On almost any other day, Levi Cassidy is pretty easy to spot: The 16-year-old is loud, witty and, oh, did we mention he's a redhead?
But on Halloween, playing Where's Waldo? with him will be more challenging. He and seven of his friends will be head-to-toe in black spandex suits, known as zentai suits, hoping to scare the living daylights out of trick-or-treaters in Toronto. After all, if there's anything scarier than someone dressed as, say, a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface, it's someone you're not even sure is there.
"When it's really dark out, we're really hard to spot," Mr. Cassidy says with a devilish smirk.
While the stretchy suits were once exclusively fetish wear to be worn indoors, Mr. Cassidy and the thousands of others swept up in the zentai trend want to be seen.
If you haven't encountered the body-hugging polyester-spandex sheaths in person, maybe you've noticed them in pop culture. The FX comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has a character called Green Man - a superhero of sorts with no clear superpowers - who dons a green zentai suit. Then there are the guys in green suits who hammed it up by the penalty box at Vancouver Canucks games last season. Perhaps you spotted the basketball fan covered in beige spandex at a preseason game between the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks in Montreal last week.
Morphsuits, a British online retailer of zentai suits, has shipped 10,000 of their garments to Canada since January, mostly to teens and twentysomethings, company spokesman Gregor Lawson says. Some buy them for parties (you're pretty much guaranteed free drinks if you wear one to a bar), others for stunts such as skydiving, and then there's the crowd who just want to make mundane activities such as grocery shopping fun.
Mr. Cassidy and his friends turned heads at Nuit Blanche, the overnight arts festival that took over Toronto streets earlier this month, in their black suits. They spent the night posing for photographs with intrigued passersby, and later revelled in finding their pictures all over Flickr and Facebook.
"It was so satisfying," Mr. Cassidy says. "It's something that you can still sort of go out and not be famous, but have people pay attention to you with no strings attached."
Though he was once kicked out of a mall when he showed up in his suit, he and friend Marta Canneri, 16, agree that their masked fun is always harmless; they've never been tempted to commit any crimes when they're "morphing."
"It gives a bad name to all Morphkind," Ms. Canneri says. "You just feel like you're part of this community of really awesome people."
Dozens of Facebook groups devoted to zentai feature photos of suited-up people in tourist spots, others running marathons in full-body spandex. There's a subtle theme of one-upmanship in the uploads - "Look what I did in my suit."
Marc-André Blier, 19, may be the man to beat among zentai enthusiasts at Queen's University in Kingston.
On a dare, he went to a math exam in his suit last year and has photographic evidence he uploaded to the Queen's University Adventurous Morphsuit Society Facebook page to prove it. Sure, the proctor made him pull down the face cover to compare what he looked like with his ID card, but it still caused a stir.
He entertained kids this past summer when he wore his suit at the camp where he worked. He had to put shorts on top of the suit, though, because the way it hugged his lower half was deemed inappropriate.
Although zentai's place in culture has evolved beyond kink, the suits still cling to every curve of the body - something the eyes can't ignore. The mainstreaming of zentai has been welcomed by some who wear them for fetish purposes, though Morphsuits has tried to distance itself from the fetishism side of the garments, Mr. Lawson says.
Michael Evans, a 48-year-old security supervisor in Cleveland, says it's only in the past two years that he's felt comfortable wearing his zentai suits outside of the house.
He says he's had a tight-clothing fetish since he was a kid but kept his collection of suits - all six of them - hidden from friends for years.
"[I thought]that it would at best creep them out," he says. He identifies himself as heterosexual but says he enjoys seeing both men and women in zentai.
Recently, he appeared at a friend's party in his Spider-Man zentai suit. He's been asked to wear his "Green Man" suit to a friend's coming baby shower.
"To my surprise, when I wear them I get total respect," he says. "I really appreciate the show [ It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia]because it allowed me and many other people to come out of the closet with our fetish."
Both Mr. Cassidy and Ms. Canneri say they've been on the receiving end of ribbing about how their whole bodies are on display in their zentai suits, but it's to be expected.
"Yeah, that's what we get commented on the most: 'nice ass,' " Mr. Cassidy says.Report Typo/Error