Dressing to Die

"I came for a dress, like I said. But I lied. It was a dress to die in. It matters how things are seen. You make clothes that make the dark bits in me matter. If I'm in this then I will mean something."

When a character knows they are going to die - possibly by suicide, execution, going to fight with terrible odds, or a case of Your Days Are Numbered - they may prepare to Face Death with Dignity by laying out clothes or finding a nice outfit to die in.

Sometimes this trope can be used as foreshadowing that a character is going to die, or as The Reveal for why a character was dressed more nicely than normal after they're found.

The show may also use this, giving a character new clothes or a significant clothing change just before they're going to die, even if the character does not do it intentionally, to invoke the trope.

Part of dressing to die, if the death is a suicide, is commonly testing a belt around the knuckles. A common version of this trope is for a former or current member of the military to get out their dress uniform; likewise, those in law enforcement, superheroes, athletes, and others with a similar uniform often will don it before suicide.

Super Trope to Barefoot Suicide. Often leads to Frozen Fashion Sense when the character was from the past and gets resurrected.

Compare and contrast Bring My Red Jacket, Killer Outfit, White Shirt of Death.

Death Trope, so unmarked spoilers ahead.


Examples:

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    Comics 
  • The French comic Le Vent des Dieux, set in feudal Japan, has one samurai always go to battle in his finest Bling of War, as to wear any less would dishonor his enemy. He ends up ready to die standing against the enemy's entire cavalry force, who proceed to ignore him entirely, made even worse when the lord denies him the right to commit seppuku.

    Fan Works 
  • A Judge Dee Fan Sequel uses this as a plot point. An old general assigned to a remote and derelict portion of the Great Wall under attack from barbarian hordes is found dead, dressed in his finest robes. It's believed he committed suicide out of duty, having survived the disastrous expedition against the barbarians, but the judge's wife notices the robes are tied the way a woman would, giving the judge a clue to the murder.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In The Family, Belle takes a white dress, implied to be her mother's wedding dress, and her mother's pearls when she goes to kill herself. She doesn't end up jumping, but the intent is there, as she is heartbroken after the man she gave her virginity to (and sex is Serious Business to her) says that it was nice but doesn't want to be with her over the phone after avoiding her. Her family about to be relocated and her realising she's never going to have any sort of quiet life she wants is also a contributing factor.
  • In Titanic some of the men are seen returning to their rooms to change into their formal suits when they realise that they're going down with the ship. The captain also goes to put on his Captain's hat and jacket, parts of the official regalia not usually worn when actually captaining a ship but for ceremonial purposes, when he chooses to stay on the bridge.
  • In A Few Good Men, Lt. Col. Markinson donned his full dress Marine uniform before he Ate His Gun.
  • In The Guard, Sergeant Boyle puts on his full Dress Uniform before he heads out to face off the drug smugglers possibly single handedly, since the rest of the police force has been bought off by the drug dealers, so they intentionally guarding the wrong docks.
  • Arizona Dream: Grace, who has been threatening suicide all through the movie, finally leaves her mother's birthday party to go to her room and change up. She dresses in almost bridal fashion in a frilly white sundress and floppy white hat, before heading out into the stormy night with her gun. The rest of the household runs after her, but are too late.
  • In The Shawshank Redemption Brooks puts on his suit and straightens his tie in the mirror before hanging himself.
  • At the end of The Dark Knight Rises the corrupt Deputy Commissioner Foley, who's been focused solely on career advancement and taking Gordon's spot as Commissioner for the first half of the movie and then hiding from danger for most of the second, leads a desperate attempt to take back Gotham City from Bane, The League of Shadows, and the army of crooks they have working for them. He deliberately dresses in full dress uniform, and does die in the course of the fight.
  • Killshot: The old man whom mafia hitman Blackbird kills in the opening decides that he'd rather die with some decent clothes when Blackbird catches him walking out of the shower.
  • A very subtle, subtextual example in The World's End, as confirmed by Word of God, is that Gary King dresses in his high school clothes for this reason. He drags his friends along on One Last Field Trip to recreate the last time in his life that he felt things were going well, with the implication that afterward he intends to kill himself.
  • In Gran Torino, Walt gets himself fitted for a suit specifically because he knows he'll get murdered by the Hmong gangsters in a Thanatos Gambit/unintentional Mercy Kill.
  • In the film version of House of Sand and Fog, Colonel Behrani puts on his uniform before committing suicide.
  • In The Patriot, Maj. Villeneuve shows up for the film's climactic battle (against the numerically superior British forces) in a very fancy French uniform. When Benjamin Martin gives him a funny look, Villeneuve explains, "If I die, I will die well-dressed."
  • In Downfall, SS officer Hermann Fegelein is roused out of bed by armed soldiers and pulled out into the streets of Berlin. When the commander of the detachment orders him to halt and reaches for his gun, Fegelein hurriedly buttons his jacket and snaps to attention before being shot.
  • Scent of a Woman: Retired Lt. Col. Frank Slade gets dressed in his full uniform before he finally decides to kill himself. Charlie, a young man responsible for chaperoning him, convinces him to not kill himself.
  • The Lost Patrol: The sergeant has been stripped to the waist, as one might expect for a soldier in the Mesopotamian desert. But when he's the only one left—the rest of The Squad having been killed one by one by the Turks besieging their fortress—he puts on his full uniform.

    Literature 
  • In The Bible, Jezebel put on makeup and did up her hair before she was killed by the new king.
  • The Andromeda Strain. Almost everyone in the small town of Piedmont dies when the Andromeda Strain is released. However, some people go crazy and kill themselves instead of dying from the effects of the disease. One of these is William Arnold, who puts on his World War I U.S. Army uniform before shooting himself in the head.
  • In She Lover of Death, the title heroine, Columbina, chooses her best dress to commit a ritualistic suicide in, which she believes to be a "marriage" to Death itself (or "himself", as she prefers to word it).
  • Inverted in Newes from the Dead: Anne Green is a servant girl and walks to her execution in her undershirt, giving her cloak and gown to her mother even though it's freezing cold. The novel takes place in a time period when clothes were very expensive, so the decision makes sense from a practical point of view.

    Live Action Television 
  • M*A*S*H. In "The Army-Navy Game", an unexploded bomb lands in the middle of the compound; Klinger dons the suit he was drafted in, on the grounds that if they die when the bomb goes off, the way he wants people to see him as before their demise is, "Like a person with a nice suit." Though he does vow that if the bomb doesn't go off, he'll go back to wearing dresses.
  • On Glee, Dave Karofsky lies a suit on his bed and the next cut to him shows him wearing it and stepping up on a stool, preparing to hang himself. Possibly an example, too, is in the same episode when Quinn is, first, given her cheerleading uniform back and, then, has to go home to change into a bridesmaid dress, before being hit by a truck. However, both ultimately survive.
  • In an episode of Burn Notice, a police detective who has been corrupt but is trying to atone puts himself on a Suicide Mission to either bust the gangster who killed his partner or die in the attempt. So he says his final prayers just before stepping out into the neighborhood in full dress uniform and calling said gangster. His hope is that even if he fails, killing an officer in broad daylight will force the police to come down on the gangster.
  • Inverted to a degree during the final episode of Breaking Bad. Walt's trap for his final enemies, the Aryans, can only be pulled off if they think that he's desperate, penniless, and without any resources that could harm them, so he looks and dresses the part for his confrontation with them. Only when they've relaxed and gathered everyone that Walt wants to take out in one place does he unleashes More Dakka on them. The fact that he looks like crap is even commented on by Jack.
  • In Rome, once Cleopatra sees through Octavian's Faux Affably Evil persona and realizes that he intends to drag her off to Rome in chains to parade her in front of a mob and then murder her children, (particularly Cesarion, who is falsely believed to be the son of Julius Caesar) she has a brief breakdown. She then composes herself, gets dressed again in queenly attire before committing suicide, and makes sure to die sitting on her throne with her hand clasping the hand of Marc Antony's body.
  • In Being Human (US), Sally, after realizing that the body she returned to life in is going to die soon if she doesn't kill people, decides to Face Death with Dignity and become a ghost again rather than hurt anyone to stay alive. However, this time her friends help her pick out a good outfit to wear to her death (since that'll be what her ghost form will wear forever, and last time she was unfortunate enough to suffer a sudden death while wearing something rather boring).

    Music 
  • The suicidal protagonist of Hollywood Undead's "Bullet" references this.
    "I've never bought a suit before in my life but when you go to meet God you know you want to look nice."

    Theatre 
  • In The Saint of Bleecker Street, Carmela gives Annina her wedding dress for Taking the Veil after Annina, who is in the final stages of Victorian Novel Disease, tells her she probably won't live until the night.
  • Dahlia in the play McQueen has Lee make her a dress, wanting to look pretty when she dies though she doesn't tell him this. Though, she could be a figment of his imagination as a personification of his depression and so when he tries to save her life she asks him what he was doing with his belt when she came to get her dress, suggesting he should have known because he was doing the same/they are the same.

    Web Comics 

    Video Games 
  • In Spec Ops: The Line, Colonel Konrad commits suicide while wearing his dress uniform.
  • Played with in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, as when Snake goes to commit suicide during the game's ending, he's wearing a black suit and tie, very obviously dressing up for the occasion. However, this may have less to do with the attempt itself and more to do with his chosen location, the grave of Big Boss, as we see him wearing the same suit early in the game when he was there paying his respects.

    Web Video 
  • In Dark Dungeons, Marcie changes out of her Black Leaf costume and back into her normal "good girl" clothes before hanging herself.

    Western Animation 
  • In X-Men, during the "Dark Phoenix Saga", Jean Grey puts on her old Marvel Girl costume while preparing to be executed for her crimes as the Dark Phoenix.
  • On King of the Hill, Cotton puts on his old military dress uniform and all of his Bling of War in preparation to kill himself, but ultimately does not go through with it after DiDi, unaware of Cotton's depressed state, barges in just in time and forces him to watch Good Hank for a while since she's been with him all day and is exhausted. Though he eventually does kill himself in a much later episode, for entirely different reasons and while wearing a very not fancy hospital gown.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DressingToDie