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"Maybe you should put some shorts on or something, if you want to keep fighting evil today."
— The Bowler to the naked but now visible Invisible Boy in Mystery Men
Not all Invisibility methods are created equal. While most works Hand Wave away the problems with invisibility — being able to see being the main one — one specific problem frequently comes up. Namely: You may be able to become invisible, but that doesn't mean things you interact with (such as clothes) can.
This can be explained in multiple ways. Invisibility as a drug or innate ability may only affect the natural body, leaving clothing and other external objects out of luck. A person's original clothing may have turned invisible as well, but that's no guarantee that they will remain intact. A Literal Genie may make the person invisible, and just the person.
Ultimately, if this trope is in play, expect the Mundane Solution to come up — since no one (by definition) can see the invisible person, going around naked is an acceptable solution to being unable to make other things invisible. This can make using the power downright difficult, especially in less hospitable climates, or for more nefarious purposes — it's not easy to steal things when you can't interact with them.
This can also be downright hilarious, as the insinuation of nudity as well as the reactions to such is classic comedy. It can also be played equally dramatically — a person trapped in this state would be unable to interact with the outside world directly, outside of wearing a burqa or similar clothing all the time. There's also an inherent sexiness to the concept — many aversions of this trope are specifically used due the producers wanting to avoid risque situations.
In short: The Mundane Solution applied to specific types of Invisible Main Characters: those who, due to Rule of Funny, Drama, or Sexy, don't have invisible Magic Pants and consequently have to strip to make use of their power. A specific type of nudity as humor. Of course, expect the whole thing to wear off just a little bit too early. Depending on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, expect Exposed to the Elements (and other side effects of being naked and unseen outside) to come into play, or be outright ignored. This may also serve as a way of averting Right Through His Pants without showing anything the target audience may dislike.
It can be difficult to say what manner of invisibility is most "correct", because the question arises: what things count as part of an invisible person's body? At any given time you've got bacterial colonies whose members come and go, viral invaders being fought by your immune system, food being digested or excreted, dirt and dust falling on your skin, cells falling off your body, etc — there's no hard line in either direction. Whatever the source of the character's invisibility, the Required Secondary Powers that avert this particular trope may not be so "secondary" after all (especially if the invisibility takes a "psychic" form). It's an open question until science produces "real" invisibility (whatever that even means).
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Anime and Manga
In Translucent, Okouchi's embarrassing book of poetry is accidentally taken home by the main male character. She begs Shizuka to sneak into his house to steal it before he notices.
Ghost in the Shell had a type of camouflage — essentially invisible spandex — that couldn't be worn over anything and was ultra-skin tight. Once the series went more mainstream, the camo became "invisible clothing" as it had been in the manga.
In Tenshi Ni Narumon, Noelle's older sister Sara is invisible, and uses clothes and bandages to simulate visibility when needed. The trope in question was established in a later episode when, after everyone but protagonist Yuusuke started taking her for granted, she managed to regain visibility through sheer emotion... and flashed everyone in the area with her nudity. Fortunately, only her family were present, but her brother managed to comment how she'd grown a lot since he saw her last, before he passed out from nosebleed.
Done in Alabaster by the father of manga, Osamu Tezuka. The normally lethal invisibility ray hit Ami Ozawa while she was still in the womb, leaving her permanently invisible. Alabaster, the main villain, kidnaps her and breaks her will, and she helps him perform several jewelry heists by simply doing them naked. What finally causes her to do a full blown Face-Heel Turn, however, is the FBI agent raping her, then covering her in hideously colored paint stripes that she can't remove.
In Rumiko Takahashi's The Samurai, the titular samurai descendant is stalked by his rivals, twin female ninjas who only differ in that one Really Gets Around and the other Does Not Like Men. They make use of this type of invisibility spell in order to further their goal, but the hero's perverted friend figures out what's going on when he accidentally gropes an invisible breast. Just to compound things, it's the man-hater who's invisible. Cue beatings.
In Ichiban Ushiro No Daimaou, Kena Soga can turn invisible, (not that anyone knows that she can). However, since it's just her that turns invisible, it requires a lot of stripping or being caught naked after she materializes.
Bouquet in the anime adaptation of Blue Dragon has the same power and drawback as Kena above.
Lucy has to do this in a filler episode of Fairy Tail. The show being what it is, a group of children run into her on accident and proceed to prod her naked butt out of fascination. When she finally gets to the guild to ask for help Natsu, who finds her more intentionally, finds a much more standard area to grab her.
In an early chapter of Dr. Slump, Senbei turns himself (but not his clothes) invisible, then starts undressing . . . but decides to leave his underwear on, just in case. This results in a pair of floating boxer shorts running around the town.
An obscure manga titled Moonlight Exhibition features an invisible woman and a female werewolf, both of whom are naked. This leads to at least one Les Yay situation.
Played for Laughs in Assassination Classroom. Korosensei uses his invisibility to avoid scaring a group of train passengers during a class trip, but his students point out that a random set of floating, disembodied clothing is just as unsettling.
In Is This a Zombie?, Ayumu gets turned invisible after drinking a potion he mistook for a drink. He strips down to sneak into the gym during the girl's physical examination day. Being the Butt Monkey that he is, the invisibility starts to wear off while he's still inside and he's forced to run and hide. Taeko catches him, but kindly loans him some clothes instead of turning him in.
Misaki from Gokukoku No Brynhildr has this restriction, though it oddly doesn't seem to apply to her glasses.
The 1978 Go Nagai manga "Supeope Chuugaku" features an invisibility potion at one point in the second volume that works like this. Notably, the first thing the perverted main character uses it for is tricking his sister into thinking she's invisible (by drinking some himself to show her that it works and then using sleight of hand to give her a fake bottle) so that she'll strip naked in front of him and his friends.
Classically averted in Fantastic Four. Sue's always been able to extend her field to whatever mundane outfit she has on (and much further if she so chooses). However, it's played straight a few times in the movies for Fanservice.
The Marvel 1602 version of Susan Storm has no unstable molecule costume, but this isn't much of a problem since she can't turn visible. Until the first time she activates her forcefield...
The original script for The Fantastic Four said that Sue would always be naked, and would be unable to turn visible, so she would have to strip down every time she wanted to disappear. Stan commented in the script that this might be too sexy for comics.
What If? #34, a Self-Parody issue, had a one-off joke of Reed Richards not inventing unstable molecules. Sue is visible as a suit of clothes because of modesty. There's also male Fanservice of her brother, who finds himself naked when he flames off.
Infamously inverted in Wonder Woman — her plane was invisible, she wasn't, so in general, it just looked like a mysterious squatting woman shooting through the air. The plane is later retconned to make its contents invisible, too.
Milo Manara's Butterscotch is an example of pornographic use of this trope. Features, among other things, a woman giving the invisible character a blowjob while other characters, unaware of the invisible man's presence, look in bafflement at her "lewd mime act."
The Invisible Man (an alternate version of the original one) in Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen must strip down to best take advantage of his condition. He was originally found wandering a girl's dorm nude... impregnating several of the girls (which they took as miracles).
Inverted in The Bod, a short three-part miniseries in Image Comics. The story is about a rising supermodel whose body gets turned invisible due to an industrial accident shortly after she arrives at Hollywood to have her big break as an actress. She wears lots of very form-fitting clothing to show off her beautiful body as she tries to use her new, incurable condition as a gimmick to further her career. The rest of the trope — that of the woman's invisibility not extending to her clothing, is played completely straight. Unfortunately, so are the True Art Is Incomprehensible and Small Name, Big Ego tropes — the series quickly degenerates to a series of Take Thats about how horrible Hollywood's culture is.
In Sturmtruppen, at one point the Medic believes to have drunk the Potion of Invisibility, and boasts about it in front of his underlings. When they say that they can still see him, he assumes that is because he's still wearing his clothes, so he strips naked and boast again his presumed invisibility to the now stunned assistants. From that strip on, he firmly believes that he has to strip in order to become invisible.
Paul in With Strings Attached and other stories. That's because he wears an illusion for clothing anyway, so he just switches his clothing illusion for invisibility.
Films — Animated
In Igor, Carl Cristall is an invisible talk show host who can be detected by his floating shirt and hat—but no pants. His hatred of pants becomes a Running Gag up until the end of the movie.
It's alluded to in Hotel Transylvania with the Invisible Man. His presence is indicated by a pair of floating Eye Glasses, and the one time he wears clothes is for the sake of a gag where he gets his pants pulled down and claims shrinkage. Later on, while preparing for the main event, he powders his ass just to make it clear there's nothing else there.
The Incredibles: Violet Parr has this problem. Unless she's in her special costume, she and only she turns invisible. As Violet's 15 and this is a Disney-Pixar film, she doesn't actually strip all the way down to get invisible. No mention is made as to whether or not her special suit came with matching underwear.
Films — Live-Action
This trope was played straight in the campy 1940 science fiction satire The Invisible Woman, as the title heroine, while able to turn invisible, was naked when she did so as her clothes could not turn invisible along with her, making many audiences at the time regard the film as slightly risqué.
Invisible Boy from Mystery Men, whose clothes apparently just fall off him when he uses his power (which works only when he's not being watched by anybody, making it good only for fooling purely mechanical surveillance).
In the 1980s comedy The Invisible Kid, the boy heroes have to sneak around nude and invisible, partly to steal back the invisibility formula and, given that this is a Teen Sexploitation Comedy, partly to peep on the cheerleaders.
Similarly, in one of The Invisible Man movies, while the character is implicitly stated to be nude, he leaves shoe prints in the snow.
Hollow Man, being a by-the-books use of invisibility, has this in it. Of course, the "mission" in this example is, er, rape, but... yeah.
The CG of the character walking through smoke or entering water clearly shows the penis, in case there was any doubt in your mind.
Invisible Mom does this. In the sequel, the heroine's invisibility wears off while she's walking around naked.
Fantastic Four: In Susan Storm's first attempt to use her invisibility to sneak past a crowd, she finds her clothes don't cloak with her and reluctantly starts stripping down. Unfortunately, she's not yet in full control of her powers and they wear off while she's down to her underwear.. and still in said crowd. A later gag has her being chased by reporters, who round the corner and find only a pile of shed clothing. Luckily for her and the other three, her blue bodysuit she was wearing during the shuttle flight where she gained her powers underwent the same reaction and so changes along with her.
Skinner: May I remind you, I am standing naked in the snow? I can't feel any of my extremities, and I mean any of them.
In Amazon Women on the Moon, the "Son of the Invisible Man" thinks he's this, but he's not actually invisible, so he just ends up making everyone around him uncomfortable.
The title character of Paul can stay invisible only as long as he holds his breath, so he does get caught naked in public a few times. It's not really an issue though, since people are too caught up in his being an alien to care that he's naked.
In Bradleys Summer, the invisibility potion doesn't make clothes invisible, so Bradley has no choice but to take them off when he uses it.
The Trope Maker would be H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man, who hides from the rioting peasants by stripping naked. In winter. One of the few examples to take into account the elements, as well as other things such as being unable to walk amongst a crowd (people would step on him and hit him with waving arms/purses/packages/etc.), having to avoid mud (it sticks to the feet), etc., etc.
Fridge Logic suggests that Griffin was holding the Idiot Ball when his actions created this trope, as the original novel's invisibility-induction process also worked on white fabrics. Griffin was always a bit of a nutcase, so his failure to create a suit of invisible clothes may have been a simple oversight. (Later adaptations avert this problem by making the source of his invisibility a drug, effective only on living things.)
Fridge Brilliance: Finding where you left your invisible clothes might be difficult (although blind people manage it.)
The ultimate subversion is Memoirs of an Invisible Man (later turned into a mediocre Chevy Chase movie). The accident that turns the titular man invisible affects everything in a sphere roughly 100 feet across: him, his clothes, the building structure, and a number of objects that happened to be nearby. When he eats and drinks, until it is digested fully, the food/beverage does not become invisible. His invisible clothes suffer wear and tear. His invisible gun will eventually run out of invisible bullets. And, with the government after him, it's not like he can just live at his old house or sneak into places at will. The author does quite well at thinking out the rules and limitations of the premise.
In Things Not Seen, this is how Bobby sneaks over to the library to research his condition. In a slight subversion, a blind girl notices him.
This is how said blind girl, Alicia, finds out that something's not quite right with Bobby; she finds it odd enough that he's supposedly in a short-sleeved shirt in cool weather, but when she bumps into him at one point and feels his bare chest, she gets furious at him being shirtless and starts making assumptions about what kind of person he is and what his intentions are. Later, once Alicia and her parents are in on his invisibility, she mentions her mother made a big deal about him running around nude. When Bobby comes to visit and her mother answers the door, she doesn't let him inside until she's brought out a robe for him to wear.
Another person with the same condition is said to wear a burqa all the time so that nobody will know she's invisible.
In The Trouble with Moonlight, the heroine, Lusinda Havershaw, her skin turns invisible when exposed to moonlight, but her clothes don't become invisible with her. Works out well, since she's a gentlewoman thief. Getting the loot out is kind of a complication, however, since in order to stay invisible she has to remain in the moonlight. See she needs to absorb a certain amount of moonlight in order to turn invisible in the first place, and she can remain invisible if she absorbs enough of it, but if she's away from the moonlight for too long she gradually becomes visible, leading to a few Naked People Are Funny moments as her glorious body is glimpsed however briefly by the public a few times when she is cut off from the moonlight for too long.
Mostly averted in Invisible Inc.: Chip fell into the magic spring while fully dressed, and has kept that set of clothes safe ever since. Of course, once he grows a bit...
Played straight in the first volume, at least in the first printing. Chip's invisible clothes don't show up until the second book of the series, probably due to complaints from Moral Guardians. The Retcon is hardly noticeable because the first book was silent on the subject. Apparently it was the reaction to the implication that Chip was naked in the first book that convinced them to explicitly state he wasn't in the second.
In Smoke by Donald Westlake, a small-time crook accidentally gets turned invisible after getting turned into a guinea pig by two Camp Gay (yes, it becomes relevant) skin cancer researchers. Westlake obviously did his research, as the titular character has to deal with all of the troubles of invisibility including exposure to the elements, having to fast to avoid having half-digested food showing, and being noticed at one point by a blind man.
In the short story Hershey's Kisses by Ron Goulart (contained in The Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy II by Michael Ashley et al.), a young man in trouble with his (young, hot, female, hates him) new boss runs into a wizard. He ends up trying to save his career by doing this, breaking & entering, and kissing the magic tattoo on her butt three times as she sleeps. It wears off prematurely: It turns out she'd hired the wizard in a gambit to get him to her apartment, naked, as he failed to recognize her previous hints. They find out about the other gambit when the camera crew bursts out of the closet.
In the Torchwood novel Pack Animals, Ianto Jones is invisible for about half of the book. At one point he must sneak into a secret facility and is forced to do so nude, since his invisible clothes were ruined. His teammates also bar him from eating anything beforehand, as a floating blob of digesting food would be noticeable (not to mention disgusting).
Subverted in the Goosebumps book My Best Friend is Invisible: the protagonist awkwardly asks the invisible boy if he's wearing any clothes. He is.
Played With in one of R.L. Stine's Ghosts Of Fear Street books (Go to Your Tomb—Right Now!) A pair of friends get 12 hours of invisibility from a girl who knows magic; it causes whatever clothes they put on to turn invisible with them, then suddenly turn visible when they undress. Unfortunately, the luck of this is Double Subverted when the two decide to take advantage of a closed community pool by going swimming in their underwear. When two of the people who run the pool show up, the friends can't find a way to escape unnoticed—-and of course, that's when their 12 hours expire.
In Neal Shusterman's The Schwa Was Here, Calvin Schwa gets through two and a half periods of the school day before anyone notices he is present and only wearing a Speedo. (He's not completely invisible; it's more that you have to focus on him to notice him.)
Wild Cards plays with it with Wraith, a Classy Cat-Burglar who turns semi-transparent and intangible. However, as she can only do so while holding on to a certain amount of mass and she'd actually like to get away with some of her stolen goods, she performs most of her heists in a mask and bikini.
The series also features an inversion similar to the Vanishing Man example listed below — Chrysalis, a Joker whose invisibility is always on and only applies to her skin and hair.
In one of The History of the Galaxy novels, the book's protagonist finds a Lost Colony whose settlers have gained strange powers after landing. One of these groups calls themselves Shadows and has invisibility powers, along with empathy and healing. While averted with the inhabitants of the City, who don't walk around naked and generally avoid turning invisible if they can help it, many colonists went mad after the mutation and live in the wild. The wild Shadows almost never become visible and run around naked.
Averted/Lampshaded in Invisible Stanley, where Stanley's clothes explicitly disappear when he puts them on and reappear as soon as he takes them off. His family tries handing him a balloon, and the string disappears when he touches it, but not the balloon itself. (He touches various other things without them turning invisible, though.)
In Invisible! by Robert Swindles, the main characters turn invisible with the use of a ring called a fairy ring. This invisibility doesn't affect their clothes. It also should be noted that the main characters are invisible but they can still see each other in this state.
Live Action TV
In the "Linda Godiva" episode of Round the Twist, Linda has to help cheat at a horse race this way, using an enchanted perfume spritzer. Of course, her brother accidentally deactivates it at exactly the wrong time.
Clara from Sanctuary is unable to use her invisibility while she's being observed, and she uses it to steal and spy at first. When Will and Druit come to recruit her, the 'no clothes' is lampshaded, and they turn on the sprinkler to find her. When completing her mission, she persuades Will to strip so she's not alone (he doesn't have the power of invisibility). She's the granddaughter of Nigel Griffin, the original invisible man, who was one of the Five who injected themselves with a vampire-derived serum. And yes, Griffin used to strip to fully use his power, such as when infiltrating German camps during World War II.
Averted in the 1958 British Invisible Man series, where Dr. Peter Brady had a set of invisible clothes from the beginning: the clothes he was wearing during the accident. Like him, they were permanently invisible.
Averted in the 2000 The Invisible Man TV series: The hero turns invisible by secreting a light-bending substance from his skin granted via a gland surgically implanted in his brain. Naturally, this substance also covers his clothes.
This was revealed to be a nice side effect that the creators of the gland didn't know about. They didn't realize he could consciously secrete Quicksilver on any object.
Recurring villain Arnaud plays it straight when he implants himself with his own version of the the quicksilver gland. He altered the gland to remove the rather unpleasant side effect of "quicksilver madness" (easy enough, since Arnaud had created that side effect in the first place), but accidentally made it so that his body is permanently invisible in the process.
The 1998 ITV drama Vanishing Man played not only this trope but also Just Add Water — the titular character had to be wet to be invisible. This led to some funny moments when he dries out. For example, when he's following someone in a car by clinging to the roof rack, said car overtakes a lorry, much to the lorry driver's shock he is overtaken by a car with a naked man clinging to the roof rack, thankfully it starts to rain before the car reaches its destination.
Inverted — only the Big Bad's skin turns invisible, whilst his innards remain visible.
In an episode of Wizards of Waverly Place, Justin is turned invisible by Alex's careless wording of a wish to a Literal Genie. Justin strips off his pyjamas so his parents won't notice him, leaving him naked in a room with his parents and his sister. Hilarity Ensues as Alex attempts to prevent the parents from accidentally sitting on him, etc.
Played with in an episode of The X-Files. Two moronic brothers find an actual genie, and begin asking for wishes, with typical results. One brother asks to become invisible. He immediately strips down and goes out to have fun with his newfound power. He has a great time for about five minutes, then gets hit by a truck. Scully has to fingerprint dust the entire body just to see it, and is completely flummoxed by being confronted by something that is clearly physically impossible.
On an episode of Big Wolf on Campus, a longtime rival of Merton develops abilities for sorcery and uses them against him by (no surprise) gradually turning him invisible. Merton is reduced to a 'floating' head hiding inside Tommy's backpack and, to Tommy's disgust, admits his nakedness. Shippers swoon.
The Doctor Who serial Planet of the Daleks mainly averts this with the Spiridons but plays it straight with Wester's first appearance, or rather, the lack thereof, so to speak. Then subverted when the Doctor & Co. try to pass themselves off as Spiridons, by covering themselves with Spiridon garb, but a Dalek notices that the party's feet are clearly visible.
Elaine Joyce plays the trope straight in an episode of Fantasy Island.
There was a Japanese TV drama series in the 1990s (does anyone know the title?) about a photojournalist who had special pills that made him briefly invisible. In one episode, the photojournalist's girlfriend takes some of the pills and becomes invisible. While nude and invisible, she pulls pranks such as pushing a couple off their bench into a swimming pool.
In the Supernatural episode "Wishful Thinking", this is how the invisibility of one of the users of the magic wishing well works.
In the Wicked Science episode "Catch Me If You Can", Elizabeth invents an invisibility gel that doesn't work on clothes, so she walks around school in the nude to spy on Toby's date with Nikky for much of the boy's embarassement when he realizes it. As the episode ends, however, she is locked outside the shop where she put her clothes and the rain makes her visible again, leaving her totally exposed.
Even Princess Peach gets in on this one. In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, she has to sneak into the X-Naut leader's office by using an invisibility potion. Of course, she doesn't realize until it's too late that her clothing won't be affected. She does remember to dress back up before she drinks the potion that will make her visible again; it is an E-rated game, after all.
In Microforum International's mobile phone gamesThe Invisible Man and The Invisible Lady, the player character is nude and invisible, and must collect clothing and four antidote ingredients to become visible again.
Averted in Enjuhneer — Kaji, the invisible roommate, gets offended early in the series when someone assumes she's walking around nude (she later wears a Santa cap to show where she is). Possibly averted, however, as later she insists that she "even bothered to put on pants" when she was forced out into public.
Played with in Alien Loves Predator, where Preston's cloaking device doesn't affect his clothes or glasses, but he doesn't notice, and can't understand why people can see him.
The Young Protectors plays this completely straight. While Kyle is on a date in Hong Kong with Duncan, two vigilante heroes crash the restaurant to take out Duncan or pretend to do so, on Duncan's orders; Kyle is instructed by Duncan to leave and promptly gets a bag of invisibility powder tossed on him. Unfortunately, his clothing is still visible, prompting him to frantically strip as he (blue and naked for our viewing convenience) runs through the streets of Hong Kong. When it wears off, naturally, he's standing in front of Duncan.
Invader Zim: Inverted, much like the case of Wonder Woman's infamous invisible jet, when the cloaking device on the Megadoomer makes the vehicle invisible but the pilot can be seen floating in the air as the transparent mecha stomps down the street. Hilarity Ensues.
On Spongebob Squarepants, SpongeBob and Patrick buy an invisibility spray and take off their clothes before using it because the spray stains clothes. Of course, being the imbeciles they are, they end up spraying their clothes anyway.
Totally Spies!: The villain in "Evil Boyfriend" does this after consuming the invisibility potion. However, for some reason, he has clothes when turns visible again.
The Big Knights: The Knights use magic invisibility hats to go spying in a neighbouring kingdom, and have to remove their armour and underwear to remain invisible. It's not terribly effective, as they aren't the brightest pair and still stomp around bellowing and waving their swords, even doffing their hats to a group of shocked nuns.
The Replacements had Todd become one in the episode Todd Busters, when he used Agent K's invisibility hat. For unexplained reasons the hat itself does turn invisible along with the wearer, but the rest of his clothes don't, so he has to take them off. In the end he loses the hat and is exposed nude to an audience.
Sid the Invisible Kid from Gravedale High apparently doesn't wear pants, as all the rest of his clothes are visible.
On The Cleveland Show, Rollo is told he's invisible and spends the rest of the episode running around naked, trying to play pranks on people. It's unclear whether he thinks he has to take off his clothes to remain unseen or whether he just wants to do it.
The writers totally screwed this up in one episode of The Jetsons where George is turned invisible by one of Mr. Spacely's inventions and needs to fix it to turn visible. At first, it doesn't work on his clothes, and he has to take them off to sneak around invisible. However, at certain times in the cartoon the effect wears off, and in a couple of scenes, he's naked (only the top half of his body visible, of course) while in others he's fully clothed, wearing his usual outfit.
This site offers novelty costumes that create the illusion of an invisible wearer. The costumes include not only a generic invisible man and invisible woman, but also a cowboy and Lady Gaga.