"Sensei, the truth is, I actually look thinner wearing clothes!"nebbish. He's rather nerdy, pretty scrawny, not too attractive, and likely to faint at the mere sight of blood. What a geek, huh? ...Until he takes his shirt off, and — surprise — he's packed! He's got abs of steel, his guns are fully loaded, and he can probably crush coal into diamonds with his massive pecs... Good Lord, he's a Genius Bruiser who's been hiding the "Bruiser" part all along! A Clark Kent Outfit is, basically, any article of clothing that hides a character's well-toned physique from the audience, setting audiences for a surprise when it's used, especially for harmless-looking fellows. Can apply to women as well, often leading to a Beautiful All Along moment when Played for Drama or Hidden Buxom when Played for Laughs. Or both. Note that while the actor has to be able to fit into the physique-concealing costume when this trope is used in live-action works, no such restriction applies to other media, and thus it's possible to have a character reveal muscles (or curves) that couldn't possibly have fit inside the outfit they were wearing beforehand. This can be Played for Laughs. Compare with Badass Bookworm. Not to be confused with Clark Kenting, which has the opposite effect.
— Takamatsu from Angel Beats!
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Anime & Manga
- Bleach: Captain Yamamoto wears robes almost all of the time and appears to be a stooped-over old man. When he removes his robes, he reveals that he's completely ripped.
- Fullmetal Alchemist's Edward Elric is a short, intellectual teenager, but so incredibly buff under his jacket that he ends up shirtless, like, almost every other fight scene. It's also initially done to hide his automail arm and leg. By the way he runs around before it's revealed, you'd never guess he was a double amputee.
- Dragon Ball:
- Master Roshi, a scrawny little hunchbacked pervert who almost doubles in height, shoulder width and muscle mass when he first takes off his shirt.
- For an in-universe example, Gohan's high-school outfit almost looks like it's a size too large, undoubtedly to help hide the fact that he's built like a... well, like a Saiyan. It works, too, at least enough to make Videl initially think he's harmless.
- Takamatsu from Angel Beats! tears off his shirt dramatically in the middle of class and reveals a very muscular figure in episode 5. No-one cares.
Takamatsu: Sensei, the truth is, I actually look thinner wearing clothes!
Teacher: I see that, sit down.
- Then when he rejoins the group no one cares about his reveal and Yuri just chastises him for not thinking of a better distraction.
Takamatsu: I thought it would be surprising, that no-one would see it coming, I train in secret...
Hinata: Yes yes, put some clothes on.
- At the end of the second season of Darker Than Black, this is done by Kirihara's new boss, who looks like Golgo 13 if he was a staid Japanese bureaucrat. He takes off his shirt and reveals he's really ripped and he wields a BFG.
- Kamishiro Yuu from Holyland looks harmless under his school uniform, but, as his opponents quickly learn and a classmate who grabbed his arm once commented, his muscles are rock-hard from all of that street fighting.
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei:
- The teacher Jinroku is a friendly and unassuming guy who is balding and wears glasses. Under his shirt though, he's fairly muscular (certainly compared to 90 pound weakling Nozomu) and has a large Yakuza tattoo.
- Ditto with Abiru's father who has a similar "weakling salaryman" kind of look. While the rumors he abuses Abiru aren't true (he's a great guy; she gets her injuries from pulling animals' tails), it is true that he belonged to a black ops squad that knew how to kill people with moe manga.
- Jiji from Ichi the Killer is a tiny old man, but when he takes off his shirt he has a bodybuilder's physique, and neck snaps a Yakuza without breaking a sweat. It helps that he's really only 30 years old, but got plastic surgery to make his face appear older.
- Enishi and Hiko Seijūrō XIII of Rurouni Kenshin wear cloaks most of the time, and pretty much look like slim bishonen. When both take off those cloaks, they are extremely muscular. This is sort of plot important because Kenshin's lithe frame puts him at a disadvantage when fighting either of them, since his body isn't really meant to be performing those strenuous sword-fighting maneuvers.
- Kotetsu T. Kaburagi from Tiger & Bunny appears to have normal, even lanky, physique... until the shirt comes off and it becomes apparent he's, well, a superhero.
- Naruto: Hinata Hyuga's uniform is more about her shyness than a secret identity, but her bulky jacket and loose pants are definitely designed to hide her physique.
- Dr. Stein from Soul Eater is surprisingly ripped for a creepy Mad Scientist, as his Shirtless Scene in the anime reveals. The same goes for Ox Ford, one of the DWMA's students, which the manga shows in a Shower Scene.
- Lithuania from Axis Powers Hetalia is cute, slender and feminine-looking and he's most often seen as a secretary or domestic housekeeper. However, as he was once a knight and still does martial arts, he's very muscular upon closer inspection.
- Attack on Titan: Every character that's enlisted in the military actually undergoes heavy physical training so they are able to properly control the 3DMG. As a result, most soldiers have really sculpted physiques. This, however, is only shown in a few instances, and characters are most often shown wearing their uniforms.
- Joujirou from Charlotte is actually fairly toned, which he explains as helping reduce the damage from his Super Speed ability. Yuu hangs a lampshade on it when he sees Joujirou shirtless in Episode 5.
- Lots of characters have this going on with their clothes in One Piece due to its Noodle People art style; to be specific, many of them have thin arms and legs but surprisingly ripped torsos. Luffy and Sanji come to mind here.
- Midoriya in My Hero Academia gets a lot of muscle after his training with All Might but it's concealed by whatever clothes he is wearing (including, for some reason, his form-fitting gym clothes).
- Black Clover: Asta's clothes hide his muscular physique despite how apparently thin they are.
- Hajime from I Can't Understand What My Husband is Saying is shown to be quite muscular due to working from home and having plenty of time to work out. Hilariously, his wife was unaware of his physique despite their active sex life (they always keep the lights off).
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Trowa Barton appears as thin as the rest of the G-boys. But when we see him in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz wearing a very revealing circus costume he's positively ripped! Its no wonder that he can beat a group of thugs to a pulp with his bare hands.
- In Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Major Ulube, while a military man, is retired from actual combat and mostly seems to stick to politicking and administration. It comes as a shock in the late stages of the anime when he reveals he is still in extremely good physical condition, good enough to go toe-to-toe with some of the strongest Gundam Fighters on the planet.
- One-Punch Man: Both Saitama and Silver Fang have impressive physiques that are usually hidden by their clothing. Even Saitama's superhero outfit is too baggy for his muscles to show (except on rare occasions during a dramatic Art Shift.)
- In the manga of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, his fellow classmates don't realize how ripped he is until they all go on a beach trip. It's not intended on Kenichi's part. The training his masters have him on have made him densely muscled, and he only has people much stronger than himself to compare against. Because of this, he mostly still acts like the meek boy he always was, and his school uniform always hung loose on his small frame.
- Superman is the Trope Namer, as his alter ego, Clark Kent, is modeled specifically for this purpose; namely, a spineless man (with glasses, of course) to hide his superhuman strength. All-Star Superman has him wearing multiple layers of clothing to appear flabby rather than skinny. In some depictions, his glasses are also used to hide eyes so incredibly blue and bright they clearly aren't human.
- In Superman: Birthright his mother Martha specifically ordered him to never wear T-shirts in public ever, since X-ray vision isn't needed to see his six-pack.
- Somewhat averted in the '86 reboot. As Clark, he kept weights in his apartment to make it appear that he simply works out in order to obtain his muscular physique and prominently displays football trophies from high school to make him appear to be an ex-jock.
- Pre-Crisis Supergirl wore very plain clothes, long-sleeved blouses, and long skirts to hide her muscles.
- Subverted in Supergirl Vol 1, in where she wears tight clothes which make nothing to hide her figure or her muscles. However, she doesn’t stand out because most of the people she meets are well-built. In Volume 2 she wore long dresses again.
- Post-Crisis "Linda Lang" wears long shirts and trousers to cover her athletic, fit body.
- In Supergirl (Rebirth), Kara's Secret Identity wears loose clothes and baggy trousers to hide her super-strong physique.
- Spider-Man: Peter Parker is a less emphasized example, but few would guess that his regular clothes hide a sinewy physique.
- Back when Steve Ditko was still drawing Amazing Spider-Man, his costume did the same thing.
- There was an issue of Spectacular Spider-Man where a private detective has deduced who Spider-Man is, and suggests that Spidey (who he remarked was built very lean, but "like a Ferrari") would most likely utilize baggy clothes to hide his physique. Unfortunately for him, he deduces that Jameson is Spider-Man. Jameson is most likely not amused.
- In Ultimate Spider-Man, Gwen notes that Peter's "all muscle" when she, Peter and Eddie Brock are crammed into the same car. He claims to be into pilates.
- John's cloak in With Strings Attached makes him look like his normal, skinny Earth self. Take it off, however, and he's a winged demigod.
- Last Child of Krypton: Shinji wears shirts, baggy pants and multiple layers of clothing to hide his super-human muscles. The only time he wears -reluctantly- a skintight plug suit, Misato and Ritsuko note that he's shockingly brawny and muscular.
- Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: Asuka uses her regular school uniform and loose clothes to hide her muscular, sinewy physique.
Films — Live-Action
- Superman: The Movie: Possibly the greatest success of the Christopher Reeve movies was that he could pull off both meek Clark Kent and Superman and still fool people on the set into thinking that he was two different actors. Sure, the Clark Kenting jokes still won't stop, but people generally agree that Reeve made it believable.
- One of the best examples comes from the 1985 Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung action comedy My Lucky Star. Michiko Nishiwaki, in her first film role, is seen in the first part of the film wearing a kimono and acting in a very stereotypically demure Japanese lady-like way. And then she takes off the kimono. To understand the significance of this, Michiko Nishiwaki was Japan's first female powerlifting champion and the nation's first female bodybuilding champion.
- Standard in any Bruce Lee movie. Since he tends to play Nice Guys who are pushed too far he would almost always begin his movies in slightly baggy clothing to hide the fact that he looks like he was twisted out of steel cable.
- The John Ritter comedy Skin Deep had Ritter's character pick up an attractive blonde at a bar. When they get back to the bedroom, she takes off the dress. She was played by Raye "Zap" Hollitt, later one of the first American Gladiators.
- Early in The Prestige, the protagonists have to work out how a weak old magician can hide a full fish tank. Turns out he's actually strong enough to grip it between his legs, pretending to be weak every minute of every day of his life.
- In Peter David's novelization of Spider-Man 2, Jameson taps Peter Parker on the chest and is momentarily taken aback to discover "the seemingly scrawny Parker had pecs that felt like metal slabs".
- Ichi the Killer: Jiji, the little old chessmaster, wears baggy clothing throughout the film. At the very end, he strips to his underwear to reveal a ridiculously muscled body.
- Referenced in Julia Misbehaves, in which Julia meets Fred, an acrobat, on a boat trip to France. Julia flirts with Fred, complimenting his physique (despite Fred wearing a baggy suit and turtleneck), but she probably fell for this trope as much as the audience, since she is pleasantly surprised when she feels Fred's muscly bicep, and practically squees on the spot.
- Belgarath from David Eddings' Belgariad/Mallorean/prequels is apparently ripped. He tends to wear loose, scruffy robes and drink a lot, so not obvious when other characters see him, but it becomes noticed when he de-robes to get in the water.
- Weird example with Sazed in Mistborn. Sazed always wears robes an is usually genuinely very skinny. However, he can become physically strong and very muscular by using his feruchemic powers to tap stored up strength and muscle-tone. Since Sazed tends to fight shirtless, the effect is that he is a skinny guy when clothed, and a muscular guy whenever the text describes him taking off his robes.
- In Proven Guilty, Charity gets a moment like this. While everyone's gearing up to storm a faerie stronghold, Harry tells Charity that, being a housewife and not a trained fighter like himself, Thomas, or Murphy, she should stay behind. Then she takes off her baggy sweater to start armoring up, and Harry notes that she "won some kind of genetic lottery," and that she's also ripped and muscled up. She then explains that not only does she make her husband's steel plate mail armor, but she's the one he spars and practices against.
- In The Odyssey, Odysseus's beggar rags hide his fit physique. When he discards said rags to fight a lout named Irus, the witnesses are shocked at the powerful muscles that were hidden by the rags.
- Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He may be short, but he could still make a fair amount of men feel pretty inferior about their bodies.
- A possibly unintentional example; Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is fairly ripped for a supposedly unattractive geek. Up until the season 2 episode "Go Fish" Xander's outfits were scruffy oversized Hawaiian shirts. Then he joins the swim team. Even Cordelia looks interested.
- Nerdy Billy Cranston from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is often seen wearing baggy overalls and shirts that are a size or two too big. This is to hide the fact that his actor, David Yost, is a professional gymnast and built like a plow horse. As time went and Billy became more skilled at fighting he gradually wore clothing that showed off his physique more.
- In one episode of Friends, Phoebe is dating two men at the same time, one of whom is very sensitive while the other is very buff. Deciding to choose brains over brawns, she tries to dump the buff guy... until he also turns out to be very sensitive. That means he has more advantages than the sensitive guy, right? Well, when Phoebe goes to his house to dump him instead, she sees him shirtless for the first time, and, well... this trope happens.
- Crispin Glover as he infamously appeared on Late Night with David Letterman looked especially scrawny, and he was just wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt... until he tried to challenge Letterman to arm wrestling, at which point Glover pulled up his sleeve and showed off his ridiculously muscled biceps to the audience.
- Oddly, Jenny's fiancé from the first season of The L Word is like this. Any scene where he takes his shirt off is hard to pay attention to while trying to figure out where he'd been hiding those incredibly well-developed arms.
- Dollhouse has a subtle example in "Briar Rose" that pays off in a major way a few minutes later.
- Jack Hodgins on Bones is all geek, but in the first season Christmas episode he takes off his shirt and is very buff indeed.
- In Stargate SG-1, Daniel Jackson wears baggy shirts for the first few seasons of the series and fit the stereotypical nerd profile, but later on he Took a Level in Badass and gets to show off some impressive biceps.
- Jimmy Palmer from NCIS is revealed in season 9 to have a great set of abs. To Abby, and even Gibbs comments.
- Solonius from Spartacus: Blood and Sand looks like a typical spoiled, scrawny aristocrat. In his final episode, he's sentenced to fight in the Gladiator Games, and he's revealed to be incredibly ripped.
- Dr Martin Dear in Green Wing, as we see when he poses for a life drawing class.
- Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor — although he's less buff than solid and sinewy, there's no way you'd know underneath sixteen feet of garter stitch and layers and layers of Regency clothing. This is why "The Deadly Assassin" gives him a scene where he's dressed only in slim-cut trousers and a Mr. Darcy shirt and has him get soaking wet during a fight scene.
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys:
- In-universe, Atalanta in "Let the Games Begin". She is wearing a dress until she challenges her nephew to arm-wrestling. Her nephew is in shock when he sees how buff she is.
- Another in-universe example in "If I Had a Hammer...". Atalanta is again in a dress, until she gets involved in a fight. After the fight (where her dress is torn off), her boyfriend left her as he had no idea how buff she was.
- In the first episode of Lois & Clark, Lois accidentally walks in on Clark shirtless in the bathroom at his apartment. Needless to say, she was surprised at what she saw. Even more so when she goes to get a drink out of his fridge and finds it's filled to the brim with junk food. She later asks him how he's able to eat like an eight-year-old and still look like "Mr. Hard-Body".
- Early on in Arrow, Roy Harper tells Thea that he considers Oliver to be "a bit of a wimp". Nobody would accuse Stephen Amell of looking overweight or unfit, but his 'civilian' attire at this point seems to consist entirely of suits, which, as discussed in the Real Life section below, can conceal the finer details of a man's physique pretty well.
- Mass Effect 2 gives the male Shepard a drastically different physique depending on what he's wearing. Just compare his arms in the default attire◊ to the "Roughneck"◊ version.
- Soul Series: When not busy eviscerating anyone on the planet who's come into contact with a particular sword, Ivy Valentine wears a Tudor gown and passes for a noblewoman.
- In the Yakuza series, characters of seemingly average builds often wear suits that hide incredibly muscular physiques that they only reveal when they rip it all off.
- In the Lowroad Comics strip Giselle, this is taken to absurdity with the Butler, who's usually a small, scrawny imp, revealing a statuesque physique on the beach.
- Wren from White Noise has a thin, lanky build and looks pretty scrawny. In the early strips he looks like a full-blown Noodle Person. (He's also a long-haired Bishōnen, so he looks downright girly.) But when we see him shirtless, he's ripped.
- The Simpsons:
- Ned Flanders, Homer's fundamentally religious Christian neighbor and do-gooder, wears a sweater that hides his comically well-developed body, much to Homer's envy. Although "Envy" may not be quite the name of the deadly sin you're looking for here.
- Groundskeeper Willie's physique looks a bit like Popeye's, with large forearms and an otherwise unexceptional upper body, but whenever he removes his shirt, he's muscled like a He-Man doll.
- When the Comic Book Guy starts vandalizing a competing comic book store in a fit of rage, Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman and Dan Clowes proceed to rip off their shirts and reveal that they have the physiques of superheroes.
- Parodied in an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, where SpongeBob and Patrick compete against each other in the Fry Cook Olympics, and they both rip off their shirts to reveal Herculean bodies for a wrestling competition. Patrick had to do this twice because he was somehow wearing a business suit underneath. This is just for a one-time joke, of course; Patrick is otherwise always shirtless and overweight, while SpongeBob himself has trouble lifting even a barbell made out of teddy bears.
- The lawyer from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack who takes up Flapjack as an apprentice. Captain K'nuckles challenges him to a boxing fight in order to get Flapjack back, but when he takes off his business suit, not only does he show lots of muscle, but he grows in height as well! (He also puts on a fake mustache to look more like an old-fashioned bodybuilder.)
- One female example is Clara's sister Bleh in Drawn Together. She's severely mentally challenged, wears a helmet and heavy clothing, and appears to have cerebral palsy, but when she puts on a bikini, she looks like a (cross-eyed) Playboy model.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Bumi, the King of Omashu looks like a harmless, hunched-over old man wearing an obnoxiously ornate outfit. But when Aang chooses to challenge him to save his friends, he throws off his robes and reveals a frighteningly ripped old man.
- Iroh, when put into prison, wore a ragged cape covering his body at all times and acted like he had lost his marbles to confuse the warden. In reality, he had been training and preparing for his escape on the day of the black sun, and below his clothes, he was hiding his impressively ripped abs.
- A variation on this: in the episode "Raging Bender", Bender constantly annoys a taller, lankier robot with an innocent-sounding voice during a showing at the movie theater, causing him to start a fight with him. Trouble is, the robot proceeds to sport several pounds of metal on his body, turning him into his alter-ego: famous robot wrestler "The Masked Unit".
- In "Parasites Lost", Fry is infested with alien worms that make him both smarter and more physically fit. When called to defend Leela's honor, he rips off his shirt to reveal a nonsensically muscular physique. However, before and after the infestation he looks more like you would expect.
- Metalocalypse — childlike Toki is seen to be quite fit, in spite of the dissipated lifestyle he and his bandmates live.
- Incredibly zig-zagged in the Daffy Duck vehicle Stupor Duck. His Cluck Trent is Daffy in a suit and hat; his Stupor Duck is Daffy in a Superman outfit with the simple embellishment of shoulder brace that makes him look broad and powerful.
- Mighty Mouse: In the Bakshi series, Mighty Mouse's alter ego of Mike Mouse has all the hero's physical features, all under the guise of a factory worker's uniform and hat. His superhero uniform's sleeves are still visible, so it's a wonder that Pearl hadn't caught on by then.
- Marquess from Mike Tyson Mysteries is a foppish ghost who looks like he'd be scrawny, but is totally ripped under his 19th-century clothes.
- Actor/comedian Chris Elliott has made a career out of playing semi-unattractive pathetic losers who, at best, end up as the comic relief sidekick and at worst are the constant target of abuse from everyone around them. In these roles he wears a lot of baggy sweatshirts and other loose clothing out of necessity. Turns out that Elliot, among other things, is a Real Life weightlifting fanatic and has a body that looks like it's made out of cast iron.
- The physical demands of acting in general means many actors are often more physically fit than they might appear.
- Catch a professional or amateur fighter from the lighter weight classes, a cop or federal agent, a member of the armed services, a college or pro athlete, or a seasoned martial artist in their street clothes and there's a good chance you'll see this trope in action.
- An extreme example is mixed martial artist Roxanne Modeferri, who looks like a nice, nerdy girl and certainly comes off as one when she quotes the Jedi Code and cites the Power Rangers as her inspiration. She's one of the top ju-jitsu artists in the world, and if pitted against most men, she'd tear their arms off and walk away with them.
- Craig Walsh-Wrightson, the guy who played Solonius in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, surprised everybody in the studio when he removed his shirt and revealed his well-chiseled physique.
- A frequent example of such an outfit: The men's business suit (collared shirt, jacket, tie) was and is specifically designed to disguise a multitude of sins, and as such, also disguises a multitude of virtues (the three piece suit, which adds a vest, goes even further in both).