezebel once described the brand, founded in 2004, as making “slogan T-shirts that didn't make it to T-shirt Hell.”
Marvel apparently doesn't care about that mockery, however. “Marvel really likes Snorg a lot,” Frogley says. “They've been used in different Marvel films. I know they like them and I do too. I think they are very succinct and to the point.”
In fact, one of the Snorg shirts Peter wears actually constitutes an easter egg for eagle-eyed obsessives. In the final scene of the movie, he's summoned to Avengers headquarters while wearing a shirt with a speech bubble reading, “I lost an electron,” followed by another that responds, “Are you positive?” Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) uses the very same make as a pajama top in Iron Man 3, also costumed by Frogley. io9 speculated that Tony Stark “re-gifted” it to his protégé based on the trailer, but that seems unlikely in context. And whereas Pepper obviously wears it with a hint of irony, as it clashes with her typical glamour, Peter just can't help but exude a bit of earnestness. Frogley also points out Tony himself has been known to rock an irreverent tee. “In this one we gave him a loveable fluffy kitten on his T-shirt just for a change,” Frogley says, referring to an early scene.
Homecoming's young characters all go to the fictional Midtown School Of Science & Technology, and Watts, Frogley says, helped conceive of stylistic hallmarks for each of them.
One, Michael Barbieri's Charles, gets an acid-wash denim jacket; Tony Revolori's bully Flash Thompson has polos with aggressively popped collars. Like Peter, Zendaya's Michelle, a prickly loner, broadcasts her academic interests with her T-shirt choices. Throughout a lengthy sequence that involves both an academic decathlon and a perilous incident at the Washington Monument, she's rocking Sylvia Plath's face on her chest. “We spent lots of money buying rights to the Sylvia Plath photograph,” Frogley notes. “We had a Jack Kerouac T-shirt. We had quite a lot, but you didn't see all of them, but it was very deliberate and very thought out. Again, it was the director who wanted her to be this slightly pretentious but quasi-sort-of-negative intellectual.”
Peter isn't completely unstylish. He's partial to cuffed jeans, a personal affectation of Holland's that Frogley decided to employ for the character. But his day-to-day look is still drastically different from the image he projects in costume. While, as Frogley explains, Peter is “a mess” in his real life, he's "very technical and accurate in his spider suit." She continues, “They were two different ways of being even though he was still learning how to use the spider suit. You could see he was about to become very adept technically, so I liked the difference between him being a shambolic schoolboy and then being a very technical, incredibly slick person.” Frogley herself also used the fun of finding the nerdy pieces as a refresher when designing the suit got too intense.
Watts has described Homecoming as a “coming-of-age” story, and over the course of the film Peter's personality matures — even if his wardrobe doesn't. But Frogley figures he'll likely give up his silly attire soon. “I have a feeling that Peter Parker would have advanced given a little more time, but he was still in an awkward stage between being a boy and growing up,” Frogley says. “So at that particular moment in his life clothes weren't very important to him, I don't think. I think if you saw him more grown-up, I'm sure his clothes [would have] advanced a bit as well.” Because getting older is about learning the limits of your powers and your closet.