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Ethereal White Dress
aka: Woman In White

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This figure is either metaphorically or literally dead, dressed in pale clothing that marks them as having one foot on the Other Side. While this character is rarely a classical ghost (see Cute Ghost Girl or Bedsheet Ghost for more typical ghost depictions), they are symbolically associated with death, often being stuck in the past. It may be difficult to determine if they are dead or alive, or if they are human or spirit. Despite Light Is Good, these ethereal characters may tend towards a more ambiguous morality.

Compare Mystical White Hair, Prophet Eyes, and Psychic Powers, which have similar connotations of "a connection to the otherworldly" for a character. Contrast White Shirt of Death, where dressing in white foreshadows an imminent death. In this trope, the white-clothed character has already died, at least metaphorically.

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This trope has its origins in the legend of the White Lady, a figure in ghost stories throughout the world associated with loss of a loved one or a sense of purity before death. Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl and Yuki Onna are similar legends from Eastern media.

Supertrope to Wight in a Wedding Dress.

Note: white clothing has many different meanings. This is a specific one, and examples should explain the symbolism associated with the character. See Tropes in White for other possible uses of white color symbolism.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Meiko "Menma" Honma of Ano Hana The Flower We Saw That Day. She's a Cute Ghost Girl, and she was wearing a white dress when she drowned and died. She even has white-blonde hair!
  • Bleach: Rukia Kuchiki's Zanpakutou, Sode no Shirayuki, is a pure white blade and possesses powers over snow and ice. Rukia's sword and power is based on the legend of the yuki-onna, the ghostly 'snow woman'. Her Bankai activation transforms her into the snow-woman of legend: her hair becomes white, her skin icy and her dress snow-white. The world around her transforms into one of snow and ice, and she becomes a detached, mystical being that is possessed of an otherworldly beauty. In anime filler, her Zanpakuto Spirit is introduced long before her Bankai reveal and acts as foreshadowing: the spirit is a woman with white hair, very pale skin and a snow-white kimono; she is quiet, well-mannered even when rebelling, is portrayed in a detached, mystical manner, and also possessed of an otherworldly beauty.
  • Detective Conan:
    • Horribly subverted in a filler case, where the woman In white is the actress Akiko Kinoshita... who only wears white clothes either when performing her Star-Making Role as the traditional "Yuki Onna" ghost, or when her lifeless body is found buried in the snow. She was murdered by Yoko Asanuma, her envious Body Double, who also briefly wears white while impersonating Akiko and making everyone believe she was still alive.
    • In several openings and endings of the anime, however, Ran is seen wearing white dresses and playing the strope straight.
  • At one point in Fairy Tail Erza Scarlet has a dream that she's dead and during the time she's wearing a pure white gown (notable one of the only times she wears white in the series)
  • Sawako of Kimi ni Todoke dons a white dress, pretending to be a ghost during her school's courage test. Combined with her pale skin, black hair, and semi-creepiness/fierce determination to make her peers happy, she manages to look like Sadako.
  • In Peacemaker Kurogane, although male, Okita Souji plays the woman in white when out-of-uniform, using feminine speech patterns and invoking the innocence aspect of white with his cute pet pig and a fondness for sweets and playing with children. Of course, to those who know him it's a double-entendre of sorts, with the death-and-mourning aspects of white evoking his deadliness as a swordsman.
  • Princess Tutu: The Wili Maiden, the ghost of a woman who committed suicide and now tries to bring young men into the afterlife, dresses in an all-white tutu with white tights. Of course, she's based on a character from a ballet which shares the name of the episode—"Giselle".
  • Sailor Cosmos from Sailor Moon is a sailor senshi from a future where Chaos has destroyed nearly everything and she is the last hope. She transforms into Sailor Chibi-Chibi to assist Sailor Moon in the present to prevent her bleak future from occurring. Sailor Cosmos is actually Sailor Moon in the future. Her costume is all white, including her hair. Of course, this isn't the case in the anime.

    Comic Books 
  • At the end of the first issue of a Birds of Prey series, an Asian woman in white called "White Canary" has shown up. Given her badassitude, two possibilities for who she is spring to Black Canary's mind: Cassandra Cain or Lady Shiva. Oh, Crap!...She turns out to be the sister of the Twelve Brothers in Silk, who Black Canary fought years ago, and in a bit of Fridge Brilliance, wears white in mourning for her brothers, who she killed to uphold their father's honor after their defeat.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Forest Spirit in Throne of Blood, who looks like an old woman dressed in white but is possibly a Youkai. She offers Washizu some eerily accurate prohecies that tempt him into evil but ultimately lead to his downfall, so she is simultaneously helpful but with suspect motivations.
  • The 1988 film The Lady in White features a ghostly woman in a white flowing gown.
  • Princess Tamina, the resident Barrier Maiden of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, dresses in white.
  • Ugetsu: Part of Lady Wakasa's beautiful but unsettling look is the all-white dress and hat she's wearing when she first meets Genjuro. She turns out to have been Dead All Along.
  • In Dead End, a mysterious woman in a white dress repeatedly appears to a family lost in the woods on vacation.
  • Michael Myers in Halloween II (2009) has visions of his mother in white, accompanied by a white horse, urging him to reunite with Laurie.
  • Pet has Holly, who qualifies for multiple variants, including fragile, evil, and linked to death. And thanks to being played by Ksenia Solo, she has the pale skin and platinum-blonde hair as well.
  • Sound of My Voice: Maggie, the cult leader, wears white robes and a shawl, which mirror the white bedsheet she supposedly wrapped herself in after waking up in a hotel room with amnesia. The white robes also blend with the white scrubs she has her followers wear when they meet with her.
  • The Wailing: While investigating a crime scene, Officer Jong-goo meets a strange woman wearing a white robe who throws rocks at him and tell him that the strange Japanese man living alone in the woods is the culprit, before disappearing. She turns out to be some kind of local deity trying to protect the village against the stranger, who might be The Devil himself, to no avail.
  • King of the Zombies: The stately but silent Alyce Sangre is dressed all in white when she slips into Bill and Mac's bedroom. Her appearance is so sudden and so silent that Jeff mistakes her for a ghost.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Ghost of Resurrection Cemetery - Justice, Illinois, USA. Supposedly the spirit of a young lady killed in the 1930s, who always appears dressed for a white dress party. When offered a ride she usually asks to be dropped off at the cemetery on Archer Road. When they get closer, however, she disappears. This, incidentally, has happened for decades and often still does, especially with people who are not from the city and do not know the story of Mary, as she is called.
  • Princesses of The Fair Folk often come in this form. They do not always have the protagonist's best interest in mind.
  • La Llorona, a Mexican myth about a crying ghost, is also called this. Just about every Spanish-speaking country has mythology related to La Llorona, even Spain. Generally speaking, though, the story is usually the same: she was a beautiful young mistress who tried to permanently win the heart of the man she loved by drowning her own children because she knew he wasn't all that fond of kids. It wasn't until he called her out on it that she realized how horrifying her actions were and promptly drowned herself in an effort to find her children. Naturally, she's a ghost said to haunt riversides calling for her children.
  • There is another myth about white dressed women, it's about the Mulher de Branco (it means exactly the trope name), in Brazilian North / Northeast. She is the ghost of a bride that died (mostly killed) before entering the church to marry, and now, searches for her groom near the place she died, usually in a dark, creepy forest. If she finds a man she thinks is like her groom, she takes him to the world of dead with her... Unless said man runs like hell, which they promptly do.
  • A more recent one was "la rubia de Kennedy" ("blonde woman of Kennedy Avenue"). In The '70s, a young Chilean woman named Martha Infante died in an accident in said Avenue, and for several years, her ghost supposedly haunted the corner where she perished. The "ghost" was a blonde girl wearing a white coat who would ask for a ride, then tell the driver 'please don't drive so fast' and vanish.
  • Newark, NJ has a local legend about a lady in white haunting Branch Brook Park. Story goes that a car accident killed a girl while her boyfriend/fiance/husband/prom date was driving and she haunts the place to this day.
  • The standard description for female ghosts in the Philippines is a woman all in white with long black hair that obscures her face. Often believed to be virginal and the subject of a violent death (probably rape), she's commonly known as a "White Lady". It has been the subject of many horror films, including a recent one appropriately entitled White Lady.
  • In Oberlin, Ohio, there is a story of a woman in white that haunts the lake in a local park.
  • In Bohemia, there's the legend of the White Lady, the ghost of Perchta of Rožmberk.
  • In the Netherlands, there are legends of Witte Wieven, "White Women". They're spirits of women who were kidnapped by other Witte Wieven. Depending on where the story is set, they're either Always Chaotic Evil or just want to be left alone. A version of the tale this city girl was told tells of a drunk farmer walking home through the forest when he meets a woman dressed in white, and he asks her to dance. Which she does, all night long, until daybreak rolls around and the farmer drops dead at her feet.

    Literature 
  • Great Expectations: Miss Havisham is an old woman who always wears her white, tattered wedding dress, and she rarely leaves her room. Her character is utterly defined by her obsession with the man who left her at the altar, and she metaphorically died that day, becoming old, bitter, and refusing to grow.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's The Tales of the Long Bow, Owen Hood fell in Love at First Sight with a woman he met in the woods, wearing white. When he sees her again, coming out of a tea-room, in blue, it is a shock to him to realize that she could wear blue (and be seen out of the woods).
  • Ravenclaw's house ghost in Harry Potter, Helena Ravenclaw, known as The Grey Lady.
  • The Woman in White is the title of Wilkie Collins's Victorian mystery novel, the plot of which revolves around a mysterious woman in white.
  • The Ghost In The Third Row by Bruce Coville features a ghost called the Woman In White, an actress who had been murdered in the theater fifty years ago. The fact that the protagonists in the book were putting on the play of her origin story gets her attention...
  • Lydia, the mother of Rosilda and Arild and Carolin in Maria Gripe's ...och de vita skuggorna i skogen ("...and the White Shadows in the Forest") only ever dressed in white or black, depending on her mood (a trait she took over from her mysticist mother), and usually carried a bouquet of white roses as well. The "white shadows" Rosilda sees in the forest around the castle turn out to be Lydia, who is watching over her children after faking her own death.
  • Kahlan Amnell of the Sword of Truth series. She is introduced as a very mysterious woman who is obviously very important, matching the archetype. It is later revealed that a white dress is the official dress code of the Mother Confessor, the most powerful woman in the Midlands.
  • Perdina and Voile Tricante in Burying the Shadow both wear white all the time, helping their Creepy Twins image.
  • Lissar in her deerskin dress and white hair in, of course, Deerskin. The effect is enough to make people think she's not quite human, or even a goddess called the Moonwoman.
  • When Isabel is in mourning in The Kingdom of Little Wounds, she wears white. She's no longer slim and pretty enough to be ethereal, but she's still mad.
  • The Iron Sisters from The Mortal Instruments wear long white gowns that blend in with the mists of their home, so when summoned they look like they appear out of nowhere.
  • Sally Bones from Varjak Paw is a cat version of this trope. She's completely white furred, very mysterious, and everyone is utterly afraid of her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Supernatural: There are all the girls in white nightgowns who get killed by the Monster of the Week, or the girl in the white hospital gown who caused people in her town to act out fairy tales... Let's just say that women wearing white on Supernatural are either going to be the victim or the villain.
  • The mysterious woman from Ultraseven X is dressed in white most of the time.
  • Doctor Who:
    • A mysterious woman wearing all white and credited only as "The Woman" appears in "The End of Time", giving mysterious messages mostly to Wilfred Mott. She is eventually seen among the Time Lords who turn out to be behind the near-disaster the episode is named for, as one of the two who voted against it. After the last meeting with her, Wilfred mentions her, and the Doctor looks significantly toward Donna. However, Word of God said she was originally planned to be the Doctor's mother - and that we should also pay attention to the other Time Lord who voted against the plan.
    • River Song, the mysterious woman hinted to play a hugely important role sometime in the Doctor's personal future, first appears in the two-parter "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" dressed in a white spacesuit. She ends the two-part story dressed in a white gown.
  • Smallville, Season 10, episode 12, "Collateral": Chloe Sullivan returns, seemingly with magical powers, dressed all in white. As it turns out, the cast are actually trapped in a virtual world and her white-clad status indicates that she is hacking in from the outside.
    • That version of Chloe Sullivan appears to herself in "Masquerade", but this time as an illusion of Desaad preying on her sin of Pride.
  • In Merlin, Prince Arthur sees the spirit of his mother Queen Igraine wearing a very, very pale gold dress - it's practically white, and the costume colour was no doubt chosen to acknowledge the supernatural aspects of this trope.
  • The ghost in The Stone Tape as she's dressed as a maid from the 19th century, which gives one character fleeing the ghost a nasty shock when he runs into a female character dressed in her Labcoat of Science and Medicine.

    Music 
  • In the concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, there's a character called "Lilywhite Lilith" who falls into this trope. It's implied that she's not even human, but rather some kind of cave creature.
  • Lucia in her mad scene in (traditional productions of) Lucia di Lammermoor, justified as it was her wedding night/dress.
  • In the music video for "Diary of Jane" by Breaking Benjamin, the titular Jane wears a white dress. She was Dead All Along.
  • Akiko Shikata poses in a white dress in most of her album covers. Quite fitting for the atmosphere of said albums, where there are a lot of songs about nature and magic. On the cover of Turaida she even holds a white instrument.

    Theatre 
  • Fantine in Les Misérables is infamously known to fill this trope at the end of the musical. Her spirit comes to greet the dying Jean Valjean wearing the pure white nightgown she died in, making her appear truly angelic.

    Video Games 
  • In the game Summoner, there is a mysterious Woman In White who turns out to be Flece's mother and the Empress of Orenia. In her first appearance, King Belias mistakes her for a ghost.
  • In The Path, there's a mysterious girl in white who inhabits the woods.
  • "Scarlett O'Hara" in Uninvited. (Yep, evil ghost.)
  • In the Touhou fan game Concealed The Conclusion, the final battle with Reimu has her dressed in white, mainly because Gensokyo is her dream, and she's waking up, causing Dream Apocalypse.
  • In The Path, a girl literally named Girl In White by the game developers leads you back to the path to Grandmother's house if you stay still long enough. Some speculate that she is a spirit who wants to protect the granddaughters from meeting their Wolves, while others suggest she is a long-lost sister to the granddaughters or perhaps the grandmother herself. Curiously, while the Girl in White does indeed wear all white and is young, her skin tone and hair color are fairly dark.
  • In Ballad of an Evening Butterfly, Chou is clad in baggy, white clothes which seem to add to her enigma and mysterious personality. It also contrasts Yoru who's completely in all black.
     Web Comics 
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, there's a ghost lady in white haunting the Annan River.
  • In Girl Genius, the Geisterdamen (German for "ghost maiden") are a race of female monsters (it's not mentioned how they reproduce) who are entirely white, including hair, skin and clothing.
  • In Lapse there is a ghost who, because the main character doesn't know her name, is just referred to as The Girl in White.
  • In Agents of the Realm, Filoni appears in white dress in Norah's dreams and what happened to her to change her from Red Oni into scared and worried dream vision is still a mystery.
  • In Rhapsodies, Deidre the psychopomp dresses in all white outfits when on duty.
  • The Order of the Stick: The Goddess Hel wears a long, flowing white robe reminiscent of a shroud that gives her a ghost-like appearance, consistent with her status as a death god as well as a mentally unstable person and a god on the brink of non-existance.

    Western Animation 
  • Steven Universe's Rose Quartz, in her every appearance thus far, appears in a full-length white dress. She also has far more shading and highlighting than the other characters, and goes barefoot, further playing up the ethereal appearance. Not only is she a character who gave up her physical form to give birth to Steven, she was the extremely powerful leader of a group of magical aliens, as well as a healer.

    Real Life 
  • Emily Dickinson became something of a local celebrity in her town, as during the few times she ever left her house, she would always wear completely white outfits.
  • Death is considered to wear white in some places in Asia. White is also the traditional color of mourning in Islam.
  • People who want to enter into Yoruba and Santeria "priesthood" must wear white clothes for a full year (minimum) before being officially invested, the only color element being their necklaces. Albeit this is done for both sexes, but women stand out more.
  • Mary Queen of Scots was famous for her frequent use of white within her wardrobe. This is thought to be in part because she was often in mourning for either her father in law, mother, husband or second husband, and in part that she looked very good in white (and apparently wanted to marry her first husband Francis in it, during a time when white was not commonly worn in weddings, red being the preferred choice, long before she entered her period of mourning).
  • Very common in reported Marian apparitions. I.e St. Bernadette Soubirous and the kids at Fátima (Portugal) initially reported seeing "a beautiful young lady all in white"; the people from Knock (Ireland) described Mary as wearing "a white cloak, hanging in full folds and fastened at the neck"; considering there were folk legends about terrible ghost women, it's no wonder their parents got upset, although some people figured Bernadette was seeing a harmless revenant spirit.
  • Although it's well known that the Victorian era had a predominance of using blacks and shades of gray as mourning colours, what's less well known is that it had been traditional to wear white as a mourning colour. This started dying out during the Victorian era but continued to be a colour worn to funerals and to visit the graves of loved ones right up until WW1. However, Queen Victoria, who always wore mourning black while in Britain, would change to all-white attire when visiting France due to the tradition of white being the mourning colour of French royalty.
    • White was resurrected for royal mourning in 1938, when the then Duchess of York (Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, best known to us as the Queen Mum, or as Bertie's wife) was scheduled to make a visit to France five days after her mother's death. Norman Hartnell remade her dresses in a fortnight; they became known as the white wardrobe.

Alternative Title(s): Woman In White

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