In short, when the character wears their costume or uniform under his regular clothing for quick changing when there's evil afoot. Also not regular ol' dressing in layers, like the Stock Costume Trait for the Ordinary High-School Student.
Sometimes, the "under" clothes somehow cover more than the outer layer. Depending on the work, this can be carefully justified, handwaved, ignored, or, for comedies, lampshaded.
Not necessarily just for superheroes, although they are far more likely to use this trope.
- Crown: Badasses Ren and Jake apparently wear camouflage gear and bulletproof vests under everything.
- In the Fatal Fury anime movie, Kim Kapwan somehow disintegrates all of his clothing, revealing his fighting outfit below (all in the middle of a party where no fighting was expected to actually take place — talk about Crazy-Prepared.)
- The Castle of Cagliostro: Lupin wears a Zenigata disguise over his regular suit and a diving suit over both of them.
- Played for Laughs in the Dragonball Z movie Dragon Ball Z: Broly The Legendary Super Saiyan and Dragonball Super when Goku, having to wear a fancy suit, gets the chance to ditch it and is revealed to be wearing his Turtle School gi underneath.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has an unexplained inversion of this trope. The episode "CASH EYE" features Motoko attending a high class party while wearing a sexy evening gown that leaves her arms, legs, neck, and cleavage exposed. After taking a moment to knock out the target that she's investigating, she strips her dress to reveal a full body Spy Catsuit that leaves nothing exposed.
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny: Meyrin Hawke uses this as part of an Indy Ploy to keep the ZAFT soldiers pursuing the runaway Athrun from looking inside her room and finding him. She gets her hair wet and wraps a Modesty Towel over her clothes before she answers the door to them, looking like they just interrupted her shower and she claims they can't come in since she's naked. Sure enough, they tell her to Please Put Some Clothes On and go check the next room.
- In Naruto, during the first invasion of Konoha, the Third Hokage flings off his clothes to reveal a full suit of armour. Apparently he was wearing it under his Hokage robes just in case he was attacked. Quite a few characters seemingly wear some kind of chainmail vests under their shirts, Naruto included, though for some of them at least a little is visible through their shirts.
- Pacific Rim: The Black: When Jaeger pilots are placed into position in the cockpit, their uniforms are placed over whatever clothes they're already wearing. This despite the fact that the uniforms appear to be skintight and therefore shouldn't fit over other clothes.
- It's implied Team Rocket from Pokémon does this since their reveals involve pulling off their disguise to reveal the uniform underneath. Even when James' female disguise is quite skimpy. And almost anytime they get to hide gloves under bare hands.
- Powerpuff Girls Z: Duchess is a jet pilot who wears her flight suit underneath her dress.
- A particularly egregious example in Sailor Moon when Zoisite is disguised as the mini-skirted titular character, then drops the skirt to reveal his usual uniform underneath.
- Asura of Soul Eater is said to have been so paranoid and averse to contact that he wore several sets of heavy clothes on top of one another.
- The DCU:
- Superman in all his adaptations:
- In the Silver Age, writers would occasionally go to great lengths to justify and explain how he could hide his cape under Clark Kent's dress shirt, or fit shoes and socks over his Superman boots (the usual answer was something like "super compression.") For the record, while operating as Superman, he kept his Clark Kent clothes in a hidden pouch of his indestructible cape.
- Subverted in Millennium (1988) when Lana Lang, controlled by the Manhunters, tried to expose Clark as Superman by ripping open his shirt in the Daily Planet offices. As it turns out, Clark is thanking his lucky stars that he happened to not be wearing his supersuit that day and so Lana was stunned to find only his bare chest.
- In Superman: Brainiac Clark is talking to Lois Lane when his super-hearing senses an emergency. Quickly he rips his shirt, revealing his costume beneath.
- Batman usually. Sometimes shown having his costume in his briefcase.
- Green Lantern: Hal Jordan used to wear his uniform under his clothes in the Silver Age, but he eventually realized he does not have to bother when he can simply use his power ring to change his clothes into that outfit.
- When Supergirl appeared in Batgirl (2009) #14, both girls enjoyed a pleasant (and normal) night at Batgirl's college campus. Later, after the sudden appearance of 24 Draculas, the two realized that they would need to cut their night-off short and save the day. Supergirl ripped off her top to reveal her costume beneath it, then turned to Batgirl:
Supergirl: "Aren't you gonna... you know..."
Batgirl: "Not unless you wanna see my bra."
Supergirl: "Does it have a bat on it?"
Batgirl: "I assure you that it does not."
- Notably averted by Barry Allen, The Flash, who kept his costume compressed in his ring. When released, the costume expanded to full size. Perhaps implausible scientifically, but it allowed Barry to wear ordinary clothes and avoid this trope... except that every once in a while, they indicated that the Flash followed this trope in reverse. Supposedly, the Flash wore his costume over his regular clothes, which themselves were somehow super-compressed to give him his usual "skintight costume" appearance! Most fans sensibly ignore these occasional revelations, particularly since the hero is more than fast enough to change clothes and hide his regular outfit... or, heck, even run home and neatly fold his clothes before putting them away in his closet, without missing a beat.
- Batgirl had an unusual variation on this trope in her earliest adventures. Barbara Gordon wore clothes that would be converted into parts of her Batgirl outfit. For example, her beret unrolled to become Batgirl's cowl, and her reversible skirt, when removed, became a cape. After a couple stories, the writers evidently noticed certain flaws in this arrangement (most notably, the requirement that Barbara always wear pretty much the same exact outfit), and in later stories either showed her changing at home, or didn't go into detail about how she managed to change elsewhere.
- Power Girl: Karen Starr's outfits are carefully chosen to work with her costume. She usually wears bulky sweaters, and scarves to cover up the Power Girl costume's high collar. And she frequently wears Power Girl's big, serious boots with these outfits, though somewhat disguised by colorful leggings. "Non-concealable" pieces, like her cape and gloves, go into a gym bag.
- The Atom originally had an inverted version of this trope. Namely, his costume is worn outside his civilian clothes, but it's a special tough material stretched so thin, it's invisible. Only when he shrinks significantly does it become visible.
- When Tim Drake was still Robin he wore the tunic and pants portion of his Robin suit under his civilian clothes on occasion, though he normally just carried it in a hidden inner pocket of his backpack. The only times he's seen with it on under his shirt it was on days he didn't have school so presumably he didn't wear it at school where the risk of it being noticed by people who knew him was higher.
- Superboy (1994): While Superboy normally just wears his costume since he has no secret identity and is Superboy all the time he does on occasion wear other outfits, like when dressing up for a date, and always wears his costume underneath so that he can quickly get to work if he's needed.
- Superman in all his adaptations:
- Marvel Universe:
- Spider-Man. Though he's sometimes shown having his costume in his backpack. He's also one of the few superheroes who can rival Superman with the iconic shirt open reveal. And his daughter, Spider-Girl does it too once or twice.
- In very early Spidey stories he notes that he specifically designed the costume for this - putting the join between the gloves and the arms high up so that they wouldn't be exposed if his sleeves ride up, for instance.
- Iron Man, for much of his career, had to wear the entire chest piece under his clothes to keep his heart going. In one early adventure, he took this a step further, successfully hiding his identity on a long commercial airline flight by wearing a trenchcoat and fedora over his armor. The grey, bulky Iron Man armor, even!
- Captain America used to wear his suit and his shield, strapped to his back, under his civilian clothes. This got lampshaded in the Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider Ham series, where Captain Americat did the same thing. Peter questions this and Cap says "My tailor is very good."
- Spider-Man. Though he's sometimes shown having his costume in his backpack. He's also one of the few superheroes who can rival Superman with the iconic shirt open reveal. And his daughter, Spider-Girl does it too once or twice.
- Spoofed multiple times in Italian Disney Ducks Comic Universe comics featuring Paperinik, Donald Duck's superhero alter ego:
- Near the end of a story, Paperinik got dipped by marking ink. The defeated villain started bragging that at least he'd expose Paperinik's secret identity, as his face was covered in ink too... At which point Paperinik revealed he was wearing a full body suit, including his face, mask, and hat, over his costume.
- More often Paperinik disguises himself as Donald for some reason and wears a Donald suit over his superhero costume.
- Lampshaded in Amazing Fantasy. Ganke insists that Miles wear his costume beneath his civilian clothes, but all that really gets him is a smelly spandex costume after all the sweat it accumulated throughout the day.
- In The Great Mouse Detective, Basil dresses from his sailor disguise to his Sherlock outfit after escaping from Ratigan's deathtrap.
- The Incredibles characters used to do this before superheroics were outlawed, and they did it again at the very end, with the very last shot of the film being Mr. Incredible imitating Superman's iconic use of this trope.
- In Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers, Donald tears off his Musketeer uniform to reveal his iconic sailor's suit underneath.
- Wonder Woman (2009): Diana goes out with Steve in a dress. She had her costume—sans shoes—on the entire time underneath it, as the fight with Deimos demonstrates.
- In Entrapment, Gin rips off her dress to reveal a trouser-suit (of the same shade of blue), just before carrying out a big heist.
- The iconic opening shot of Goldfinger has James Bond emerging from the ocean in a wetsuit which he unzips to reveal he's wearing a tuxedo. This was inspired by the real-life intelligence agent Peter Tazelaar, who did the same during WW2 to infiltrate a German-occupied castle in Scheveningen during a reception. The scene was added to the film by script doctor Paul Dehn, who knew Tazelaar during the war.
- The Master of Disguise El Chameleón from Machete Kills has this as his skill. Whenever he wants to change guises, he unzips his current skin, revealing it to be a perfect latex bodysuit, underneath which is another, complete with new voice.
- Done by Gonzo in The Muppets. Turns out he's been wearing his stuntman outfit under his work clothes every day for the past 20 years so he can be prepared the day the rest of the Muppets come to get the old gang back together.
- The Phantom: The Phantom wears his costume under his street clothes; at one point he even uses his discarded clothing to distract a couple of Mooks.
- Parodied in Sky High (2005) where teen heroes-in-training practice changing into several different outfits, including "super-suits", civvies, and athletic uniforms.
- Spider-Man Trilogy: Used in the first movie, where Peter is seen pulling the classic Superman shirt-rip following the Green Goblin's attack on the parade. Also invoked in the second film, where a depowered Peter Parker reflexively reaches for his shirt, before remembering his depowered state and lack of costume. The third film also prominently shows this, as Peter's new black suit is visible underneath his civvies at numerous points (a departure from the comics, where the black costume would simply morph itself to resemble his street clothes).
- In Spider-Man: No Way Home the Raimi version of Peter Parker is introduced wearing plain street clothes. When asked if he needs to borrow a suit for the final battle he pulls down the collar of his t-shirt to reveal that he still wears his Spider-Man suit under his clothes at all times, just in case.
- Undercover Brother
- At the beginning of the movie, Undercover Brother wore his normal outfit under a janitor's uniform. When some security guards grabbed at him, they removed the uniform and exposed his regular clothes.
- When White She Devil first revealed herself, she ripped off her normal clothing and revealed her white latex costume.
- Subverted in xXx in the opening when a classic Tuxedo and Martini agent takes out a mook and steals a macguffin, before unzipping his spy suit revealing a pristine tuxedo whereby he tries to infiltrate a party to lose the mooks tailing him... Only to find himself in the middle of a Rammstein concert hosted by the Big Bad, where he sticks out like a sore thumb and gets killed for his effort.
- In Animorphs the kids generally wear skintight clothes under their regular clothes because only skintight clothes can change with them when they morph.
- Star Wars Legends:
- X-Wing Series: The Wraiths rely on this and a few other quick-change tricks (such as "breakaway" clothes that can be simply torn off) when in disguise, particularly when dodging pursuit or when an especially complex scheme requires more disguises than available Wraiths. The most impressive example is probably when they do this to a truck, coating it in adhesive fabric to create a highly distinctive paint-job that they can simply burn away when not needed.
- Scoundrels: Among Zerba's skills is the tailoring of special outfits with tear-away seams that are attached by nearly invisible lines to a small egg-shaped device carried in the outfit's pocket. At the press of a button, the outfit is neatly torn off and disappears into the egg, allowing for a perfect quick-change. He makes two sets of identical outfits for identical twins Bink and Tavia, one normal and one tear-away, to facilitate a Twin Switch.
- Spenser occasionally notes a minor variation on this, noticing when someone's gun breaks the line of their suit, or commenting on how someone's clothes must be very well-tailored to successfully hide the gun.
- Neil Patrick Harris pulls this off during his Tony Awards Introduction, where he wears a tuxedo, over a spangly purple leisure suit, over a different, identical tuxedo. Which means he was performing his big musical number wearing three suits.
- Examples from the 1966 Batman (1966):
- Batman and Robin consistently averted this trope. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson almost always used the Instant Costume Change-providing Bat-Poles to change. While they occasionally used some other method, they never wore their costumes underneath their civilian clothing.
- In her unaired "pilot reel" (used to sell the network on the proposed new character), Batgirl did follow this trope, converting her regular clothing into Batgirl's costume using the same method as in her first comic book appearances (see above.) In the actual series, however, she changed clothes the old-fashioned way — off camera.
- In Community episode "Interpretive Dance", Troy uses rip-away clothing to disguise the fact that he is taking a dance class.
- In Degrassi, Ali wore more revealing clothes to school this way, hiding them under clothes that her strict Muslim parents approved of (such as long skirts).
- Doctor Who: In "The Crimson Horror" as they're about to be attacked by mooks, Victorian-era Action Girl Jenny instantly shucks off her period dress to reveal a leather Spy Catsuit. Cue Something Else Also Rises gag with the Doctor's sonic screwdriver.
- In Glee, Kurt Hummel does this during his big audition for NYADA: he comes out onstage wearing a tuxedo, cape, and mask for 'Music of the Night' from Phantom of the Opera, but when he realizes his auditor will be bored senseless by hearing the song for the millionth time, rips away the tux to reveal a black blouse and skintight gold pants, and proceeds to sing 'Not the Boy Next Door' from The Boy From Oz instead.
- In The Greatest American Hero, Ralph wears his supersuit under his clothes, although he finds removing his outer outfit a really time-consuming process. On the other hand, when he tried giving up the suit, he was later in the middle of a shoot out and he was terrified that for the first time he was not wearing what is essentially the ultimate Bulletproof Vest.
- Done in early episodes of Lois & Clark, before they decided on spinning into costume instead. On one occasion, Clark is wearing a shirt with the top two buttons undone, and clearly isn't wearing his costume underneath it. Then there's a shift of camera angle, and suddenly the shirt is buttoned to the neck, just in time for him to rip it open...
- In a later episode, Clark's powers get transferred to Lois, so she adopts the superhero identity, Ultra Woman. She ends up wearing a costume Martha Kent makes for her underneath and complains to Clark about how uncomfortable it is. He explains that you get used to it, like thermal underwear.
- On Saved by the Bell Slater would take off his school clothes to dance for Jessie in tights. He would repeat this in a 2015 skit on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
- Apart from one shirt-ripping scene with Clark in Smallville, the series has averted this. Save possibly for one scene in an early Season 10 Episode. Oliver Queen (in his street clothes) is investigating an apartment. Someone else enters, and moments later he confronts them in full Green Arrow gear. Played straight in the very last scene of the finale, which ends on Clark doing the iconic Superman reveal. And the episode "Booster" has a classic phone-booth change, in which Clark is somehow wearing a leather jacket under his suit.
- The Suite Life of Zack & Cody:
- Zack and Cody do this in the episode where they got superpowers. However, Cody's layers of clothes end up stuck together and he struggles changing into his superhero outfit.
- Another episode reveals that, for some reason, Arwin wears his pajamas under his work uniform. Then subverted when he forgot his pajamas at home and strips down to his underwear, much to his embarrassment.
- M.A.N.T.I.S. had the titular hero throw on the classic comic book overcoat and wide-brimmed hat over his costume at one point in the pilot, which worked to get the drop on some mooks at night and in heavy rain.
- In the first season finale of Hawkeye, the Hawkeyes attend a formal dinner party in an attempt to thwart the assassination of Kate's mother. Yelena Belova is there to kill Clint. throughout the episode, each of them get their outerwear removed to reveal their costumes underneath.
- Our Miss Brooks: In "Heat Wave", Mr. Boynton, Harriet Conklin, Walter Denton, and Stretch Snodgrass are wearing bathing suits underneath their regular clothes, covertly plotting an escape from school and a trip to the swimming hole. In the end, it so happens Miss Brooks is wearing a bathing suit underneath her regular clothes as well.
- In Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver the player is required to disguise themselves as a Rocket Grunt to enter the Team Rocket controlled radio tower. The Rival appears and, recognizing them, removes their uniform. In the game the player simply reverts to their default sprites (somehow managing to hide their hat under it), in the COPIOUS amount of fanart of said scene... not so much.
- Mickey and Riku in Kingdom Hearts. At various points, they both tear off their full-length hooded trenchcoats to reveal their civilian clothes underneath. This is a canon side effect of putting on the coat. It automatically causes the clothes worn beneath it to change to those seen in-game and to include a pair of black gloves and boots. If gloves are already being worn, then they will change to the black set.
- In Chrono Trigger, Marle whips off her fancy princess gown to reveal her adventurer's attire underneath. She was also hiding her crossbow under there, apparently.
- Characters in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas wear modest underwear when not wearing any armor or clothing. Male characters wear a T-shirt and boxers while female characters wearing a cropped tank top and panties. This means you can loot the outfit off that shirtless Raider you just killed and have him spontaneously gain a shirt upon its removal.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the female Forsworn armor covers less than the default underwear.
- Bellezza in Skies of Arcadia does this. She dramatically pulls off her outfit to reveal her uniform... which covers more than the outfit she had on before. It also changes her hairstyle.
- The underwear bottoms in Dark Souls III go all the way down past the knees. If a character wearing the Loincloth — a scrap of fabric that barely covers the crotch — were to remove it, they would now be vastly more covered than they were a second ago.
- Parodied in the LEGO Dimensions level based on The LEGO Batman Movie, in which Dick can tear off his Robin outfit to reveal the Nightwing suit underneath it, and then rip that off to reveal the Robin suit again. When Batman asks how he can wear long pants under short pants, he replies "I don't know!"
- Spoofed in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which can be seen here.
- Building 12's Peoni manages to have a less revealing uniform than the civilian clothes she's wearing over it.
- Subverted in this web art. In one, Wonder Woman pulls open her shirt only to reveal her bra, not her supersuit. In the other, Superman has an even worse fate.
Wonder Woman: Crap! I'm not wearing my costume!
Superman: Crap! I'm already in my costume!
- Phase in the Whateley Universe wears his costume under his Whateley Academy uniform every day during winter term (because of Team Tactics class) and dislikes it. He has to wear a larger school uniform to go over everything.
- In one episode of If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, Kitten disguises himself as a Space Marine by wearing the full armor, helmet included. Upon removing the helmet, he reveals that he was wearing his even bigger Custodes helmet underneath. This is arguably because the Custodes always wear their helmets, and the audience wouldn't recognize him without one.
- The Saga of Tuck: During some colder months, Tuck wore women's clothing under his regular clothes.
- Played for laughs during the Nordverse skits on Critical Role, where Cryptonic Override routinely rips off her sunglasses to reveal another pair of sunglasses underneath.
- On Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the Music Meister takes it to an extreme: changes clothes 8 times in a single scene, many of which are these. One might assume that his clothes are very thin, but considering one of the outfits is a giant Liberace-style fur cloak and one of them has an afro... Then again, it was a 'Musical Number' episode, one tends to EXPECT multiple costume changes in The Spectacle Number.
- In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Rent-a-Ed", Eddy rips off his clothes to reveal the outfit he wore during the scam from the beginning.
Edd: You're still wearing that?
- Parodied in The Fairly OddParents episode "Dimmsdale Tales", where Mr. Turner wears his Squirrly Scout uniform under his regular clothes because the zipper got stuck and he couldn't take it off.
- In an episode of Family Guy: Peter, Cleveland, and Quagmire are dressed as waiters at a fancy dinner party at the Pewterschmits' mansion and are planning to rob their vault. They rip off their tuxes to reveal black 'thieving' clothes underneath, complete with black stocking caps.
- Parodied in Futurama in the episode "Less Than Hero": Leela tears off her clothes to reveal her Clobberella costume to her parents. At the end of the conversation, however, Leela tears off her costume to reveal another set of normal clothes, claiming "It was brisk, I dressed in layers". The bonus joke is that neither outfit could realistically cover the other◊—her normal clothes couldn't hide Cloberella's opera gloves or orange boots, but Cloberella's Leotard of Power couldn't hide Leela's pants, either.
- Glenn Martin DDS: Eleven-year-old Courtney is an aspiring business mogul who normally wears business attire, but she wears a big pink dress when Jackie tries to make her act like a little girl. When the Martins have to save a horse from a glue factory, she rips off the dress, revealing her regular clothes underneath.
- Parodied in the finale of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. When Birdgirl tries to talk Birdman into being a superhero again, she rips open his suit to reveal his costume... except that's not what she gets. She repeats this action several more times, revealing everything from a Star Trek shirt to Harvey's bare chest until she finally reaches the costume.
- Spoofed in an episode of King of the Hill where Dale sneaks onto the local army base. He gets in in his exterminator's jumpsuit, then hides in a bush and removes it to reveal an army uniform. He passes by an officer...then hides in another bush and takes off the uniform, revealing another exterminator's jumpsuit underneath it. Considering what kind of person Dale is, he'd probably consider this totally necessary.
- Mona the Vampire: One episode had Mona taking off a short-sleeved dress, revealing her long-sleeved vampire outfit underneath.
- Parodied in The Proud Family when Penny is going out with friends and keeps ripping off her normal clothes to reveal an identical set of clothing. After about the tenth time, she finally gets to the clothes she actually wanted to wear - it was an outfit her parents wouldn't approve of, so she waited until she was out with her friends to show.
- SpongeBob SquarePants
- Parodied in the episode "F.U.N." When Plankton steals a Krabby Patty from the Krusty Krab, SpongeBob decides to come to the rescue and rips off his normal clothes to reveal...an identical set of his normal clothes.
- Also parodied in "Fry Cook Games". When SpongeBob and Patrick get on the wrestling ring, SpongeBob tears off his clothes to reveal a Speedo. Patrick then tears off his clothes to reveal... a business suit, which he then tears off to reveal his Speedo.
- SuperTed takes this to an similar extreme. SuperTed would unzip his fur to reveal his costume, then unzip his costume to reveal his fur afterwards, infinitely.
- In Teen Titans, when Robin is forced to go to a prom with a girl. At one point he rips off his prom suit to reveal his costume - including the gloves, even though his hands had been bare while he was in the suit. An unusual example of this trope because Robin was still wearing his mask and not concealing his heroic identity (on this show, secret identities are a non-issue, with heroes being in that persona 24/7). Presumably, he was just wearing the suit because it was a formal occasion.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: The episode "The Sweaters" has Carlton give Gumball one of his sweaters as a sign of respect, but not before taking off all of the ones he has on his body, shoulders and waist. He removes nine sweaters in total.
- In many occupations, it is common for various types of protective gear to be designed with the intent of having day-to-day clothing or uniforms worn underneath. Thus, when the additional gear is needed, no time is wasted stripping out of the previous uniform, simply layer up. Once the need for the extra gear is passed, simply strip down to the appropriate layer. This, of course, is also a common bit of advice for dealing with cold or wet weather, or buildings with irregular heating systems. Multiple thinner layers provide quite a bit of insulation, and can easily be tailored to changing environmental temperatures/conditions by adding and removing layers, as opposed to having one heavy layer.
- Used by actors on the theatre stage when a quick costume change is required between scenes, though as this happens out of sight of the audience they don't need to wear the complete costume underneath—just a partial costume to save time.
- Very common in sports, especially those that are played out of doors in possible cold weather. Baseball jerseys often come with long or short sleeves, or are worn with long-sleeved undershirts, which is also common with football jerseys. Players on the sidelines will wear jackets that can keep them warm, then take them off to be free and cool on the field.
- Also very common in marathons run in cities with cooler weather like Chicago and Boston. Runners will start out wearing sweatshirts or hoodies, then drop them as they come up to temperature (marathons also often start in the morning, with the day warming up as the race goes on). The discarded clothing is usually collected and donated to charity.