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Empty Piles of Clothing

Stumbling across a discarded pile of empty clothing is a bad thing in Fiction.

After all, those clothes used to belong to somebody, and people don't just ... decide to take off and leave their clothes behind on a regular basis. (Sure, Naked People Are Funny, but let's be serious here.) Therefore, discovering a pile of uninhabited clothing is a definite clue that something ... unnatural happened to its owner. The cause may be anything (disintegration, a Shrink Ray, Baleful Polymorph, Caught Up in the Rapture etc.) but for this trope to play, an onscreen character, the audience - or both - must be less than certain about the how. The Foreshadowing goes double if the clothing is ripped, torn, or otherwise provides forensic clues about what might have happened to them.

This can be considered a combination of No Body Left Behind and the inversion of Magic Pants: For example, if a character was subjected to a transformation into some kind of monster (say, a werewolf), they may have had to rip and shred their own clothing off during the process (unless the process did this all by itself). If the owner's companions should stumble across this monster standing near an empty pile of their friend's shredded clothing, they might mistakenly assume that the monster killed the person (unaware that said monster is that person).

Compare Skeleton Crew or Smoldering Shoes, which are similar visual hints that something ominous has happened to a character.

In the event that the owner was merely teleported somewhere else and is otherwise fine (sans clothing, that is), see Naked on Arrival. If the audience and characters onscreen see exactly what happens to cause a set of empty clothes, see Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing.

If Played for Laughs and the character is otherwise fine, it's Right Out of My Clothes.

Notice: As a DEATH TROPE (sometimes), there can be SPOILERS here. Beware!


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Lily CAT, a flesh-absorbing virus leaves only clothing behind after it assimilates crew members on board the ship.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, a whole city full of empty clothes is a sure sign that Cell has been feeding.
  • Kirihara in Darker Than Black followed an agent she saw at the scene where she didn't expect him, and found his clothes. The next thing she saw was a chair with another set of clothes "sitting" on it, with sleeves on armpads. It was a case of perve-portation, but she didn't know this at the time.
  • Used in Fullmetal Alchemist when Alphonse Elric's body is destroyed when he and his brother Edward attempt human transmutation. When Edward sees Al's clothes on the floor empty he knows his little experiment has truly Gone Horribly Wrong.
  • In Bleach's "Turn Back the Pendulum" arc, the ninth division knows that something terrible befell the ten Soul Reapers sent to investigate a string of disappearances when they find ten loose uniforms that were removed without being untied.
  • In S-CRY-ed, Scheris Adjani attempts to save her love interest by using her powers, which drains her life force. It happens off screen, but when he wakes up, all he finds are her clothes.
  • Combined with No Body Left Behind in Ranma : when Saffron is absorbing everything in range during his metamorphosis, Akane tries to shut off the magical water he needs by closing the Phoenix Tap. Unfortunately, the heat-based Kinjakan, a weapon used to open the device, instantly disintegrates anything that touches it while water is running through the tap. So Akane manages to shut the tap off, Ranma screams at her to run and — after a flash of light, Akane's empty clothes flutter to the ground. It turns out that she had only been magically dehydrated into the size of a doll, and was still inside those clothes, but pretty much everyone had a Heroic BSOD until they found out they could still save her.
  • In SHUFFLE! Memories ep 12, practically the whole group is shrunk, one by one while on a cruise ship, leaving behind their swimsuits. This happens offscreen and the characters and audience are both left in the dark as to what has happened. The characters' version of "something ominous having happened" seems to amount to one disappeared character having sex with another.
  • When Tokiko was shrunk down to seven inches high in Busou Renkin, her clothes were left behind. Until she got back to normal, she wore bandages, then doll clothes. Also the first indication that Magic Pants are not a thing in this verse.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Chick Tract "Last Generation," this happens to the people who ascend in the Rapture.
  • X-Men: The Hidden Years # 1 "Once More the Savage Land": Marvel Girl is said to have passed onto the land of the dead, showing only her empty costume lying across a table.
  • The cover of DC Comics' Legends issue 5 has Captain Marvel standing amidst a pile of empty superhero clothes.
  • In one of the stories of Superman that took place during the Millennium crossover, Green Lantern Hal Jordan found empty piles of clothing left behind by the Guardians Of The Universe and the Zamarons when they were using their power to hide from the Manhunter Highmaster.
  • The new 52 Supergirl #23 has Supergirl infected with Kryptonite poisoning. Cyborg Superman plans to use her flesh as a building block to rebuild himself. He uses a machine that totally disintegrates Supergirl's body, 1) to scrub the poison in her system, 2) to analyze her form so he can remake his. The process leaves her empty costume crumpled in a heap on the floor.

    Films — Animation 
  • Tangled: Happens to Mother Gothel at the end, as a result of Flynn finally cutting Rapunzel's hair.
  • Subverted in Shrek 2 : After King Harold shields Fiona from one of the Fairy Godmother's spells, his suit of armor seems to be the only thing left of him... Until he comes out of the armor, in his original frog form, and reveals the truth about that to the heroes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the most recent Narnia film (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), Edmund and Caspian find Eustace's smoldering clothes and assume something terrible's happened to him. It has, though not what they expect.
  • Another variant in Night of the Comet. After almost everyone on Earth goes outside to look at a comet, their bodies are reduced to a red dust, leaving their clothes scattered on the ground with the dust spilling out of them.
  • In the film Vanishing on 7th Street, during a brief power failure, just about everyone in the city vanishes, leaving only their clothes.
  • In the film The H-Man, there is a radioactive blob going around absorbing people until only their clothes are left.
  • In the film called The Moment After, the beginning scenes show signs of the recent "rapture" event, showing piles of empty clothes littering the street and homes.
  • In the movie Troll 2, a girl drinks a potion from a woman pretending to help. It turns out that the woman is in league with the goblins and the potion given to the girl slowly melts her into slime. You have to look close but you can see her clothes laying in the puddle of green slime before the goblins come to eat her.
  • In Daddy Day Care, the guys panic when they find Tony's empty Flash costume. In homage to this trope's prevalence in science fiction, uber-nerd Marvin even worries that he's been vaporized. Turns out he just doesn't want to be Flash anymore. He wants to be Tony.
  • In the first movie in the Apocalypse film series, when the Rapture takes place, believers in Christ leave behind empty piles of neatly folded clothing.
  • When the cult leader in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is killed, his body disappears leaving only his clothes behind. This makes the main character question if he truly is dead.
  • In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, one of the trio's completely missing except for his neatly-arranged clothing (and a toad), leading the other two to believe he's been turned into one.
  • In the movie Rapture-palooza, at the beginning, people are at the bowling alley but the rapture took place. During the opening credits, clothes are falling at slow motion because the people are raptured. Only a few remain in the bowling alley, but piles of clothes are in the place where people once stood.
  • In Star Wars A New Hope, Ben Kenobi's cloak is left behind when he is struck down by Vader and becomes a Force ghost.

    Literature 
  • Used in Left Behind and other "Rapture" stories to indicate that the person in question has been taken by the Lord. Depending on the skill of the writer, this can still be pretty terrifying.
    • Subverted in The Rapture of Canaan. In a religious community, everyone believes that the narrator's illegitimate son is the second coming of Christ and thus figure that the Rapture is on the way. One morning, they find the leader of the community's pile of clothes lying around, leading the more extreme members to assume that the Rapture happened and they weren't taken because they'd sinned. Most of the other members assumed that their leader (who had recently had a stroke) just went crazy and ran off with no clothes on. Turns out, that's just what happened.
  • Used in The Time Traveler's Wife, when the title time traveler... time travels.
  • In one of Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael murder mysteries, a monk who was standing an all-night vigil is found in the morning to have vanished, leaving only his clothes behind, and many of his fellow monks assume he's been bodily assumed into heaven. The truth is rather more mundane.
  • Averted somewhat weirdly in Stephen King's The Langoliers, where most of the passangers disappear from a plane when it crosses a time rip, and they leave behind watches, glasses, jewels, even surgical pins — but not clothes. One character lampshades this, saying: "What was taken and what was left behind [...] doesn't seem to have a lot of rhyme or reason to it."
  • In the Stephen King book series The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger — Little Sisters of Eluria, one of the sisters betrays the others to help Roland, The Lone Gunslinger. After they have gotten away and believe they are safe, they rest in a cave. But during the sleep, Roland hears tiny bells and awakes to find only the empty clothes of the woman who helped him. She was turned into a bunch of tiny bugs by the sound of the bell.
  • In the book Blood Music by Greg Bear, a strange infection ravages North America that totally and complete destroys the human (in most cases almost instantly), leaving only their clothes.
  • In the William Essex novel Slime, the living, flesh-eating toxic waste dissolves and consumes its victims, leaving nothing but their empty clothes behind, without any blood or even any residue of itself.
  • Slimer by Harry Adam Knight concerns a mutated great white shark which absorbs the minds and bodies of its victims (similar to Phantoms) leaving behind just their slime-drenched empty clothing.
  • The Clone has an interesting variation. The titular Blob Monster is an Extreme Omnivore that absorbs both living and nonliving matter, but there are certain types of fabrics it won't eat. Nylon, for example, will get incorporated into the "clone" mass, but cotton will be rejected. Regardless, there's always some kind of empty clothes left after it gets done with someone.
  • Eppon the weapon in Galaxy of Fear: Army of Terror kills by turning peoples' bodies to gel and absorbing them, leaving their clothes and weapons to fall empty. Full armor and no exposed skin seems to help, but that's not its only attack.
  • In one of The Great Merlini short stories, breaking into the locked room reveals no gun, one shot corpse, and one unconscious nude man — all his clothing, including underwear, is laying on the ground as if he'd phased through it. The deceased was a UFO believer, but it wasn't aliens, it was an alibi. It was pretty easy to prove the now-revived nude man wasn't smuggling a gun out of the room.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Twilight Zone
    • In "Long Live Walter Jameson", an immortal man gets shot and No Immortal Inertia kicks in, reducing him to a pile of dust in an otherwise empty suit on the floor, then discovered by a main character.
  • Star Trek: "The Omega Glory" is a subversion as the crew's uniforms weren't empty: they still had crystals (the remains of the crew's bodies) inside of them.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • In "The Best of Both Worlds", after Picard is captured by the Borg, the search party looking for him on the Borg cube initially find only his uniform in a locker. They shortly thereafter find out he's been turned into a Borg himself.
  • Doctor Who
    • In the episode "Utopia", a crewman is vaporised by Particle of the Week Radiation, leaving only his clothes behind.
    • In the episode "Partners in Crime", little creatures called Adipose are born from the fat of those who have been taking the enzyme used to create them. In a pinch, however, the Adipose can convert all types of cell tissue, resulting in this trope.
  • The X-Files episode "Agua Mala" has wet piles of clothes left behind as the only trace of victims of a water-born parasite. This is because the parasite converts the human body to water in order to further its reproductive cycle.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • When they Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, people in the series leave their clothes behind.
    • This is also what is left after an attack with the Dakara Superweapon set to destroy living matter, in season 10 episode "Conterstrike".
  • Charmed : In the episode "How to Make a Quilt Out of Americans", 3 elderly ladies want to regain their youth, but their spell backfires and instead of restoring their youth, the villain turns them into dust, resulting in this trope.
  • Parodied in Glee when Kitty punishes Dottie Kazatori. She has her Left Behind Club leave piles of clothing all over the meeting room right after Dottie leaves, and when she returns she thinks the rapture has occurred.

    Commercials 
  • Happens in a Koff Beer commercial called "cinderella," where a man walks up to the bar looking confused and carrying a single shoe. He sees a beautiful woman across the bar. She runs out and he chases her. She runs down an alley about half way. For some odd reason that isn't explained, she disappears in a flash of light. Her dress falls to the pavement covering one of her shoes. He picks up the exposed one and finds himself walking up to the bar looking confused and carrying a single shoe. It's a loop!

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, mysteriously abandoned armor is often the only warning you'll get that the room its in is filled with a nigh-invisible, flesh-dissolving gelatinous cube.

    Video Games 
  • Rule of Rose: Empty piles of clothes are shown in the background during the Stray Dog bossfight. It's not really explained, but the prevalent fan theory is that Jennifer is mentally censoring out the corpses that should be inhabiting them. It's a justification for the practical reason that showing dead children in a video game, a console game at any rate, is a big no-no. The game pretty masterfully avoids showing almost any of the horrible things kids go through in the story, arguably making it feel a lot worse than if they just said and showed things straight up.
  • In the game Missing on Lost Island you and your girlfriend are attacked by goons. During the fight your girlfriend is shot by a strange ray gun and vanishes leaving only her clothes. Soon after, you are also shot with the same gun.
  • Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy: invoked in one of the mysteries of the game. In the village of Hoogland, young girls are regularly "wed", or rather sacrificed, to a wind deity so as to calm its wrath down and ease the winds and tornadoes that plague the village. The girls are said to transform into a breeze upon their sacrifice, as evidenced by their empty clothes being left in the sacrificial chapel. It's actually a hoax pulled off by the women of the village: by going through a secret passage, they are able to save the girls before they are actually sacrificed. They behind their clothes to fool the men into thinking the deity accepted the sacrifice.
  • In this text-based game The Forgotten Nightmare there are piles of empty clothing in various places in the game. The disappeared people seem to be in various stages of activity. The mystery is even more creepy because there are many people still present and walking around. It becomes apparent that the people have been taken in the Rapture. The Protagonist was left behind, and events from the book of Revelation seem to be happening...

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In the American Dad! Christmas episode "For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls", the Smiths dig up Santa's corpse to find that Santa's body has vanished, leaving the iconic Santa outfit behind. Turns out he was magically transported to the North Pole to regenerate.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, Spongebob ends up leaving his clothes behind on a plant when hiding, and Sandy thinks that he's gone missing ("Spongebob always folds his clothes nearly before running around in the nude!"). Naturally, when she gets the town to look for him, Hilarity Ensues.
  • Discussed in Cyberchase. An early episode had the Cybersquad go to a cybersite where everything was scaled ten times bigger than them. At first they believe they had shrunk, but Inez says this trope would have happened if they really shrank.
  • Happens to the clothes of the other members of the gang. in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated when Fred appears to have ended up in a Bad Future. It's part of the fake movie set set up by his parents.

    Real Life 
  • When Harold Camping declared that the Rapture would happen on the 21 of May 2011, a project on 4chan encouraged posters to get up early and lay out empty piles of clothes (and/or Smoldering Shoes) to freak people out.


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