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A Sub-Trope of Hollywood Dress Code which applies to ethnic and cultural backgrounds, occurring when works of fiction choose to put characters in the traditional (or stereotypical) costumes of their culture even when it would be rather unusual in Real Life. In some countries, people do indeed wear traditional clothes on a day-to-day basis, and in others, they may wear traditional clothes in certain circumstances, but some characters regularly show up wearing traditional clothes in situations where this is not applicable.

Reasons can vary. Sometimes, it's simply that the character in question is unorthodox, and it fits their personality or beliefs to wear it. Other times, it's more likely to be a case of Did Not Do the Research on the part of the author, or maybe pandering to the Small Reference Pools. It is also a convenient way to invoke stereotypes, especially in days gone past. When you have lots of people from different cultures, it can be a quick way of pointing out that they're a diverse group - for example, Cosmopolitan Council members often dress in their stereotypical regional/national costumes. And sometimes, it's just the Rule of Cool coming into play (see Costume Porn).

Note that not all of the costumes featured in this trope are actually traditional costumes of the respective countries/peoples. Many costumes are stereotypical, but not actually traditional.

(As noted, there are actually places where traditional clothes are plausible - for example, India and parts of the Middle East. This shouldn't just be a list of characters in traditional costume - just cases where use of the traditional costume is noticeably unusual, whether it's justified or not.)

This trope is an important part in the portrayal of most countries featured in the Hollywood Atlas.

Examples of Culture Equals Costume include:


Specific flavors, for the sake of example:

  • Most Japanese women don't actually wear a kimono all the time, but that doesn't stop the occasional author from having their Japanese character treat them as casual day-wear: they're mainly for special occasions nowadays.
    • These days, a lot of younger Japanese women don't even know how to tie the obi on a yukata. Clip-ons have become increasingly common.
  • Similarly, most Chinese women don't actually wear the Qipao (AKA cheongsam in Hong Kong and often therefore the West) at all, let alone on a regular basis, but for some authors, that's just what Chinese women wear.
    • However, there are Chinese restaurants where the waitresses wear qipao as their work uniform.
    • Some authors probably find the qipao to be sexy.
    • There is also the male equivalent of Changshan—THE look of all Elderly Kung Fu Teacher Archetypes.
    • For a side note, more than a few girls' schools in Hong Kong have cheongsam as uniform.
    • Ironically, the qipao is actually based on Manchurian dress. A lot of the clothes thought of as stereotypically Chinese were forced on the Han on pain of death by the Manchu when they founded the Qing dynasty. Including the long ponytail and shaved scalp men wore.
  • There was a time not so long ago when some authors put all their German stereotypes (and maybe their Swiss ones too) in lederhosen or dirndls on a regular basis in the honest belief that it was plausible. The pickelhaube also seems to be more common as an everyday clothing item than as military gear.
  • Similarly for the Spanish stereotypes, and so on.
    • South of the Border, everyone wears a sombrero and sarape. Due to the popular conception of Spexico, these two areas are often mixed.
  • Every adult man from England from the 1860s through the 1960s, must wear a three-piece suit, including waistcoat (with pocketwatch) and dome-top/derby/bowler hat, according to Hollywood. They all also carry large black umbrellas.
  • Hollywood also likes depicting French people wearing berets, even though few ever actually wear them. They also wear striped shirts about as frequently as anyone else does. However, the stereotypical French tourist (to the French) is the beauf: an obese man in sandals and shorts , a wifebeater and one of those fishing hats with Ricard on it. Also a cigarette dangling from their mouth.
  • According to Hollywood, every Italian-American man either wears a fancy tailored suit, or a tank top and jeans (leather jacket if it's a winter scene). Even people who aren't "greasers" or "mobsters" will often be seen sporting one of these two looks. Mobsters will often trade the wife-beater for a wispy, loudly-colored tracksuit. There's the dark shirt/white tie combo worn by all 1940s era gangsters, as well.
  • To denote "Jew" in general, have them wear a yarmulke, or go all out and depict them in Chasidic or Ultra-Orthadox dress wearing all black, long beards, and long curling sideburns. While everyday dress for a small segment of Jews, the vast majority rarely even wear yarmulkes except in services, depending on how observant one is. Alternatively, Hollywood insists Jewish Americans in particular are partial to the argyle sweater vest with long sleeve button down dress shirt and thick rimmed glasses, which tends to overlap with Hollywood Nerd.
    • The origins of this are weird. Those huge black coats, fedoras/fur hats and curling sidelocks actually originate in 17th-century Poland rather than the ancient Middle East. And the nerdy look? Nerd stereotypes partly originated from nasty stereotypes of Jews and East Asians. In other words: Jews and Asians are nerds by definition.
  • Russians always wear the stereotypical ushanka fur hat and a huge wool coat.
  • Hindus will invariably wear a Sikh turban no matter whether or not they are actually Sikhs. Weird, since Hinduism and Sikhism are entirely different religions and about the only thing they have in common is that they originated in India. Even though certain Hindus do wear turbans (E.g: Mahatma Gandhi in his early years) they are different from Sikh turbans, both in their make and method of wearing. Also leads to the Unfortunate Implication of not portraying Sikhism as an actual religion, and the automatic assumption that all Indians are Hindus. Also, all Indian women wear saris all the time (which logically means anything vaguely traditional-looking worn by an Indian woman is a sari).
  • Go into any Arab country, from Africa to the Persian Gulf, and the men will wear headdresses no matter where they are, and expect women in hijab and figure-concealing dresses all over the place, if not burqas. While Truth in Television to a certain extent, like the "Jewish" example above, Muslim men and women can dress in varied ways depending on how observant they are, where they live, and what branch of Islam they hail from.
  • Canadians can't go anywhere without their toques and Mountie uniforms, eh?
    • Ohmigod don't forget your nine sweaters and parka! It's freezing up there, right?
  • Americans in general are less prone to this (partly because so much media is made by Americans), but the closest thing to a traditional American costume seems to be a cowboy outfit. The reasoning seems to be that most early American entertainment exports were Westerns, so other countries sensibly assumed that they were supposed to be representations of the contemporary US. Different regions of the US, however, often get this:
    • Californians are usually dressed like surfers, hippies, or valley girls.
    • Westerners and Texans get the cowboy hat and boots.
    • For Midwesterners, it's dusty denim overalls. Preferably with a plow or pitchfork in one hand to complete the look.
    • Southerners? For the women, it's super-short "Daisy Duke" denim shorts and a button-up shirt that's been tied instead of buttoned, baring her midriff. The men wear mostly the same clothes as the Midwesterners, only with even more of a "country bumpkin" look. Expect more wife-beaters and shirtlessness, though. The men wear caps or shirts with Confederate flags on them.
    • Obnoxious Americans abroad wear Bermuda shorts, sandals with socks, and either Hawaiian shirts or touristy T-shirts/sweatshirts with loud writing on them. Sunglasses, stupid hat, camera and/or cell phone, and fanny pack complete the look.
  • Most Dutch people go through their daily life without ever wearing wooden clogs and/or mirrors in their hair.
  • Scots wear kilts on special occasions (weddings, funerals, football matches, barfights etc etc) and that's it. Despite this, it is a common belief that all Scottish men wear them all the time.
  • Indigenous North Americans are almost always shown with the Braids, Beads, and Buckskins despite those aspects only applying to a couple out of literally hundreds of cultures across Canada, USA, and Mexico.
  • Brazilians only wear fancy costumes (particularly the Carmen Miranda-like) during Carnival.

Anime & Manga

  • Ranma One Half shows that it crops up in Japan as well. The assorted Chinese characters are normally seen wearing some variation of sterotypically Chinese clothing. Ranma him/herself, despite being Japanese, also wears nothing but Chinese clothing (as well as a thin, tightly-braided pigtail) to emphasize the parallel to traditional Wuxia heroes.
    • Also does a variant with Japanese character as well. Soun and Genma (when he's human anyway) are normally seen wearing martial arts gi and Nodoka is normally seen wearing a kimono to show how traditional she is.
  • No matter where in the world he is, Goemon Ishikawa of Lupin III wears a kimono and hakama. Lupin once commented on how unusual it was for a modern Japanese man to be dressed in such an old-fashioned manner. Goemon calmly responded he was normal and the rest were the odd ones.
  • In Axis Powers Hetalia, most of the countries wear a standard military uniform that reflects their background, such as America wearing a bomber jacket, Russia with a long tan overcoat (based off an Imperial Army overcoat) or Japan in a Japanese Navy uniform.
  • Asu no Yoichi
    • Angela Takatsukasa wears a Qipao constantly, contrasted by Tsubasa, who just wants to be normal and refuses to wear anything that doesn't let her pretend to be so.
    • Yoichi wears something other than his samurai uniform for all of one chapter while on a 'practice date' where they get him a normal set of clothes. He switches back to his uniform afterwords.
  • In Hayate the Combat Butler, Isumi wears a kimono, even disdaining the school uniform to do so, depicting her use of 'hand soap'. In one chapter, she even tells another character she needs to go home and change (into another kimono) before meeting the new kitten. The depiction tosses a lampshade on such event.

Comic Books

  • Thompson and Thomson: Their idea of "incognito" is the traditional costume of wherever they go. Which looks ridiculous in day-to-day life. They sometimes don't even get the country right: they show up in Syldavia (a Central European country) in traditional Greek clothes. Into a space base no less.

 Thomson: Greek costumes? But we specifically ordered the tailor to make us Syldavian ones...

Thompson: I told you he didn't seem very bright.

  • A token Islamic X-Man Sooraya, code name Dust, wore a full-body black abaya. Possibly partly justified in that she was supposed to be from Afghanistan, although that doesn't excuse the fact that her power was to turn into a sandstorm... Her "burqa" (as it was often incorrectly referred to) was often drawn as very form-fitting, which is Completely Missing the Point, and unfortunately her characterization under most writers starts and ends with her religion, though some at least had the sense to have her say that she wore it by choice and not because anyone was forcing her.


  • Team America: World Police has national costumes for one delegate of each country to the Peace Conference.
  • Beerfest
  • Armageddon had the Russian astronaut wear a ushanka hat and Born in USSR t-shirt. On a space station. To be honest, he was called a little weird.
  • In the Harry Potter films:
    • Kingsley Shacklebolt.
    • Possible example in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire: Parvati and Padma wear saris to the Yule Ball.
    • Also, Cho Chang wore a silver formal qipao to the Yule Ball.
    • The male students from Durmstrang wore thick fur coats and capes. Karkaroff and Viktor Krum even wore ushanka fur hats.


  • Parodied in the Discworld book Jingo, where a group of ambassadors to Ankh-Morpork are described thusly:

 They wore their national costumes, but since by and large their national costumes were what the peasants wore they looked slightly out of place in them. Their bodies wore feathers and silks, but their minds persistently wore suits.


Live Action TV

  • Lampshaded in the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice", where Amy has the Doctor and Rory dress in thick ponchos to ward off freezing cold, saying, "If we're going to die, let's die looking like a Peruvian folk band."
  • Costumes play a big part of The Amazing Race; locals hired to run tasks and pit stop greeters will usually be in traditional costumes, and often racers will be put in costume as part of a task. Averted for everyone else the racers encounter.


  • Spoofed in a Mad Magazine installment of "100 Worst Things About...", with this one being "100 Worst Things About Sports." They complain about how stereotypical regional mascots can be, usually to the point of depicting some unusual native animal that wouldn't ever be seen otherwise, and joke that if Paraguay ever hosted the Olympics, they'd probably have a character named "Sammy the Sloth" in the international parade.


  • The Norman Rockwell painting The Golden Rule with all the people from all over the world. It seems to be a quick visual way of portraying diversity...through stereotypes. Poor guy just can't win these days.

Theme Parks

  • The "It's A Small World" ride at Disneyland does this.


  • Collar 6 had Sixx tell Laura about the major global powers of their world. Each nation was represented by a woman in a fetishized version of some type of clothing stereotypically seen as characteristic of the region.

Western Animation

  • Played with in a King of the Hill where Hank has to entertain a prospective propane client from Boston. The client expects Hank to look more like a stereotypical cowboy and has it in his head that all "real" Texans dress like that all the time, so Hank has to wear cowboy boots and a hat, much to his chagrin and extreme discomfort, as he has chubby toes that make wearing boots rather painful.
  • Averted with Rolf from Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, who only wears traditional costumes when some festival or ritual demands it.
  • Totally Spies had an auditorium full of Russians in which every single person was wearing the same fur hat.
  • An episode of The Simpsons takes this Up to Eleven by showing a televised national beauty pageant in which all of the girls are costumed in a way that stereotypically references their home state (so that Miss Indiana, for instance, is wearing a Hot Wheels race track as a belt).
  • Helga's nanny Inga on Hey Arnold had a Scandinavian traditional-looking costume the entire time and even made Helga wear it.
  • Turned up to ridiculous levels on Kick Buttowski with Gunther's family and his home-country, considering they're Vikings. When we finally do see his home-country in a half-hour episode, every single person is dressed in a Viking get-up, which proves that Gunther's parents weren't just doing it for the theme of their restaurant (even though they have been seen with normal get-ups outside of work).

Real Life

  • As noted, there are countries and cultures in which traditional clothes are still commonly worn. Probably no point in listing them all.
  • See also the Miss Universe pageant.
  • The Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam almost always wore Western suits, but when receivin his Nobel Prize wore a traditional achkan, shalwar and turban - especially significant as he was the first Pakistani and the first Muslim laureate (although some Muslims view Ahmadiyyas (of which Salam was one) as heretics).
  • An interesting trend with Muslims is that they tend to dress up far more traditionally when they move to a Western country than they did back home. This has got to do with the culture shock and certain ethnic pride, as faced with discrimination they want to show that they are not intimidated by it. As such Western tourists visiting the Middle-East can find that many places look remarkably Westernized compared to the exotic-looking immigrants back at home.
  • Iranian former President Mohammad Khatami, who, as a Muslim cleric, usually wore a mullah's uniform (black robe and black turban) during public appearances, when interviewed by Italian TV station donned a Western suit completely black, suit, shirt, necktie, shoes, all black... plus turban.
  • A lot of Russians really do wear ushankas. Their climate leaves few other choices.