An individual — almost always a pervert of some kind — who steals and collects women's (or girls') underwear, usually worn/used. Almost always presented as a reprehensible individual and usually an enemy of the hero, and just as frequently played for laughs. They can be divided into the Stalker with a Crush who steals a specific person's underwear as part of a general stalking campaign, and the indiscriminate, compulsive underwear thief who usually doesn't engage in more serious sexual offenses and is more likely to be treated as a comic figure. One might call such a character a knicker nicker.
Panty Thieves usually go about their business while wearing Stealth Clothes.
Usually this is an anime trope, but Western culture has independently produced the college prank of panty raiding (which has been out of fashion since the sexual revolution of the sixties). Panty raids are usually perpetrated by groups of perverted young males, rather than just one guy.
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Anime & Manga
Happôsai from Ranma ˝ is the patron saint of all panty thieves. This Old Master even developed some martial art techniques around panty-thieving and peeping.
Chamo-kun, though only rarely. Notable in that he's an ermine, and not even a transformed human. He seems to want the panties to make a nest. His love of panties was really confirmed when his share of the Rainyday sisters's Lotus-Eater Machine has him dreaming that he swims in panties.
In the Death NoteSpin-Off novel The Los Angeles BB Murder Case, Ryuzaki (BB) raids a little girl's panty drawer. Making the scene even more inappropriate is that he's supposed to be examining her murder scene with Naomi.
Onsokumaru in Ninin Ga Shinobuden, though he steals panties by proxy (dispatching Shinobu to do it under the premise of ninja training).
Shinji Kazama from Full Metal Panic! is forced to do this when some upperclassmen steal one of his possessions and ransom it for a pair of Kaname's panties.
Gintama has a whole episode about this. There was much violence.
In Macross Frontier, the one time Sheryl attends school with Ranka and Alto is memorable not just for her own interstellar celebrity, but because of her unstoppablerampage through the campus while going commando in a skirt. The culprit? A tiny, green, and adorable Ridiculously Cute Critter (a Vajra in larval form) that crawled into her laundry basket while she was showering, then started hopping about the campus with no regard for the pair of panties that had wrapped around it. The Idol Singer was lucky no paparazzi were nearby to capture the moment... Also of note is that the little guy is then pursued by — with three exceptions — the entire male population of the school, whose motivation appears to be acquiring said panties as a trophy rather than giving them back.
Zatch Bell! has a character named Momon, who looks like a cross between a rabbit and a monkey. When Kiyo meets him, he's holding a bra for some reason. When Momon meets the others, he spends countless attempts to see Tia's panties, and somehow manages to steal another pair from her house. Needless to say, Tia rages.
The Stalker with a Crush Kuroko from A Certain Magical Index. It's only shown in the anime counterpart of the spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun, though. On one occasion, she somehow stole Misaka's swimsuit from a locked container. While she IS a teleporter, it's not clear how she managed to get past the lock. A few minutes after revealing her theft of the swimsuit, Kuroko took the trope to its logical extreme: using her ability, she teleported Misaka's underwear right off of its owner.
One You're Under Arrest! story concerns a highly sophisticated Panty Thief — who strangely enough is a parody of Billy The Kid from The Silence of the Lambs: he is sewing a blanket out of the pants he steals, "and then it will be like I am sleeping with all the girls at once!"
Koragashi of Kamen no Maid Guy can easily steal the panties off the entire female population of a high school without them noticing but doesn't do so for perverted reasons. Instead, he is trying to identify a suspicious person and the only clue he has are her unique panties. His partner, Fubuki, tells him that he didn't have to go to such extremes though and promptly punishes him via remote-controlled explosion.
In Gargoyle of the Yoshinagas, there's a scene in which Kaitou Hyakushiki literally steals the undies off of two people in front of a crowd.
One Running Gag in Daily Lives of High School Boys is Tadakuni's sister's underwear kept being stolen by her brother and his two friends Hidenori and Yoshitake. Hidenori's older brother had stole it at some point as well.
Booga in Tank Girl first met the title character when he tried to steal her knickers as part of a gang initiation. They've been together ever since.
Homura Akemi from Madoka Magica has been memeically viewed as a panty thief to poor Madoka.
It's already reached the point that on Danbooru, there had to be an entire sub-pool from the pool Perverted Girls entirely dedicated to her pervy panty snatching & wearing over her head.
The Rise Of Darth Vulcan: Artful Dodger, Vulcan's apprentice, knows a spell to nab mares' underthings. Vulcan is more confused as to why such things even exist when most ponies go without any clothes whatsoever.
Films — Live-Action
One of the many pranks pulled by the Lambda-Lambda-Lambdas in Revenge of the Nerds. The actual raid, which is blatantly obvious (it's even kicked off by a Pi Delta Pi opening her closet door to reveal Lewis, who cheerfully announces "Panty raid!"), is actually a diversion while two more Tri-Lambs secretly install a spy camera in the Pis' changing room.
Subverted in Internal Affairs (1990). The antagonist (a corrupt and manipulative police officer) beats up the protagonist (an Internal Affairs cop), claims to have slept with his wife and throws some panties in his face to taunt him. His wife is bewildered at the accusation and doesn't even understand why his husband is later brandishing a strange pair of panties at her.
The Stalker with a Crush protagonist of Body Double (1984) steals the underwear of the woman he's obsessed with, which doesn't help his case when the police find them on his person after she's murdered.
Odd, and very easily missed example, from Friends. Joey actually sets for a "panty raid" and gets into Rachel's room while she leaves the appartment to confront Monica about her secret relationship with Chandler. This can only be seen in the uncut episode from the DVD set. Here is a link to said episode's script if you're skeptical.
In season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Riley caught Spike sniffing Buffy's clothes, which he tried to excuse as "standard predator behavior". As he's leaving the room though Spike nicks some lacy panties from a drawer.
The Bill. When Inspector Burnside is picked to play the suspect during a course in police interrogation, he boasts proudly about how a criminal once told him he'd make an excellent Armed Blagger. Cue his Oh, Crap expression when Burnside reads his lines. We then see Burnside confessing to stealing underwear off a laundry line, though he turns it into a joke at the end.
"I'd like several hundred other offenses to be taken into consideration — black frilly ones!"
On Degrassi, Connor is revealed to be one of these. He does have Asperger's Syndrome, so that may be why he doesn't understand what's wrong. This is used so he can be Put on a Bus in season 11.
On Impractical Jokers, doing this in a laundromat was Murr's punishment for one episode. Unfortunately, it was in front of both the woman and her husband...and he was instructed to wear it on his head.
"In the Middle of the Night" from the One Step Beyond album by Madness is about a sixty-three year old newsagent who just so happens to be an underwear thief. He sees his own picture in the newspaper and books it.
The title character from Pink Floyd's "Arnold Layne".
In Bully, our hero, Jimmy, does this for gym coach Mr. Burton. Slightly squicky, but overall, funny.
Vico doesn't actually steal any female undergarments in A Dance with Rogues, but he does show an unhealthy obsession with the player character's underwear.
The image accompanying the Dexterity skill in Avernum shows an Impossible Thief at work, swiping a woman's panties from under her full plate armor.
During a flashback sequence in Final Fantasy VII, Cloud can sneak into Tifa's room and swipe her "orthopedic underwear" (in the Japanese version, they were "slightly-used" instead). Though it's uncertain if this actually happened or not, since the dialogue options after that are "It's true" and "Just kidding". Later on in the game, we discover that Cloud is an Unreliable Narrator. Assuming it actually happened, it's ambiguous as to whether this specific memory belongs to Cloud or Zack.
In an early event in Magical Diary, you catch one of your roommates going through the other's stuff, and have the option of suggesting that she's trying to steal her panties.
Later in the game, your roommate may actually be responsible for the theft of your underwear (a bra this time). Or the other way around. It's accidental... sort of.
Planescape: Torment has a perverted wizard who turns himself into an armoire in the Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts so that women store their underthings inside him. "Good riddance, you wooden pervert" is the player character's last comment to him.
In a quest in The Sims Medieval one of the things your hero has to do in order to become a Guildsman is to raid the ship and steal panties from pirates. This actually makes sense in context, because the entire quest has been setting up Guild initiation as a frat rush. (Even the women pirates have disgusting panties. Then again, this isThe Dung Ages.)
In Persona 4 Arena, Aigis foils an unusual airline hijacking, where the hijackers made no demands and was in fact a cover to steal an old prototype anti-Shadow weapon being transported on that flight. When her superior Mitsuru deduces that her luggage was the true target, Aigis immediately thinks Mitsuru's underwear was the target.
In the second case in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, one of the witnesses gets involved when it's discovered he steals panties. This leads to the odd situation of Apollo having to present multiple pairs of panties as evidence in court (not to mention Apollo can keep both of the panties afterwards for some hilarious commentary).
Judge: What!? More panties!? Klavier: How many panties are you carrying in your pocket, Herr Forehead? Apollo: These are the last!!! Honest!!!
Notably, the thief doesn't steal them because he's a pervert. The panties he's seeking are used in Trucy's magic act, and the culprit, a "man of science", was desperate to find out how they worked... however, he didn't know where Trucy lived, so he just went around stealing all the panties he could get his hands on hoping to get lucky and find the right pair.
This, of course, all builds up to the end of the case where Trucy's panties are the final, case-winning evidence. Basically, half of the case was built on this joke.
In Something Positive, Davan apparently trained Choo Choo to do this. And then, after the incident with Kestrel, hired him out professionally.
Blair from Eerie Cuties is a "female" doll possessed by definitely male — and very perverted — spirit. He does this whenever possible, though usually this doesn't end well for him.
There's an entire Whateley Universe story built around this trope, as a panty thief hits every girls' dorm on campus, one night at a time, finally getting spotted (but not caught). That's because it was Sun Wukong the Monkey King, one of the legendary Eight Immortal, the whole she-bang. When he steals yours panties, you just let him.
The M.U.G.E.N series, Panty Thief Mysteries, by chimukun is built around a group that steals panties. Interestingly it does not even contain one male perverted villain, in an all female cast. A 1 episode sequel titled A Setsuko Christmas Tale was later released, also with a case of a different panty thief.
In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Patrick and Mr. Krabs go on a "panty raid". It is near midnight, however, so Mr. Krabs does not realize until it is too late that the person they are stealing panties from is his own mother.
Some dogs have been known to raid their owners' dirty laundry. Sometimes they don't actually find any socks, and go for the next best thing. (Be on the lookout for 50-lb boxer dogs wearing ladies' underwear as decorative floss.)
On 8 November 2010, Yukio Kusumoto was convicted for theft of underwear from a woman's home. A police search of Kusumoto's house uncovered 3000 pairs.
Any contemporary Stage Magic act based around pickpocketing will inevitably culminate with this, a slightly Bowdlerized version using a man's boxers or a Squick version using a man's dirty briefs.
In 2010, a Portswood, UK house cat named Oscar made the news for stealing panties.