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Cover-up Purchase

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A character wants to avoid others' judgements on what they wish to buy. Maybe it's something they find embarrassing, maybe it's something they'd prefer to keep a secret, but either way they want to avoid awkwardness or wary stares. Even though they had just wanted to buy that one thing, the character ends up buying other things along with it in order to draw attention away from a specific thing they bought.


A Cover-up Purchase can also involve buying the same item in small quantities from multiple stores.

Super-Trope to Trojan Gauntlet for when the person is embarrassed by condoms specifically, Infraction Distraction for when a character admits to a minor wrongdoing to cover up a larger one, and Tampon Run for when a man is embarrassed about buying menstrual products. Faking and Entering uses this same kind of misdirection when stealing from a room.



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  • One "Got Milk?" ad from 1995 has a man nervously buying Trix alongside more "grown up" cereals like Wheaties. As it turns out, he's so nervous because he's the Trix rabbit in disguise. The joke finishes with him being out of milk when he tries to eat the Trix.

     Anime & Manga  

  • Osomatsu-san: In one episode, the sextuplets give "virgin training" to their father in attempt to rekindle his love for their mother. One thing they teach him is to hide dirty magazines between ordinary ones to make it seem like an accident.

     Comic Books  

  • In one issue of Young Justice, Robin mentions he was able to bury the expense of producing and shipping a Batmobile across the country in "the Batarang budget".


     Film — Live Action  

  • In American Graffiti, Toad tries to purchase alcohol without an ID, so he tries to hide it with some other items.
    Toad: Let me have a Three Musketeers... and a ballpoint pen, one of those combs there... a pint of Old Harper... a couple of flashlight batteries and some beef jerky.
  • In the 1985 film adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, Matthew Cuthbert, a painfully shy farmer, spots a fancy party dress in a shop window that he knows his daughter, Anne, would love, but has trouble summoning up the courage to ask the shopkeeper about it. He ends up buying a garden rake (in mid-winter), asking to see hayseed (out of stock due to the season), and buying 20 pounds of brown sugar from the baffled clerk before finally managing to whisper "I need a dress... With puffed sleeves... For Anne."
  • In Batman Begins, Bruce and Alfred are ordering the components which will eventually be assembled into the batsuit:
    Alfred: Of course, they'll have to be large orders to avoid suspicion.
    Bruce: How large?
    Alfred: Say, ten thousand.
  • In Carry On Camping, Bernie is too shy to ask for sexual magazines over the counter in the newsagents, especially when there's an attractive woman serving for the day, so he asks for toothpaste out of embarrassment. Sid realizes, "That's why your cupboard's full of toothpaste."
  • In the Polish comedy Poszukiwany, poszukiwana a man orders his housekeeper to buy a large quantity of sugar. He is then angry when she goes to the nearest store and buys multiple bags of sugar. He explains to her that he is doing an investigation into the actual content of sugar in bags of sugar sold in stores and he needs her to travel all over Warsaw and buy single bags from different stores as samples. After a while the housekeeper discovers what is really going on: the man is a moonshiner and buying too much sugar at once would look suspicious. By having his housekeeper buy the sugar one bag at a time with other groceries, he hides the fact that he is buying way more sugar than one man can consume. The phrase "zawartość cukru w cukrze" ("content of sugar in sugar") is often used to indicate Techno Babble that is used to hide what is really going on.


  • In Big Blonde the protagonist plans on killing herself with bottle of veronal. She buys it but also buys some make-up to make it seem less suspicious, however she notes that the cashier doesn't seem to care either way.
  • Discussed in The Count of Monte Cristo, when the Count is giving plausibly-deniable advice on how to poison people to Mme de Villefort. He says that the ordinary criminal will think ahead and purchase sub-lethal doses of arsenic in five or six different drugstores... which will only make him that much easier to identify.
  • In Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret., Margaret and her friend are embarrassed to buy menstrual pads for the first time. They end up getting other items to curb attention.
  • In Anne of Green Gables, Matthew Cuthbert, a painfully shy farmer, wants to buy a party dress for his daughter, Anne, but has trouble working up the courage to ask the shopkeeper for help with this and swaps in more "normal" requests last-minute as he loses his courage. As a result, the increasingly flustered Matthew ends up buying a garden rake (in mid-winter), asking to look at hayseed (out of stock...because it's mid-winter), and finally 20 pounds of brown sugar before giving up and asking a female friend to obtain one for him instead.
  • In Ostfriesenmoor by Klaus-Peter Wolf, the criminal who has kidnapped infant twins buys baby food, gets scared that someone might connect the dots, and buys a hoard of unnecessary baking ingredients to pretend all the purchases will be used in cooking.
  • One tale in Haunted (2005) sees an adolescent boy wanting to experiment by stimulating his prostate, so he purchases a carrot and lubrication. Embarrassed, he also gets the rest of the fixin's to make a carrot cake... which he admits just made it look like he was going to have sex with the carrot and then prepare it, which is probably worse.

     Live Action TV  

  • In the Dexter episode "The Damage a Man Can Do", Dexter is buying killing tools together with Miguel Prado and purchases life vests along with the tools. When asked, he says, "We can't exactly load up the cart with axes and machetes, now can we?"
  • An seventh season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has Andrew needing to acquire blood for a ritual. Rather than any of the more nefarious means of acquiring it, he gets it from the town butcher. To cover up buying a side ingredient that doesn't really have any non-mystical purpose on its own, he ends up buying a lot of other meats and groceries.
  • In The Wonder Years episode "Swingers", Kevin and Paul go to the bookstore to buy a copy of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, but since he does not want the clerk to think they're perverts, he buys two other books and places this book between them. When he sees that the clerk is a woman, Paul hides it in his coat and they pay more money than the two other books cost.

     Print Media  

  • MAD Magazine had an article about an honestly-labeled video store, and one of the categories was "Diversionary rentals to put on top of the six porn tapes you're slinking around with so the cashier won't think you're a total sleaze"


  • In The Navy Lark, C.P.O. Pertwee has to get Number One a luxury chair that he really isn't entitled to, and decides the best way to do it is by indenting for a large quantity of them because the only time he indents for a single anything is when it is a battleship. Ultimately it fails because everyone else up the supply chain has the same idea, and by time the request reaches the naval supplier it has multiplied into every single luxury chair in the Royal Navy.

     Web Original  

  • From Spoony's review of Sewer Shark:
    This is the kind of game you'd lump in with a bunch of other stuff so the clerk just wouldn't give you that look (the "look" being a combination of eye rolling, raising and lowering the eyebrows, and exhaling in a puff of surprise).
  • Bogleech: One comic pits the title character's embarrassing love of action figures against his desire not to look like a "creepy man-child", culminating in a nightmare:
    Dream cashier: ...And then he bought with it a tie and all this porno to try and look normal!
  • The Cinema Snob: From his Caligula review, there's a Brad and Jerrid segment where Jerrid rents porn (Brad couldn't because he was banned from the video store after being caught masturbating). When Brad notices a Donald Duck DVD, he explains that he didn't want to look like a pervert. Brad then points out that it just made Jerrid look like he was going to show a kid cartoons as a warm up for porn.

     Western Animation  

  • In Hey Arnold! Season 1 "Helga's Makeover", when Helga wants to show that she's feminine to attend Rhonda's slumber party, she goes to a corner store to buy a preteen beauty magazine for makeover tips, along with other magazines to cover it up. Unfortunately, the cashier has trouble scanning the beauty magazine and shouts to her co-worker asking for the price for it while describing the magazine, which gets the attention of all shoppers. Helga quickly pays for all the magazines and then runs out the store embarrassed.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Summer of 4'2"", Homer wants to buy fireworks to celebrate Independence Day but the family are holidaying in a state where the sale of fireworks is illegal. He finds a store which looks like it stocks fireworks below the counter, and tries to make the order as nonchalant as possible by also buying a porno magazine, a large box of condoms, a bottle of alcohol, some panty shields and 2 disposable enemas, spoofing the aforementioned scene from American Graffiti. As Marge unpacks his shopping bag later she tells him "I don't know what you've got planned later, but count me out."
  • Parodied in the South Park episode "Toilet Paper" where the boys buy a trolley load of toilet paper ready to teepee their art teacher's house. Kyle is worried this will look suspicious, so Cartman balances it with one stick of gum. The cashier nonchalantly checks through roll after roll of toilet paper not suspecting a thing, ironically only being skeptical of the gum, warning the boys not to stick it under tables.

     Real Life  

  • Variant example from Real Life. Criminals sending letterbombs tend to use stamps to avoid a paper trail at a post office and often put more stamps on than are required to avoid any chance of the package being held due to insufficient postage. Postal and security staff are trained to look for this as a possible indicator of a suspect package.