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In short, when the character wears their costume or uniform under his regular clothing for quick changing when there's evil afoot. Also not regular ol' dressing in layers, like the Hollywood Dress Code for the Ordinary High School Student.
Sometimes, the "under" clothes somehow cover more than the outer layer. Depending on the work, this can be carefully justified, handwaved, ignored or for comedies, lampshaded.
Not necessarily just for superheroes, although they are far more likely to use this trope.
Anime & Manga
- It's implied Team Rocket from Pokémon does this, since their reveals involve pulling off their disguise to reveal the uniform underneath.
- In the Fatal Fury anime movie, Kim Kapwan somehow disintegrates all of his clothing, revealing his fighting outfit below (all in the middle of a party where no fighting was expected to actually take place — talk about Crazy Prepared.)
- Crown: Badasses Ren and Jake apparently wear camouflage gear and bulletproof vests under everything.
- In Naruto, during the first invasion of Konoha, the Third Hokage flings off his clothes to reveal a full suit of armour. Apparently he was wearing it under his Hokage robes just in case he was attacked.
- The Castleof Cagliostro: Lupin wears a Zenigata disguise over his regular suit and a diving suit over both of them.
- It can be assumed that most female superheroes, especially those whose outfits are rather Stripperific, do this.
- Superman in all his adaptations:
- In the Silver Age, writers would occasionally go to great lengths to justify and explain how he could hide his cape under Clark Kent's dress shirt, or fit shoes and socks over his Superman boots (the usual answer was something like "super compression.") For the record, while operating as Superman, he kept his Clark Kent clothes in a hidden pouch of his indestructible cape.
- Subverted in Millennium when Lana Lang, controlled by the Manhunters, tried to expose Clark as Superman by ripping open his shirt in the Daily Planet offices. As it turns out, Clark is thanking his lucky stars that he happened to not be wearing his supersuit that day and so Lana was stunned to find only his bare chest.
- Batman usually. Sometimes shown having his costume in his briefcase.
- Spider-Man. Though he's sometimes shown having his costume in his backpack. He's also one of the few superheroes who can rival Superman with the iconic shirt open reveal.
- And his daughter, Spider-Girl does it too once or twice.
- Iron Man, for much of his career, had to wear the entire chest piece under his clothes to keep his heart going. In one early adventure, he took this a step further, successfully hiding his identity on a long commercial airline flight by wearing a trenchcoat and fedora over his armor. The grey, bulky Iron Man armor, even!
- Captain America used to wear his suit and his shield, strapped to his back, under his civilian clothes.
- Green Lantern Hal Jordan used to wear his uniform under his clothes in the Silver Age, but he eventually realized he does not have to bother when he can simply use his power ring to change his clothes into that outfit.
- When Supergirl appeared in Batgirl's self-titled series, the two of them enjoyed a pleasant (and normal) night at Batgirl's college campus. Later, after the sudden appearance of 24 Draculas, the two realized that they would need to cut their night-off short and save the day. Supergirl ripped off her top to reveal her costume beneath it, then turned to Batgirl:
Supergirl: "Aren't you gonna...you know..."
- Notably averted by Barry Allen, The Flash, who kept his costume compressed in his ring. When released, the costume expanded to full size. Perhaps implausible scientifically, but it allowed Barry to wear ordinary clothes and avoid this trope... except that every once in a while, they indicated that the Flash followed this trope in reverse. Supposedly, the Flash wore his costume over his regular clothes, which themselves were somehow super-compressed to give him his usual "skintight costume" appearance! Most fans sensibly ignore these occasional revelations, particularly since the hero is more than fast enough to change clothes and hide his regular outfit... or, heck, even run home and neatly fold his clothes before putting them away in his closet, without missing a beat.
- Batgirl had an unusual variation on this trope in her earliest adventures. Barbara Gordon wore clothes that would be converted into parts of her Batgirl outfit. For example, her beret unrolled to become Batgirl's cowl, and her reversible skirt, when removed, became a cape. After a couple stories, the writers evidently noticed certain flaws in this arrangement (most notably, the requirement that Barbara always wear pretty much the same exact outfit), and in later stories either showed her changing at home, or didn't go into detail about how she managed to change elsewhere.
- Power Girl follows this trope, especially as drawn by Amanda Conner. Conner is one of the few artists to clearly put a lot of thought into making this trope plausible as something a real person might actually do. Karen Starr's outfits are carefully chosen to work with her costume. She usually wears bulky sweaters, and scarves to cover up the Power Girl costume's high collar. And she frequently wears Power Girl's big, serious boots with these outfits, though somewhat disguised by colorful leggings. "Non-concealable" pieces, like her cape and gloves, go into a gym bag. It's not only believable, but it gives Karen Starr her own unique style that's quirky, a little kooky, and even sexy, considering how much is covered up.
- The Atom originally had an inverted version of this trope. Namely, his costume is worn outside his civilian clothes, but it's a special tough material stretched so thin, it's invisible. Only when he shrinks significantly does it become visible.
- Parodied in Sky High where teen heroes-in-training practice changing into several different outfits, including "super-suits", civvies, and athletic uniforms.
- The Incredibles characters used to do this before superheroics were outlawed, and they did it again at the very end, with the very last shot of the film being Mr. Incredible imitating Superman's iconic use of this trope.
- At the beginning of True Lies, Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) reveals he's wearing a tuxedo under his diving suit.
- Bond did it first. Sean Connery emerges from the surf and strips off his wetsuit to reveal perfectly pressed evening dress.
- Used in the first Spider-Man movie, where Peter is seen pulling the classic Superman shirt-rip following the Green Goblins attack on the parade. Also invoked in the second film, where a depowered Peter Parker reflexively reaches for his shirt, before remembering his depowered state and lack of costume. The third film also prominently shows this, as Peter's new black suit is visible underneath his civvies at numerous points (a departure from the comics, where the black costume would simply morph itself to resemble his street clothes).
- The Phantom also wears his costume under his street clothes; at one point he even uses his discarded clothing to distract a couple of Mooks.
- Near the end of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack tears off his homemade Santa Claus costume, revealing his normal tuxedo.
- Done by Gonzo in The Muppets. Turns out he's been wearing his stuntman outfit under his work clothes every day for the past 20 years so he can be prepared the day the rest of the Muppets come to get the old gang back together.
- The Saga of Tuck: During some colder months, Tuck wore women's clothing under his regular clothes.
Live Action TV
- Examples from the 1966 Batman:
- Batman and Robin consistently averted this trope. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson almost always used the Instant Costume Change-providing Bat-Poles to change. While they occasionally used some other method, they never wore their costumes underneath their civilian clothing.
- In her unaired "pilot reel" (used to sell the network on the proposed new character), Batgirl did follow this trope, converting her regular clothing into Batgirl's costume using the same method as in her first comic book appearances (see above.) In the actual series, however, she changed clothes the old-fashioned way — off camera.
- Apart from one shirt-ripping scene with Clark in Smallville, the series has averted this. Save possibly for one scene in an early Season 10 Episode. Oliver Queen (in his street clothes) is investigating an apartment. Someone else enters, and moments later he confronts them in full Green Arrow gear.
- In The Greatest American Hero, Ralph wears his supersuit under his clothes, although he finds removing his outer outfit an really time consuming process. On the other hand, when he tried giving up the suit, he was later in the middle of a shoot out and he was terrified that for the first time he was not wearing what is essentially the ultimate Bulletproof Vest.
- In Community episode Interpretive Dance Troy uses rip away clothing to disguise the fact that he is taking a dance class
- Neil Patrick Harris pulls this off during his Tony Awards Introduction, where he wears a tuxedo, over a spangly purple leisure suit, over a different, identical tuxedo. Which means he was performing his big musical number wearing three suits.
- In Glee, Kurt Hummel does this during his big audition for NYADA: he comes out onstage wearing a tuxedo, cape and mask for 'Music of the Night' from Phantom of the Opera, but when he realises his auditor will be bored senseless by hearing the song for the millionth time, rips away the tux to reveal a black blouse and skintight gold pants, and proceeds to sing 'Not the Boy Next Door' from The Boy From Oz instead (there was stuff setting this up as a plausible choice ahead of time, fortunately). He impresses the auditor mightily. And not just because of the pants. That G5 was spectactular.
- Spoofed in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal here: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1344#comic
- Like Team Rocket above, Building 12's Peoni manages to have a less revealing uniform than the civilian clothes she's wearing over it.
- Parodied in Futurama in the episode "Less Than Hero" Leela tears off her clothes to reveal her Clobberella costume. Then tears off her costume to reveal another set of identical clothes, claiming "It was brisk, I dressed in layers". Naturally, neither of her costumes would actually have concealed the other one.
- In Teen Titans, when Robin is forced to go to a prom with a girl. At one point he rips off his prom suit to reveal his costume. An unusual example of this trope because Robin was still wearing his mask and not concealing his heroic identity (indeed, on this show, the viewer doesn't know what Robin's secret identity is, or even whether he has one.) Presumably, he was just wearing the suit because it was a formal occasion.
- In an episode of Family Guy: Peter, Cleveland and Quagmire are dressed as waiters at a fancy dinner party at the Pewterschmits' house and are planning to rob their vault. They rip off their tuxes to reveal black 'theiving' clothes underneath, complete with black stocking caps.
- Super Ted takes this to a similar extreme to the Futurama example, but even further. The eponymous bear would unzip his fur to reveal his costume, then unzip his costume to reveal his fur afterwards, infinitely.
- On Batman the Brave And The Bold, the Music Meister takes it to an extreme: changes clothes 8 times in a single scene, many of which are these. One might assume that his clothes are very thin, but considering one of the outfits is a giant Liberace-style fur cloak and one of them has an afro....
- As his super ability involves turning the world around him into a musical, this might fall under Required Secondary Powers.
- Parodied in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "F.U.N." When Plankton steals a Krabby Patty from the Krusty Krab, SpongeBob decides to come to the rescue and rips off his normal clothes to reveal...an identical set of his normal clothes.
- Spoofed in an episode of King of the Hill where Dale sneaks onto the local army base. He gets in in his exterminator's jumpsuit, then hides in a bush and removes it to reveal an army uniform. He passes by an officer...then hides in another bush and takes off the uniform, revealing another exterminator's jumpsuit underneath it. Considering what kind of person Dale is, he'd probably consider this totally necessary.
- In Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver the player is required to disguise themselves as a Rocket Grunt to enter the Team Rocket controlled radio tower. The Rival who is Giovanni's son appears and, recognizing them, removes their uniform. In the game the player simply reverts to their default sprites (somehow managing to hide their hat under it), in the COPIOUS amount of fanart of said scene... not so much.
- Mickey and Riku in Kingdom Hearts. At various points, they both tear off their full-length hooded trenchcoats to reveal their civilian clothes underneath. Somehow, this also instantly changes their shoes and pants, removes their gloves, etc.
- Actually, that is a canon side effect of putting on the coat. It automatically causes the clothes worn beneath it to change to those seen in-game, and to include a pair of black gloves and boots. If gloves are already being worn, then they will change to the black set.
- In Chrono Trigger, Marle whips off her fancy princess gown to reveal her adventurer's attire underneath. She was also hiding her crossbow under there, apparently.
- In Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas all npc wears modest underclothes under their main outfit, however some times the main outfit covers less than the under clothes.
- Batgirl #14 (2010)