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During any infiltration or stealth operation, the female lead will wear an impossibly tight catsuit. It's almost always black, may be shiny leather or latex. It's never a camo pattern, and it can't have pockets. There will often be a single zipper on the front, which will result in Absolute Cleavage when it's unzipped. The suit will frequently be accompanied by ridiculous high heels. If you see someone in one of these, there's little she can say to convince you she's not a spy or a fetishist (unless It's a Sci-Fi series).
The writers may try to justify it, saying it's a stealth garment with sensor defeating properties—so she's seductively slathered herself in Applied Phlebotinum. It could be for freedom of movement (a Critical Research Failure if the outfit is leather). It could be that she just swam up to the facility and can't ditch the wetsuit. In reality, it's to make the inevitable climbing, shimmying, flipping and belly-crawling through a Laser Hallway look that much more like a lapdance.
Shows up in most Spy Drama shows. Any action show that puts a female character through an infiltration scene will use it. Mostly used with at least a wink these days.
Often extremely shiny, with vertical lines that accentuate the lady's...assets, against all logic.
A male character uses one, especially an attractive one. (see Mr. Fanservice)
Erin Esurance, the female agent in the pre-2010 Esurance commercials, frequently sported one.
Ali Larter sports a bright-yellow suit in the Absolut Citron advertisements/short films as her alter-ego Lemon Drop.
Some of William Shatner's recent "Priceline Negotiator" ads have a girl named "Naomi Pryce" wearing one.
In the first ad of T*Mobile's most recent ad campaign, their mascot-spokeswoman trades in her girl-next-door pink dress for a pink-and-black motorcycle jumpsuit. Justified in that she's going motorcycle riding (as a metaphor for the company's high-speed wireless network).
Agent Maiya is seen wearing one in a UK advertisement for comparethemarket.com. Agent Maiya, it must be pointed out, is a meerkat.
A series of TV Commercials for Nationwide Insurance feature a leather-catsuited woman (played by actress Jana Kramer) backflipping around a house undoing the damage done, either by a burglary or by a fire.
Angel of The Big O will occasionally wear one of these. Like almost everything else she wears, it's bright pink.
The special corps in Bleach wear a variation of these, their leader wears a kimono version (though Omake shows both her and Yoruichi in more standard ones).
Cats Eye, anyone? Spy catsuits complete with Xtreme plunging necklines and built-in high heels, for added stealth obviously.
The same outfits are worn by Ayumu, Eucliwood, and Seraphim during a parody of the series in the Is This a Zombie? OVA.
Used rather bizarrely in Death Note, where professional thief Weddy wears a classic 60's style catsuit (built in high-heels and all) while infiltrating a building, for no apparent reason. Possibly justified in that the series artist has admitted basing her on stereotypical female spy archetypes, but it still clashes with the feel of the story.
In Gantz the male characters also wear skin-tight jumpsuits. It's also worth noting that each outfit is so specifically designed that only the person it was meant for could wear it.
In Ghost in the Shell, Major Kusanagi wears a spy catsuit that really is a stealth device, called thermoptic camouflage. In the movie at least, this technology is used fairly extensively, although she has to be nude to use it (or rather, a flesh-colored skinsuit. The suit leaves a noticeable neckline where her skin color contrasts with the suit's.) It's somewhat less drastic in other iterations, which look more practical.
While the Major's normal combat wear shows more curves than the standard models, it's generally quite practical. The major exception to this is in the Stand Alone Complex the 2nd Gig episode Cash Eye, which plays with the infiltration and espionage tropes, and repeated references to Ocean's Eleven, and has her wear a catsuit that fits this trope to tee with little purpose. Perhaps the outfit let the android fetishist Corrupt Corporate Executive to mistake her for a combat android.
Although the episode does reference Cat's Eye (see below) with the 'Cash Eye' logo.
Miu in History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi wears this for nearly every fight, which allows for the artists to outline every curve for her t&a even when they decide it should be reduced to just covering the essentials for the rating.
The pilots in Neon Genesis Evangelion wear skin-tight plugsuits, the form only interrupted by attached equipment. The suit is actually vacuum sealed to their body and the specifically tailored to suit their personal body shape. This of course leads to embarrassment when Shinji gets dressed in a suit designed for a girl.
Catsuits were first introduced by this legendary Bob Kane character after which they are named, and which would also influence the U.S. erotic fetish scene.
Subverted in The Batman And Robin Adventures #16 (a tie-in comic to the animated series), which introduced Catman as a villain inspired by Catwoman. So much that he wears Catwoman's rather feminine-looking catsuit, which looks rather comical on a male figure.
The catsuit is the basic uniform for agents in Marvel's spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D., for men and women (and, as seen in the 1990s miniseries Nick Fury vs SHIELD, even pudgy overweight male administrators).
Justified in that said catsuits are resistant to mundane blades (non-adamantium or energy blades, etc.), fireproof, and insulate the wearer from electrical shocks and extremes of heat and cold. They also have radar and infrared absorption capabilities (stealth), depending on the story.
SHIELD agents, such as Agent Sharon Carter, would also don white SHIELD tactical catsuits.
Madame Hydra and Madame Viper, SHIELD nemeses, were known for their green/black catsuits.
Black Widow, originally an Iron Man/Daredevil/Avengers/SHIELD/Spider-Man nemesis and later a member of The Avengers and The Champions, wore catsuits as a constant, often working alongside SHIELD.
Carol Danvers, who did espionage work when she was depowered, noted that often, going unnoticed is less important than nobody remembering your face after you leave. Drawing attention to other areas can help with that.
Kate Bishop, the second Hawkeye, wears a purple catsuit. Matt Fraction has stated this was a deliberate Shout-Out to Emma Peel, since he writes Kate and Clint with a similar dynamic to that of Steed & Peel.
In Adam Warren's Empowered comic, the heroine doesn't just wear a shiny skintight suit, it's a shiny skintight suit of power armor that tears like a wet hanky if she brushes against anything that has a point on it. Of course, his comic is a parody of all the tied-up, mostly naked superdamsels in distress he was drawing for commissions, but still...
"Empowered" goes well beyond skintight; the power suit is actually a membrane-thin piece of nothing that leaves the wearer effectively naked, while fighting crime in public. She can't even wear underwear. The point to 'Empowered' is to get your humiliation fetish in your ironically-titled supers fantasy.
It's also Justified in that the suit fragility is because of her body-image issues. If she could take pride in her body the suit would be tougher and thicker.
Similarly to the Empowered example, Artificial Human Girl One from Top 10 wears what at first appears to be a full body catsuit. In reality, she's actually nude — her creators gave her an aversion to clothing, while at the same time giving her body the ability to hide this fact via built in full body tattoo/bodypaint that she can control at will — she typically looks like she's wearing a full body purple spandex catsuit with logos and patterns on it. They didn't explain this until several chapters in.
Oddly averted in Codename: Knockout — though it's a spy parody practically made out of fanservice, the protagonist almost never wears her catsuit outside of covers.
The Baroness in G.I. Joe wears this as her standard outfit in every incarnation. Scarlett of the Joes does as well, though hers is more of a leotard worn over tights.
Also, Scarlett did wear a standard black catsuit with some armored parts in the live-action film.
Jakita Wagner from Planetary wears one, likely in homage to Emma Peel.
When she lost her powers and operated as "Diana Prince, Wonder Woman", Wonder Woman sometimes wore a white catsuit (though less often than popularly imagined - much of the time, she simply wore "normal" all-white outfits including minidresses, pantsuits, etc).
Jennifer Mays of The Maze Agency wears one whenever she is on a stealth mission.
The eponymous heroine's one piece racing suit in Chassis.
The Kensington ladies and Foxy Cleopatra from Austin Powers, obviously.
If there was a point to the movie Entrapment beyond showing Catherine Zeta-Jones in one of these as she slinked through a maze of trip beams, it's not clear.
Selene in Underworld wears one of these constantly. She's not actually a spy (she's closer to an assassin), but often has to be stealthy - she is a vampire, after all. The sequel explains her instantaneous Vampire Healing Powers but never mentions the fact that her suit seems to heal itself as well.
Played straight and inverted in the 2008 Get Smart movie. Agent 99 plays it straight through the laser field wearing a skintight dress. Max then copies her moves halfway through with a near-lampshade look over his shoulder. Which is not helped by the fact that a rat has gotten onto him.
Angie Harmon wears an impressive series of impressive catsuits, including the famous red catsuit, in Agent Cody Banks.
Uma Thurman briefly wears a catsuit/motorcycle racer suit hybrid in Kill Bill Vol. 1. This is a direct adaptation of one worn by Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.
Subverted in the Roger Moore thriller North Sea Hijack (released as "Ffolkes" outside the U.K.), where the eponymous character, upon discovering the wetsuit he will be using to infiltrate the hijacked North Sea oil platform to stop terrorists from blowing it up snarks, "A wet suit in vermilion. Just what one needs at night."
In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a quartet of jewel thieves posing as animal rights activists wear these to steal diamonds while the eponymous heroes are duped into freeing animals from the lab next door as a diversion. Also parodied, in that the initial introduction to the suit-clad thieves is them explicitly showing themselves off to the camera with overblown, borderline ridiculous body poses to acknowledge how blatant the creators know the Fanservice is.
The likely Trope Maker is Irma Vep in the 1915-16 French serial Les Vampires. Musidora, the actress who played Irma had been a circus acrobat and the catsuit is probably derived from her leotard and tights.
Ironically subverted in the Halle Berry Cat Woman film. Patience dons a leather catsuit as part of her Makeover Montage but she abandons it pretty soon and opts for something even more Stripperiffic - that does at least look like it offers more mobility.
Lampshaded in Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Invincible; Jaina Solo more-or-less complains about how the suit she stole from a GAG soldier is more suitable for someone trying to draw some attention to themselves: ...a full size too small, and snug in all the wrong places for a woman trying to avoid attention.
The Executioner: A male example is Mack Bolan's blacksuit, worn not only to hide him in the dark but also for its psychological effect.
Mord-Sith in The Sword of Truth. Skintight leather suits coming in brown, red, or white. At one point Richard sees one naked, and notes the only difference is color.
As pointed out below, these crop up a lot in Warhammer40k fiction. In Eisenhorn and Ravenor "bodygloves" are popular for both men and women. Inquisitor Amberley Vail wears something a lot like one to fit into and interface with her Powered Armor, and the sight is enough to distract even Ciaphas Cain from the prospect of imminent danger...
Pookie, a Pervect bodyguard from Myth Adventures, wears one of these as her work clothes, along with a short cape. How much this qualifies as Fanservice depends on whether the reader is into bald, rail-thin women with green scales.
In Vorpal Blade, Two Gun uses this to describe the skintight suits that Wyvern operators have to wear when using their suits.
Robert Westall's Futuretrack Five has Keri's motorcycle leathers. Frequently a zipper away from becoming Absolute Cleavage and regularly employed as a means to distract male policemen. So often used, during her career as a Racer, that's it gets referred to in-Verse as the Keri Roberts Victory Stretch And Yawn.
Arya from Inheritance Cycle wears a black, leather suit. Brings up some serious Moral Dissonance, because she's a vegetarian on the basis that she finds killing an animal for food cruel.
Live Action TV
Rather persistently averted in Alias, where any given spy is much more likely to be in nightclub wear. There are also episodes featuring camo Army-style getups, various forms of local ethnic costume, and tourist gear. Somewhat effected anyway in that nearly all these costumes end up being form-fitting and flattering.
The Avengers has the female lead, Emma Peel, and Cathy Gale before her, in this outfit frequently. It didn't look so out of place◊ in the '60s. She also had a purple one. The character of Emma Peel was a direct mimic of The Black Widow character of the American Avengers, Honey West and Catwoman of the Batman stories.
This was, essentially, the entire point behind the character. Her name alludes to it, even: Emma Peel ==> M. Appeal or Man Appeal. (Her original name was the less subtle 'Mantha Peel, but it was changed perhaps on account of being the unsexiest name in television history)
In later Emma Peel seasons, this ended up as a Justified Trope. The actress insisted on switching from the black leather catsuit to a colored jersey version - just as skintight, but far more practical for gymnastically kicking mooks in.
It worked in the '60s just because it was less Stripperiffic than modern versions, and looked like something a motorcycle-riding woman would wear. In fact, many male and female bikers wear something similar but more colourful right now. As the time went on, catsuits began to shine, reveal and tighten to the point of asphyxiation.
One episode of Walker, Texas Ranger had the rangers break into a vault (for some reason). The relatively minor female ranger does it because "She's the only one that can fit into the stealth suit."
Wendy Watson in The Middleman. Actually, she wears one in the opening credits, but "The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown" is the first episode in which she wore one within the episode.
Eartha Kitt wore in an episode of Mission: Impossible where she guest starred as an acrobat-contortionist used by the IMF to crawl through the vents of a foreign embassy.
Honey West often wore a bodystocking, predated many catsuits of the '60s, such as Emma Peel of the British Avengers TV series.
Parker in Leverage is fond of these... under street clothes or bulky harnesses that provide pockets and carabiner loops.
In NCIS, McGee fantasizes about Kate in a catsuit in one episode.
JAG: In "Straits of Malacca", Mac wears a special forces-style wetsuit when boarding a cargo ship.
And Wendy Padbury, as Zoe Heriot in the Second Doctor's era, wore a sparkly catsuit.
And Jean Marsh, as Sara Kingdom in the First Doctor era, wore an Emma Peel-style catsuit. Unlike Zoe and Christina, her character was actually a bona fide spy, or at least an agent of a paramilitary organization.
On Castle, in "Undead Again", Rick and his daughter Alexis have been playing a single game of laser tag since she was five. At 18 and about to leave college, she tells him those days are over and she's grown out of it. Castle was already imminently quitting his adventures with Beckett and now realizes that he's losing his daughter as well. When she realizes how much she's hurt him, she later ambushes Castle, rappelling down from the ceiling in a catsuit to zap him. Cackling maniacally, she claims the whole thing was an act intended to catch him off-guard.
Seven of Nine and T'Pol from Star Trek aren't spies, but still wear catsuits.
Hand Waved for Seven - her part-Borg physiology required a specialised suit.
Incredibly, T'Pol herself explained that her choice of clothing was largely based on her "appreciation for aesthetics". That's right, the Ms. FanserviceStraw Vulcan stated in-universe that she wore a catsuit purely out of vanity.
Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman wore one on a couple of rare occasions in which it replaced her regular costume when she needed to go swimming (likely lampshading the fact that her regular costume was basically a swimsuit). It actually fits the trope name because in the TV continuity, Diana Prince worked for a spy organization.
Kochanski in the Red Dwarf Season 7, Episode "Ouroboros" (later destroyed in "Duct Soup").
In Smallville, Lois Lane once wore something like this complete with Combat Stilettos while posing as the superheroine "Stiletto". She complained about the suit being uncomfortable and making squeaking sounds when she walked.
In Sabrina the Teenage Witch when Sabrina's spy novel comes to life, one of her characters Vivian Soontodie appears in one of these. Libby mistakes her for Valerienote Sabrina based all the characters on her friends and so they are played by the same actors and mocks her for wearing a catsuit. Vivian kicks her.
Britney Spears sports this in music videos, "Oops I Did It Again" and "Toxic".
In Secret Service, the agents in the Capitol Building shootout are all wearing this.
Worn by Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. the Black Widow, in Stern Pinball's Iron Man, and prominently featured on the sides of the backbox.
Seen occasionally in Warhammer 40,000. Several Eldar have one, but it's pretty much standard issue for the Officio Assassinorum agents of the Imperium. Some employ chamaeleonic mimicry abilities, others have no special reason apart from being Fetish Fuel. In one of the newer novels, this tendency is repeatedly lampshaded when several characters can't keep their eyes from the girl-assassin brought up by a rather puritanicalsect who would most likely kill them if she had any idea why they looked at her like that...
And, of course, there's the Harlequins in their skin-tight acrobat leotard that emits hologram fields.
Pathfinder has the catskin leather magic armor, which is described as a "supple suit of jet-black... leather armor" that grants the wearer several cat-themed bonuses (bonus to Acrobatics and Stealth checks, halved falling damage, saving the wearer's life at the expense of being destroyed). (It's also not actually made of cat skin... although it probably could be if a player really wants.)
The Abyss Ranger alternate costume set in Tales of the Abyss dresses everyone in the party up in these. They sort of look like sexy Power Rangers. Except Anise. She just looks awesome.
Half-Life's Black Operations females wore skintight suits. In fact, their breasts jiggled when they walked. It was removed in Opposing Force, an expansion. It's also worth noting that the males wore skin-tight black, too.
Strangely enough, in Metal Gear, the Spy Catsuit is the domain of male spies◊. The female spies get to wear proper camo◊, suits, military uniforms or flight suits. The Boss starts out in a proper BDU, but switches this for possibly the a more "space age" type outfit◊. Eva in Metal Gear Solid 3 plays this pretty straight though, complete with the front-zipper cleavage, which features prominently in first-person cutscenes.
Metal Gear Solid 4 has the Beauty and the Beast Corps. Every last one of whom are wearing a full spandex (actually nanotech) bodysuit covering what appears to be a complete neck-to-toe see-through latex catsuit. What's even more notable was that this wasn't even intended at first. Originally, they were supposed to be stark naked, but they had to edit it to catsuits because it would have given Metal Gear Solid 4 an Adult Only rating.
Replaced with a generic Stripperiffic outfit in Heroes. In addition, in Sonic X Rouge has a "stealth" version that's all black in some scenes(the SA2 version has a good deal of white). It still has the pink heart breastplate(and the pink hearts on her gogo boots for that matter) though.
Metroid's Samus Aran wears a bright blue catsuit underneath her Power Suit. This being Metroid, however, you only actually get to play as her in it in three games, one of which is a Super Smash Bros. game.
Also in said Super Smash Bros. game, Snake appears in his catsuit.
Ryu Hayabusa from the Ninja Gaiden series got a sleeve-less ninja variation in the Xbox prequel series, and it has become in one of the most iconic male examples in the medium.
It's sister series, Dead or Alive, also features some catsuits for good measure, both male and female. Apart from Hayabusa's own catsuit (which debuted in this series in Ultimate) he most popular ones are Christie's WHITE catsuit and Kasumi's ninja catsuit in DOA5 (which looks pretty similar to Hayabusa's). Not to forget Tina's infamous LITERAL catsuit.
A few of the Tomb Raider games have Lara in a cat suit.
Quite a lot of the outfits for Nina Williams from Tekken are spy catsuits, given that she's an assassin.
In Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. Jennifer Mui's last unlockable costume is a catsuit with cleavage nearly reaching her navel. She will drop a Lampshade Hanging when she puts it on. The male characters get a yellow chicken costume instead.
In the Fallout 3 DLC Operation: Anchorage, one of the rewards for completing the simulation is the Chinese Stealth Armor, which gives the wearer a permanent stealth field while sneaking. Although both male and female characters can equip it, the enemies who wear it are all males. Unlike most examples here, The Chinese Stealth Armor is a great asset to an infiltrator, which makes this a justification or subversion, depending on your angle. It is also present in Fallout: New Vegas, although without its Invisibility Cloak capability.
The main game also has the Leather Armor, although it doesn't affect one's stealth stats, and the Recon Armor.
Averted by the Reinforced Leather Armor in Fallout: New Vegas, whose male and female versions are equally modest. The Assassin Suit and Stealth Suit Mk II from the add-ons play this trope straight, as well as both increasing the player's Sneak skill, although the latter has fluorescent white stripes giving it away.
Miranda's outfit in Mass Effect 2. Something of a subversion, as it's actually white, then later played straight as it's upgraded to black. Miranda's outfit also has a cutout in the front stopping right above her breasts that is not commonly seen on outfits of this type. The second Appearance Pack DLC lets players swap out the catsuit for a far more practical suit of Cerberus armor.
Ashley's alternate armor in 3 has some catsuit qualities to it. In the same game, there's Eva Coré, who's kitted out in the same catsuit as Miranda, which can then later be put on EDI for no fathomable reason.
Evil Genius is a videogame in which you play as the eponimous Evil Genius. As the videogame is esentially a big parody of spy fiction the agents sent after you from the forces of justice are all very colorful an stereotypical, making this trope inevitable.
El Goonish Shive uses the second type of subversion during the Painted Black arc, where three female characters are put into brightly-colored catsuits for a infiltration / rescue mission. This is only clear in the colored strips, though, not the standard black-and-white artwork.
Averted in The Order of the Stick: While Haley inexplicably dons black leather in her role as sneaky leader of the Azure City Resistance, it actually is LESS revealing than her normal day-to-day outfit.
Bill: Oh no, Phil! I left this Project Mindswarm dossier out on the floor! Phil: Gee, Bill! I hope nobody spies on it! Zoe:I am not putting on my spy clothes!
In the Future Developments arc of S.S.D.D Tessa wears a dark grey catsuit that's implied to provide some protection (though an Inlay's bullet penetrates it easily), and as she's putting it on she complains about how tight it is and that Dr. Cook only designed it so he could see her tits when she wore it.
Reach of the Whateley Universe wears one by the end of her introductory story. It's built by a deviser so it has all kinds of utility, even increasing her natural superpowers. She eventually gets her girlfriend Spark (the inventor) in one too.
Dr. Wakeman wears one in an episode of My Life as a Teenage Robot. Its skintight nature is meant more for laughs than for Fetish Fuel, as it emphasizes her rear more than anything else; she needs to take off the mask in order for her to be recognizable.
On Totally Spies!, the uniform worn by the three teenage girl spies is a shiny plastic catsuit. The stealth part of the trope is usually subverted, as each suit is of a unique bright color. At other times, the suits can change appearance to look like more ordinary clothing, subverting the skintight aspect of the trope.
In one episodes, one of their gadgets were a "literal" catsuit, a skintight black suit with cat ears on the hood. It was specifically designed to give the wearer the nimbleness of a cat.
The catsuits on The Amazing Spiez manage to be quite stealthier as parts of them are black along with the usual bright coloring. They also include shoulder and knee pads, unlike their predecessors.
The usual outfit of Kitty from T.U.F.F. Puppy. Bonus points since she's, y'know, a cat.