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Jay: Oh look, when these guys were put to death in the electric chair, their chairs died with them.
Rich: If ghosts can wear clothes, they can have electric chairs.

One of the ways that Our Ghosts Are Different, where ghosts wear the clothes in which they died.

Generally, this takes the form of some sort of gaudy period piece, making them look interesting and giving an obvious visual clue as to what time they were from. A ghost in slacks and a T-shirt just isn't very dramatic — unless you want to show that they were relaxed or a slacker in life. The ghost is usually stuck in that particular costume for the rest of eternity, unable to change their clothes. Which makes sense — there probably aren't that many Ghostly Gaps around. It must be a drag, if you got shot wearing Grandma's old knit sweater that you secretly hate.

A female ghost in her wedding dress and veil is particularly poignant, since it is an unmistakable reminder that she died on what was meant to be the happiest day of her life.

Most movies and television shows that use this also agree that, when you take that last train to Spiritville, you get to keep whatever grievous bodily injuries you incurred along the way. Burned to death? You'll be a charred and smoky corpse for the rest of your afterlife, we're afraid. Drowned? Soggy and covered in seaweed, regardless of whether or not you were actually anywhere near the sea. Stabbed multiple times in the chest? You get to keep the knife! Decapitated? Enjoy your new detachable head! Hanged? Hey, free necktie. If you're unlucky enough to die in a way that doesn't leave you horribly mutilated, sometimes you'll get a special symbolic makeover just for giggles. Exceptionally gruesome and bloody versions of this are usually Played for Horror, and more often than not the trait of a Ghastly Ghost.

Trope named for Jacob Marley, the old dead business partner of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, whose ghost wore the clothes he was wearing at the time of his death, along with chains composed partly of money boxes to symbolize his greed and selfishness. (Though it should be noted that Marley didn't literally have all those chains on him at the time of death.)

Compare with the Bedsheet Ghost, and Monochrome Apparition. If a ghost wears something intended to be amusingly-ironic, that's a spectral version of Incongruously-Dressed Zombie. Contrast Out-of-Clothes Experience and Healthy in Heaven. Dressing to Die might happen pre-mortem specifically to avoid looking ridiculous in the afterlife, in cases where the character knows death is coming.

Not to be confused with Jacob Marley Warning or Chained by Fashion (Jacob Marley's actual apparel).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Meiko "Menma" Honma in Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day wears the same white and blue sundress she wore when she drowned, although it is larger since her ghost is older and taller than she was at death and wears no shoes (which were presumably washed away by the river).
  • In the Area 88 manga, the late Hoover visits Shin in his dreams wearing his flight suit.
  • Tomoharu in Asura Cryin' questions his ghost girl follower Misao on why this trope doesn't apply to her. Misao responds in turn that it "would be boring." While it's not entirely clear how a ghost girl can change her clothes, Misao can.
  • Also averted in Bakekano, where Alice first appears naked and has to concentrate to create the clothes she wears although the clothes she normally wears are those which she's most familiar with. When first seen she's wearing thighhighs and a backpack because they're her favorite socks and her backpack was one she kept bugging her mother for. She can apparently also share the clothes with others so long as she can concentrate.
  • In Cardcaptor Sakura, Nadeshiko has her wedding ring, because she was Happily Married to Fujitaka (who for his part follows The Mourning After trope), sometimes bordering on Sickeningly Sweethearts (at least according to Sonomi).
    • Also, Touya described seeing all manner of ghosts, sometimes with remnants of injuries inflicted upon them (such as missing limbs). His descriptions of what he was able to see until he gave up his clairvoyant powers to save his boyfriend's life were the reason for Sakura's fear of ghosts.
  • Averted in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. Yuuko died 50 or 60 years ago, but when Teiichi first meets her, she's wearing the modern school uniform. She liked the new design when she saw it, so she somehow got one of her own. She's still got her old uniform, too, and changes into that to show Teiichi... embarrassing him, because she doesn't change clothes by magic, she does it just as an ordinary girl would — except right in front of him.
  • Ghost Sweeper Mikami:
    • It's mentioned that a ghost usually wears the clothes they were wearing in the time of their death. Okinu Himuro, in example, is a Shinto priestess who was sacrificed to a Mountain God, so she wears her red and white Miko robes.
    • There's a youkai who can make special clothes for ghosts, and an episode of the anime has Yokoshima searching for her so he can give some modern outfits to Okinu as a gift.
  • In Hell Teacher Nube, naturally, ghosts subscribe to this rule. This is especially bad for those who died after being horribly mutilated, because they'll spend their days trying to replace their missing body parts. But most notably: when Hiroshi found himself on the verge of death, his soul wore the hospital gown during his brief adventure in the afterlife. The cute girl whose soul he saved from demons also wore a hospital gown in the afterlife, but it turned out that she was an incredibly ancient old woman who became hopelessly smitten with her savior.
  • An interesting case occurs in Jojos Bizarre Adventure. Reimi Sugimoto's ghost looks exactly as she did on death, as does her dog. On the occasion we see someone die, their soul floats through her alley, bearing all the wounds of their deaths. However, when Yoshikage Kira dies, he still looks like Kosaku Kawajiri, which would fit this trope - but when he realizes he's dead, he changes into his original body.
  • Averted in Jubei-chan: the ghost of Yagyu Jubei is younger in the second season than he appears in the first, in addition to wearing different clothes. Presumably, this is because of how Koinosuke and Freesia remember him from different periods of his life.
  • The Impure World Resurrection technique in Naruto brings back the dead in whatever clothes they were wearing when they died. This is clearly demonstrated when a man who'd taken off his shirt is killed, then immediately brought back, also without his shirt.
  • Sayo Aisaka in Negima! Magister Negi Magi has been wearing the same Sailor Fuku for 60 years.
  • Ranma Ĺ:
    • Might have drawn some inspiration from Kogane, the Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl from Furinkan High, who also wore a sailor fuku even when the school didn't use it as its uniform.
    • Another ghost was a former headmistress for an extremely old, dilapidated all-girls school and dormitory. Until her Ghostly Goals are fulfilled, she's dressed in period clothes and wears her hair in a bun, as well as thin and pointy sunglasses. When she's finally allowed to move on, she trades the clothes for an angel's robe and wings but keeps the bun and sunglasses.
  • The Voynich Hotel both plays this trope straight and plays with it.
    • A drug dealer staying in the hotel was killed by a sniper, and as a ghost he's missing a large chunk of his head.
    • Hundreds of years ago, another character took a poisoned arrow in the chest, but due to being a witch, this wasn't enough to truly kill her. She's now a Revenant Zombie, and her body withering and decaying has made the hole from the arrow as big as her hand, with her ribs visible inside it.

  • Several saints from the Sistine Chapel's The Last Judgement surrounding the risen Christ are holding objects that were used to execute them for their faith.
    • Saint Andrew is seen holding an X-shaped cross, which Christian tradition says the Romans used to kill him.
    • Saint Bartholomew pops out because he's seen holding a man's skin while holding a knife in the other hand. This may look like Bartholomew skinned someone, but closer inspection of the skin makes it obvious he's holding his own flayed skin.
    • Saint Blaise is holding the iron combs used to rip his flesh apart.
    • Saint Catherine is sitting next to a broken wheel of spikes, which legends say the Roman Emperor tried to use to slowly torture and kill her, only for it to miraculously fall apart as soon as she touched it. Unable to elaborately torture her, the Emperor had her swiftly beheaded.
    • Saint Lawrence holds a ladder, referencing the legend that he died while being burnt over hot coils, only to snark that "It's cooked enough now," before his death.
    • Saint Sebastian holds the arrows he was pierced with before being beaten to death.

    Comic Books 
  • Emily of Anya's Ghost wears the same jumper dress and floofy hairdo she had when she died in the 1910s. She later learns to change her hairstyle, however.
  • Beasts of Burden: The ghost sheep encountered in one issue died in a barn fire, so their true forms look like charred corpses.
  • Deadman appears in the circus acrobat costume he was wearing when he was murdered. Ironically, the costume was designed to make him appear like a ghost.
  • Recurring DC Comics supervillain Gentleman Ghost always appears in the clothes of his time period; as that's the nineteenth century, he's depicted with a top hat, full suit, gloves, monocle, and ruffled jabot.
  • Minor DC Comics characters the Ghost Patrol appear in the flight suits they were wearing when their plane blew up.
  • In Proposition Player (wherein the protagonist Joey Martin accidentally becomes the owner of a number of people's souls) this is considered a "default setting" until a soul's caretaker specifies otherwise, to avoid blocking up the celestial mechanics. Hugin and Munin tell Joey he can "have them come back as cows or ducks or angels of light" but until he decides to do so, this trope is in effect, and changes aren't retroactive. Naturally, before he even knows what to do, a competitive archangel kills off most of the contractees in a massive and complex accident, resulting in his makeshift afterlife (aka apartment) filling up with, among others, a waitress with her head on a platter, a guy with rebar through his face, a guy crushed flat, a pile of ashes, and a pile of crocodile feces. And they're still sentient. Also again, not retroactive.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): While the denizens of Hades are rather reclusive those that are shown are wearing what they died in and have no options for switching things up.
  • In Zombies Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley's chains were designed to keep his zombified form in check, including a muzzle so he couldn't bite people.

    Comic Strips 
  • One FoxTrot series parodying A Christmas Carol had Jason-as-Scrooge being visited by "Jacob Marcusly", chained to the video game controllers that dominated his life. He tells Jason to learn from his example... and not buy this particular brand of joystick, because the fire button is sluggish.

    Fan Works 
  • In Being Dead Ain't Easy, Joey was wearing his school uniform when he died, and later notes he'll probably be stuck in it forever.
  • Exaggerated in Iron Touch, where Polnareff not only keeps his clothes as a ghost, but also his prosthetic legs and gaping wound in his chest.
  • Downplayed in Mike's New Ghostly Family. while the ghost kids initially wear the stuff they where wearing at death, they can change their clothes if they concentrate on a piece of apparel.
  • In Not Completely, Altogether Here, the ghostly Glinda wears the same clothes she died in: a pink nightgown and a coat over it.
  • Essentially applies to Neo in What If?, who apparently cannot change out of the clothes he was wearing when Cypher pulled the plug, although he muses that the outfit actually isnít that bad and he can at least make it look cleaner.
  • Characters on Dragonball Z Abridged tend to have a Limited Wardrobe anyway, so appearing in the afterlife in the clothes they were wearing when they died isn't that much of a surprise. But when Vegeta's ghost appears to give Goku a pep talk, Goku interrupts him to ask why he's naked. Vegeta snaps that "You can't take it with you." Goku corrects him: when he died, he not only kept the clothes he was in, he arrived on King Kai's planet wearing the weighted training clothes he'd specifically removed before his death. Once Vegeta finishes his speech, he goes off to get his clothes back. As it turns out, King Yemma was more bored than usual that particular day, and demanded everyone passing into the afterlife strip.

    Films — Animation 
  • In All Dogs Go to Heaven 2, new arrivals to Dog Heaven arrive in this fashion. The dog that died from eating chocolate arrives with a box of chocolates in tow, the dog that died from biting/getting electrocuted by the vacuum cord arrives with the vacuum cord in its mouth, the dog that got strangled to death by a mailman's mailbag arrives with the strap still around its neck, and the dog that died from getting run over has the car's bumper in its jaws.
  • In Barbie in A Christmas Carol, Eden's Aunt Marie—who is directly based on Marley—wears chains with mirrors on the end instead of money boxes, symbolizing vanity instead of greed.
  • Corpse Bride fits this to a tee, with Emily's (wedding) dress being the most noticeable. All the other characters wear the clothes they died in as well. Of course, they are reanimated corpses, instead of entirely spiritual beings, so they wear what they were buried in.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In An American Werewolf in London, David's friend Jack is still wearing the parka that he died in, complete with the slash-across-the-face marks of the werewolf attack. While his clothes remain the same, his body decays into a near-skeleton by the end of the movie.
  • The film Beetlejuice had this for every ghost except, oddly enough, for the two leads, who drowned but were only a bit damp when they got home (though, at the very least, they remained in the same clothes). And they dried out, too (likely because it would have been impractical to keep the actors damp for the whole of shooting, but still). The other obviously wrong-looking ghosts were the ones who died in disfiguring ways or, as in the case of the headhunter and showgirl/receptionist, were explicitly in costume at death. And, if you look closely, Juno has smoke coming out the holes in her throat when she smokes. The title character himself does not have this feature, being more like a demonic ghost than a disfigured human. But then, he likely hasn't been human for a long time.
  • In The Devil's Messenger, the line of damned souls awaiting admission indicates that people arrive in Hell wearing whatever they were wearing when they died.
  • The ghost queen from The Enchantress; during her Troubled Backstory Flashback where she gets betrayed by her lover's clan, she's seen wearing different kinds of robes and varying outfits, until she gets killed in a clan massacre while wearing a white-and-gold dress. She then spends the rest of the film — even after the climax which renders her Deader than Dead — in that dress, which she had worn for 18 years.
  • In The Frighteners, one of the ghosts complains about his ridiculous 1970s outfit (complete with big bushy afro), and another points out that he must wear it because he was dressed like that when he died. After his ghostly form is destroyed by the big bad, he is seen in Heaven at the end of the film, wearing far more fashionable clothes and much shorter hair.
  • In the movie Ghost (1990), Sam (and apparently all other ghosts) wear what they were wearing at the time of death, though without any damage they took in dying, and the ghosts themselves have no visible wounds.
  • In The Ghost Goes West, Murdoch Glourie died with his Jacobite outfit, and itís the only thing heís got while haunting his castle.
  • In the 2008 film Ghost Town, Bertram Pincus is followed around by ghosts who are dressed in whatever they were wearing when they died, including one nude man. One of the ghosts, Frank, is wearing a tuxedo and carrying around a Blackberry, and comments on how he's grateful that he downloaded some games on it before he died.
  • Thaddeus Binx in Hocus Pocus as well as his sister Emily both appear as ghosts at the end of the film wearing the clothing they basically died in. Same goes for the Sanderson Sisters, though they're 'alive' until the sun comes up.
  • In Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, the fake ghosts appear this way to Charlotte as part of a Driven to Madness ploy.
  • Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life spends the entire film in a nightgown, a gift from his wife, having passed away in it.
    • Actually somewhat averted in that Clarence is wearing somewhat "modern" clothing on top of his old-fashioned underwear. He even complained about not having time to get any "stylish underwear."
  • All of the ghosts in The Locals are wearing the clothing they wearing when died. This is not always immediately apparent because what a farmer who died in the 1890s was wearing is not too different from what a present-day farmer would be wearing. It is more obvious with Kelly and Lisa who are dressed in 1980s party clothes. Grant and Paul initially think they are going to a 1980s-themed party, but ultimately learn they died on their way to a party in the 1980s.
  • Semi-averted in The Lovely Bones, in that Susie can change clothes when she wants, but her default clothes are the ones she wore when she died.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Salazar and the rest of Silent Mary's ghostly crew appear in the clothing and condition in which they died. This is particularly unfortunate for the sailor who's reduced to nothing but a floating, independently-moving arm and boots - implying everything else of him was destroyed by a cannonball - and particularly disturbing with Salazar himself, who drowned underwater and whose hair constantly drifts around his head in nonexistent currents.
  • The Sixth Sense: All the clothes that Dr. Crowe wore throughout the entire movie were clothes that he wore at some point during the night he died.
    • While the other ghosts are also wearing the same clothing from time periods that they died in, they were shown with gashes, wounds, blood, and nooses they are hanged from like the woman in a bathrobe with a black eye and scars on her wrists hence that she died from cutting herself and the vomiting girl who died from being poisoned.
  • In Stardust, the dead princes are all wearing what they had on when they died, and their bodies are in whatever state they expired in: One who died in the tub spent the rest of his ghostly life naked, and one who fell out of a window had his face flattened, and his hair is in a permanent windblown style.
  • In Star Wars, Force ghosts follow this rule, looking as old or young as they did upon the time of death, and wearing the same clothes. The exception is Anakin Skywalker, who despite dying in full Darth Vader regalia, missing limbs, and with a disfigured head, reverts to what he would have looked like in more benign circumstances. He was later changed to Hayden Christiansen's Anakin, so maybe that was supposed to be his appearance when he was killed by Darth Vader. The robes are still different, though.
    • One of the novels mentions that you appear how you think of yourself. Thus, the Jedi are all in their customary robes, the Sith are in their armor, and Anakin views himself as the young man before he fell.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: In a deleted scene (which was added back into the director's cut), Sarah has a dream where she imagines her speaking with Kyle, who's seen wearing the same trenchcoat outfit he wore throughout the first film.
  • Thir13en Ghosts (2001): Even after death, the titular 13 ghosts carry various individual objects relating to their persona.
  • The Tower of Terror film is similar to the Lovely Bones example above. The ghosts' default clothes are the ones they died in, but one of the ghosts appears in other clothes twice. Her other outfits also look 1930s, so apparently she can wear other clothes as long as they're from the time period when she died. Whatever.
  • Not explicitly stated in The Witch Files, but when Claire and MJ summon the spirits of everyone Jules has wronged to attack her, they are all dressed appropriately for the era in which they died, so it seems likely that are manifesting wearing what they were wearing at their time of death.
  • While not actually ghosts, most of the souls living in the unnamed suicide afterlife in Wristcutters: A Love Story all keep the injuries that they sustained when they killed themselves, although the wounds are empty of any blood or other gibs. They are able to change clothes, however, and this being a Mundane Afterlife, there are even stores that sell them. Also, this only really seems to apply if you killed yourself by a method that resulted in an open wound, such as blowing your brains out or slitting your wrists, as supposed to things like poison, hanging, drug overdose, or electrocuting yourself by dumping beer on your electric guitar while it was plugged in (yes, really), which don't seem to effect the soul's appearance noticeably.

  • In The Blue Girl, Adrian learns from the ghost of a rebellious teenager that he can return to the mortal coil one night per year. The ghost died in a car crash with a pack of cigarettes on him, which retains the same number of cigs, no matter how many he smokes, and he also keeps his James Dean style clothing.
  • The Trope Namer is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol where the ghost of - who else? - Jacob Marley is dressed not only in the clothes he died in, but is wrapped in chains and lugs around safes and cashboxes for all eternity to symbolically represent his avarice in life. It's not played entirely straight, however, as he also wears a cloth that was tied in place after death to bind his jaw shut.
  • Mocked by Ambrose Bierce in The Devil's Dictionary (and used as an unattributed quote passed off as an original insight by Penn Gillette on Penn & Teller: Bullshit!) who asked why ghosts aren't naked. Is the immortal soul of a person dressed in the immortal soul of textiles?
    • Another author, thirty years earlier, similarly mocks: "But what does the ghost represent? That is, what is it the ghost of? A man or a woman to be sure. But does it appear as a man or a woman only? Is it nude? Oh no! Oh shocking! This is contrary to all the rules. It always appears dressed! ... So then, we have the ghost of the clothes also - the ghost of the coat and unmentionables - the ghost of the cocked hat and wig. How is this?"
  • Ghosts in the Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters wear the clothes they died in (until they lose cohesion to the point where this can't be made out any more), and King Champot, who claims to have been beheaded by his nephew after building Lancre Castle, has his head under his arm. Subverted in the Discworld Companion which claims no-one knows why Champot has his head under his arm, since he actually died of gout.
    • There's also a nicely subtle Lampshade Hanging (if that's not a contradiction) in the TV version, when King Verence recognises the Crown of Lancre and takes off the ghost crown he's wearing to compare them.
  • In Everlost by Neal Shusterman, Afterlights, the spirits of children who died but who became trapped between the world of the living and "where they were going" enter the realm of Everlost appearing as they did when they died. Thus, Nick, one of the main characters, is dressed in a suit and his face is smeared with chocolate. One boy is stuck in a speedo and is constantly wet. However, one can accidentally change his or her appearance if he or she forgets what he or she looks like or what people look like.
  • In the Ghosts of Fear Street book Why I'm Not Afraid of Ghosts, the POV switches between a boy living in a haunted house and the two ghost children who are haunting it. The ghost boy, Robbie, is wearing a sailor suit, which he hates, but unfortunately is stuck with it because of this trope.
  • The titular spirit of Galaxy of Fear: Ghost of the Jedi still bears the tattered robes and gaping wounds given to him by Darth Vader. Since he was killed and Vader burned the library he was guarding, he feels like too much of a failure to move on, and the wounds are part of his penance. When Tash helps him and he helps her back, his wounds close and he reunites with the Force.
  • In ghostgirl and all sequels, this could be considered an important plot point. You reach the "afterlife classroom" with exactly the appearance you had when you died and you specifically get a Alliterative nickname from it, such as Metal Mike, who died in a car crash and has car parts protruding from all over his body. To add to it, as the main character finds out, the injuries that kill you will continue to bother you forever: she died by choking on a gummybear and has to get used to the permanent lump in her throat and constant need to cough. It also stands to note that her obvious nickname "Choking Charlotte" never comes up, as she is very careful to never mention the way she died and it's not apparent from looks alone.
  • In E. W. Hildick's juvenile mystery series Ghost Squad, ghosts always appear in the clothes they died in, but explicitly not the condition they died in. This is mostly used for opening sequences about how inappropriate the ghost's attire is for their surroundings, before revealing the reason.
  • Used straight in Dian Curtis Regan's series Ghost Twins. The pair of pre-teens (and their dog) who drowned in a lake haunt that same lake, not wet, but wearing those same clothes (and the girl hates the jumper she was, is, and will forever until the end of Time be wearing).
  • In the novel Haunted David's dead sister, Juliet, still appears as a child from when she drowned in their pond.
  • Similarly lampshaded in Harry Potter with the Hogwarts ghosts; Nearly Headless Nick laments that he can't join the Headless Hunt, as he wasn't quite decapitated enough.
    • Played straight with the Bloody Baron, who's still caked in the blood of the Grey Lady and wears chains out of penance.
    • Interestingly, one of the ghosts at the "deathday party" in the second book is "a ragged man wearing chains" — a possible reference to Jacob Marley himself.
    • Averted by the magically animated portraits of deceased Hogwarts headmasters and others, which apparently have whatever clothes are painted onto them. It's unclear how these painting are created and whether they can be categorized as "ghosts," but for story purposes they are functionally the same.
  • I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level: The trope is explained as a ghost's clothes being a projection of their soul, based on their memories of their life. The witch Azusa helps the Cute Ghost Girl Rosalie defy it by magically reinforcing her memories of the new outfit she wants to wear until it manifests on her.
  • The three ghosts in Chris Bohjalian's The Night Strangers, who died when their plane crashed during a water landing. All three are dripping wet and have parts of the plane still protruding through their bodies.
  • In The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh, pretty much every ghost is like this, and one of the main characters, Euri, is teased about dying in her school uniform.
  • This is played straight in the Odd Thomas series for most ghosts. Elvis Presley is the exception to the rule, capable of appearing in whatever he feels like wearing. The main character speculates that because Elvis ignored the rules when he was alive, he continues to do so in death. (The ghost of Frank Sinatra is later shown to have the same ability.)
  • Ghosts in Septimus Heap always look like they did when they were killed. For example, Queen Cerys and Alther Mella have visible wounds from the shots that killed them.
  • In Shaman Blues, this is usually not the case, which is why when "gutsies" (ghosts whose bodies are ripped open and whose bones and innards stick out) appear, everyone in death magic business gets worried.
  • Used straight in Shaman of the Undead. Until you get to the Land of the Dead, you get to keep all the clothes and wounds you had when you died. Notably, Ida nicknames Mikołaj's ghost "One-eyed Cannibal" before she learns his name precisely because of this trope.
  • Lampshaded in the third Silverwing book, Firewing. Three ghostly bats, named Java, Nemo, and Yorick, discuss their deaths. Java, who died of old age, and Nemo, who was eaten (leaving no body behind and the resulting ghost being made wholesale), have fully equipped and working ghost bodies. Yorick, who died smashed against a tree by a sudden turn of wind, gets to spend his afterlife with a perpetually broken wing, and demands to know where the justice is.
  • Not ghosts, but the Fantasy Pantheon in the Tales from Mythos story collections, which is made up of deities of human origin, are depicted in art and idols with injuries they sustained performing their godhood-worthy deed. For example, Adal carries his severed head, and Ervah has a gaping wound from stabbing herself in the heart.
  • Averted in Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle, in which the ghost Tamsin can appear in different clothes and hair styles that she had worn in her life, provided she can remember them enough.
  • Averted with Sadie's ghost in Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella. Sadie is wearing a different twenties-style dress and different accessories every time she materializes. Some of them are dresses she wore during her lifetime, others are friends' dresses that she used to envy. Also, she was 105 when she died, but her ghost appears as a 23-year-old.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Parodied/Lampshaded in the short-lived series, The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage, about a ghost pirate who gets a human to impersonate him for purposes of redemption. At one point, the hero is in danger (and dressed in a ridiculous pirate getup), and the ghost tells him that whatever he's wearing when he dies, that's what he'll be wearing for eternity.
  • An infirm Promicin-powered old woman on The 4400 had the power to astrally project. Because the astral projection was powered by her thoughts and imagination, it was her when she was at the full flower of her youth, clad in a hot dress. When she was killed with an overdose, the astral projection simply changed into a ghost that resembled her at the full flower of her youth still wearing a hot dress, rather than becoming an infirm old woman.
  • In A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, this creates problems when Marley's chains are so heavy they drag him out the window and smash through the floor.
  • Subverted in American Horror Story: Murder House, while some ghosts are stuck in their ghostly attire, such as the nurses or the twins, other ghosts are able to change clothes, such as Tate, Violet and the rest of the Harmon family. This may also be affected by whether or not they remember dying. Also, some of the ghosts carry their wounds with them, such as Nora, who maintains a gaping wound on the back of her head, and Moira who has a ghostly eye where she was shot, but again, this does not apply to all the ghosts in the house.
  • Angel:
    • Wesley decapitates Lilah after her death to ensure she won't become a vampire. When Lilah turns up later, she's wearing a scarf to cover the wound (or possibly, as implied, because her head isn't on securely.)
    • In the comic, Wesley is permanently-bound to one of his old Buffy-era suits. Wesley surmises the Senior Partners are just finding new ways to torment him some more, since the suit and glasses are a reminder of his past self that he left behind.
    • Maude Pearson wears the same clothes she died in a heart attack in, but somehow she was all aged.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?: subverted in The Tale of the Prom Queen: Judy was buried in a prom dress, but appears in a casual outfit (to look like an ordinary person) until The Reveal at the end of the episode.
  • Ghosts in Being Human (UK) wear whatever clothes they died in, but they can mentally make minor alterations to the clothes depending on their mood.
  • Ghosts in Being Human (US) wear the clothes they died in and don't seem to have any ability to change it. One ghost comes back to life through sorcery; when she's about to die, she takes particular care in what she's wearing, since she'll be stuck in it.
  • Subverted in The Big Bang Theory; the ghost of Professor Proton wears the robes of a Jedi knight, which he is not happy about, because he's actually just a figment of Sheldon's imagination.
  • In The Black Adder, Richard III, after being decapitated by Edmund, reappears to him as a ghost with a bloodstained head that floats off his own body at times.
  • Ezekiel Stone, the protagonist of Brimstone, always has exactly what he died with on him — including his handgun, whose bullets instantly replenish themselves as they're fired, and the $36.27 US he had in his pockets, which reappears in his pockets every single time he reaches in for it.
  • The first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Buffy identify a vampire by his outdated clothing, suggesting that this applies in some ways to vampires. Vampires aren't required to dress like they did when they were alive, as evidenced by Angel's leather jacket, but it might be hard for them to adjust to changes in fashion. Or maybe they just don't bother to find new clothes. This seems largely forgotten about after the first episode.
    • Also, in another episode "I Only Have Eyes For You", James and Grace wear 1950s attire when they met their demises. James had a rotting face instead of a bullet wound he shot himself with to scare Buffy.
    • Appropriately enough, in the Christmas Episode "Amends", Angel is haunted by the First Evil, who appears to him as Jenny Calendar, wearing the same dress she had on when Angel killed her. (Presumably also the case with other victims the First manifests itself as.)
    • In "Where The Wild Things Are", the apparitions, who are other than ghosts, of the orphans wear late 1940s-early 1960s uniforms manifest in their forms staring eerily like creepy children during Willow, Tara and Giles' exorcism.
  • Back in the day, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris appeared in a sketch together where she brought him back from the dead using a store-bought magic kit (just to find out if he could remember the title of that one song they sang in chorus in high school), and after returning whence he came, he reappeared saying he'd lost his chains somewhere. When, after retracing his steps, he hadn't found them, he stole her keys to achieve the jangling sound.
  • This appears to be a default for ghosts in Dead Gorgeous. As 'living ghosts', the Ainsworth sisters can wear other clothes—allowing them to wear their school uniforms—but they revert back to the dresses they died in when not doing so. It is not known is other, non-living ghosts share this ability. Agatha, Buddy, Grendel and Sophus always appear in the clothes they died in but, as they never interact with mortals, they never have reason to change clothes.
  • The series Dead Last had the main characters able to see ghosts, and unwillingly help them leave the earthly plane. One ghost had killed himself while naked, and had to walk around like that.
  • Used in Dead Like Me, often for comedic effect. If the reaper doesn't remove the soon-to-be-killed person's soul before they die, the ghost ends up looking like their corpse. Considering the main cast dealt exclusively in accidental deaths, the results could be pretty extreme.
  • Deadtime Stories has the ghost girl in "A Grave Secret" wearing the same dress she wore when she was little and had gotten hit by a car.
  • Applies to the ghosts in Ghosts (UK), with various unfortunate results; Mary is wearing the singed clothes she was burned in, Julian is stuck going around without any trousers after he died during an unspecified sex scandal, Pat has an arrow through his neck, and Thomas can't get rid of the forged letter that led to his death even after he learns the true circumstances of his demise, the letter reappearing in his pocket any time he tries to leave it behind.
  • Ghost Whisperer: Melinda's Ghosts appear as they did at their death. As they slowly realize they are dead and come to terms with what happened to them, they lose the disfigurements and traumas to their physical bodies as their souls heal. However, they always stay in the same outfit they wore at the time of their death.
    • This is a important plot point at several times since some ghosts forget who they had been, forcing Melinda to research their identity based on what they have and how they look, such as with the Clown she finds in a basement who can't remember why he looks like one because he actually was a private detective.
  • Played with in HEX: Thelma, the ghost girl, is only seen in the clothes she died in for the first few episodes. Then she discovers that she can only wear clothes of other dead people. So she visits the morgue like ordinary girls visit the mall.
  • Although it is not explicitly stated, the ghosts in Rentaghost appear to wearing what they wear when they died; so Fred Mumford is in mid 70s casual wear, Hubert Davenport is in late Victorian finery, and Timothy Claypole is in medieval jester's motley.
  • Somewhat justified in Six Feet Under, where the "ghosts" are implied to be manifestations of the living characters' states of mind rather than actual spirits. Since they're mostly clients of the funeral home, it makes sense that the characters would visualise them dressed in whatever they died in.
  • Slings & Arrows has a bit of a variation: the ghost of Oliver almost always appears wearing the same suit he was cremated in. In the second half of Season 2, we find out that he can change his outfit at will. In the Season 2 finale, he uses this ability to play the role of Banquo's ghost on stage.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Although it turns out they've only been rendered intangible, "The Next Phase" has Geordi and Ro confronting the possibility that an accident killed them, and the reason they're invisible to the crew is that they're ghosts. The skeptical Geordi runs headlong into this very trope...
      Geordi: But my uniform, my visor... are you saying I'm some blind ghost with clothes?
      Ro: I don't have all the answers! I've never been dead before!
    • In "Tapestry", when Picard dies from his injuries in the opening scene, he's still wearing his uniform with his injuries showing when he is greeted by Q in what he claims is the afterlife.
  • The ghosts in Supernatural are usually dressed in the same clothes they died in and many sport ghastly lethal wounds.
  • In The X-Files episode "Elegy", people report seeing injured women in strange places where they never were while alive. As it turns out, the women were actually dead already. They appeared exactly as they died, and most prominent were their gruesome injuries.
  • The ghosts in The Umbrella Academy keep both the clothes they died in and the injuries they died with/of after death.

  • Invoked in "The Halloween Story" by Heywood Banks:
    "Trick or treat!" Hear the children cryin'
    But who's that pale boy at the back with the antique suit and tie on?
    When you passed out the candy it seemed to fade into his hand
    And, look, there's a clump of fresh dirt on the spot where he did stand!
  • A variation in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Everything You Know Is Wrong": The narrator appears at The Pearly Gates still wearing the Nehru jacket he died in — which apparently violates Heaven's dress code.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Look up any martyred saint of the Roman Catholic tradition, you'll find them either outfitted with the instrument of their execution (St. Andrew with his X-shaped cross, St. Catherine leaning on her wheel) or perhaps holding their own body parts: St. Lucy will be holding an extra set of eyes on a plate (as will St. Agatha with a set of breasts — look it up if you don't believe me), St. Bartholomew is sometimes shown holding his own skin, and St. Denis is always carrying around his own head. Guess Heaven doesn't come with health insurance...
    • This is because each saint is depicted with a symbol that would identify them to the illiterate during that period of history where literacy was the exception. Not all symbols relate to their martyrdom (though many do) — the gospel authors are depicted with one of the four familiar beasts, St Peter with the keys to heaven, St Jaques de Compostelle bears a scallop, etc.
    • An interesting aversion of this also occurs in Revelation 6:11; the martyrs, those slain for God's sake, are specifically given new outfits (pure white clothing).
  • In Chinese culture, paper offerings are burnt so that dead family members might have them in the afterlife. Usually they're hell notes, paper tender recognized in the afterlife, but they can also be paper gifts, like paper stereos, food, clothes, and even paper servants. The paper offerings get updated with time — at one point, people burnt regular old (paper) house phones. Later on they started burning those huge "brick" cellphones in paper form. They actually burn paper PSPs, NDSes, and PS3s along with the paper iPhones now. Not enough? Try an entire miniature paper mansion with tiny servants inside with a paper car in the garage.
  • In a somewhat lesser-known piece of Pacific Mythology made into a hula mu'u mu'u (Dance of the Wounded Spirit), there is a disembodied spirit named Manamanaiakaluea, who is missing both sets of limbs. While she is searching for shellfish and seaweed inside a tide pool to eat, Pele gets into one of her moods. Pele's younger sister Hi'iaka sees Mana and decides she must help her. She holds out a lei filled with spiritual energy to Mana, who eagerly reaches for it. After much struggle, she gets her arms and legs back, and gets back into her body. She is able to escape the lava.
  • There is a legend that the tyrant Periander, after killing his wife in a fit of anger, buried her with her best clothes. Some time later, her spirit complained to him that she was cold because the clothing wasn't burned like herself. Periander took the clothes of every woman in the city and burned them as an offering to her.
  • The Malaysian urban legend of the Upside-down Revenant: A man repeatedly cheated on his fiancée before their wedding, resulting in the heartbroken fiancée eventually being Driven to Suicide by throwing herself off a tall balcony. The man is guilty of indirectly causing her death at first, but got over it until weeks later, he's repeatedly haunted by an omen of his fiancée coming back to haunt him. Confessing to his mother about his involvement on the fiancée's death, his mother warns him of an old folk tale that the Vengeful Ghost of a jilted lover will come back to haunt him on the 100th day anniversary of her death. The man decides there's nowhere to run, but he will hide himself under the bed on the 100th day anniversary to avoid the ghost of his fiancée.

It doesn't work, despite hiding under his bed, his fiancée finds him and kills him anyway. Why? Because it turns out she landed on her head.

  • This rule applies in Less is Morgue. Jon the Pizza Man is eternally stuck in his pizza delivery guy uniform, and Evelyn is stuck in her Nickelback T-shirt and skinny jeans.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Pathfinder has a variant: ghosts often show the wounds that killed them and gain abilities based on the manner of their death, and appear wearing incorporeal copies of items they particularly valued in life. They don't strictly need to have had them on the body when they died, but if anyone else takes the item the ghostly version disappears - which is fully functional, even if it's a powerful magical item. This also explains why ghosts get so mad at graverobbers; they're not just desecrating bodies, they're taking the ghost's stuff.
  • A common trope in Wraith: The Oblivion from White Wolf, both in respect to clothes and cause-of-death - the explanation is that the wraith's psyche surrounds itself in a shell of corpus to anchor itself to the Shadowlands (if all corpus is destroyed, the psyche falls into the Tempest and is a ready target by the Shadow) and can look like anything, but often a familiar form. Interestingly, self-image can play a part; one woman who suffered frailty during a time of disease always felt as though her hands and arms were withered bones, so that's how she turned out on the other side. The appearance can change over time and often become more twisted as they amass Angst and lose Passions. Also subverted, as one of the specialties of the Masquers Guild is to alter the Corpus of customers via their knowledge of Moliate. They can provide a change of clothes, supermodel good looks, or skin as tough as armor, all if the price is fair.

  • In Anne of the Thousand Days, Henry, during his concluding monologue, has a vision of Anne with her hair up, her fur collar turned down, and a ring of blood around her neck.
  • In Heathers, all the "ghosts" appear wearing whatever they happened to be wearing at the time of death. In the case of Heather Chandler, this is her pajamas. Unfortunately for Kurt and Ram, it's their underpants.
  • In Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, this is played straight in-story, but averted onstage due to the minimal setting, as Marley wears a few chains or none at all, pantomiming the suggestion of chains.
  • In Jasper in Deadland, spirits enter Deadland still wearing the clothes they died in. However, they can change out of those clothes, as Jasper quickly finds Agnes' hoodie without her, even though her physical body is still wearing it.
  • Both Played Straight and Downplayed in Ride the Cyclone. The teenage members of the St. Cassian High School chamber choir die in a horrific roller coaster crash while on a field trip to the Wonderville Traveling Fairground, so when they arrive in limbo they're all wearing school uniforms. Despite the gruesome nature of their deaths, as ghosts their bodies are largely whole and uninjured. Ricky Potts even finds that the degenerative disease that affected his body in life no longer applies; now that he's dead, there's nothing to keep him from walking, talking, dancing, singing, or playing the accordion. Jane Doe, on the other hand, was decapitated in the crash and her head was never located. As a ghost, her skull has been replaced with a Creepy Doll's head.

    Video Games 
  • Played straight in Yuri Genre Visual Novel Akai Ito with the Nozomi. Inverted with Yumei; it's not known whether she had that blue kimono when she became Ohashira, but when she comes Back from the Dead —corporeal and all— she remains wearing it.
  • The Blackwell Series takes this a step further. If a ghost was closely connected to an object when she/he lived, they will get a ghostly copy of that object. A death jazz player is therefore still able to play his saxophone (as well as hitting other ghosts with it) and the ghost of a depressed drunk still tries to drink from his whiskey bottle although it is empty.
  • Deadly ghosts wear nooses around their necks in the bedroom in Brain Dead 13.
  • Ghosts in the Fatal Frame series tend to display the manner by which they died, such as Broken Neck floating backwards, her head flopping upside-down; Blinded Demon with her gouged-out eyes; or the Rope Maiden's rope burns on her limbs and neck.
  • Fate/stay night: Servants will be summoned wearing the outfit they had just before their death if they had a strong attachment to their particular appearance. Otherwise, their appearance will reflect what they looked like during their prime.
  • Final Fantasy X-2: Seems to be the case with Unsent, at least the ones who donít go One-Winged Angel.
  • Spirits in Ghost Trick take the same appearance as their corpse (minus wounds), or at least they do once they remember what they look like. Before that they're little blue flames. Notable in that this is a plot point - ghosts cannot remember anything about themselves until they correctly guess what corpse is theirs.
  • Haunting Starring Polterguy: Poltergeist Polterguy is wearing his cool leather outfit from the moment he died. His skateboard is still gone for good.
  • In Heart of the Woods, Abigail appears to wear the same dress that she died in, a simple period-appropriate one from the early 19th Century, because according to the creators, she didn't have time to get dressed up before her death. Madison wears her usual outfit after becoming a ghost herself, until she temporarily becomes Fairy Queen.
  • Kindred Spirits on the Roof has two ghosts, or "kindred spirits," as they'd like to be called, who wear Sailor Fuku uniforms that the school presumably used to have as its uniform; Sachi died 80 years ago and Megumi died 30 years ago, hence why neither one's uniform resembles the vaguely blazer-style uniform the current generation of high schoolers wear. The two discuss this trope in the fourth drama CD's second part, lamenting that they can't change their clothes.
  • Legacy of Kain: It seems to be the standard, with most of the exceptions falling under Gameplay and Story Segregation. Defiance takes this farther with Raziel and the revenants. Although far from standard, they both enter the material realm by possessing corpses and altering them to be (more or less) like them. Raziel still carries what little is left of his clothing, while the revenants materialize large swords.
  • During Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater's "battle" against The Sorrow, Snake is forced to travel upstream through a river, meeting the ghosts of all the people he's killed over the course of the game. And, if you were a bit more creative than "shoot him in the head until he dies", many of them will bear signs of the way in which they died.
    • If you ate a buzzard that fed on someone, they'll be attacked by the soul of the buzzard and wail that you fed on them.
    • Ghosts killed by way of fire are still burning when you see them in the river, ones killed by way of Slashed Throat are still bleeding from the wound, etc.
  • In Ōkami, there's a ghost who died from being struck by lightning. He has a lightning bolt stuck in his head and gives off sparks.
  • Exploited in The Pirate's Fate by Lazerby, directly referencing the trope namer. He deliberately clings to his old appearance (at time of death, presumably) and intentionally wears the chains and safes as a means to keep himself tied to this world with the help of a magical artifact.
  • The Victims in Silent Hill 4: The Room are this, as well as displaying the manner in which they died; eg Jasper Gein is on fire, Andrew de Salvo is blue and bloated from drowning, and Richard Braintree twitches and gives off electric discharges. One exception is Cynthia, who becomes a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl for some reason.
  • In the Maxis game, The Sims 2, characters who died could come back as vengeful spirits if you disturbed their graves, and their appearance and powers changed depending on how they died. For example, dying by fire would bring people back as red ghosts, who could set fire to objects. Death by drowning would bring people back as blue ghosts, who would leave far less dangerous, but still slightly annoying puddles around the house for others to find. Death by starvation created mooching ghosts who perpetually stole from the fridge.
  • Named ghost NPCs in Worldof Warcraft nearly always play this straight: although this is mostly a technological limitation. The NPC will always be wearing whatever outfit they died in, even though this doesn't make much lore sense. Ghosts after all, are pure spirit: so although it's understandable they might take a form similar to their living body, it doesn't make much sense for them to wear clothes. But, because most of the in-game models can't actually take their clothes and/or equipment off: this trope is the result.
    • In a major subversion though, liches get an entirely new outfit AND physical form. It's not entirely clear why this is.

    Web Comics 
  • Ghosts in Champions of Far'aus, have this, although it isn't clear if it doesn't apply to all the clothes a ghost had on when they died, or if it's a choice on the ghosts part.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court tends towards this trope. Martin looks a little like a male onryo in casual wear (it's plausible this is how he looked while alive), but Annie's presence reveals him to be a burn victim. Mort is a Shapeshifting Master of Illusion whose standard appearance is a "bedsheet phantasm"; he chose the look shortly after his death upon his recruitment into the Realm of the Dead, and when he finally goes into the ether, reverts briefly to the appearance and uniform he had when he died. The Ghost with the Sword has the same robe and sword she wore when Jeanne was sacrificed, though her face has been weathered away by age.
  • {...} of Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name is an undead man who always wears the clothes he was buried in.
  • The Order of the Stick plays with this here (Beware: major spoilers): Roy in the afterlife has trouble recognizing his own mother because she looks far younger than he ever saw her, yet his father still looks old. It's explained that the dead take on forms reflecting their inner state. Mom always thought of herself as she was before she was married, so in the afterlife she appears 19. Dad "always was a wrinkled old man in his heart." The spoilered character himself looks the same as at death because he only recently died, and his mind is still on the world of the living.
  • Paranatural has P.J., the timid ghost boy that inhabits Max's house.
    Max: Oh, P.J. I get it.
    P.J.: That was my name before I died in pajamas...
  • Jerry from Raining Knives wears the same clothes he died in. He also has a bleeding head wound because his brother killed him with a cinderblock.
  • In Slightly Damned, damned souls look like they did when they died. It's stated by Death that thoses sent to hell to be tortured by demons still suffer from their wounds (in addition to starvation and dehydration) while thoses sent to the Ring of the Slightly Damned retain their injuries but aren't pained by them.

    Web Original 
  • There's an Internet meme that if you died in the shower, your ghost would be naked and you'd have no way of fixing it.
  • In Double King, all the former kings that the titular character kills appear at the end with whatever wounds he inflicted on them.
  • Discussed in Dragonball Z Abridged. After Vegeta is killed by Frieza, he appears to Goku as a nude ghost. Goku asks why he was naked to which Vegeta replies that you don't keep your clothes when you die. Goku argues that he did, including his weighted training clothes which he had taken off before dying. Vegeta angrily curses King Yenma.
    • The stinger reveals King Yemna demanding several souls strip naked as they are processed. Given that one of these souls is Recoome, it's possible the others were the rest of the Ginyu Force, meaning Yenma may only force evil souls to strip.

    Western Animation 
  • Danny Phantom's ghost form always wears that jumpsuit he wore when he entered the Ghost Portal. It gets damaged or dirty sometimes in battle, but always ends up reverting back to form after a little while. He does generally have a Limited Wardrobe, even in human form, but it was also explicitly stated that he couldn't change the outfit he wore in ghost form. Danny's ghost outfit is an invert of a white jumpsuit he wore as a human; it switched color when he transformed. Vlad got his ghost powers while he worn civilian clothes, yet he gains a white jumpsuit for his current ghostly appearance. THAT had to come from somewhere and considering ghosts are easily able to materialize a good number of things, clothes can arguably be it as well.
  • In The Ghost and Molly McGee, the ghost of Julius Caesar still has the dagger in his back from his infamous assassination.
  • In Gravity Falls, the ghost of the dead lumberjack haunting the Northwest Mansion still has the axe that killed him lodged in his head. At the end when he fades away, the axe remains and falls to the ground, showing that it was a real axe and not part of the ghostly apparition.
  • Mike Tyson Mysteries: Marquess of Queensberry wears the same clothing when he was alive and when he died.
  • Most of the ghosts in the The Real Ghost Busters that are the souls of dead people (and no, not all of them are, at least in the show) retain most of their clothing, including the zombie farmers in Ray's Farm (keep their farm attire), the ghosts of old Scotish soldiers in Ray's castle (including traditional Scotish cloth), the skeleton pirates (with pirate attire of course) and the ghost uncle in "Cry Uncle".
  • The Ricky Gervais Show: This becomes a topic of discussion when Karl explains why this trope is the reason he doesn't want to donate his eyes after death, saying he doesn't want to spend the afterlife as a blind ghost. This eventually leads to a hypothetical, where Karl is killed in a meteor strike while having a prostate exam, forcing him to live on as a ghost with a doctor's hand up his rear end. Karl answers with "then it's best not to have your eyes" and Ricky loses it.
  • In a Robot Chicken skit, this is parodied when Freddy Krueger is given his trademark outfit as a gift by his daughter, all purchased from a school bazaar. The sweater itches terribly and he eventually hits a Rage-Breaking Point, driving over to the school to rant at them. The parents freak out, believing he's trying to hurt the children, and a fire starts. Several spirits approach Freddy in his final moments and offer to let him come back to get vengeance upon the town... but he has to wear the outfit.
  • In the Tom and Jerry episode "Heavenly Puss", we see cat heaven, and there are several cats queuing for enter. Starting with one who lost a fight to a dog and still had all his bandages (and even the dog teeth on his tail), one with a Cranial Eruption from being hit in the head, and one completely flat due to ben run over by a train.
  • Parodied in The Venture Bros.. Dr Orpheus travels to the seventh layer of Hell itself looking for the souls of his neighbor's deceased children. On his quest, he meets two damned souls frozen in ice, one of them dressed up like a Roman warrior, who tells him that he once served the mighty Caesar. The other then cuts him off, calling him a liar. Turns out they both died at a costume party.