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Dressing to Die

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Well...that's one way to hang up your best suit.
"I came for a dress, like I said. But I lied. It was a dress to die in. It matters how things are seen. You make clothes that make the dark bits in me matter. If I'm in this then I will mean something."

When a character knows they are going to die — possibly by suicide, execution, going to fight with terrible odds, or a case of Your Days Are Numbered — they may prepare to Face Death with Dignity by laying out clothes or finding a nice outfit to die in.

Sometimes this trope can be used as foreshadowing that a character is going to die, or as The Reveal for why a character was dressed more nicely than normal after they're found.

The show may also use this, giving a character new clothes or a significant clothing change just before they're going to die, even if the character does not do it intentionally, to invoke the trope.

Part of dressing to die, if the death is a suicide, is commonly testing a belt around the knuckles. A common version of this trope is for a former or current member of the military to get out their dress uniform; likewise, those in law enforcement, superheroes, athletes, and others with a similar uniform often will don it before suicide.

Super-Trope to Barefoot Suicide. Often leads to Frozen Fashion Sense when the character was from the past and gets resurrected. In some cases the character might just want to do this to avoid looking ridiculous in the afterlife.

Compare and contrast Bring My Red Jacket, Killer Outfit, White Shirt of Death.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The end of the Death Note anime heavily implies that Misa throws herself off a building. She dresses herself in a black gothic lolita style.

    Comic Books 
  • The French comic Le Vent des Dieux, set in feudal Japan, has one samurai always go to battle in his finest Bling of War, as to wear any less would dishonor his enemy. He ends up ready to die standing against the enemy's entire cavalry force, who proceed to ignore him entirely, made even worse when the lord denies him the right to commit seppuku.
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume II, Hyde prepares to die fighting against the Martians. On the morning of his last day on Earth, he shaves and puts on his best clothes before sauntering up to the Tripods and singing "Did You See Me Dance the Polka?"

    Fan Works 
  • A Judge Dee Fan Sequel uses this as a plot point. An old general assigned to a remote and derelict portion of the Great Wall under attack from barbarian hordes is found dead, dressed in his finest robes. It's believed he committed suicide out of duty, having survived the disastrous expedition against the barbarians, but the judge's wife notices the robes are tied the way a woman would, giving the judge a clue to the murder.
  • Invoked in the Frozen two-shot By the Hands of the People, which revolves around a Ruling Family Massacre. After months of imprisonment, Queen Elsa and Princess Anna are given clean, black clothing for their assassinations. Anna is dressed in a black dress with red trimmings, while Elsa is dressed in a pure black dress.
  • In the Girls und Panzer fic Under The Black Forest Flag, Miho changes into an Anglerfish Dance costumenote  before committing suicide over being disowned.
  • Final Toll: Cremia decides not to change out of her signature white dress while waiting for the moon to crash because she finds it fitting that she'd die in it.
  • In Under the Big Top, Castiel puts on his costume and makeup before he commits suicide by stepping off the tightrope.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Arizona Dream: Grace, who has been threatening suicide all through the movie, finally leaves her mother's birthday party to go to her room and change up. She dresses in almost bridal fashion in a frilly white sundress and floppy white hat, before heading out into the stormy night with her gun. The rest of the household runs after her, but are too late.
  • In Black Rat, Asuka puts on her handmade rat mask before she jumps from the school roof.
  • At the end of The Dark Knight Rises the corrupt Deputy Commissioner Foley, who's been focused solely on career advancement and taking Gordon's spot as Commissioner for the first half of the movie and then hiding from danger for most of the second, leads a desperate attempt to take back Gotham City from Bane, The League of Shadows, and the army of crooks they have working for them. He deliberately dresses in full dress uniform, and does die in the course of the fight.
  • Deadtime Stories: Volume 2: In "On Sabbath Hill", Allison very carefully does her hair, puts on her favourite earrings and perfume, and dons a sexy low-cut green dress before blowing her brains out in the middle of Professor Weaver's classroom.
  • Deep Impact: Shortly after learning that nobody over the age of 50 will be eligible for the emergency bunkers Jenny Lerner's mother is seen choosing an evening gown, doing her make-up and putting on her jewelry. The next scene is Jenny getting a phone call from a hospital where she collects her mother's necklace, implying that the mother chose to end her own life rather than wait to die when the comet hit.
  • In Downfall (2004)::
    • SS officer Hermann Fegelein is roused out of bed by armed soldiers and pulled out into the streets of Berlin. When the commander of the detachment orders him to halt and reaches for his gun, Fegelein hurriedly buttons his jacket and snaps to attention before being shot.
    • Joseph and Magda Goebbels dress elegantly before they carry out their Suicide Pact (having previously forcibly euthanized all their children), including Goebbels putting on his ceremonial NSDAP uniform.
  • In The Family, Belle takes a white dress, implied to be her mother's wedding dress, and her mother's pearls when she goes to kill herself. She doesn't end up jumping, but the intent is there, as she is heartbroken after the man she gave her virginity to (and sex is Serious Business to her) says that it was nice but doesn't want to be with her over the phone after avoiding her. Her family about to be relocated and her realising she's never going to have any sort of quiet life she wants is also a contributing factor.
  • In A Few Good Men, Lt. Col. Markinson donned his full dress Marine uniform before he Ate His Gun.
  • Played with in Finch (2021): The titular character — who is dying of UV radiation poisoning through the film — finds a spot in the desert with no ozone damage, so he dresses up in nice clothes to have a meal under the sun for the first time in years. After he ruins the clothes by coughing blood on them, he changes back into his shorts and T-shirt and lies down in his RV's bed, where he dies in his sleep.
  • In Gran Torino, Walt gets himself fitted for a suit specifically because he knows he'll get murdered by the Hmong gangsters in a Thanatos Gambit/unintentional Mercy Kill.
  • In The Guard, Sergeant Boyle puts on his full Dress Uniform before he heads out to face off the drug smugglers possibly single handedly, since the rest of the police force has been bought off by the drug dealers, so they intentionally guarding the wrong docks.
  • In the film version of House of Sand and Fog, Colonel Behrani puts on his uniform before committing suicide.
  • Killshot: The old man whom mafia hitman Blackbird kills in the opening decides that he'd rather die with some decent clothes when Blackbird catches him walking out of the shower.
  • The Lost Patrol: The sergeant has been stripped to the waist, as one might expect for a soldier in the Mesopotamian desert. But when he's the only one left—the rest of The Squad having been killed one by one by the Turks besieging their fortress—he puts on his full uniform.
  • In Man in the Iron Mask the musketeers discover their old uniforms while concocting a plan to replace their evil sadistic ruler with his identical twin. One of them explains that he saved the uniforms so they could wear them in death at which point each decides to wear them at that very moment. Only one of them dies, however.
  • In Passengers (2016), crewman Gus is awoken from his stasis pod by the ship's continuing breakdowns; because the process wasn't done correctly, this results in a huge number of disorders that are basically shutting down all his organs and bodily functions. Upon receiving the diagnosis, he goes off by himself for a while to come to terms with it...then puts on his dress uniform so he can die with dignity.
    Gus: Ladies always love the blues...
  • In The Patriot (2000), Maj. Villeneuve shows up for the film's climactic battle (against the numerically superior British forces) in a very fancy French uniform. When Benjamin Martin gives him a funny look, Villeneuve explains, "If I die, I will die well-dressed."
  • Scent of a Woman: Retired Lt. Col. Frank Slade gets dressed in his full uniform before he finally decides to kill himself. Charlie, a young man responsible for chaperoning him, convinces him to not kill himself.
  • In The Shawshank Redemption Brooks puts on his suit and straightens his tie in the mirror before hanging himself.
  • At the end of The Shootist J.B. Books, a famous gunfighter of The Wild West who is dying of cancer, has his best suit dry-cleaned and wears it before going to a saloon where he has summoned three of his enemies who have sworn to murder him.
  • In Titanic some of the men are seen returning to their rooms to change into their formal suits when they realise that they're going down with the ship. The captain also goes to put on his Captain's hat and jacket, parts of the official regalia not usually worn when actually captaining a ship but for ceremonial purposes, when he chooses to stay on the bridge. Benjamin Guggenheim, one of the First Class passengers who remained aboard, declines a life jacket offered by a steward by saying "We are dressed in our best and prepared to go down like gentlemen. But we would like a brandy!" The first half of the quote is reportedly one of the last things the real Benjamin Guggenheim was heard saying.
  • A very subtle, subtextual example in The World's End, as confirmed by Word of God, is that Gary King dresses in his high school clothes for this reason. He drags his friends along on One Last Field Trip to recreate the last time in his life that he felt things were going well, with the implication that afterward he intends to kill himself.

  • Adrian Mole:
    • Subverted in Secret Diary when Adrian's grandmother tells off Adrian's father for growing a beard, adding that Adrian's grandfather was shaved in his coffin by the undertaker, so if the dead can shave, there is no excuse for the living.
    • In Wilderness Years, the character Jake in Adrian's novel makes a point of shaving before attempting suicide, because he is vain and keen to look good as a corpse.
  • In The Bible, Jezebel put on makeup and did up her hair before she was killed by the new king.
  • The Andromeda Strain. Almost everyone in the small town of Piedmont dies when the Andromeda Strain is released. However, some people go crazy and kill themselves instead of dying from the effects of the disease. One of these is William Arnold, who puts on his World War I U.S. Army uniform before shooting himself in the head.
  • In She Lover of Death, the title heroine, Columbina, chooses her best dress to commit a ritualistic suicide in, which she believes to be a "marriage" to Death itself (or "himself", as she prefers to word it).
  • Inverted in Newes from the Dead: Anne Green is a servant girl and walks to her execution in her undershirt, giving her cloak and gown to her mother even though it's freezing cold. The novel takes place in a time period when clothes were very expensive, so the decision makes sense from a practical point of view.
  • In one Cicada short story, a princess has some outfits prepared for the event of her execution- a black dress for a beheading and a linen shift for burning (since it would obviously be wasteful to incinerate a fancy dress)- while strangling and suffocation are "come as you are."

    Live-Action TV 
  • M*A*S*H. In "The Army-Navy Game", an unexploded bomb lands in the middle of the compound; Klinger dons the suit he was drafted in, on the grounds that if they die when the bomb goes off, the way he wants people to see him as before their demise is, "Like a person with a nice suit." Though he does vow that if the bomb doesn't go off, he'll go back to wearing dresses.
  • On Glee, Dave Karofsky lies a suit on his bed and the next cut to him shows him wearing it and stepping up on a stool, preparing to hang himself. Possibly an example, too, is in the same episode when Quinn is, first, given her cheerleading uniform back and, then, she has to go home to change into a bridesmaid dress, before being hit by a truck. However, both ultimately survive.
  • In an episode of Burn Notice, a police detective who has been corrupt but is trying to atone puts himself on a Suicide Mission to either bust the gangster who killed his partner or die in the attempt. So he says his final prayers just before stepping out into the neighborhood in full dress uniform and calling said gangster. His hope is that even if he fails, killing an officer in broad daylight will force the police to come down on the gangster.
  • Inverted to a degree during the final episode of Breaking Bad. Walt's trap for his final enemies, the Aryans, can only be pulled off if they think that he's desperate, penniless, and without any resources that could harm them, so he looks and dresses the part for his confrontation with them. Only when they've relaxed and gathered everyone that Walt wants to take out in one place does he unleashes More Dakka on them. The fact that he looks like crap is even commented on by Jack.
  • In Rome, once Cleopatra sees through Octavian's Faux Affably Evil persona and realizes that he intends to drag her off to Rome in chains to parade her in front of a mob and then murder her children (particularly Cesarion, who is falsely believed to be the son of Julius Caesar), she has a brief breakdown. She then composes herself, gets dressed again in queenly attire before committing suicide, and makes sure to die sitting on her throne with her hand clasping the hand of Marc Antony's body.
  • In Being Human (US), Sally, after realizing that the body she returned to life in is going to die soon if she doesn't kill people, decides to Face Death with Dignity and become a ghost again rather than hurt anyone to stay alive. However, this time her friends help her pick out a good outfit to wear to her death (since that'll be what her ghost form will wear forever, and last time she was unfortunate enough to suffer a sudden death while wearing something rather boring).
  • In the Babylon 5 finale "Sleeping In Light", Sheridan, knowing that his twenty-year reprieve from death is about to expire, dons his Army of Light uniform one last time before leaving to face his end.
  • In Doctor Who, "Let's Kill Hitler", the Doctor has been given a poison that prevents regeneration and is dying, but takes the time to change into a tuxedo before facing his killer.

  • The suicidal protagonist of Hollywood Undead's "Bullet" references this.
    "I've never bought a suit before in my life but when you go to meet God you know you want to look nice."

  • In The Saint of Bleecker Street, Carmela gives Annina her wedding dress for Taking the Veil after Annina, who is in the final stages of Victorian Novel Disease, tells her she probably won't live until the night.
  • From the page quote, Dahlia in the play McQueen has Lee make her a dress, wanting to look pretty when she dies, though she doesn't tell him this. However, she could be a figment of his imagination as a personification of his depression, and so when he tries to save her life, she asks him what he was doing with his belt when she came to get her dress, suggesting he should have known because he was doing the same/they are the same.

    Video Games 
  • In Spec Ops: The Line, Colonel Konrad commits suicide while wearing his dress uniform.
  • Played with in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, as when Snake goes to commit suicide during the game's ending, he's wearing a black suit and tie, very obviously dressing up for the occasion. However, this may have less to do with the attempt itself and more to do with his chosen location, the grave of Big Boss, as we see him wearing the same suit early in the game when he was there paying his respects.
  • In the endgame of Final Fantasy XV, Noct and his friends know that they are almost certainly going to die. And in Noct's case, he will die no matter what as part of his destiny as the King of Light. Before they go into their last battle, his friends don the uniforms of the Crownsguard while Noct dresses himself in the Kingly Raiment worn by all the kings of Lucis.
  • In Way of the Samurai 2, Chief Magistrate Kuroha dons a white ritual robe when he commits seppuku in one ending.

    Web Comics 
  • In Hero Oh Hero, Daryl is seen wearing his old Captain of the Guard uniform. Everyone's wondering why he didn't come to reclaim his old job and they realise he's probably going to commit Suicide by Cop by challenging the hero (who he blamed for the situation).
  • In Sluggy Freelance, during "The Storm Breaker Saga," Torg and Zoe end up traveling back in time, and Zoe ends up getting captured by the Kingdom of Trent. Before Sighard has Zoe executed as a spy, he insists that she change out of her prisoner clothes and back into her modern clothing, so she can look as strange as when he found her, and give credence to his story that she's a spy. Luckily, he also gives her back her shotgun, enabling her to kill the Deadel executioner and prove that she is the Storm Breaker.

    Web Videos 
  • In Dark Dungeons, Marcie changes out of her Black Leaf costume and back into her normal "good girl" clothes before hanging herself.

    Western Animation 
  • In X-Men: The Animated Series, during the "Dark Phoenix Saga", Jean Grey puts on her old Marvel Girl costume while preparing to be executed for her crimes as the Dark Phoenix.
  • On King of the Hill, Cotton puts on his old military dress uniform and medals in preparation to kill himself. However, DiDi, unaware of Cotton's depressed state, barges in just before he can do the deed and forces him to watch Good Hank for a while since she's been with him all day and is exhausted. Playing with the kid cheers him up enough to ultimately decide not to go through with it. He eventually does kill himself in a much later episode, though it's out of spite rather than depression, and he's wearing a very not fancy hospital gown when he does it.

    Real Life 
  • In the conquest of the island of Bali by the Dutch Colonial Empire, Balinese rulers and their courts chose death rather than surrender, in acts of mass ritual suicide called puputan. Royal families, priests and attendants dressed in their most beautiful garments and marched purposely into the gunfire. Those who were not shot stabbed themselves on the spot. At Denpasar, they came out in silent procession, wearing white cremation outfits and jewelry, and killed themselves with kris daggers. Women threw jewels and gold coins at the soldiers, cheating them of any sense of victory. Another royal court dressed in all their finery, left their palace and paraded, singing, off the edge of a cliff.