"It was a mermaid. She was beautiful. Hair covering her breasts... every fucking time...."
— Rhys Darby
A woman is topless or fully naked, and the writers don't want to (or can't) stick an object into the scene to cover her up. Fortunately, her hair is just long and thick enough to cover what needs to be covered and preserve her modesty.
A form of Scenery Censor. Potential source of Fetish Fuel. Related to the Theiss Titillation Theory (after all, what will happen if she turns her head just a little, or the breeze just happens to pick up...?)
Named for Lady Godiva, a noblewoman who rode a horse through the city of Coventry to protest an oppressive tax. Legend says she rode naked: whether "naked" means nude or "stripped" in some metaphorical sense is academic, since most artistic representations show the lady garbed only in her flowing hair.
Mermaids are depicted like this all the time, if the writer thinks that using a Seashell Bra is unrealistic (which is true, pretty much).
The rare male examples usually include a beard long enough to cover the naughty bits, and generally involve either old hermits or shipwrecked castaways.
Not to be confused with Peek-A-Bangs. Often overlaps with Rapunzel Hair. May combine with Hand or Object Underwear.
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Several female celebrities who pose naked in PETA's anti-fur ads do this.
Kikyo soon after her resurrection. Not so much in the manga, though...
This is a trait of any Ken Akamatsu manga (Love Hina, Mahou Sensei Negima!, etc.). The character's hair will usually cover where her nipples would be. Strangely, sometimes his characters DO have nipples when wearing clothes or hair. They just disappear when exposed. There is a rare example of it happening with braids in chapter 251 of Mahou Sensei Negima!
Happens on and off in Ranma ½, mostly with Shampoo. This isn't surprising, considering how much nudity is in the series. What is surprising is that it's Shampoo, the least inhibited and most sexually aggressive of the female cast (sometimes even beyond the not-so-Innocent FanserviceGender Bender) who is allowed this modesty. On the other hand, among the girls that play Ms. Fanservice most often (mostly female Ranma and Akane), Shampoo is the only one with hair long enough to pull it off (at least until a dead-ringer for female Ranma, without her hair in a pigtail, shows up for a couple of pages).
Ryoko of does this quite often when depicted in the bath. Every so often, they'd actually show her chest completely, and she just wouldn't have nipples. Ryoko's hair isn't even all that long, especially compared to some other characters in Tenchi Muyo!, but she has rather conveniently-placed long sidelocks that fall right on top of her breasts.
Averted in the DVD version, at least, of the Tenchi Muyo! OVA, in which Ryoko's nipples are indeed visible in scenes in which she is naked.
To Love-Ru makes full use of this, with the amazing frequency the girls in its cast have to get naked. These scenes were dialed back (dialed up?) in the tankobon, as well as the manga's relaunchTo Love Ru Darkness where if you go one chapter without seeing a nipple something is amiss.
In the AIR OVA, Uraha actually advises Kanna to use this.
While Gao Gai Gar's regular series had very little fanservice, being meant for kids, apparently someone's mind changed when it came time to make the OVA conclusion, and both Mikoto and Swan are depicted nude with Godiva Hair at least once each. There's a lot more Gainaxing and clothing damage, as well.
In the Fruits Basket manga, Rin's nipple is just barely covered by a thin strand of hair.
Miaka and Soi have Godiva Hair in Fushigi Yuugi, and in the former's case, we've also got Godiva Vines. Yui, whose hair is much shorter than the other two, is less lucky.
Used a lot in Shattered Angels. Since female characters are often naked in the anime and seem incapable of bathing themselves (they require another naked female to bathe them), their front fringes serve the useful purpose of barely covering their nipples.
Used in the anime adaptation of The Little Mermaid, as Marina and her sisters are topless, although Marina's nipples can be seen at some points. The rest of the mer-race avert this apparently, since in one scene that shows not only Marina and her sisters, but their father, grandmother, and various members of the mer-court, Marina and her sisters are the only mermaids topless while every other mermaid and merman wears some kind of robe that has an open slit for the tail and fins to stick out of.
Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt takes this to rather goofy extremes, since Panty uses her underwear as a weapon. So she fights several battles while bottomless, and somehow her hair manages to keep everything censored.
Played for horror in episode 24 of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Asuka is lying in a destroyed house's bathtub naked after having crossed the Despair Event Horizon and ran away from home. Her breasts are covered by hair while the lower regions are submerged in murky/bloody water (it's implied that she slit her wrists).
Taken to an absurd level in the Grenadier manga. Someone tries to sabotage Rushuna's participation in a swimming contest by giving her a dissolving bikini. She still wins, and as she gets out of the water we see she's tied her hair into an improvised sling bikini.
In Katanagatari, considering the sheer length of Togame's hair, it's actually harder to not use this trope when she's naked.
In the series Marine Boy, the mermaid Neptina wears nothing; her breasts are concealed by her long hair.
In the Sailor Moon R movie, there is the Kisenian Flower villainess whose hair perpetually covers her otherwise naked chest.
The Instructor in the The Animatrix segment The Second Renaissance sports this.
The manga version of Neptunia: In one chapter, Nepgear, Rom, Ram and Uni are accidentally regressed into babies, so when they turn back to their normal ages, they're obviously naked. Fortunately, all of the girls' sensitive areas are hidden, including part of Uni's hair hiding her breasts.
Gunslinger Girl. Triela in a flashback when she first meets Hilshire in the hospital after having her traumatic memories wiped by the Social Welfare Agency. Something of a Fan Disservice moment as she's seriously underage, though her nudity is probably meant to portray her child's innocence, which is subverted as unknown to Hilshire she's been programmed as a cyborg killing machine.
In the original (unedited) version of Yu-Gi-Oh!, there are a few female monsters that are naked, covering themselves with their hair (like Water Omatics and Dreamsprite). The dub version covers them with swimsuits.
Older Than Steam: The famous 1486 painting The Birth of Venus is a strong early candidate for this trope, with the goddess Venus using her long hair to cover her lower self.
Pretty much every depiction of Eve in the past couple centuries.
Timmain in ElfQuest qualifies, when she's not being a wolf. From time to time, so does her polar counterpart Winnowill.
In the first issue of Secret Invasion, Reed Richards is performing an autopsy on the Skrull who'd posed as Elektra. An overhead shot gives a full view of her body, with a convenient light blocking her crotch and Godiva Hair over her breasts.
Parodied and lampshaded in the French comic book Trolls de Troy (a spin-off of Lanfeust): the (human) heroine is once changed by magic into a (nude) mermaid; the villain points out that she doesn't need any Seashell Bra, since it is a "genetic trait" of mermaids' hair to automatically cover their breasts. And it is actually always the case — even when she's hanging upside-down.
Also lampshaded somewhat in Superman Batman: one of The Maximums (an Ultimates parody) that Batman and Superman face is a parody of Enchantress named Godiva and she is depicted as nude except for her ridiculously long hair, which manages to keep her bits covered, even when she's fighting.
The Guardian of Keys in Thorgal appears wearing only this and a golden belt with an oversized buckle. Somewhat subverted later when some nude females do appear in the series. This is mostly due to the publishing in weekly format in Tintin, which was a catholic magazine. The restrictions were dropped when it switched to hardcover albums.
Referenced in Exiles. During a discussion about nudity, Morph turns into Godiva herself, horse and hair and all.
Venus from Agents Of Atlas, being rather... liberal, spends a few issues like this, but eventually puts on some clothes to "help blend in with the rest of the team".
One issue of Wonder Woman opens with Diana waking up to Ares paying her a visit in her bedroom (no, not like that), and because Diana apparently sleeps au natural she only has Godiva Hair covering her. Oddly, despite having the God of War and major Jerkass Ares right in front of her, she doesn't make any attempts to cover up, though that could be her Amazonian upbringing.
Empowered also has long hair. Good for her, as often as her super-suit rips.
Teen Titans: Starfire uses this every so often, particularly when Dick Grayson discovers her in the shower.
Done in an issue of New Avengers as Wolverine corners Jessica Drew in the shower.
This happens in The Last Unicorn after the Unicorn turns into Princess Amalthea.
Peter Pan: One of the mermaids who live at Mermaid's Lagoon (more specifically, the redhaired one who is bathing at the start of the sequence the mermaids show up in) sports this. The others have either seashell or starfish bras, and there's one who uses a white flower necklace to cover her chest.
The Little Mermaid was going to use this, and did use it through the storyboarding and the initial pencil tests. It was only abandoned when the colour tests showed the concept to be unworkable without redesigning almost every underwater shot. Seashell Bra were used instead.
Australian swimming champion, Annette Kellerman in the 1916 film Daughter of the Gods. This caused a great deal of controversy at the time. The film is now lost and only publicity photos survive.
Subverted in The Wheel of Time, when one of the main characters is traveling through a rather rowdy festival and notices that a number of women attempting this don't have long enough hair to pull this off. We (obviously) don't get to see anything.
In H. Rider Haggard's She, She's hair is long enough and thick enough that it doesn't just cover her nipples, it covers everything. She fastens a belt around her hair and wears it like a dress.
The famous statue in Copenhagen, which is one of the city's main tourist attractions, noticeably does not. She has her hair in a braid on her back.
Played straight and made into a pun all at the same time in the Xanth series with Godiva Goblin. Her hair has a special talent of covering up exactly where it needs to in order to not violate the "Adult Conspiracy" (who keep children from learning the secret of "Summoning the Stork").
Appears briefly in The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose by Mary Hooper. Eliza is dressed as a mermaid for the Midsummer Fair in London and wears her hair like this.
Subverted in Everworld, as Christopher discovers that the mermaids' attempts to use Godiva Hair are not always successful.
An early David Copperfield magic special included a trick in which he removed a bikini top from a poster of Loni Anderson. Loni (on stage) then removed the hair clips from her poster, causing a Godiva effect on the poster.
iCarly: A non-nude version was used for Sam in "iQuit iCarly", when she wore a purple skintight bodysuit, as part of their usual attempt to hide the fact that the actress is a female and actually has boobs now. Carly however, wasn't required to do this.
Apparently averted in The Vicar Of Dibley, when Gerri asks what did they do for village fête the year before her arrival in the village...
Owen: We reenacted Lady Godiva; everyone was so disappointed. Gerri: What, Lady Godiva in a body-stocking? Frank: No! She was completly nude! Gerri: Wow! Cropley: Well, I didn't have time to grow my hair long enough, you see...
The first elimination challenge of season three of Shear Genius was ALL about this trope.
The music video for Alanis Morissette's "Thank U" shows her completely nude, with her long hair covering her breasts (her lower nudity was digitally blurred out). According to Pop-Up Videos, the lower nudity was already covered with a latex codpiece, but that just wasn't enough for the censors to let slide.
The cover of Ruslana's Wild Dances album has her topless, wearing only gauntlets and a rag for a skirt. Naturally, her long, black hair is coving her breast (in fact, you have to look pretty hard to even figure out that she is indeed topless). Probably done to go with the whole "wild" theme.
Myths & Religion
The trope is named for Lady Godiva, the medieval English noblewoman who, according to legend, rode naked on a white horse through Coventry, England, to get rid of the unfair taxes posed by her family. Many paintings of her portray her with very long hair, covering her naughty bits as per the trope. But the paintings made in medieval times portray her with more graphic nudity and normal, shoulder-length hair, with the Godiva Hair paintings not coming around until centuries later. So the idea that Lady Godiva really was covered in this way is clearly a product of Bowdlerization.
Some scholars have speculated that there might have been some confusion in the telling of the tale — that the original story might have said she went out without her clothes, that is, dressed in a shift like a religious penitent, rather than naked (which would not make much sense as a protest). On the other hand, there's little historical evidence to support the story having happened at all, naked or not.
Many depictions of the Biblical figure Eve, particularly in illustrated childrens' Bibles, use this.
Also in depictions of Saints; Mary Magdalene is sometimes shown nude with Godiva Hair.
ESPN the Magazine recently ran a Body Issue featuring athletes of both genders in nothing or almost nothing along with articles on what makes some people genetically inclined to be successful athletes. Not surprisingly, two of the female athletes had this.
Cindy Margolis often used this.
The cover of F.A.T.A.L. has this for just the boobs of the random slave-woman on the cover. If you saw said cover and didn't come to a few conclusions about this game's attitude towards women, you have no-one to blame but yourself.
The Rusalka in Quest for Glory IV — even teasing the players when a lock of her hair is needed as one of the steps to free her. Naturally, it apparently comes from the back of her head. She does make a crack about how she would look with short hair.
In Riviera: The Promised Land, there's a pair of bath scenes that use Godiva Hair to cover up female characters — at least, those that have enough hair. The ones that don't are covered up in other strategic ways.
Eve in Painkiller. Her hair still does this, even after her assets are covered up in the expansion. When the camera is at the right angle, this trope fails to achieve its goal.
Jacqli/Mir's Miros costume in Ar Tonelico 2 has this. The conversation point about the costume focuses on that aspect.
A good number of female demons/Personas in the Shin Megami Tensei series; while the hand-drawn artwork in their profiles shows them in various (and detailed) stages of nudity, the actual character models have seemingly glued their hair to their chest.
In the intro movie of Cupid, Venus appears with godiva hair.
The dryad Morenn in the American release of The Witcher uses Godiva Hair and a loincloth to satisfy the censors. (These, along with other censoring added to the American release, can be removed with the Director's Cut patch if one is so inclined.)
The Japanese and European versions of Robo Aleste have this in the cutscene with Astaros bathing.
Chaos Witch Quelaag, one of the bosses from Dark Souls, is a naked woman/lava spider hybrid rocking the Godiva Hair. Her sister has it too, but it's less noticeable.
Schlock Mercenary: Several times in The Sharp End of the Stick this is used to hide Elf's breasts, after the Toughs captured by Shufgar were stripped of their clothing, and crash-landed in their escape.
Sometimes Mr. Natural walks around naked, except his beard covers up the rude bits — but not the back.
Also seen in one album of the French comic bookMarine, with an old naked hermit living under the sea.
Films — Live-Action
The hermit who's taken a vow of silence (played by Terry Jones) in Monty Pythons Life Of Brian. Like Mr. Natural mentioned above, it only covers his front.
Shel Silverstein once wrote a poem about a long-bearded nudist who takes advantage of this trope. The illustration is very much not fanservice.
In Dungeons & Dragons, the wild dwarves do not wear clothing, instead allowing their long beards (and copious body hair) to cover them. The one in the illustration appears to be wearing furry pants. He's not.