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Beneath Notice

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Alejandro: We're never going to get away with this. What will you do if Montero recognizes you?
Diego: Montero considers himself a true nobleman. He would never look a servant in the eye.

One way for a character to evade detection from someone looking for them is to disguise themselves, not in an elaborate way, but rather as a plain, ordinary person who isn't worthy of attention. The idea is that if an authority figure comes searching around, they wouldn't bother looking at someone who 'obviously' can't be a threat. Blending into your environment works for chameleons, after all, so why shouldn't it work for humans?

This trope's specific use may depend on the values of the time period. In a class-stratified society, it is literally unthinkable for an aristocrat to even consider pretending to be a commoner simply because of honor, so his fellow aristocrats will never even think to look for a commoner. In a modern setting, rather than a whole underclass, usually certain low-paying professions (janitor, construction worker, etc.) will be utilized. Relying less on snobbery and more on just not noticing the people who are always around but not interacted with. In either case, the Selective Obliviousness of characters can become a plot point if someone declares that Everyone Is a Suspect in hope of making others look at those who are typically Beneath Notice.

This is how The Butler Did It became such an attractive trope for mysteries: Nobody notices the butler, and he's usually the most trusted member of the household help.

The Nondescript may be this. May result in The Dog Was the Mastermind. Related to They Look Just Like Everyone Else!, Delivery Guy Infiltration and Janitor Impersonation Infiltration. Beneath Suspicion is a subtrope, but should not be confused with this trope. Flaw Exploitation and Batman Gambit are supertropes, as successfully pulling this off depends on exploiting the pride of the one being evaded. See also Hidden in Plain Sight, Room Disservice, Bathroom Search Excuse.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Golgo 13: One way the titular hitman infiltrates or does reconnaissance is to disguise himself as some sort of menial worker and pass right under his opponents' noses.
  • Happy Kanako’s Killer Life: Part of the title character's success as an assassin is because after years of being bullied in school and sexually harassed at work, Kanako has gotten extremely good at making herself seem unremarkable so as to be left alone. This means that when she kills people as K, there are no witnesses because nobody noticed that she was there.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, Yoshikage Kira exploited this trope to such an extreme to the point that he's considered The Generic Guy by many. He deliberately came third in many competitions so that he wouldn't get noticed.

    Card Games 
  • In Munchkin, some powerful monsters will allow low-level characters to retreat without having to make a roll to successfully run away. (However, it's both legal and within the spirit of the game for opponents to play "Go Up a Level" cards to raise your level above the automatic-escape threshold....)

    Comic Books 
  • In Astro City, a comic-book publisher who got in a lot of trouble for basing comics on the actual superheroes and supervillains in the setting decides to switch to comics focusing on cosmic entities, thinking that any such beings wouldn't bother reading comics. He turns out to be wrong about this.
  • The Incredible Hulk: This is how Bruce Banner gets into labs generally speaking. He needs the equipment or access to machinery, he dresses up as a janitor. Plus it's the added bonus of being there after hours.
  • Life Is Strange, Tristan is so average and unassuming that nobody notices him.
  • Superman:
    • One of the reasons why people don't recognize clumsy, passive, mild-mannered Clark Kent as Superman. Lampshaded by Kara Zor-El in The Supergirl from Krypton (2004) when she wonders why nobody recognizes her cousin, until she sees a Superman statue, whereupon she realizes the Earth people regard him as their larger-than-life champion. Even if someone did manage to catch the resemblance, they would never assume that a Physical God with every superpower known to man would ever choose to live as someone so mundane.
    • In Supergirl (Rebirth), Kara Danvers behaves as a lonely, clumsy, geeky girl so nobody suspects she is Supergirl.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Eviless enjoys that her slaver position is so low in the Saturnian Empire's hierarchy that her failures will be blamed on her superiors and they will get punished for them while she goes free. She spends her first several appearances just blending in with the other slavers and not bringing any extra attention to herself, not even being named, even though she's far more sadistic than the rest and has developed a business deal with Hypnota that gets her loads of human slaves with their minds already broken packed like sardines in boxes letting her be far more effective than other slavers for far less effort.

    Comic Strips 
  • Modesty Blaise: The criminal mastermind in "The Magnified Man" evades the attention of the authorities by posing as a member of the staff at the hotel where his underlings are staying, allowing him to talk to them even when they're under observation while serving them drinks or delivering meals to their rooms.

    Fan Works 
  • All Guardsmen Party:
    • The Occurrence Border is a second-hand voidship acquired by the Guardsmen whose previous owners have left it a barely functional deathtrap. That said it's actually perfect as a mission ship as nobody in their right mind would expect an Inquisiton team to board a ship like that except to purge it for heresy.
    • The Guardsmen themselves fall under this as the Conspiracy refuses to consider a bunch of groundpounding morons could ever pose a credible threat. Oak exploits this belief as part of his Long Game.
  • Bakery "Enemies": After Hawkmoth's exposure and arrest, nobody seems to consider Nathalie as a potential suspect for who Mayura might have been. The concept of one of his employees willingly helping Gabriel's campaign of domestic terrorism seems completely illogical, after all. Marinette even scolds herself for trying to come up with alternative suspects aside from Adrien, concluding that he was the only logical candidate.
  • In Extra Life, Chiaki joins the Future Foundation under a fake identity, hiding in plain sight as a seemingly ordinary intern.
  • First Try Series: Sasuke has trouble achieving this because, ironically enough, he felt learning to pass as a servant or peasant was beneath him.
  • How a Street Thug Killed a God: Due to a mixture of Solomon's extremely unremarkable appearance and his min-maxing his Stealth skill, he becomes practically impossible to pick out in a crowd.
  • In Mastermind: Strategist for Hire, Izuku's public life as a bullied Quirkless teenager helps throw off police suspicion regarding the new villain Mastermind. Izuku notes that even if police look past his youth and Quirkless status, they'd assume he doesn't have the right attitude for plotting murder since he's never lashed out against his bullies, even indirectly.
  • In The Passing of the Shades of Black, it's explained multiple times to prospective agents of MIB that everything about them, from their suits to their cars, is to keep people from noticing them. At one point, Agent L informs Xander aka Agent A that the company cars will be replaced in roughly ten years because, at that point, an '80s car will be unusual enough to notice.
  • Rise of the Minisukas: Matarael infiltrates Shinji's class and keeps the whole student body fooled for weeks. It is unclear how Matarael managed this, but it involved, at least partially, he posing as a quiet, friendless, unassuming new student who is too awkward to talk to, too insignificant to pay attention to...and definitely not a multi-eyed, bowl-headed giant spider.
  • Unchained (Umei no Mai):
    • Nobody really pays attention to the various cats wandering around Konoha, nor do they try to keep them off of any given grounds. This enables the Uchiha clan to employ ninja cats to tap into a massive information network, along with using them as discreet guards.
    • Nobody looks twice at the oiran unless they're a client who's besotted with one girl in particular. Inuza exploits this by impersonating them on various missions.

    Films — Animated 
  • Both the titular Aladdin and Jasmine get away with Paper Thin Disguises owing to this. With Aladdin, as a street rat, nobody ever paid him enough attention to recognize he is "Prince Ali", except for Jasmine who did and quickly surmises who he really is. With Jasmine, dressed as a street mouse (as Razoul puts it) nobody looks at her long enough to recognize her until she actually points out she is, in fact, the princess.
  • The LEGO Movie: Emmet is The Chosen Zero, an ordinary Blank Slate doofus. His plain appearance makes victory possible when Finn's father interrupts and demands an explanation. Finn says that Emmet is the hero of this story, but his dad immediately dismisses this idea. He puts the ordinary construction worker aside and pays little attention to him, allowing Emmet to escape unnoticed. Similarly, Lord Business is unable to locate him with all of his Nineteen Eighty-Four levels of surveillance because Emmet is so unremarkable and plain-looking the scanners can't id him:
    Robot: President Business, we're trying to locate the fugitive, but his face is so generic, it matches every other face in our database!
    President Business: Diabolical!!!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Lampshaded in Black Sheep (1996). Mike Donnelly plans to sneak into a party dressed as a caterer using this trope.
    Mike: Nobody looks at a caterer's face. It's always "Whaddaya got in the tray?"
  • In Fist of Fury, Bruce Lee disguises himself as an Asian and Nerdy telephone repairman in order to infiltrate the home of the man who arranged his teacher's death.
  • In The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble dresses in baggy, drab-colored clothes, making it easy to slip into a hospital disguised as a janitor.
  • A Good Woman Is Hard To Find: No one suspects that Sarah, who so far as most know is just a single working mother of two kids, would be behind a Dublin crime boss and his men's killings, along with the body parts found in a rubbish center. The news report at the end attributes this to a rival gang.
  • In The Mask of Zorro, this is how the old Zorro is able to masquerade literally right in front of Montero. Because he is masquerading as a servant, it would not even occur to Montero to take more than a passing glance at him.
  • In Perfume, it's explained that the main character has no scent, making people subconsciously treat him as beneath their notice. At one point, he steps right over a guard dog, which ignores him.
  • The Shape of Water: Elisa and Zelda are able to get away with what they do in a high-security government facility because they're cleaning ladies, it's The '60s, and therefore pretty much nobody will give them a second glance. After the Asset is broken out, Strickland berates himself for wasting time questioning the "piss wipers", blissfully unaware that he's got the actual culprits right in front of him.
  • A big part of Adrian Toomes' scheme in Spider-Man: Homecoming is staying below the Avengers' radar by avoiding attention and generally committing small-time crimes. He's absolutely right that the Avengers wouldn't be bothered to stop him, but of course, he never counted on the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man to swing into town.
  • In Star Wars, droids are analogous to slaves. They are bought and sold as property, and almost nobody recognizes them as individuals with rights. Heroic droid R2-D2 turns this to his advantage.
    • This saves Artoo and Threepio as they escape Leia's ship at the beginning of A New Hope. An Imperial Gunner is about to destroy their escape pod, but holds his fire when a scan reveals there are no life forms aboard. Surely this Imperial is aware of droids, but considers them no threat.
    • Later, Artoo and Threepio can walk the corridors of the Death Star with no disguise. To the imperial troops, the droids might as well be furniture.
    • In Return of the Jedi, Luke sends the two to Jabba's palace as tribute. Jabba accepts the gift. The possibility that R2-D2 has been sent on a covert mission doesn't enter his mind.
    • In The Phantom Menace, Queen Amidala constantly dressed in regal royal attire behind face-concealing makeup. She is always assisted with and surrounded by handmaidens with face obscuring cloaks. One of her key handmaidens in the film is Padmé, who assists Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn while on Tatooine. In truth, Padmé is actually Queen Amidala dressed down and in disguise. No one, except possibly Qui-Gon, even noticed the Queen ever switch places with her handmaidens. Not only do all the handmaidens look alike, but no one pays attention to them because they are always in the background assisting others. Their role is expanded on in Star Wars: Queen's Shadow.
  • The Terminal: Gupta fled India after he stabbed a cop who kept extorting him, and chooses to work as a janitor. As he puts it, "As long as I keep my head down, and my floor clean, they have no reason to deport me, they have no reason to notice a man like me." Losing his job is a major Berserk Button for him.
  • TRON: This bites Dillinger and Master Control in the ass within the first half hour of the film. They considered Alan Bradley to be a paper-pushing Boy Scout who couldn't actually pose any kind of a threat and was too naive to actually know there was anything wrong. And then, Alan lays out very casually that...oh, he's been working on new security software (the title character!) that is going to monitor all the network traffic at Encom. Yes, the software is going to run independently. Yes, it's capable of shutting down Master Control if necessary. Yes, he submitted all the proper paperwork and kept his conduct squeaky-clean. Is any of this going to be a problem? After realizing that this naive Boy Scout rank and file programmer just pulled a whopper of a Xanatos Gambit, Dillinger all but pushes Alan out of the office in a panic. Made much more obvious in the Novelization.
  • In X2: X-Men United, Mystique disguises herself as the building's regular janitor, which causes the real one to do a Double Take when he sees her.


By Author:

  • Repeatedly used in Agatha Christie novels.
    • In The ABC Murders, a breakthrough in a case against a Theme Serial Killer is made when Poirot realizes a suspicious person had actually been seen at all the previous murders. The reason it took so long for anyone to realize this is because it was a door-to-door salesman: "He wasn't the sort of man you'd notice".
    • In The Big Four, the Master of Disguise meets Poirot in multiple disguises, some high-profile, and some completely mundane.
    • Death in the Clouds is notable since the murderer is a dentist, but carried out the murder dressed as an airline steward since their clothes look similar.
    • In the Tommy and Tuppence spy novel The Secret Adversary, Mr. Brown runs his organization via menial roles and tasks, letting his underlings attract the attention and serve as its face. Tuppence even sees Mr. Brown, posing as an office clerk passing along a phone message to so-called company owner Whittington, but she can remember absolutely nothing remarkable about him. It's what makes the reveal that Mr. Brown is the extremely popular and charismatic Sir James so shocking later.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • Black Widowers:
      • In "Out of Sight", the guest knows that the person who photographed sensitive documents he was carrying had to have been one of the people at his table at dinner. The spy turns out to be the waiter, who he had completely forgotten about. Naturally, Henry is able to point this out.
      • In "Seasons Greetings", the person attempting to steal a Christmas card turns out to be the mailman. Asimov acknowledged that this story owed a debt to G. K. Chesterton's "The Invisible Man".
    • "Does a Bee Care?": Kane instinctively knows ways to keep himself unnoticed. The given examples are carrying a wrench and picking up leaves/trash. This is important to prevent people from noticing that he's The Ageless, and has been around for centuries.
      Protective coloration consisted of little things, really - like carrying the wrench.
    • "Feminine Intuition": Bogart goes crazy trying to find the "witness" Mandarin claimed had heard Jane rattle off the location of three potentially habitable exoplanets. He's desperate enough to ask Dr Calvin for advice, who quickly realizes that Bogart didn't think to ask the truck driver.
    • Foundation Series's "The Mayors": When the ambassador to Anacreon and High Priest of the Church needs to return to Terminus, he changes into civilian clothing, buys a ticket on a passenger liner and spends the trip pleasantly talking with fellow travelers. Having returned to Terminus, he buys a newspaper, does some reading in the park, and calls city hall from a public phone booth. In all this time, he does absolutely nothing to avoid suspicion or hide his activities, so nobody gives him a second look.

By Title:

  • In 1942, an alternate history book in which the Japanese occupy Hawaii after Pearl Harbor, the US Government covers up the existence of MAGIC (a signals intelligence unit capable of breaking Japanese encrypted messages) by claiming that the actual source of their intelligence was members of the serving staff of various clubs the Japanese officers coopted for themselves, who the enemy spoke freely in front of over meals and drinks without considering that the waiters - especially not the black waiters - might be bilingual.
  • The proletariat, or proles, in Nineteen Eighty-Four fall under this trope. Briefly: the novel takes place in the most oppressive police state imaginable, where even thinking unorthodox thoughts is treason. The whole Party - or ruling caste - is under intense, unending scrutiny. The proles, who are powerless nobodies, are considered too inconsequential to even worry about. Winston and Julia, the protagonist and deuteragonist, consider invoking this trope to evade the Thought Police. This is tevealed to be a subversion in later chapters: The Party is aware that the proles form the bulk of the population, and they know that if they keep proles ignorant by promoting a lifestyle of booze, gambling, and cheap pornography while giving them the impression that they can get away with things Party members can't, the proles will never pose a threat. And just to be totally sure, they have Thought Police spies embedded within the prole population, one of whom turns in Winston and Julia after he rents them a room over his shop to privately have sex for pleasure (a banned activity).
  • In Michael Gilbert's The Amateur, a man trying to rescue a child from kidnappers smuggles weapons into their hideout in a mailbag. The only crook who notices him believes him to be a mail carrier.
  • The Belgariad: The protagonists don't want to attract attention to themselves, so they disguise themselves as commoners driving a few wagons. One of their number, who goes by the name Silk, actually makes a point of making money by using these wagons to transport common goods like turnips and wool, even though the group doesn't really need the money, and they're mostly taking the goods on to avert suspicion.
  • Arthur's attempts at King Incognito in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court run afoul of this: He and Hank are dressed as peasants, but Arthur has trouble acting like one.
    "Now, sire, imagine that we are at the door of the hut yonder, and the family are before us. Proceed, please—accost the head of the house."
    The king unconsciously straightened up like a monument, and said, with frozen austerity:
    "Varlet, bring a seat; and serve to me what cheer ye have."
    "Ah, your grace, that is not well done."
    "In what lacketh it?"
    "These people do not call each other varlets."
    "Nay, is that true?"
    "Yes; only those above them call them so."
    "Then must I try again. I will call him villein."
    "No-no; for he may be a freeman."
    "Ah—so. Then peradventure I should call him goodman."
    "That would answer, your grace, but it would be still better if you said friend or brother."
    "Brother!—to dirt like that?"
    "Ah, but we are pretending to be dirt like that, too."
    "It is even true. I will say it. Brother, bring a seat, and thereto what cheer ye have, withal. Now 'tis right."
    "Not quite, not wholly right. You have asked for one, not us—for one, not both; food for one, a seat for one."
    The king looked puzzled—he wasn't a very heavy weight, intellectually. His head was an hour-glass; it could stow an idea, but it had to do it a grain at a time, not the whole idea at once.
    "Would you have a seat also—and sit?"
    "If I did not sit, the man would perceive that we were only pretending to be equals—and playing the deception pretty poorly, too."
    "It is well and truly said! How wonderful is truth, come it in whatsoever unexpected form it may! Yes, he must bring out seats and food for both, and in serving us present not ewer and napkin with more show of respect to the one than to the other."
  • The Dark Forest: In Shi's lecture to Luo Ji near the start of the book, he identifies this as the foundation of real shrewdness. This becomes key to Luo Ji's ultimate plan at the end of the book, when he convinces everyone around him, including the Trisolarans, that he has no way to stop the invasion, and is only working on an ultimately meaningless project in order to escape reality. It works and he saves the day.
  • Lampshaded in The Dinosaur Lords, when Pilar outlines why she and Montserrat are the best choices to aid imprisoned Melodía.
    "And that's the thing: you know how people overlook children and servants?"
    Montse nodded. It was like asking if she knew what breathing was.
  • Discworld:
    • A large part of Lu Tze's success as a History Monk is attributable to the fact that no matter how heavily guarded the evil lair, a harmless old man sweeping up is just part of the scenery.
      • In Thief of Time, one of his students reflects that the best way for a monk to become invisible is to stand on a street corner holding a begging bowl. [Paraphrased]
      • In Night Watch, Vimes questions how the History Monks can be a secret organisation when they dance through the streets of Ankh-Morpork banging drums, and Lu-Tze replies that you'd be amazed how hard people work to avoid noticing loony monks banging drums.
    • In Interesting Times, Auriental society is so rigid that costume changes to a lower class entirely confuse pursuers. Rincewind is able to evade pursuit by dressing as a peasant with a really big hat (although he struggles with it because being a wizard is an important part of his identity, and looking like a wizard is practically the only thing that makes him one). He also runs into an examination room and screams at the guards to go away when they come in (the exams being a very important part of Agatean society).
  • Dick Francis uses this trope very well in The Edge. The British Jockey Club sends special investigator Tor Kelsey to spy on suspected bad guy Julius Filmer, aboard the Canadian Transcontinental Race Train. Kelsey joins the train crew as a waiter, and it works a treat - no one suspects his real identity, and he can go pretty much anywhere he wants on the train.
  • A variant occurs in the Enola Holmes series: in order to hide in plain sight from her brother Sherlock Holmes, Enola disguises herself as the one thing Sherlock will never look twice at: a beautiful woman!
  • In Everworld, the goddess Brigid lives in our world, disguised as an old Polish/Mexican-looking lady. People who see her coming or going from her mansion assume she's the maid.
  • The Executioner. Mack Bolan once spent a day crouched in a rice paddy wearing a black poncho and a straw hat pretending to be a peasant farmer while enemy soldiers searched the area all around looking for him. He uses the tactic routinely during his war against The Mafia, knowing that no-one will suspect the friendly telephone repairman as the notorious black-suited One-Man Army.
  • In Stephen King's The Eyes of The Dragon, this is evil sorcerer Randall Flagg's favorite trick to avoid detection when he's skulking around the castle. He mentions that making yourself truly invisible with magic is basically impossible, like many other standard forms of magic you see in fairy tales like easy shapeshifting, but it's perfectly simple to "shade" yourself. This spell makes any guards or passing servants ignore the caster like they would any other random background static of daily life.
  • G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown:
    • In the story "The Invisible Man", a man is murdered and witnesses say they saw nobody. Father Brown figures out that the murderer was dressed as a postman, and the witnesses didn't think he was important.
    • An even sneakier two-way example appears in "The Queer Feet", in which a clever thief disguises himself in an evening suit at a posh function and acts unobtrusively so that the guests mistake him for a waiter, and the actual waiters mistake him for a guest.
  • In The Flying Cloud, Jenkins often takes on the job of infiltrating buildings to steal documents, because he is a master of making himself seem like a boring functionary that no one should pay attention to. It's so effective that the command crew calls it the Cloak of Invisibility, though it does have its limits: it only works if someone who sees him will pay no attention to a boring functionary, so it doesn't work in complete no-go zones and is of limited effectiveness against other, less subtle intruders.
  • In Forever Amber, one Duke is highly renowned for being a master of disguise, such that when it comes to light that he was involved in a treasonous plot, he disappears easily. We see the effect social class has on his abilities—the only time we see him disguised is when he dresses up as a musketeer and successfully manipulates his cousin Barbara Villiers into coming onto him.
    • He does this to gain a private audience with her without blowing his cover, for those of you with sick minds.
  • Girls Don't Hit: Joss' cover as an ordinary businesswoman, wife and mother is designed for her to be this overall, along with acting normally on jobs. Her being female likely also helps, as hitwoman really don't figure in most people's expectations.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is explained Harry's parents tried to hide their house from Voldemort with the use of the Fidelius Charm. Said charm magically hides a location using someone's mind as a hiding place; the so-called Secret Keeper. The only way the location can be found is when the Secret Keeper chooses to divulge the information. Harry's parents invoked this trope by choosing the rather unassuming Peter Pettigrew as Secret Keeper rather than the obvious choice of James's very best friend and Harry's godfather Sirius Black, thinking Voldemort wouldn't possibly even consider going after him. Unfortunately, said person willingly gave up the location to Voldemort.
    • According to Nearly Headless Nick, a proper House Elf is never noticed when doing his job. Because of this, House Elf Dobby knows stuff that really comes in handy for Harry. Barty Crouch Jr., disguised as Moody, even invokes this trope in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by making Dobby do chores in the staffroom, while talking to the other teachers about how Harry could solve the second Triwizard Task. Dobby, who is fanatically loyal to Harry, overhears this and helps him to a solution, while no one ever suspects Dobby of helping him.
    • Unfortunately this house elf trait applies to the way Sirius views Kreacher's absence during the Christmas holiday in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Sirius' lack of wanting to track down where in the house Kreacher has gone to is at least partially motivated by how vile, argumentative and rude he is and the way he has been contributing to Sirius going stir crazy while being stuck under house arrest in a house he loathes. This leads directly to Sirius' death as Kreacher took a 'get out' meaning out of the room to meaning out of the house and gave Bellatrix and Narcissa everything Voldemort needed to lure out both Harry and Sirius.
  • Subverted and then played straight in Heralds of Valdemar: In the Exiles Duology, Alberich and crew need to find a spy who has recently arrived in Valdemar's capital. Alberich speculates that the spy has gone undercover as a servant in a noble house, but the other Heralds explain that he can't have done that—the nobles certainly wouldn't notice, but that's immaterial because the servants would never have let him in the door. The households of the wealthy are a tight-knit subculture, and getting hired without being related to or at least knowing someone who already works there is basically impossible. It turns out their man is posing as an actor, which allows him to mix with his noble "fans" (i.e., the slimy prince he's passing intel to) but still causes him not to be taken seriously (as acting, in a semi-feudal setting, is not a high-status job, and he takes pains to be seen as a frivolous womanizer).
    • Also played straight in Take a Thief: young Herald-Trainee Skif infiltrates a meeting of Valdemaran nobility by donning the uniform and the role of a page-boy.
  • In the James Bond short story "From a View to a Kill", M thinks that perhaps the enemy has disguised himself as a gardener or garbage man or such. Someone that's hidden in plain sight. Then, it is told that it isn't possible as those jobs on the base are done by enlisted military personnel.
  • A Master of Djinn: At first, no one suspects Abigail is the lead imposter, because Al-Jahiz was male and they portrayed him as such in his "return", but also she's a seemingly harmless woman.
  • In The Machineries of Empire, drones can go anywhere and spy on everything because people underestimate how smart they are and therefore don't pay any attention to them whatsoever.
  • In the Nero Wolfe novel Too Many Cooks, the murderer disguises himself as a hotel servant, complete with Blackface.
  • Nick Velvet: In "The Theft of the General's Trash", Nick poses as a milkman in order to gain access to secure apartment block on the grounds that no one notices a milkman. He is right and none of the tenants pay him any attention. While the doorman does notice him, his only question is "Where's the regular guy?"
  • The Odyssey: Odysseus goes "Old Man" mode, and checks if Penelope is still faithful with the aid of his son. Turns out she is, but heads roll anyways.
  • Rod Allbright Alien Adventures: The wealthy intergalactic criminal BKR disguises himself as a human child to hide out undetected on Earth. As a bonus, this lets him vent his petty sadism on helpless children.
  • In the Ryanverse story Without Remorse, where the reader discovers the origin of legendary CIA agent John Clark, he takes revenge against drug syndicate that killed his lover. He manages to successfully elude the police and the syndicate, despite very publicly murdering a total of 8 people,note  by disguising himself as a street wino. His internal monologue even makes a comparison to the camouflage he used in Vietnam.
    • Tom Clancy often makes the point in his books that one of the best disguises is a uniform of some kind because people only really see the uniform, not the face.
  • The Shadow used to disguise himself as the janitor at police headquarters to gain access to information and no one paid him the slightest attention.
  • Sherlock Holmes occasionally makes use of the "Baker Street Irregulars", a gang of young street urchins, who because they are typically ignored by everyone, can serve as his eyes and ears on the streets of London. He was also a Master of Disguise among his many other talents, and in several stories dressed as a Lower-Class Lout that most people wouldn't look twice at.
    • The TV series Sherlock includes an homage to this, except he uses the homeless people of London instead of young street urchins. They prove invaluable when he needs to find a specific piece of graffiti that could be almost anywhere in the city. He gives them burner phones to contact him and pays generously with cash for whoever can find what he's looking for.
    • It's also used to great effect by the sympathetic Anti-Villain of A Study in Scarlet, who finds a profession that allows him to go anywhere in London and transport his victims (of their own free will) to isolated spots ideal for a murder.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire it's implied that most of Varys' "little birds" who gather information for him are a group of tongueless but literate children who hide in the secret passages running through the Red Keep.
  • Star Wars: Queen's Shadow: Padme's handmaidens are chosen and trained based on their physical similarities to the Queen. They are trained with imitating her to near perfection, with only those who are very close to the Queen able to detect the different. In turn, Queen Amidala also masquerades as her handmaidens when necessary and has fooled many into believing she is just one of many. Of note is her handmaiden Sabe who calls herself the Queen's shadow. As handmaidens, no one notices them because they are often in the background assisting other characters. More so, senators and other aristocrats don't even notice them when they are standing in front of them since they do not deal with them directly, and are literally beneath their notice, putting this into full effect.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • Words of Radiance: Elhokar (the king) survives an assassination attempt, and Kaladin (his bodyguard) needs to put him somewhere safe while he goes off to save someone else. He obviously can't stay in the palace; all the guards are suspect. For similar reasons, he can't go to the royal safehouse or even Kaladin's barracks, since those are the first places anyone will look. Where does he take him? A little house in the slums, belonging to the mother of one of Kaladin's crippled subordinates. Said mother proceeds to treat her king like an uppity child, insisting he gets a good night's sleep and eats breakfast before the guards come to escort him back.
      The Nanha: I'm not going to have them come and get you and find you not properly fed! I'll not have people saying that Your Brightness, no, I won't! Eat up. I've got soup cooking.
    • Edgedancer: Discussed. Lift notices that nobody pays attention to street urchins and homeless people. It is the job of an Edgedancer to avert this, which is why their third Oath is "I will listen to those who have been ignored."
  • Villains by Necessity: Arcie and Kaylana infiltrate Mizzamir's castle by disguising themselves as servants hired on as temp workers for the multinational wizards' conference that Mizzamir is hosting at the time. When they need to get into the archmage's personal tower, Arcie grabs a tray of wine glasses and asks one of the permanent staff for directions, to which the butler's only reaction while giving the directions is annoyance over the fact that this meant that yet another part of the castle would need extra cleaning when the conference was over.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • Servants, beggars and other people who go unnoticed are an important source of information and are frequently secretly employed as spies. Smart characters make sure each member of their household is vetted for, and ensure potential outside observers are identified.
    • Moghedien — one of the Dark One's most dreaded and powerful servants — spends some time undercover as a merchant's maidservant, keeping an eye on a group of Dark-aligned Aes Sedai. She repeats the trick later by posing as a refugee doing menial labour in the rebel Aes Sedai headquarters.
    • Verin manages this even among her fellow Aes Sedai by presenting herself as a bookish Ditzy Genius who ignores worldly matters to putter around doing research. This works so well that Siuan and Moiraine ignore Verin taking notes while they discuss their top-secret project to find The Chosen One. Fortunately, this serves Verin well as a triple agent, collecting intelligence to bring down the evil Ancient Conspiracy she was forced to join.
  • Where The Drowned Girls Go: The true headmaster of Whitehorn Institute is an Evil Sorcerer who putters around the school doing custodial work. When the viewpoint character learns this, she realizes she'd seen him before but glossed over him every time.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100: At the start of season 3, Clarke is hiding in the wilderness and avoiding both her own people and their one-time allies, the Grounders. Since she is living like a native Grounder, speaking the local language and hunting for her own food, occasionally exchanging animal meat and skin for goods at a trading post, nobody thinks that she might be the person everybody is looking for. Roan sees through the disguise and captures her regardless.
  • Slightly inverted in the Alias episode "Détente": Nadia is initially undercover as a maid. When they realize their current plan won't work, Nadia and Sydney instead dress up as debutantes to find an alternate way past the guards. Sloane protests this saying the guards already saw Nadia's face, only for her to dismiss his fears by saying "Nobody looks at the help." She's right.
  • In the Alphas episode "Rosetta" the team encounters an autistic woman during a raid on a terrorist safe-house who has the power to understand and translate all languages she hears, instantly, and figure that the terrorists have been exploiting the woman to encode and decode their secret messages. The woman volunteers to assist them in catching the terrorists and seems to be helping until Gary notices she's been intentionally mistranslating the encoded messages by just enough to make it look like she was making minor mistakes. Turns out she wasn't being exploited by the terrorists... she was the leader of this particular terror cell and no one considered she was anything but a victim because of her autism.
  • Andor: Cassian's mother, Maarva, becomes a radicalized Rebel halfway through the series. Everyone, from the Imperials to her neighbors to her own son, all ignore her as a silly old woman who can't do anything. The Imperials and the Rebels both keep an eye on her in case Cassian comes back for her, but Maarva herself is discounted as unimportant. Then she dies, and the climax of the series revolves around her funeral, once again expecting Cassian to come back. Maarva herself is completely ignored (understandably, since she's dead). Yet it is her final speech, delivered via hologram at her own funeral, that incites the townspeople to riot against the Imperials. This throws every plan into absolute disarray... except for Cassian, who uses the cover to quietly rescue Bix from Imperial custody.
  • On Babylon 5, the pak'ma'ra were frequently reviled by other races due to their bizarre cultural and dietary habits. They also tended to be everywhere, often working menial jobs where their presence was ignored as much as possible. Delenn reasoned that this characteristic made them ideal couriers and even infiltrators.
    • To smuggle a Narn prisoner through the Centauri royal palace, where a Narn would ordinarily stand out like a sore thumb, Londo Mollari dresses her up in a Centauri gown and veil, and then simply walks her through the palace passages as his concubine, pretending to be a loud and rowdy drunkard. The Centauri nobles are conditioned to not pay attention to anything unseemly, so nobody gives the woman a close look.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: In Halloween IV, Gina was able to spy on everyone else for her plan by wearing one of Amy's pantsuits.
    Amy: That suit is not drab! It has a fun salmon lining.
    Gina: No, Amy, it made me invisible.
  • A Black Lady Sketch Show has "Invisible Spy", in which Trinity exploits this to hilarious effect, including simply walking past a security guard, and is even asked to sign her own birthday card by a coworker..
    Gina Torres: Trinity is incredible. Her regular-looking face makes her nearly invisible in the field, but around here, she's a real legend.
  • In Season 1 of Breaking Bad, DEA agent Hank is able to trace a stolen gas mask to Walt's inventory, but it never crosses his mind that it was Walt who stole it because he knows him personally and thinks him too meek to be capable of that. Instead, he keeps investigating under the assumption that it was Walt's students who stole it and never seriously questions him.
  • A common tactic on Burn Notice, Michael will sometimes don the uniform of a maintenance worker or such, since nobody thinks to question why a guy from the phone company is fiddling with phone connections.
    • A trait it seems he inherited from his dad - Mr. Weston Sr. used to do the same to steal equipment off of work sites.
  • Recurs in Criminal Minds. Since regular police officers are trained to look for people who stand out, the BAU really only get called in when someone beneath notice is targeting an area. It's their job to turn the search toward those people.
    • A heavily-lampshaded early example is the Tommy Killer in "Plain Sight." The team quickly explains that he has to be white because a black person would stick out in the neighborhoods he's targeting. He turns out to be a utility man: Of course he's moving around in locked-down areas—a service call's a service call. Of course he's carrying duct tape, binding cords, etc. and is able to remove them from the scene—he needs his supplies for work. Of course he's poking around people's houses—he has to check their connections. Of course he's up on utility poles where he can peek into women's bedrooms—that's quite literally his job description.
    • "Broken Mirror" and "The Crossing" both deal with erotomaniac stalkers, people who have casual contact with a person (or even just see them on TV) and become convinced that they're secretly in love or even in a relationship. The team has to delve into the victims' lives and look at everyone they've been in contact with since the harassment started, and the stalker never even registers. In "Broken Mirror," the victim's father is aware of the stalker, but considers him a casual associate at best and doesn't think to mention the access that he and his coworkers have to the family; in "The Crossing," the victim only remembers her previous meeting with the stalker after the adrenaline of the final confrontation wears off, and a chilling montage plays scenes from earlier in the episode showing that, not only was he always around without her being noticed, he was always around in situations where she was casually (albeit somewhat reluctantly) discussing personal information: confirming her address at a pharmacy, giving her phone number for account tracking at a dry cleaner, etc. so not only was the stalker beneath notice, the ways he was able to track and violate her didn't even register as concerning.
  • In an episode of Deal or No Deal the contestant's daughter, who lives overseas, was one of the "models" holding a case as a special surprise for her mother. Howie had to literally yell at the contestant to look at the model before she caught on.
  • An episode of Deception (2018) reveals that "Sasha," an infamous Russian mobster, has been posing as the bartender for the club his gang hangs out at. When arresting him, FBI agent Kay openly lampshades how brilliant this was as no one would give the bartender a second look, let alone think he was the boss.
  • On Designated Survivor, Hannah is told that a virus in NASA computers was planted by "the plumber." She assumes that's a nickname for some ultra-slick and genius hacker. Partner Chuck informs her that he meant the guy is literally the plumber, who has security clearance to get into NASA but no one would ever pay attention to, making him the perfect guy to do this.
    Chuck: All this high-tech security and it's pierced by the guy who unclogs the toilets.
  • On Drop Dead Diva, Kim is suing a famous Lady Gaga style pop diva of stealing her dance routines from a school group. When the defense claims only the star comes up with the routines, Kim claims the woman must have personally videotaped the school performances. The diva's attorney argues that everyone knows the woman on sight so there's no way she could have done this...until Kim forces the woman to remove her outlandish wig and makeup in court. Without those, the diva looks like any average person no one would give a second glance to.
  • Invoked by Fallon on Dynasty (2017) in how she's surprisingly good at undercover work when she's not flaunting her uber-wealth.
    Fallon: Digging up insider info is even easier when they assume you work for the airline, instead of owning the plane.
  • In Fringe, Walter explains that a side-effect they noticed amongst the children treated with Cortexiphan was that it instilled a subconscious desire to blend into their surroundings; as such, they had a tendency to be dress in drab colors which don't attract much attention, such as black, white and grey.
  • Throughout Game of Thrones, spymaster Varys mentions his "little birds" of informants, giving the indication they're an elite group of highly trained spies. In the sixth season, it turns out they're the poor children of the city who can easily get around and listen in but no one pays attention to. Sadly, for once, Varys makes a mistake as he's failed to consider these children could care less who runs the city and thus, rather than loyal to him, they'll easily work for anyone offering money and treats.
  • On Good Girls, gang leader Rico is ready to kill main characters Beth, Annie and Ruby for unwittingly stealing from the store he was using as a front. Beth manages to talk him down from it by pointing out that killing three suburban mothers is going to bring too much attention to him. Her words make Rico realize that a trio of women with no criminal records and rather plain lives are perfect for him to use for running errands and laundering money in a variety of small-time scams.
    • Season 4 proves how well it works as FBI agent Phoebe has been slowly building a case on the girls and hunting them. In a meeting with her superiors, Phoebe is shocked to realize her bosses are operating under the belief that Beth's husband, Dean (an utter sad sack who openly says he doesn't want to know what his wife is up to) is the real criminal mastermind and the wife isn't even on their radar.
  • On Hustle, Ash uses this fairly often in terms of setting up their cons.
  • Invoked in the fourth season of In the Dark when blind Murphy is in jail. Needing protection, she convinces the cellblock's local gang boss she can help by delivering drugs for her. As Murphy says, "the guards think I can't take two steps on my own" and will never consider she's running drugs around.
  • One of the big reasons Villanelle from Killing Eve is such a good assassin is that she’s able to blend in as just another random, unassuming, pretty twenty-something woman.
  • In L.A.'s Finest, the team is hunting a gunman who's notable for having an artificial leg. Racing into an alleyway, the guy strips off both his jumpsuit and the fake leg, slips a cap on his head and sits with a batch of homeless people. The cops are literally just a few feet away and complain the guy has "completely vanished" before them.
  • On Leverage, while Sophie, Hardison and Nate are more likely to show up people of importance, Parker and Eliot generally fly under the radar by posing as irrelevant workers. Parker and Eliot are also much less likely to be captured, though that is also due to their respective skill sets allowing them to get out of danger more easily.
    • Ironically, one of the few times Hardison tries this, he is noticed. He enters an elevator dressed as a janitor and exits dressed in a suit. He successfully plays it off as racism.
    • Parker apparently learned this from her mentor Archie, as he also does this in "The Big Dam Job." As he says, "Nobody ever cuts the cake until someone tells them to cut the cake." He was stealing a sword from an exhibit on opening night by smuggling it out through a fake cake, appearing as part of the catering staff. Once inside the party, he removed the white catering jacket and was just another gentleman at a nice party with a cane.
    • This is inverted in "The Girls' Night Out Job" by the assassin the team is trying to catch. He disguises himself as a waiter, but doesn't put any effort into convincing the other catering staff that he belongs, which is what gets him caught. Parker's friend Peggy, who coincidentally is in charge of the food for this event, quickly realizes something is off with him after having to correct him on multiple basic errors (like carrying glasses with his fingers inside, a big food service no-no), and points out "the worst waiter ever" to Parker.
  • Midnight Sun (2016): The killer does menial cleaning work in many places, which both permits access and being overlooked.
  • Willy Armitage of Mission: Impossible routinely infiltrated the target location by disguising himself as a janitor or repairman.
  • On Orange Is the New Black, most of the guards are busy keeping the opposing factions of white, black and Latina inmates in check, which grants Mei Chang, one of the very few Asian inmates, the freedom to do basically whatever the heck she wants.
  • Poirot, "The Yellow Iris": The murderer at a Fancy Dinner is revealed to have slipped away from the dinner table, disguised himself as a waiter, and poisoned the victim's wine while refilling people's drinks. When a man at the Summation Gathering voices doubt that no one would recognize the murderer, Poirot points out that the waitress serving them coffee is also one of their friends, disguised in uniform.
  • Sherlock invokes this trope several times.
    • The very first episode has Sherlock and John chase down a cab because they believe the passenger is a murderer. He isn't, but the driver is. Nobody ever looks at a cabbie. Gets a Call-Back in season 2, when Sherlock catches a cab and despite his Hyper-Awareness, fails to realize that it's being driven by Moriarty.
    • In The Great Game, Sherlock barely glances at Molly's boyfriend Jim, who turns out to be Moriarty.
    • In The Empty Hearse, when Sherlock returns from the dead. He pretends to be the waiter at the restaurant where John is waiting for his girlfriend, intending to suddenly reveal himself and surprise John. Unfortunately for Sherlock's plan, John is so distracted that he pays almost no attention to his "waiter", going so far as to question Sherlock about wines without actually ever looking at him, and Sherlock's initial attempts at a sudden reveal fall completely flat.
      John: [uncertain about choosing a wine] Surprise me.
      Sherlock: [annoyed] I am endeavoring to, sir.
    • Then done again in the very next episode, The Sign of Three, where the wedding photographer is the (attempted) murderer. His cover allowed him to go anywhere, not be in any pictures, and no one could describe his face since it was typically hidden by a camera.
  • In the second episode of Supergirl, Kara worries that Clark Kenting might fool the average person, but surely not her boss, who sees her every day. James points out that Cat never really sees her.
  • In Timeless, Rufus claims that this is his superpower when they jump to Las Vegas in The '60s. He's able to easily enter the service areas and swipe some uniforms with no one noticing or caring.
  • V (1983): Ruby is able to burn a V shuttle using a Molotov cocktail because V soldiers and human cops collaborating with them are focused on searching young men, not an older woman like her. Only one cop realizes she did it, but lets her go because he secretly agrees with the resistance, chuckling in amusement at her feat.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Sidereal Exalted occasionally cast themselves as forgettable extras, such as a town drunk or local guardsman, and even gain massive bonuses for doing so. And yet it is through these disguises that they essentially rule Creation from behind the scenes.
  • In the 1980s James Bond 007 RPG, it's more expensive to build an average-looking character than a good-looking one, partly for game balance (blending into the crowd is a very useful tactic for a spy) and partly to encourage players to go along with the larger-than-life genre.
  • The New World of Darkness:
    • Many Splats can use the Point Build System to gain a Merit that makes it harder for someone to find records of the individual or track them down. It goes by various names depending on the game line, among them "Occultation," "Hidden Life," and "Anonymity". Often, though, these Merits also apply penalties to situations where being known would be useful ("Who're you to throw your weight around? Don't know you from Adam...").
    • A non-supernatural merit in Vampire: The Requiem makes a character less noticeable while they're doing a routine, practical task like paperwork or gardening.
    • Mage: The Awakening:
      • The Blank Badges Legacy can turn their Occultation into effective dots of Status in any mundane group. The net effect is that nobody knows who the character is but they're clearly someone important, allowing for all kinds of social engineering fun.
      • One Prime spell allows a Mage to hide his Aura and look just like a Muggle to foes relying on magic-detecting abilities to spot Mages.
  • The Pyramid article Worldwide Temporary Staffing: "You Take Over The World, We'll Take Care Of The Rest!" describes a contracting agency for supervillains, providing them with brainwashed guards, lair construction, people who can do the paperwork, and janitorial staff. The janitors are the most highly-trained operatives, and least conditioned for loyalty to the supervillain. Their real job is to report everything back to WTS.
  • In 7th Sea, the Servant skill has a Knack (sub-skill) called Unobtrusive, which relies on this trope.
  • Shadowrun: Often used by runners infiltrating corporate facilities.
    • Common in Shadowrun fiction also. In one of the first short stories written for the setting, a fugitive from the yakuza is successfully smuggled past a cordon of street thugs, all of them on high alert, because her escort bribed a pizza deliveryman to let them borrow his van.
  • Mostly averted in Warhammer 40,000, where many Inquisitors use disguises to get around without raising suspicion but due to a regrettable lack of imagination, many of them go around as Rogue Traders, and there's one whose cover was a Dumb Blonde Glamorous Wartime Singer. She was smart enough to get an actual Rogue Trader to hang around and be suspicious.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: The 4th Edition talent of this name makes people of a higher social status than you ignore your presence as long as you don't draw attention to yourself. Furthermore such characters will find you an unworthy opponent and refuse to use bonuses when attacking or wounding you.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age:
    • In Dragon Age II, free mage Merrill finds that she doesn't have to do much to stay hidden from the Templars in Kirkwall; as long as she doesn't use magic, she's just another elf in the Alienage to them.
    • The Friends of Red Jenny are a loosely-organized network of ordinary people trading favours in order to get back at nobles who abuse their power. The mysterious name is just to give their targets something to wonder about, ensuring they'll never suspect their cook or gardener.
    • The Iron Bull is a spy whose main cover is that of a renowned mercenary. While certainly higher profile than other versions it allows him to travel across the land and hobnob with high society (who see him as just another sellsword) for any worthwhile rumors or info that he writes back to his superiors.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, the in-game book Beggar Prince tells the tale of Wheedle, a beggar who asked Namira, the Daedric Prince of the Ancient Darkness (associated with all things revolting, decay, and cannibalism) for the power to become wealthy. She granted his wish, "blessing" him with the power to be afflicted with any disease he wanted, the power to make people feel pity for him whenever they see him, and the power to make people disregard his presence as unimportant. The last power causes many people to talk about their most important secrets in Wheedle's presence, as they disregard him as something unimportant. The book closes with the tip that whenever you need to know something about a city, the beggars are probably your best source of information. This was actually implemented in Oblivion, where beggars are your source of information for multiple Thieves' Guild quests.
  • In the Hitman series, disguises such as repairmen, chefs, waiters and janitors allow you to enter many guarded places freely, and also provide ample opportunities to poison your target's food or tamper with machinery to set up an "accidental" death. They can, however, sometimes restrict the areas you may enter while wearing them.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords: When asked why the HK-50s are masquerading as mere protocol droids, assassin droid HK-47 explains it thus:
    You see, part of the reason an assassin droid is so effective is because it is a droid. Meatbags tend not to notice us, we are treated as furnishings. [...] Droids tend to blend into the background. Like a bench. Or a card table.
  • Taken to the extreme in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask with the Stone Mask, which magically makes its wearer so thoroughly uninteresting and unremarkable that they effectively become invisible since nothing pays any attention whatsoever to them. A number of people are observant or disciplined enough to still notice, however: a number of the Gerudo pirates will still engage you, remarking "That mask won't fool me!" as they attack.
  • Mass Effect:
    • In Mass Effect 2, Thane's loyalty mission has his backstory exposition include the tunnel vent rats, a group of orphans who live in the Citadel and acted as his spy network because nobody ever took notice of them.
      Thane: My people call them "drala'fa", the ignored. They are everywhere, see everything, but they are never seen.
    • The Collectors exploit this by having the vorcha release their plague on Omega, a species considered vermin by the rest of the Galaxy. This also yields the side-benefit of causing civil unrest when it's discovered it's an engineered virus, as the two species who are immune are humans and vorcha... and guess where the finger falls on.
    • The Keepers who operate the Citadel are another example of this. Even the player will have likely forgotten about them by the time their true purpose is revealed; silently maintaining the Citadel until the time is right to open the Relay and allow the Reapers to return from Dark Space.
  • Persona 4:
    • The true antagonist is the gas station attendant who shakes your hand in the opening scenes of the game, she is Izanami. The game itself tries to convince you they're an unimportant background NPC, as they have no name or character portrait until The Reveal and aren't voiced (except during the opening cutscene, where everyone is voiced).
    • The person behind most of the abductions (but not the actual's complicated) is Taro Namatame, a disgraced politician now working as a delivery man. He pulls off the abductions by walking up to the door of the intended target, ringing the doorbell and pretending it's an ordinary delivery. He can go anywhere he wants because nobody would give a delivery truck a second glance, no matter where it's parked.
  • In the Mooncrash DLC of Prey one of the playable characters is Claire Whitten, a simple janitor whose initial profile states that she's a solitary person who's content with not being noticed. Later on, after completing Vijay Bhatia's story missions it's revealed that she's actually a corporate saboteur sent by a rival corporation to steal TranStar secrets and assassinate director Riley Yu.
  • Although he is a janitor, Roger Wilco from Space Quest fame dresses up as a janitor of an Evil, Inc. in Space Quest 3.
  • The core game mechanic of We Happy Few revolves around this to survive the townsfolk. Wearing the proper clothing, doing what everyone else is doing, popping a Joy when necessary, not trespassing, and not being out after curfew will allow you to move around completely unhindered. Draw too much attention and be outed as a Downer, though? Better get ready to run or fight for your life.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Zero Time Dilemma this is how Delta avoids suspicion. After all, there's no way a blind and deaf old man in a wheelchair could be the Big Bad, right?

  • In Awful Hospital, greyzoners (humans) are extremely vulnerable to perception filtering, but since we only have five (maybe six) senses across a narrow spectrum each, it's usually considered a waste of time, allowing certain characters, such as Fern and Dr. Man, to slip through the Parliament's net.
  • Girl Genius: The Heterodyne Spymaster infiltrates the target's army by signing up as some sort of low-ranking private and acting as a innocuous, bored grunt.
    Tarvek: Oh, of course. You're actually a member of Her Majesty's military forces, aren't you? An able seaman or a gunsmith or somesuch. Something low-level. Innocuous. You're probably on the rolls of half the armies of Europa. It would be child's play for you, I suppose—after all, you've had lots and lots of practice, haven't you?
  • In The Order of the Stick prequel story "How the Paladin Got His Scar", there is a sniveling, hunchbacked hobgoblin cleric whose pragmatic reasoning typically contrasts with his more warlike superiors. At the end of the story, the hobgoblin Supreme Leader, his general, and every other hobgoblin in the throne room except the cleric inexplicably dies from poisoned gouda. The cleric takes a more proper posture and admits that he's been faking his disability to seem less threatening for years, and the events of the story simply gave him the chance to pull his coup.
  • In Star Mares, the Imperial military is so used to the idea that unicorns only exist to perform maintenance jobs that Maple Leaf (an earth pony) is able to pass unnoticed through multiple levels of security by stealing a maintenance uniform, taping a toilet paper tube to her forehead, and hanging a sign with 'unicorn' written on it around her neck.
  • Used in this Subnormality strip, in which the comic focuses on an Overt Operative with what seems to be his Internal Monologue... only to reveal the actual spy is the nebbish man sitting in the background who's unable to get the waitress' attention due to this trope.
    And I don't hide in plain sight. I don't hide at all. I just live in the blind spots that everyone has — the places you would never look because you assume — you know — nothing could be there. You can fit quite the little career in a blind spot.

    Web Original 
  • The Evil Empress Guide remarks on having extra bodyguards dressed as eunuchs and handmaidens so that visiting parties will ignore them like "so much furniture".
  • Rose Jenny of Pokémon World Tour: United is the first Jenny in a long time, if not ever, to actively refuse to join the Police Academy and become an Officer Jenny like every other single member of her family, much to their disapproval. Trajan suggests utilizing this fact when trying to convince Amelia Jenny to let Rose in on confidential information and letting her lead the investigation into Jennys that are compromised and/or brainwashed by Team Rocket. Because the other Jennys regard Rose as being somewhere between a Bratty Teenage Daughter and a proper Black Sheep, most will assume she has neither the skills nor the temperament to actually be a danger, even in spite of the fact Rose has fought Team Rocket multiple times by this point.

    Web Videos 
  • Polnareff, when working for DIO in Vaguely Recalling JoJo, disguised himself as a restaurant waiter to get closer to the Joestar group.

    Western Animation 
  • In season 7 of Archer, the cast is hired to help protect a valuable set of emeralds at a charity benefit, which they do undercover, half as high society guests and the others as waiters. It doesn't go very well because the characters are more interested in standing around and sniping bitterly at each other or gossiping, but they don't blow their cover. Not that it matters because the benefit is hijacked by a group of armed robbers looking for the jewels later revealed to be part of an insurance scam by the lawyer who hired the cast.
    • Also done in season 4 when they're hired to be undercover at a Hell's Kitchen parody to protect the Albanian ambassador who is dining there that night which AGAIN turns out to be a scam, this time on behalf of Malory who faked a bomb threat so she could get a table at the exclusive restaurant. The Albanian ambassador gets killed anyway, by the star chef, having been paid off by Russian cyborgs Katya and Barry.
  • In Batman Beyond, contrasting Bruce's tactic as intentionally masking his identity by creating an Idle Rich persona, Terry puts in little to no effort to hide who he actually is simply because nobody (except Max) would believe in a million years the nondescript somewhat-delinquent high school student with a part-time job as "Bruce Wayne's house boy" (as one villain described him) could possibly be Batman. Even though he runs around doing blatantly Batmanesque fighting and acrobatics, even when he openly makes the astute observations of a detective, even when he makes absolutely no effort at all to mask or hide his voice and fits the physical description of the new Batman to a T, nobody puts two and two together because he's just so nondescript and such an everyday teen nobody ever even thinks about the possibility. The one time a character took notice that he frequently ditched school and acted suspiciously merely assumed he was running with The Jokerz, she needed a program to do it, and the only reason she noticed at all is she was friends with the guy, and the time he blatantly told his family he was Batman made them crack up with laughter.
  • Justice League:
    • This is how Harv Hickman got away with having the Philosopher's Stone, an incredibly powerful magical object that could grant its owner's every desire, for decades without anyone attacking him for it or trying to steal it. Rather than using it for anything massive like to Take Over the World, immortality, power, or anything that would have drawn attention to it, he simply wished for money, women, and a little bit of fame making him look like your run-of-the-mill rich party animal.
      Wonder Woman: Let me understand this. You possess the most powerful object in the world and yet all you wished for is money and women?
      Harv: What else is there?
    • The titular organization does this to evade the Thanagarian invaders who have occupied Earth. They ditch the costumes, don civilian clothes, and hit the streets as their civilian Secret Identities. At one point Superman actually attempts to interview a Thanagarian soldier, introducing himself as "Clark Kent, Daily Planet", to distract him so Flash and Green Lantern can slip past a checkpoint without ids. It works.
    • And quite possibly one of the funniest moments in the series owes itself to The Flash's Secret Identity being a complete nobody from Central City. Lex Luthor, who has stolen Flash's body, decides to unmask himself and find out who The Flash really is. He takes one look at the generically handsome non-descript redheaded 20-something everyman beneath the mask and—
  • In Kulipari: An Army of Frogs, Killara's army has sandpaper frogs as their servants. Because of how unhygienic and insane they are, they're despised by everyone and no one pays attention to them, short of throwing an insult here and there. Darel sneaks through Marmoo's camp (and even burns it down and saves Gee) all while pretending to be one of said frogs.
  • A number of villains in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic operate like this to get away with their schemes, with varying levels of success. Starlight Glimmer got away with running a cult for years on the outskirts of the country until the Cutie Map was created and pointed out her town's existence. Ahuizotl's schemes only attract the attention of Daring Do who subsequently passes the stories off as pure fiction, and it's later revealed the princesses likely leave him alone because he's actually a good guy and probably would have intervened to stop Daring Do had they known the stories were true. And Cozy Glow managed to make it to the final stages of her plan due to being nothing more than a child.
  • Subverted in Recess: School's Out when TJ and Principal Prickley disguise themselves as two of Benedict's faceless mooks. It doesn't work because TJ is 10 years old and Prickley well into his 60s, making it obvious that they aren't supposed to be there.
  • In Regular Show, it turns out this was Thomas' entire purpose as The Generic Guy for being an intern; he was actually a spy for Russia sent to steal the park.
  • In Steven Universe, Homeworld makes use of hunter-killer Robonoid drones to seek out and shatter deviant "Off-Color" gems. The Robonoids only respond to gem signatures, taking no notice of organic life, which Homeworld disdains as worthless pests at most. This allows the entirely human Lars to use his body to block their scanners without being noticed, saving several Off-Color Gems.

    Real Life 
  • Ninja (supposedly, since ninja are supposed to be a secret) were not actually invisible but would take the role of an ordinary peasant, monk or anyone else and, sometimes for years, just blend in with everyone else until it was time to strike.
    • The common 'ninja uniform' of black pajamas and a face mask comes from exploiting this quality in the audience of Japanese theater. Throughout the play, stagehands dressed in this manner would be visible during the play but ignored as just part of the scenery. Because of this, they were the perfect place to stick a ninja into the script — to the audience, they would be appearing out of nowhere.
    • Demonstrated by a modern practitioner (an American) on a documentary on the subject. He was supposed to get close to another man and snatch the cap off his head (indicating he'd succeeded in getting close enough to assassinate him), the target being in a room with guards and monitoring equipment, and the guards knew he was coming along with a generic description. In order to do so, he borrowed a jacket and cap from the TV crew and puttered around, "checking" cameras and microphones, sometimes walking by with a roll of cable, and generally being ignored because the guards were aware everything was being filmed for a TV show, even though no one was supposed to have access. After a few hours, he talked himself into the room; the guards and target were oblivious until he lunged for the cap.
  • Then-dictator of Mexico General Antonio López de Santa Anna attempted this trope after the Mexican Army lost the Battle of San Jacinto during the Texas Revolution. He hoped that the Anglo-Texans and Tejanos would be so busy looking for an officer in a flashy uniform that they would overlook a simple peasant farmer. It didn't work.
    • Since disguising like a commoner is much more than just putting on common clothing, this trope isn't truly averted here, but played with. Commoners do notice other commoners and if they are behaving strangely and are also a stranger to everyone, they are a suspect.
      • Also, dude had a wooden leg. Kinda hard to miss that.
  • In the aftermath of the American Civil War, Confederate president Jefferson Davis is rumored to have attempted to escape the victorious Union forces disguised as a woman. This is likely because he'd been wearing his wife's overcoat against the cold.
  • Sometime around (before?) the Russo-Japanese War, there was a Japanese spy in Singapore. He served food in the officers' mess in a British base, listening to the information they revealed talking to each other, and no-one looked at him.
  • Chilean lawyer and guerrilla leader Manuel Rodríguez used this often to fight the Spaniards out of Chile. He went as far as opening the carriage door for the current Spanish governor Casimiro Marcó del Pont, who didn't recognize him and gave him a coin for the favor.
  • This is often given as a piece of advice for people traveling. The less you look like a tourist, the less likely you'll get in trouble with hooligans, thieves, or other such criminals.
  • While some smugglers dabble with customized or even custom-built highly stealthy platforms, the vast majority use standard vehicles. After all, that black speedboat cut down to a low profile is going to scream guilty, but a tugboat can enter a harbor without suspicion and earn some legitimate money while maintaining its cover.
  • Averted by Marie Antoinette during The French Revolution. The royal family had the chance to escape the peasants during the rebellion, but Marie insisted that they travel with all their royal accouterments and luxuries. The peasants swiftly caught them because the royal family stuck out like a sore thumb.

Alternative Title(s): Beneath Their Notice