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Meaningful Appearance

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"In real life, you can't judge a book by its cover, but in fiction that is what the cover is there for."
Red, Overly Sarcastic Productions, "Trope Talk: Are We The Baddies?"

The appearance of people used as a way to convey information about them.

As humans are very visual creatures, the easiest way to gain insight into a person's being is to simply take in their appearance. A person's physical features as well as their clothing can give the audience cues to their personality, morality, and their social status among other things. Attributes like color or what type of traits/clothing the character has can also add additional symbolism. The meaning of the particular features the person has or the clothes they wear can be something that has cultural significance in the real world or something that has importance in the work's universe.

Even when characters are wearing costumes or disguises, we can still visibly ascertain things about their fake identities.

Foreshadowing can also be done this way.

Of course these tropes aren't always revealing, and some writers will use these just to bait and switch the audience.

Compare Astonishingly Appropriate Appearance, Exposition (when information is given through dialog), Meaningful Name.

See also Notice This.

Contrast Fan Wank, Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory (when there is no in-story or Word of God statement that the appearance is indeed meaningful).

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Things the audience can tell, whether it's certain or likely, from looking at hair, clothing, eyes, hands, etc.

    Clothing/Costumes and Accessories 


    Physical Traits 


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Loop: The time-traveling twins and Father Time have time-themed appearances, naturally.
    • The blue twin's hair buns look like alarm clock bells, and the bow on her front looks like an infinity loop.
    • The red twin's pigtails look like the hands of a clock, and the bandolier she's wearing as part of her cowboy getup is actually a giant watch.
    • Father Time has a giant droopy clock draped over his shoulders, Roman numerals around his sleeve cuffs, and a tiny sundial in the center of his forehead.
  • Superman: Lex Luthor has green eyes. This served as a plot point when his doppelganger from another universe turned up dead: he was differentiated by having blue eyes. Luthor is also known to dope up on Kryptonite-based steroids, which make his eyes seem unnatural. And of course, given Luthor's intense jealousy of Superman, they're thematically appropriate.
  • In Young Justice Arrowette, after nearly murdering a man, worries that she might be evil which to her means "I'll have to get a tight, skimpy black leather outfit that shows off my cleavage. Oh God, I'll have to get cleavage!". In a later storyline her team gets sent to an alternate universe where they meet a much darker version of her, who wears a skimpy leather outfit and has cleavage.

    Fan Works 
  • Anthropology: When Lyra is turned into a human, her hair is the same color as her mane: mint green. Thankfully, when she teleports to the real world she winds up in modern times, so no one really minds.
  • The Story of a Gardevoir That Became a Trainer: The main character has light green hair, one of her visual carryovers from her previous form as a Gardevoir.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf film Moon Castle: The Space Adventure, the Bitter Gourd King wears a sheet of paper on his face bearing the Chinese symbol "苦", meaning "bitter".
  • In Turning Red, Tyler wears a sports headband and short-sleeved gym attire, befitting his Jerk Jock characterization and skills. Furthermore, with the addition of ear piercings, this matches the look of Aaron Z. of 4★Town. Tyler is one of Aaron Z's biggest fans (in part due to their shared heritage), and he modeled his looks after the singer.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Big Trouble in Little China, David Lo Pan, the Big Bad, has to sacrifice a woman with green eyes in order to undo a curse that keeps his true form immaterial. Un/Fortunately the love interests of both the main protagonist and his kung fu buddy have green eyes, so they have to go defeat Lo Pan's crew in a wire-fight to the death.
  • Saw: Unlike other Jigsaw apprentices and certain relevant accomplices, Hoffman never wore a red and black robe similar to John's whenever on the testing field, instead wearing the dark blue parka he first had when abducting Seth. This represents that he had never believed in John's philosophy once, even when compared to other apprentices who defied it like Amanda.

  • In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham's backstory and refusal to move on are conveyed through the aged wedding dress she refuses to take off. She wears it in all of her scenes, which motivates Pippin to discover the circumstances behind her abandonment at the altar.
  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: In the first book, in the description of Claire, who plays a Sailor Senshi Send-Up, using Sailor Moon, whose Japanese name means "Rabbit / Bunny", and from the Princesses Don't Play Nice onwards, it also indicates her character's ability to transform into a rabbit-based melee attacking form:
    A single oversized bow stuck out from the back of her dark brown hair like a pair of floppy bunny ears.
  • Captain Halsing in Victoria is tall, well-built, blond and blue-eyed, and handsome, as well as an imperturbably calm and composed Sharp-Dressed Man. Thus, practically everything about his appearance makes him a paragon illustrating the ideals of his Nazi ideology, even when he's out of uniform.
  • RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant: In The Warrior in the Woods, when the Warrior first appears, her cloak is torn, and her clothing is barely more than rags patched together. Even her weapon has seen better days, with the wooden handle cracked and beginning to split. She lives alone in the forest, constantly fighting the Grimm and thereby protecting the village. However, it's also a hint of where she comes from, and the tragic backstory that left her alone in the world with nothing to her name.

  • In the world of Marus, as depicted in Adventures in Odyssey's Passages tie-in episode, different-colored eyes are recognized as a sign of prophecy. Interworldly interloper Alice physically goes from having brown eyes to blue and green, then loses them again when her time as The Unseen One's messenger is up.

  • As detailed in this interview, King George of Hamilton is weighed down upon by his massive jewel-encrusted outfit, showing the unadaptable and outdated nature of the British Empire.

  • In Tamagotchi, Coffretchi wears a small pink cap that resembles a powder puff, perfect considering that she's a makeup artist.

    Video Games 
  • Team Fortress 2: The Administrator, who is Running Both Sides of the RED and BLU teams, wears purple.
  • Yuna from Final Fantasy X has heterochromia to indicate that she's half Al-Bhed. She has a green eye and a blue one.
  • Handsome Jack, the primary antagonist from Borderlands 2 appears to have heterochromia. His left eye is green and right eye blue. This serves as foreshadowing that Jack's face isn't real. The blue eye is his actual eye while the green is part of the mask. His actual left eye is scarred and appears to have no pupil.
  • Fletcher and Johnston from KanColle each have unique hair decs. The former wears a headband that's based on the early Fletcher-class destroyers. The latter, meanwhile, has hair ribbons that feature the historical USS Johnston's "NIKZ" callsign and hairpins that resemble the bridge structures of later Fletcher-class ships.
  • Persona 5: Ann has a four leaved clover on the hood of her Custom Uniform. She also has the highest Luck stat out of all the party members.
  • Wild ARMs 4: Jude wears a blatantly oversized jacket, which signifies that he still has much growing up to do, and not only in physical, but also in mental sence. The only question is if he has to sacrifice his ideals in order to fit into the Crapsack World he lives in.
  • Fate/Grand Order: Ashiya Douman's hair is split into two colors with one half being black and the other half being white. He is an Onmyouji, a type of Japanese sorcerer that uses the concept of yin and yang as foundation.

    Web Comics 
  • Casey and Andy: Satan, who's a human looking Ms. Fanservice here, has two horns on her head and her orange hair has a red tuft at the front.
  • The Secret Knots: In-universe in "Glitches". Xeni can make herself look like anything she wants inside the virtual reality memorial that she spends most of her time in, and gives herself a jarringly ugly, expressionless mask that covers her entire head, saying that she wants to look the way she feels after the death of her friend.

    Web Original 
  • Can You Spare a Quarter?: In the restaurant, patrons notice the poor state of Jamie's clothes and the bruises on his face, and start watching and whispering with each other about this. He is after all a runaway kid who had run-ins with violent men on the street.

    Web Videos 
  • Jeremy Jahns wears a Star Wars curtain he had as a kid like a cape whenever he does a Star Wars video to convey how much he loves the movies.