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Leo G. Carroll as Jacob Marley in the 1938 film version of A Christmas Carol. Note the fashionable headscarf.

One of the ways that Our Ghosts Are Different: Contrary to popular belief, when you die, you can take it with you. Unfortunately, this only extends to whatever you had on you personally at the time.

In scenes where ghosts appear, the ghost in question will often be wearing whatever they had on them when they died. Generally, this takes the form of some sort of gaudy period piece, making them look interesting and giving an obvious visual clue as to what time they were from. A ghost in slacks and a T-shirt just isn't very dramatic — unless you want to show that they were relaxed or a slacker in life. The ghost is usually stuck in that particular costume for the rest of eternity, unable to change their clothes. Which makes sense — there probably aren't that many Ghostly Gaps around. It must be a drag, if you got shot wearing Grandma's old knit sweater that you secretly hate.

Most movies and television shows that use this also agree that, when you take that last train to Ghostlyville, you get to keep whatever grievous bodily injuries you procured along the way. Burn to death? You'll be a charred and smoky corpse for the rest of your afterlife, we're afraid. Drown? Soggy and covered in seaweed, regardless of whether or not you were actually anywhere near the sea. Stabbed multiple times in the chest? You might even get to keep the knife! Decapitated? Enjoy your new detachable head! If you're lucky enough to manage to die in a way that doesn't leave you horribly mutilated, sometimes you'll get a special symbolic makeover just for giggles.

Trope named for Jacob Marley, the old dead business partner of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, whose ghost wore chains composed partly of money boxes to symbolize his greed and selfishness. (Though it should be noted that Marley didn't literally have all those chains on him at the time of death.)

Compare with the Bedsheet Ghost, Chained by Fashion. Contrast Out-of-Clothes Experience.

Not to be confused with Jacob Marley Warning.

Examples of Jacob Marley Apparel include:

Anime and Manga

  • Averted in Jubei Chan: the ghost of Yagyu Jubei is younger in the second season than he appears in the first, in addition to wearing different clothes. Presumably this is because of how Koinosuke and Freesia remember him from different periods of his life.
  • Sayo Aisaka in Mahou Sensei Negima has been wearing the same Sailor Fuku for 60 years.
  • Tomoharu in Asura Cryin questions his ghost girl follower Misao on why this trope doesn't apply to her. Misao responds in turn that it "would be boring." While it's not entirely clear how a ghost girl can change her clothes, Misao can.
  • In Ghost Sweeper Mikami, it's mentioned that a ghost usually wears the clothes they were wearing in the time of their death. Okinu Himuro, in example, is a Miko who was sacrificed to a Mountain God, so she wears her red and white priestess robes. There's a youkai who can make special clothes for ghosts, though, and an episode of the anime has Yokoshima searching for her so he can give a some outifits to Okinu as a gift.
  • Another ghost from Ranma One Half was a former headmistress for an extremely old, dilapidated all-girls school and dormitory. Until her Ghostly Goals are fulfilled, she's dressed in period clothes and wears her hair in a bun, as well as thin and pointy sunglasses. When she's finally allowed to move on, she trades the clothes for an angel's robe and wings, but keeps the bun and sunglasses.
  • In Hell Teacher Nube, naturally, ghosts subscribe to this rule. Which is especially bad for those who died after being horribly mutilated, because they'll spend their days trying to replace their missing body parts. But most notably: when Hiroshi found himself on the verge of death, his soul wore the hospital gown during his brief adventure in the afterlife. The cute girl whose soul he saved from demons also wore a hospital gown in the afterlife, but it turned out that she was an incredibly ancient old woman who became hopelessly smitten with her savior.
  • Averted in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. Yuuko died 50 or 60 years ago, but when Teiichi first meets her, she's wearing the modern school uniform. She liked the new design when she saw it, so she somehow got one of her own. She's still got her old uniform, too, and changes into that to show Teiichi ... embarrassing him, because she doesn't change clothes by magic, she does it just as an ordinary girl would — except right in front of him.
  • Also averted in Bakekano where Alice first appears naked and has to concentrate to create the clothes she wears although the clothes she normally wears are those which she's most familiar with. When first seen she's wearing thighhighs and a backpack because they're her favorite socks and her backpack was one she kept bugging her mother for. She can apparently also share the clothes with others so long as she can concentrate ...
  • In Cardcaptor Sakura, Nadeshiko has her wedding ring, because she was Happily Married to Fujitaka (who for his part follows The Mourning After trope), sometimes bordering on Sickeningly Sweethearts (at least according to Sonomi).


  • In Proposition Player (wherein the protagonist Joey Martin accidently becomes owner of a number of peoples' souls) this is considered a "default setting" until a soul's caretaker specifies otherwise, to avoid blocking up the celestial mechanics. Hugin and Munin tells Joey he can "have them come back as cows or ducks or angels of light" but until he decides to do so, this trope is in effect, and changes aren't retroactive. Naturally, before he even knows what to do, a competitive archangel kills off most of the contractees in a massive and complex accident, resulting in his makeshift afterlife (aka apartment) filling up with, among others, a waitress with her head on a platter, a guy with rebar through his face, a guy crushed flat, a pile of ashes, and a pile of crocodile feces. And they're still sentient. Also again, not retroactive.
  • One FoxTrot series parodying A Christmas Carol had Jason-as-Scrooge being visited by "Jacob Marcusly", chained to the video game controllers that dominated his life. He tells Jason to learn from his example...and not buy this particular brand of joystick, because the fire button is sluggish.
  • Emily of Anyas Ghost wears the same jumper dress and floofy hairdo she had when she died in the 1910s.


  • The film Beetlejuice had this for every ghost except, oddly enough, for the two leads, who drowned but were only a bit damp when they got home (though, at the very least, they remained in the same clothes).And they dried out, too (likely because it would have been impractical to keep the actors damp for the whole of shooting, but still). The other obviously wrong-looking ghosts were the ones who died in disfiguring ways or, as in the case of the headhunter and showgirl/receptionist, were explicitly in costume at death.
    • And, if you look closely, Juno has smoke coming out the holes in her throat when she smokes.
  • In The Frighteners, one of the ghosts complains about his ridiculous 1970s outfit (complete with big bushy afro), and another points out that he must wear it because he was dressed like that when he died. After his ghostly form is destroyed by the big bad, he is seen in Heaven at the end of the film, wearing far more fashionable clothes and much shorter hair.
  • The Sixth Sense. All the clothes that Bruce Willis wore throughout the entire movie were clothes that he wore at some point during the night he died.
  • Clarence from Its a Wonderful Life spends the entire film in a nightgown, a gift from his wife, having passed away in it.
  • In Stardust, the dead princes are all wearing what they had on when they died, and their bodies are in whatever state they expired in: One who died in the tub spent the rest of his ghostly life naked, and one who fell out of a window had his face flattened, and his hair is in a permanent windblown style.
  • In Star Wars, Force ghosts follow this rule, looking as old or young as they did upon the time of death, and wearing the same clothes. The exception is Anakin Skywalker, who despite dying in full Darth Vader regalia, missing limbs, and with a disfigured head, reverts to what he would have looked like in more benign circumstances.
    • He was later changed to Hayden Christiansen's Anakin, so maybe that was supposed to be his appearance when he was killed by Darth Vader. The robes are still different though.
    • One of the novels mentions that you appear how you think of yourself. Thus, the Jedi are all in their customary robes, the Sith are in their armor, and Skywalker views himself as the young man before he fell.
  • In the 2008 film Ghost Town, Ricky Gervais is followed around by ghosts who are dressed in whatever they were wearing when they died, except for one nude ghost (who presumably wasn't wearing anything when he died). Greg Kinnear's character, another ghost, is wearing a tuxedo and carrying around his cell phone, as he was right before he was killed. He lampshades this trope by saying how grateful he is that he downloaded some games to his phone before he died.
  • Semi-averted in The Lovely Bones in that Susie can change clothes when she wants, but her default clothes are the ones she wore when she died.
  • The Tower of Terror film is similar to the Lovely Bones example above. The ghosts' default clothes are the ones they died in, but one of the ghosts appears in other clothes twice. Her other outfits also look 1930s, so apparently she can wear other clothes as long as they're from the time period when she died. Whatever.
  • In the movie Ghost, Sam (and apparently all other ghosts) wear what they were wearing at the time of death, though without any damage they took in dying, and the ghosts themselves have no visible wounds.


  • The Trope Namer is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol where the ghost of, who else, Jacob Marley is dressed not only in the clothes he died in, but is wrapped in chains and lugs around safes and cashboxes for all eternity to symbolically represent his avarice in life. It's not played entirely straight, however, as he also wears a cloth that was tied in place after death to bind his jaw shut.
  • Lampshaded in the third Silverwing book, Firewing. Three ghostly bats, named Java, Nemo, and Yorick, discuss their deaths. Java, who died of old age, and Nemo, who was eaten (leaving no body behind and the resulting ghost being made wholesale), have fully equipped and working ghost bodies. Yorick, who died smashed against a tree by a sudden turn of wind, gets to spend his afterlife with a perpetually broken wing, and demands to know where the justice is.
  • In the novel Haunted David's dead sister, Juliet, still appears as a child from when she drowned in their pond.
  • Similarly lampshaded in Harry Potter with the Hogwarts ghosts; Nearly Headless Nick laments that he can't join the Headless Hunt, as he wasn't quite decapitated enough.
    • Played straight with the Bloody Baron, who's still caked in the blood of the Grey Lady and wears chains out of penance.
    • Interestingly, one of the ghosts at the "deathday party" in the second book is "a ragged man wearing chains" — a possible reference to Jacob Marley himself.
  • Mocked by Ambrose Bierce in The Devil's Dictionary (and used as an unattributed quote passed off as an original insight by Penn Gillette on Bullshit) who asked why ghosts aren't naked. Is the immortal soul of a person dressed in the immortal soul of textiles?
    • Another author, thirty years earlier, similarly mocks: "But what does the ghost represent? That is, what is it the ghost of? A man or a woman to be sure. But does it appear as a man or a woman only? Is it nude? Oh no! Oh shocking! This is contrary to all the rules. It always appears dressed! ... So then, we have the ghost of the clothes also - the ghost of the coat and unmentionables - the ghost of the cocked hat and wig. How is this?"
  • Used straight in Dian Curtis Regan's series Ghost Twins. The pair of pre-teens (and their dog) who drowned in a lake haunt that same lake, not wet, but wearing those same clothes (and the girl hates the jumper she was, is, And will forever until the end of Time be wearing).
  • Ghosts in the Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters wear the clothes they died in (until they lose cohesion to the point where this can't be made out any more), and King Champot, who claims to have been beheaded by his nephew after building Lancre Castle, has his head under his arm. Subverted in the Discworld Companion which claims no-one knows why Champot has his head under his arm, since he actually died of gout.
    • There's also a nicely subtle Lampshade Hanging (if that's not a contradiction) in the TV version, when King Verence recognises the Crown of Lancre and takes off the ghost crown he's wearing to compare them.
  • Averted in Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle, in which the ghost Tamsin can appear in different clothes and hair styles that she had worn in her life, provided she can remember them enough.
  • In E. W. Hildick's juvenile mystery series The Ghost Squad, ghosts always appear in the clothes they died in, but explicitly not the condition they died in. This is mostly used for opening sequences about how inappropriate the ghost's attire is for their surroundings, before revealing the reason.
  • In Everlost by Neal Shusterman, Afterlights, the spirits of children who died but who became trapped between the world of the living and "where they were going" enter the realm of Everlost appearing as they did when they died. Thus, Nick, one of the main characters, is dressed in a suit and his face is smeared with chocolate. One boy is stuck in a speedo and is constantly wet. However, one can accidentally change his or her appearance if he or she forgets what he or she looks like or what people look like.
  • This is played straight in the Odd Thomas series for most ghosts. Elvis Presley is the exception to the rule, capable of appearing in whatever he feels like wearing. The main character speculates that because Elvis ignored the rules when he was alive, he continues to do so in death. (The ghost of Frank Sinatra is later shown to have the same ability.)
  • In The Blue Girl, Adrian learns from the ghost of a rebellious teenager that he can return to the mortal coil one night per year. Said ghost died in a car crash with a pack of cigarettes on him, which retains the same number of cigs, no matter how many he smokes, and he also keeps his James Dean style clothing.
  • In The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh, pretty much every ghost is like this, and one of the main characters, Euri, is teased about dying in her school uniform.

Live Action TV

  • Parodied/Lampshaded in the short-lived series, The 100 Lives Of Black Jack Savage, about a ghost pirate who gets a human to impersonate him for purposes of redemption. At one point, the hero is in danger (and dressed in a ridiculous pirate getup), and the ghost tells him that whatever he's wearing when he dies, that's what he'll be wearing for eternity.
  • Used in Dead Like Me for comedic effect. If the reaper doesn't remove the soon-to-be-killed person's soul before they die, the ghost ends up looking like their corpse. Considering the main cast dealt exclusively in accidental deaths, the results could be pretty extreme.
    • Sometimes for comedic effect, sometimes...not-when George abandons a reap and he goes through an autopsy, he still has the autopsy scars.
  • Subverted in American Horror Story, while some ghosts are stuck in their ghostly attire, such as the nurses or the twins, other ghosts are able to change clothes, such as Tate, Violet and the rest of the Harmon family. This may also be affected by whether or not they remember dying. Also, some of the ghosts carry their wounds with them, such as Nora, who maintains a gaping wound on the back of her head, and Moira who has a ghostly eye where she was shot, but again, this does not apply to all the ghosts in the house.
  • The short-lived series Dead Last had the main characters able to see ghosts, and unwillingly help them leave the earthly plane. One ghost had killed himself while naked, and had to walk around like that.
  • Ezekiel Stone, the protagonist of Brimstone, always has exactly what he died with on him — including his handgun, whose bullets instantly replenish themselves as they're fired, and the $36.27 US he had in his pockets, which reappears in his pockets every single time he reaches in for it.
  • An infirm Promicin-powered old woman on The 4400 had the power to astrally project. Because the astral projection was powered by her thoughts and imagination, it was her when she was at the full flower of her youth, clad in a hot dress. When she was killed with an overdose, the astral projection simply changed into a ghost that resembled her at the full flower of her youth still wearing a hot dress, rather than becoming an infirm old woman.
  • The first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Buffy identify a vampire by his outdated clothing, suggesting that this applies in some ways to vampires. Vampires aren't required to dress like they did when they were alive, as evidenced by Angel's leather jacket, but it might be hard for them to adjust to changes in fashion. Or maybe they just don't bother to find new clothes.
  • Angel: Wesley decapitates Lilah after her death to ensure she won't become a vampire. When Lilah turns up later, she's wearing a scarf to cover the wound (or possibly, as implied, because her head isn't on securely.)
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?: subverted in The Tale of the Prom Queen: Judy was buried in a prom dress, but appears in a casual outfit (to look like an ordinary person) until The Reveal at the end of the episode.
  • Somewhat justified in Six Feet Under, where the "ghosts" are implied to be manifestations of the living characters' states of mind rather than actual spirits. Since they're mostly clients of the funeral home, it makes sense that the characters would visualise them dressed in whatever they died in.
  • Subverted/averted in Hex: Thelma, the ghost girl can only wear clothes of other dead people. So she visits the morgues like ordinary girls visit the malls.
  • Although it turns out they've only been rendered intangible, an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation has Geordi and Ro confronting the possibility that an accident killed them, and the reason they're invisible to the crew is that they're ghosts. The skeptical Geordi runs headlong into this very trope...

 Geordi: But my uniform, my visor... are you saying I'm some blind ghost with clothes?

Ro: I don't have all the answers! I've never been dead before!

  • Ghosts in Being Human wear whatever clothes they died in, but they can mentally make minor alterations to the clothes depending on their mood.
  • Ghost Whisperer: Melinda's Ghosts appear as they did at their death. As they slowly realize they are dead and come to terms with what happened to them, they lose the disfigurements and traumas to their physical bodies as their souls heal. However, they always stay in the same outfit they wore at the time of their death.
  • Back in the day, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris appeared in a sketch together where she brought him back from the dead using a store-bought magic kit (just to find out if he could remember the title of that one song they sang in chorus in high school), and after returning to whence he came, he reappeared saying he'd lost his chains somewhere. When, after retracing his steps, he hadn't found them, he stole her keys to achieve the jangling sound.


  • Look up any martyred saint of the Roman Catholic tradition, you'll find them either outfitted with the instrument of their execution (St. Andrew with his X-shaped cross, St. Catherine leaning on her wheel) or perhaps holding their own body parts: St. Lucy will be holding an extra set of eyes on a plate (as will St. Agatha with a set of breasts — look it up if you don't believe me), St. Bartholomew is sometimes shown holding his own skin, and St. Denis is always carrying around his own head. Guess Heaven doesn't come with health insurance...
    • This is because each saint is depicted with a symbol that would identify them to the illiterate during that period of history where literacy was the exception. Not all symbols relate to their martyrdom (though many do) — the gospel authors are depicted with one of the four familiar beasts, St Peter with the keys to heaven, St Jaques de Compostelle bears a scallop, etc.
    • An interesting aversion of this also occurs in Revelation 6:11; the martyrs, those slain for God's sake, are specifically given new outfits (pure white robes).
  • In Chinese culture, paper offerings are burnt so that dead family members might have them in the afterlife. Usually they're hell notes, paper tender recognized in the afterlife, but they can also be paper gifts, like paper stereos, food, clothes, and even paper servants.
    • The paper offerings get updated with time - when this troper was a kid, people burnt regular old (paper) house phones. Later on they started burning those huge "brick" cellphones in paper form. They're probably burning paper iPhones these days.
      • They actually burn paper PSPs, NDSes, and PS3s along with the paper iPhones now.
      • Not enough? Try an entire paper mansion with a paper car.

Roleplaying Games

  • A common trope in Wraith: The Oblivion from White Wolf, both in respect to clothes and cause-of-death - the explanation is that the wraith's psyche surrounds itself in a shell of corpus to anchor itself to the Shadowlands (if all corpus is destroyed, the psyche falls into the Tempest and is a ready target by the Shadow) and can look like anything, but often a familiar form. Interestingly, self-image can play a part; one woman who suffered frailty during a time of disease always felt as though her hands and arms were withered bones, so that's how she turned out on the other side. The appearance can change over time and often become more twisted as they amass Angst and lose Passions.

Video Games

  • In Okami, there's a ghost who died from being struck by lightning. He has a lightning bolt stuck in his head and gives off sparks.
  • In the Maxis game, The Sims 2, characters who died could come back as vengeful spirits if you disturbed their graves, and their appearance and powers changed depending on how they died. For example, dying by fire would bring people back as red ghosts, who could set fire to objects. Death by drowning would bring people back as blue ghosts, who would leave far less dangerous, but still slightly annoying puddles around the house for others to find. Death by starvation created mooching ghosts who perpetually stole from the fridge.
  • Spirits in Ghost Trick take the same appearance as their corpse (minus wounds), or at least they do once they remember what they look like. Before that they're little blue flames. Actually, they're just taking the form they think they look like--Sissel was never human at all, he copied Yomiel's shape.
  • During Metal Gear Solid 3's "battle" against The Sorrow, Snake is forced to travel upstream through a river, meeting the ghosts of all the people he's killed over the course of the game. And, if you were a bit more creative than "shoot him in the head until he dies", many of them will bear signs of the way in which they died.
    • One troper's personal favorite: If you ate a buzzard that fed on someone, they'll be attacked by the soul of the buzzard and wail that you fed on them.
  • Ghosts in the Fatal Frame series tend to display the manner by which they died, such as Broken Neck floating backwards, her head flopping upside-down; Blinded Demon with her gouged-out eyes; or the Rope Maiden's rope burns on her limbs and neck.
  • The Blackwell Series takes this a step further. If a ghost was closely connected to an object when she/he lived, they will get a ghostly copy of that object. A death jazz player is therefore still able to play his saxophone (as well as hitting other ghosts with it) and the ghost of a depressed drunk still tries to drink from his whiskey bottle although it is empty.
  • The Victims in Silent Hill 4: The Room are this, as well as displaying the manner in which they died; eg Jasper Gein is on fire, Andrew de Salvo is blue and bloated from drowning, and Richard Braintree twitches and gives off electric discharges. One exception is Cynthia, who becomes a Stringy Haired Ghost Girl for some reason.
  • Played straight in Yuri Genre Visual Novel Akai Ito with the Nozomi. Inverted with Yumei; it's not known whether she had that blue kimono when she became Ohashira, but when she come Back From the Dead --corporeal and all-- she remains wearing it.
  • Legacy of Kain: It seems to be the standard, with most of the exceptions falling under Gameplay and Story Segregation. Defiance takes this farther with Raziel and the revenants: Although far from standard, they both enter the material realm by possessing corpses and altering them to be (more or less) like them; Raziel still carries what little is left of his clothing, while the revenants materialize large swords.

Web Comics

  • The Order of the Stick plays with this here (Beware: major spoilers): Roy in the afterlife has trouble recognizing his own mother because she looks far younger than he ever saw her, yet his father still looks old. It's explained that the dead take on forms reflecting their inner state. Mom always thought of herself as she was before she was married, so in the afterlife she appears 19. Dad "always was a wrinkled old man in his heart." The spoilered character himself looks the same as at death because he only recently died, and his mind is still on the world of the living.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court seems to be all over the place with this trope. Martin looks a little like a male onryo in casual wear (it's plausible this is how he looked while alive), but Annie's presence reveals him to be a burn victim. Then there's Mort, a Shapeshifting Master of Illusion whose standard appearance is a "bedsheet phantasm". (Mort's Shapeshifting raises the question of whether the other ghosts have similar powers.) And the Ghost with the Sword is a complete enigma.
    • Though it's left unexplained, it can be interpreted that Mort is in fact not the spirit of a dead human, but a some sort of ethereal life-form.
  • {...} of Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name is an undead man who always wears the clothes he was buried in.

Western Animation

  • Parodied in The Venture Brothers. Dr Orpheus travels to the seventh layer of Hell itself looking for the souls of his neighbor's deceased children. On his quest, he meets two damned souls frozen in ice, one of them dressed up like a Roman warrior, who tells him that he once served the mighty Caesar. The other then cuts him off, calling him a liar. Turns out they both died at a costume party.
  • Averted in The Transformers, where the ghost of Starscream lacks the crown and cloak that he was killed in. However, his corpse was also blasted into oblivion with the exception of his feet and shins, so he seems to get the better half of things.
  • Danny Phantom's ghost form always wears that jumpsuit he wore when he entered the Ghost Portal. It gets damaged or dirty sometimes in battle, but always ends up reverting back to form after a little while. He does generally have a Limited Wardrobe, even in human form, but it was also explicitly stated that he couldn't change the outfit he wore in ghost form.
    • Arguable that he can if he practiced enough. Danny's ghost outfit is an invert of a white jumpsuit he wore as a human; it switched color when he transformed. Vlad got his ghost powers while he worn civilian clothes, yet he gains a white jumpsuit for his current ghostly appearance. THAT had to come from somewhere and considering ghosts are easily able to materialize a good number of things, clothes can arguably be it as well.
  • Hilariously lampshaded as the source of Freddy Kruger's strange sweater-fedora-claws combo in a Robot Chicken skit.