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Hairpin Lockpick

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"Another fine illustration of your need for tactical assistance. Admit it, Michael. You need me. You don't even have your own hairpin."
Fiona Glenanne, "False Flag", Burn Notice

Alice and Bob are in a tight situation; maybe they need to break into a closet, or maybe they have been locked up by the bad guys. Either way, a lock is blocking their... way. Bob's mind is racing. How are they going to get out? And what is that ''click!'' he just heard? Wait a second... did the lock just open?!

Alice holds up something. "My Handy Hairpin," she says. "Don't leave home without it."

When a resourceful character picks a lock, be they handcuffs, doors or secret diaries, with a hairpin, paper clip, or similar, you get the Hairpin Lockpick. Most often utilized by females as they are way more likely to have a hairpin actually on their person.

This is Truth in Television, as locksmiths and amateur enthusiasts can jimmy a lock with materials like paper clips and hair pins quite easily. However, unless it's a very simple lock, you have to break it in half and use one piece as a torsion wrench and the other as the pick.

Sub-Trope to Improvised Lockpick. Compare Skeleton Key Card, MacGyvering and Master of Unlocking.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Agent 327, a safety pin is standard issue for every Dutch secret agent for exactly this reason.
  • Batman: In the first appearance of Anthony Lupus, Batman is left shackled on a building site by Professor Milo. With his arms stretched out to the sides, he is unable to reach his Utility Belt. However, he finds a bent cotter oin in the dirt, and is able to sieze it with his teeth and use it to unlock his shackles before he becomes a snack for a hungry werewolf.
  • Night Nurse in Doctor Strange: The Oath opens a door this way. The impressed Strange can only comment "You should wear your hair like that more often."
  • In The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #7, Marian gains access to Marcus' study by picking the lock with a bobby pin.
  • In The Golden Age, Classy Cat-Burglar Paula Brooks (Tigress) uses one to break into the Secret Diary of Tex Thompson, revealing that he is the Ultra-Humanite and that Dynaman is Adolf Hitler's brain in Daniel Dunbar's body.
  • Strangers at the Heart's Core: While investigating her parents' disappearance, Supergirl finds their house's door is locked from the inside; undeterred, she picks one of her hairpins and snaps the lock open.
    Supergirl: Hmmmm, looks as if Kandorian locksmiths could learn a few things from Earthmen— this lock'll be a snap to pick— with a hairpin!"
  • Tintin in the Lake of Sharks plays this straight, after he and a pair of young siblings are locked up by Rastapopolous.

    Fan Works 
  • Fates Collide: Yang Xiao Long can do this, saying she taught herself how to do it to sneak into her father's liquor cabinet.
  • In A Jump to the Left, Xander demonstrates that he can pick handcuffs with a paperclip. He also explains that keeping it in the collar of a shirt makes anyone who notices assume it's to keep the collar stiff while also keeping it close enough to grab with your mouth.

    Films — Animated  

    Films — Live-Action  
  • In Coherence, Mike manages to open the mysterious box with a pin from his pocket. Lampshaded by his line: "Holy shit, it worked."
  • Colombiana. The hitwoman protagonist uses one to get out of her cell after a Get into Jail Free ploy. The hairpin appears to be a professional lockpicking tool however.
  • In Con Air, Cyrus and Nathan use needles to unlock their handcuffs as part of their Great Escape plan.
  • In Fatal Instinct, Ned once walks into his office to find Lola waiting there for him. When asked how she got in, she says, "Isn't it amazing what a real woman can do with a hairpin?" Cut to the door, the lock of which has been completely destroyed.
  • In Final Justice, Maria uses a hairpin to pick the lock to the door on Don Lamanna's mansion, then says she has been doing this since childhood.
  • The Golden Child. When Kee Nang needs to get through a locked door into the house headquarters of a biker gang, she pulls a hairpin out of her hair and jimmies the lock.
  • The father in Home Movie teaches his kids how to do this. It comes back to bite him in the ass.
  • A variation in Madeline, Pepito uses a paper clip, and later on, Madeline's hairpin, to start a few motorcycles.
  • Major Grom: Plague Doctor. After Grom is framed for being the Plague Doctor, Yulia poses as his lawyer to get an exclusive, but Grom just wants her to help him escape. She walks out on him instead, but Grom slips the paper clip from her file and goes to pick the lock on the cell, only for his partner to open it from the other side, give him a police uniform and lead him to where Yulia is waiting with a getaway car.
  • Another variation in the climax of Pompeii: when Cassia is chained to the chariot of the Big Bad and an epic Chariot Race is taking place, she tears a splinter from the wooden platform of the chariot and manages to unlock her chain with it.
  • In The Prowler (1951), Webb pulls a bobby pin out of Susan's hair and uses it to pick the lock on John's desk to help himself to a packet of cigarettes.
  • In Rags, Kadee's friend gets Charlie out of a closet by picking the lock with her hairpin.
  • There's a subversion in Shanghai Knights where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is attempting to do this but Chon Wang gets impatient and shatters the door window with a lock, reaches in, and unlocks the door.
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009). Once Holmes and Watson stop the Conveyor Belt o' Doom that Irene Adler is handcuffed to, Holmes removes a pin from her hair and uses it to unlock the cuffs. Given that Holmes is shown to have proper lockpicking tools, it's likely put in just to increase their Ship Tease.
  • The Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal unlocks his handcuffs with a pen clip that Doctor Chilton carelessly leaves in his cell (Hannibal is forbidden from having even staples and paperclips because of this trope).
  • In Sunburn (1979), Jake breaks into a closet this way.
  • In Superdome, the killer breaks into Rita's hotel room this way before killing her with a Vorpal Pillow in her sleep.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah Conner uses unfolded paper clips to pick the locks on the straps holding her and the lock on the door of her room. Bonus points because Linda Hamilton actually managed to do it for real.
  • In Terminator Genisys, when Reese is handcuffed to a hospital bed, he uses forceps to pick the lock. He succeeds within seconds.
  • In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond uses his love interest's earring to unlocks the handcuffs that had them both tied together. Justified as she's a Distaff Counterpart, and the earring is implied to be her version of a Q gadget.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer uses a hairpin to pick Jack Nicholson's handcuffs in Wolf.

  • The cleaning lady asks the bank director: "Boss, could you lend me the key for the vault?"
    Director: "Of course not! How did you get the idea?"
    Cleaning lady: "Well, you told me to clean up everywhere, and today I forgot my hairpin."

  • In The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, because Malicia believes she's the main character in an adventure story, she thinks hairpins are better at picking locks than actual lockpicks. Everyone else is very surprised when this actually works. It runs in the family.
  • In the Doc Savage novel The Lost Oasis, a woman tries to pick the lock on her slave collar with a hairpin after seeing Doc perform a similar feat. She doesn't have the necessary training.
  • In the Doctor Who novel Engines of War, the Time Lords created an intricate, sonic proof lock that someone might unlock via a different, cruder method. Cinder breaks out using her bracelet.
  • In "The End of the Pier Show", Richard borrows a hairpin from Vanessa and uses it to unlock the door of the room they've been imprisoned in, pretty much without breaking stride.
  • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Ron picks the lock on Hedwig's cage with a pin. It turns out the twins taught him, and he teaches Harry.
    • In the next book it's mentioned that Harry used this method to get his school things, which had been locked up by the Dursleys.
  • Judge Dee uses a hairpin from his topknot to pick the lock of a secret passageway in The Haunted Monastery. The Big Bad that Dee finds on the other side is surprised, as he has the only key.
  • In Malediction Trilogy Cecile de Troyes does it several times. Justifies, as the locks are not that complicated (this being equivalent of XVIII century or so) and she was taught how to do it by her older brother.
  • Stephen King's Misery has a segment where the author-hero lampshades that he fortunately learnt how to do this as research for one of his books. King gets to Show His Work by having the character show his work; it's a somewhat recursive book.
  • My Dark Vanessa: When the shower drain gets clogged with hair one too many times, the janitor gets fed up and locks the bathroom. Ms. Thompson has to pick the lock with a paperclip.
  • If Nancy Drew didn't have those Industrial-Strength bobby pins, she would still be locked in many a closet.
  • Subverted in A Series of Unfortunate Events, where the fallacy in this trope is pointed out, and Violet uses an electrical plug as a lock pick.
  • Subverted in the Towers Trilogy. Xhea spends an entire hour unsuccessfully attempting to pick a lock this way using a filched surgical tool; finally, the tool breaks, and Xhea concludes that the door must be sealed by the strongest lock in the known universe.
  • In A Study in Murder by Robert Ryan, a Femme Fatale Spy is being smuggled out of the country under guard for a Prisoner Exchange. She's disguised as a nurse to hide the fact that she's being Shipped in Shackles, so asks for something to pin her hair up. Later when the spy escapes, her escort kicks herself for not counting the hairpins to make sure they had all been returned. Though it turns out someone else released her.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Bizaardvark, Belissa escapes from military school by picking the lock on the gate with a hairpin she stole from Paige.
  • In Breaking Bad, when Jesse is being held captive by the Neo-Nazis, he picks the lock on his handcuffs with a paper clip. It only takes him a few seconds.
  • A Chekhov's Gun in the Burn Notice episode "False Flag". Michael borrows one of Fiona's hairpins to get himself out of handcuffs. He later uses the same hairpin as a replacement trigger bar spring for his pistol to defeat a hitman.
  • Castle
    • In the two-part episode "Target"/"Hunt," when Alexis is kidnapped, she uses her friend's bobby pins to pick the lock. Castle had learned how as book research and taught her. She does describe using the torsion and pick, and actually breaks a few before succeeding.
    • In an earlier episode, Castle offers to pick the cuffs when he and Beckett are chained together, but she isn't wearing hairpins.
  • In the Historical Re Creation Churchill's Secret Agents: The New Recruits, the eponymous recruits are taught how to pick handcuffs and door locks with hairpins, bicycle spokes or fence wire. They then have to use their skills in an SOE training exercise where they have ten minutes to uncuff themselves and break out of the courtyard they're in.
  • In Continuum, Jasmine Garza picks the lock on her handcuffs using her nipple piercing.
  • Done as a Visual Pun in Cowboy Bebop (2021) when Faye Valentine has to break into a bulletproof glass case, so she loads a hairpin into the railgun she recently purchased and fires it.
  • Doctor Who
    • Used by Victoria in the serial "Fury from the Deep".
    • In "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe", Madge Arwell offers to pick the lock of the TARDIS with her hairpin when the Doctor can't find his key. He points out that it's a multi-dimensional, triple-encoded temporal interface, then is bemused when she succeeds. "Suddenly the last nine hundred years of time travel seem that bit less secure." Turns out she's brought him to a real police telephone box.
  • Subverted in Father Brown when Father Brown faces a locked door and asks for a hatpin. Mrs. McCarthy is slightly disappointed that he uses it for a Paper Key-Retrieval Trick rather than actually pick the lock.
  • In an episode of Flight of the Conchords, Mel uses a hairpin to open the bathroom door. While Bret's in the bathroom.
  • In one episode of Friends, Chandler and Joey are trying to open a locked closet door. Joey asks Chandler whether he has a bobby pin; Chandler runs his hand through his hair, then says, "Oh, that's right, I'm not a 9-year-old girl". Ultimately the trope is subverted as they can't get the door open this way and Joey eventually admits he has no idea what he's doing.
  • Spoofed as always in Get Smart. Max asks 99 for a hairpin so he can pick a lock, but she doesn't have one. Then Max remembers he has one himself. When an amused 99 asks why a man wears a hairpin, Max indignantly replies that it's for picking locks.
  • In an episode of Gilligan's Island, Ginger says she did it in a movie once, and wants to try it on a locked chest. She doesn't get a chance to try it, though.
  • Hardball: After being locked in the toilet during the accidental Lockdown in "The Odd Couple", Ms. Crapper attempts to unlock the door with a hairpin before realising the futility of trying to pick an electronic lock.
  • In Haven, as a former criminal, Duke Crocker knows how to pick locks with pins, ballpoint pens, etc.
  • In a two-part episode of Hazel, Hazel has to retrieve some tranquilizers from a mobster's desk so she can dope the food of a roomful of crooks with them and, hopefully, escape while they're incapacitated. She sneaks into the mobster's office and discovers that the desk drawer is locked, so she immediately pulls out a hairpin and opens the lock. However, before she can get the pills, she hears someone coming, so she shoves the drawer back in and hides. One of the crooks comes in to get a couple of tranquilizers for his boss. He's surprised that the desk is open, and locks it when he leaves. Thus, Hazel has to hairpin it open twice.
  • House of Anubis used this a few times.
    • In the first season, Nina was locked in the attic by Patricia. With no key, she was still able to escape by using a hairpin.
    • In the second season, Eddie taught Fabian how to do it properly when he was trying to break into the cellar, and Fabian later used Amber's hairpin when they were rescuing a kidnapped Trudy.
  • MacGyver (1985): In "Lost Love, Part 2", Mac frees himself from handcuff captivity with a bobby pin that he got from Lisa, a soviet double-agent and one of his many girlfriends. When he was free from the handcuffs, he can't use the pin to open the door of the room he is trapped in, so he uses the handcuffs to pick the lock the same way he did to free himself from the handcuffs.
  • In an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a captured Napoleon Solo steals hairpins from a female jailer with his mouth, and then uses them to pick the locks on his restraints.
  • Maddie does it in an early episode of Moonlighting.
  • Person of Interest.
    • In the episode where John Reese meets his future Love Interest Zoe Morgan, she lampshades that he must be one of those guys who can get out of anything with a paperclip. Later when they're captured, Zoe cuts a deal for her life, but secretly leaves a paperclip in Reese's hand. Sure enough, he unpicks his handcuffs and escapes.
    • In "YHWH", Harper uses a hairpin to pick the lock on Fusco's handcuffs, shaping it with her teeth first. Fusco finds this kinda hot.
  • At the start of one episode of Scarecrow And Mrs King, Lee is teaching Amanda how to open handcuffs when your hands are cuffed behind your back. At the end of the episode, she has to do exactly that, using Lee's stickpin as a picklock.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Hope And Fear", Captain Janeway uses a microfilament from her commbadge to adjust some nodes in Seven of Nine's Borg circuitry so that she could walk through the force field of the prison they were held in and gain control of the ship that was bringing them into Borg-controlled territory. Despite all the technobabble, it's basically this trope Recycled IN SPACE!.
  • In "Chapter Six: The Monster" from Stranger Things, Nancy's mother uses her hairpin to open Nancy's room after her knocking remains unanswered.
  • In the pilot of Supernatural, Dean uses a paperclip to free himself from handcuffs in the police station. Like most depictions of this trope, he merely bends it to make it work.
    • In "Adventures in Babysitting", Dean has to work with the 14-year old daughter of another Hunter. He refuses to take her into a demon nest to rescue her father, so handcuffs her to the steering wheel. Well aware that she had the same training he did, Dean then insists she hand over her lockpick. However she gets free anyway using a bobby pin.
  • In an episode of Thunderbirds, Parker uses one of Lady Penelope's hairpins to open a sophisticated electronic lock on a Bank of England bullion vault.
  • Walker, Texas Ranger. When Sydney and (of course) Alex are kidnapped, the former uses a hairpin to undo their handcuffs. Unfortunately, the bad guys walk in just as they've gotten free and not only smack her and restrain them both again, but order the maid to "make sure she doesn't have any more".
  • Occurs multiple times on White Collar as Neal uses anything at hand to pick locks and get out of handcuffs and Peter even uses the pin from his dry cleaners tag to get out of handcuffs at one point.
  • In The Wild Wild West, Artemus Gordon utilizes this technique in "The Night of Sudden Death" when he's left locked in a cage by his partner.

    Video Games 
  • Possible in 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds. The main character has to take them out of her hair, which covers her neck and prevents her from luring the vampire, but gives her access to a plunger to turn into a stake and some duct tape.
  • In The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, the Paper Clip trinket allows you to unlock chests without having to use a key (you'll still need keys for locked doors and key blocks, though).
  • In Bioshock Infinite Elizabeth is downright surprised Booker doesn't pick locks, and on being asked why she does, she explains, "I spent my life surrounded by nothing but books and time. You'd be amazed what I can do." By the time he shows up, the people maintaining her Tower prison/apartment have it sealed with a bank vault door and use Songbird as a guard, so it's no shock they actually let her keep studying how to pick simpler locks.
  • In Blackwell Convergence, Rosangela picks a door lock twice with a paper clip.
  • Nico Collard of the Broken Sword series knows how to pick a lock with a hairpin, and does so in most of the games. Being an Intrepid Reporter, it's probably a useful skill to have.
  • In Drakensang - The Dark Eye, you can use hairpins to open chests.
  • In Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4, Bobby Pins are your standard lockpicking resource. They're damaged and eventually break when you screw up the Lockpicking Minigame, but fortunately, loads of them have survived The Great War intact. The trope is even lampshaded in Fallout 4, as one of the issues of Tumblers Today (a collectable magazine that improves your lockpicking ability for every issue you collect) has a cover claiming that hairpins are superior to a locksmith's tools.
  • Twice in Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Kyle uses part of a coat hanger to pick the lock on his suitcase and a hotel door.
  • In Kathy Rain, Kathy uses a bent paperclip to open her jail cell.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel subverts this in the first game during the field study in Bareahard. Rean, Fie, and Emma all attempt to sneak into the sewers to rescue Machias, who has been arrested on false charges of breaking into a military fortress. The entrance to the sewer is locked, and Rean is worried that using his sword to break the lock would create noise and attract unwanted attention. Emma decides to deal with this with a hairpin, except she casts a spell to make the door open. It's never clarified if the pin was needed for the spell, or if it was used to avert attention from her magic. When Rean is suspicious about how she unlocked the door, she tries to avoid suspicion about her magic by saying it's a trick she read about in a book.
  • Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail!: Larry manages to use the needle after bending it with vice grips, both of which he found in the La Costa Lotta complimentary Lil' Hair Weave Kit, to open his handcuffs at the beginning of the game.
  • No One Lives Forever has a lockpick disguised as a hairpin.
  • More of a jewelry example in Quest for Glory II, but the Hero as a Thief must use the decorative golden pin given to him by the Katta as a mark of friendship earlier in the game to pick the lock of a cell door. Actually, creative lockpicking is something of a recurring theme throughout the series for a Thief hero...
  • Unlike the first Resident Evil where Jill uses an actual lockpick given to her by Barry, she in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and Claire in Resident Evil 2 use what looks like a safety pin that was bent into a makeshift picking tool. Likely this is why it works on far less locks than the pick in the first game did. Ethan in Resident Evil 7 uses what looks like an ice pick to jimmy open locks, which breaks them after one use.
  • Parodied in Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. The group has to unlock two doors using two provided keys, but one of them disintegrates as soon as it's picked up. What do you do? Well, the key in question was pretty big, so you use wire cutters to cut down the hairpin sign from a closed down salon and use the hairpin sign to pick the lock.

  • One of the talents possessed by Bina in All Night Laundry is the ability to pick simple locks with a paperclip, a talent gained through events involving a sleepover, her future girlfriend, and her future girlfriend's parents' fuzzy handcuffs. It comes in handy when she and another woman are handcuffed to a pipe and have to escape a collapsing building and a giant temporally undead dog thing.
  • In one Darths & Droids, Jim asks if his character Padme has a bobby pin in her hair. Since Padme happens to be chained up at the time, the GM assumes that Jim intends this trope and congratulates him on the idea. Since Jim's actual idea is much more foolish, Jim decides to use this trope instead.
  • One of the first things Rory from Demon Fist learned in his travels was to always hide a pin in his clothes.
  • Prince Zander from Latchkey Kingdom, who by this point has gotten a bit used to being captured, is seen trying to open a cage door with a bobby pin. He fails and breaks the pin, but pulls another out of his hair rather than let that stop him.
  • The hairpin from Problem Sleuth is in the same category of items as keys: All their weapon counterparts are guns (pistol for key, Tommy gun for ring of keys, heavy machine gun for hairpin). It's also actually used as a lockpick during the final battle.
  • In Surviving Romance Cheram opens the lock to the chained principal's office with a safety pin given to her by Mihui.

    Western Animation 
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog: In "The Mask", Courage locks Eustace and Muriel in their bedroom while he goes out to find Bunny. Muriel eventually unlocks the door with a bobby pin, to Eustace's amazement.
  • Subverted in the Duckman episode "Bonfire of the Panties", Duckman attempts to break in to his neighbor's house using a hairpin... then barges the door in and tosses the hairpin away.
  • House of Mouse: In the short "Locksmiths", Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are locksmiths whose office door is locked and they can't find their key. In one attempt to get out, Mickey uses a hairpin to unlock the door, which opens up to reveal many other doors behind it (including one with the Doorknob from Alice in Wonderland) before Mickey opens up on Clarabelle Cow taking a Shower of Awkward.
    Mickey: Heh-heh, wrong pick.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Subverted in the last episode of Season 4. When the J-Team is trapped in a cell, Viper tries using a hairpin to pick the lock, but it doesn't work because the lock is magically sealed.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in one episode of Kim Possible: Ron and Monique are facing a locked door, so Ron asks Monique whether she has a bobby pin. Her response? "I don't know; why don't you ask my grandmother?"
  • Done on the Looney Tunes Wartime Cartoon "The Weakly Reporter" about women in the work force. When a factory breaks down, a repairwoman goes into her toolbox and pulls out a bobby pin, which she uses to start the factory up again.
  • The Loud House:
    • Leni uses this in "It's A Loud, Loud, Loud, Loud House". Given that she's the Dumb Blonde of her family, her sisters are understandably shocked.
      Leni: What? There's more to my head than just air, you know.
    • In "Kernel of Truth", this is how Stella opens the door behind which the popcorn culprit is hiding.
  • In The Perils of Penelope Pitstop episode "Carnival Calamity," Penelope used one of her hairpins to open the padlock on the loop-the-loop ride.
    • Penelope also uses a hairpin to do a repair on her car the Compact Pussycat in an episode of Wacky Races. That is, after she's pulled out half the engine to see what the problem was to start with.
  • The Proud Family episode "Thelma and Luis" has Papi being sent to a nursing home that turns out to be a front for an illegal okra plantation where the residents are enslaved. Suga Mama is the only one who believes the kids when they discover the truth, and when she, Penny, LaCienega, Dijonay, Zoey and Sticky infiltrate the nursing home to rescue Papi, Dijonay tries using this to open his cell, but it fails, so Suga Mama employs, of all things, her toenail.
  • Parodied in a Rocko's Modern Life version of Hansel and Gretel (called Hansel and Debbie).
    Heffer/Hansel: Hey Debbie, don't you have a hairpin or something?
    Rocko/Debbie: No, but I have a key. (pulls key out of hair)
  • Sally Bollywood: In "Call My Lawyer", Sally uses a hairpin to the pick the lock on Bob's locker in search of incriminating information.
  • The titular character of Samurai Jack uses the pin holding up his topknot to pick locks in a couple episodes.
  • Producing a hairpin to pick locks was one of the only things Daphne ever did of use in Scooby-Doo. Velma, of all people, did this on The New Scooby-Doo Movies when Don Adams was locked in a trunk.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil,
    • Marco says he learned how to pick locks with bobby pins from watching prison movies. In "St. Olga's Reform School for Wayward Princesses", he uses a bobby pin to pick the locks on the school's doors. However, when he is captured and strapped to a chair, he attempts to pick the locks with a bobby pin in his mouth, but he accidentally drops it.
    • Subverted in "Total Eclipsa the Moon": After running into a locked door, Eclipse asks Moon for a hairpin. Moon hands her one, then Eclipsa puts it in her own hair and uses a hole in the wall to circumvent the door entirely.