A person is assumed to be in a subculture that they don't belong to because their looks or behavior match the popular beliefs of what that subculture looks like or how it behaves.
For it to count, the behavior that leads to the false assumption must be coincidental. It's a mistake on the observer's part, not deceit by the observed.
Common mistakes by observers are assuming someone wearing black clothes in modern times is a Goth, particularly if they're fair-skinned or dark-haired; or assuming that someone who's both white and bald is a skinhead or a neo-Nazi.
See also Mistaken for Junkie.
- A CN City bumper has the Mayor from The Powerpuff Girls mistaking Frankie from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends for a beatnik thanks to her '60s-style van. He yells at her to get off his property and threatens to call the Powerpuff Girls on her. In a sequel bumper, he does the same thing to the Scooby-Doo cast after they take Frankie's parking spot.
- Azumanga Daioh: Osaka mentions that Kagura's summer tan makes her look like a "player", suggesting that she might be mistaken for a Gyaru Girl. Kagura's reply indicates that she worries about coming off like that.
- Bleach: Orihime and Ichigo were frequently mistaken for Japanese Delinquents because of their natural red and orange hair.
- Dragon Ball Z: Chi-Chi has incredible disdain for the Super Saiyan transformation because she associates the blond hair with Japanese Delinquents, though it doesn't help that Goku and Gohan foolishly don't even try to demonstrate to her that it's a transformation and they hadn't dyed their hair. Later in the series, though she understands that it's a transformation, she still hates it.
- Omujo Omutsu Joshi takes the trope into the realm of kink. Several chapters center on the male lead, Shouta, having Accidental Pervert moments between himself and Ichigo, a girl who wears diapers because of a weak bladder. Two other girls, childhood friend Morei and upperclassman Muni, independently see such a moment and incorrectly conclude that girls in diapers are Shouta's fetish. For Muni, who actually is a fetishist, this is great because it means she's found someone who shares her passions and can have fun with. Morei, who's in love with Shouta, decides she needs to exploit this if she intends to compete with Ichigo and Muni. She starts wearing diapers herself and actively looks for ways to stand out from the other two. Meanwhile, Morei's attempts to appeal to what she thinks is his fetish have only convinced Shouta that she's the one who's into diapers.
- In 1963, Johnny Beyond mistakes his time-traveling future girlfriend for beatnik like himself because of her hairdo and masculine clothing (as well as her interest in feminism, which he assumes is some sort of art movement).
- Dopin' Dan, an Underground Comics star dealing with Army life, is ticked off that their sergeant requires their getting army-grade buzz-cut hair before getting an off-base pass...he and his buddies decide that if they're going to look like soldiers they should go all the way, and hit town in full combat gear. They visit a hardcore music club where punk girls compliment them on their 'look' - they casually say "Yeah, we work at it."
- Emilka Sza: Has running gag of Maya calling Emilka "goth" (and at one point "Emo") and asuming she is part of such subculture despite Emilka being... a mime.
- After being in a Goth disco, Freddy hits on an Italian girl (who was wearing black clothes, a hat with a veil, and a big cross). Unfortunately she's the daughter of a mafia boss...
- Also, in an early story: Freddy got his hands on a hippie and a skinhead costume and coerces Rudi to join him for a costume party. When Freddy drags Rudi along on the street, a group of (strangely, non-pacifist) hippies mistake them for a skinhead beating up a hippie and decide to teach the "skinhead" a lesson. And then, some real skinheads arrive at the scene...
- Chaldea in Remnant: Ritsuka and Gudako end up summoning Pyrrha Nikos as a Servant. Due to her Lady Legionnaire Wear, the Greek and Roman Servants become fond of her and assume she is one of them, and when she explains that she is from Mistral, they assume Mistral is Remnant's equivalent of Greece or Rome. In reality, Mistral mostly resembles Eastern cultures, the main exception being Pyrrha's home city of Argus, which resembles San Francisco due to the influence Atlas had on it.
- God Save the Esteem, a Daria fanfic:
- Inverted(?) in the when Daria points out that several members of the Maleficent Eleven aren't punks, but Goths (or, in Slutty Girl's case, just a slutty girl). The members have a brief existential moment about this before choosing to ignore it.
- Kind of Invoked by Daria herself at one point: when meeting a Fielding recruiter, she dyes her hair green to see if she really needs to act prim and proper to make a good impression.
- In the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy/Smallville crossover fanfic "Thirty-One Flavours of Ice-Cream", Bigmac mistakes Lex Luthor for a fellow skinhead.
- This picture has a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic showing characters to someone who has never seen the show and lists the ensuing conversation. Some of his assumptions are spot-on, but in other cases, he refers to Twilight Sparkle as a "magical emo", calls Lyra Heartstrings as an "angel horse", and says "he looks like a prick" about Rainbow Dash.
- RWBY: Epic of Remnant: Hassan of the Cursed Arm is frequently mistaken for a member of the White Fang because he stubbornly refuses to take off his skull mask that resembles the masks the White Fang uses.
- The Fanatic has a scene in which Moose walks through Hollywood, badly wounded and covered in blood, and is mistaken for a dedicated cosplayer.
- In The Pacifier, Seth, the older son, is mistaken for a Neo-Nazi when he dyes his hair blond and a swastika armband was found in his locker. It turns out that he is actually in a stage production of The Sound of Music, playing the part of Rolf, and that was all just part of his costume.
- In the 1960 Jerry Lewis movie Visit To A Small Planet, the alien Kreton (played by Lewis) is mistaken for a Beatnik while visiting a coffee house.
- Downtimers meeting Americans for the first time almost always assume that they are nobles of some kind.
What mattered—what had always mattered, more than anything—was what people are. And the Americans, it was plain to see, were nobility. It was obvious in everything they said and did, and didn't say and didn't do. It shone through their simple carriage. [...] Every American, on some level, took a fundamental truth for granted. I am important. Precious. Human. My life is valuable.
- Taken even further in a short story where a middle-aged hippie is assumed to be among the richest of the Americans because of his tie-dyed t-shirt. Such brightly colored cloth being available only to the very wealthy in that era.
- Downtimers meeting Americans for the first time almost always assume that they are nobles of some kind.
- In Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry calls a white man with a clean-shaven head a neo-nazi, before learning the guy's undergoing chemotherapy.
- The Letter People are mistaken for a rock band when they pitch the idea for "The Catching Game."
- After J.D. shaves his head in solidarity with a cancer patient in Scrubs, a group of Hare Krishnas at the hospital assume he’s one of them.
- Undressed: One plot saw a woman mistaking a guy who wears a panda costume as part of his job as a furry, and asking him out. She later shows off her own fursuit, a squirrel. Despite being unnerved, the two eventually hit it off and compromise with her fetish and his fetish.
- Utopia (2014): In "Wide Awoke", Brian goes out to search a group of elderly protestors after he sees what he thinks is a hate symbol on one of their signs. It turns out to be a badly drawn windmill.
- Not Always Working: This story with a mix of Mistaken for Junkie. Two American Pizzeria cashiers refuse to serve a Maori uncle and nephew and tells them to leave thinking they were "druggie tattoo freaks" due to their tattoos. When the nephew tries to explain their Ta Mokos are actually part of their culture and it's against regulation to not serve customers just because they come from a different race, the cashiers think they're making it up. Thankfully, their manager knows Maori culture and apologizes to the customers by giving them a free pizza.
- Crush Crush: Eva is mistaken for being a submissive of the BDSM subculture:
Eva: Someone mistook my Connection Suit for something meant for... immodest roleplay. They tried to sell me a ball gag.
- Diablo III: A meta example. When the secret level turned out to be full of purple unicorns, many assumed it was inspired by the Brony subculture. It was actually the result of an early controversy regarding "too bright" color design in screenshots, mocked in this Penny Arcade strip. Considering you can encounter unique monsters in Whimsyshire named Midnight Sparkle, Rainbow Western, and Unique Nightmarity, it's pretty clear that bronies influenced them to some degree. At the very least, Blizzard saw the resemblance and decided to throw in a few references.
- The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails: Nayuta can buy doll clothes for Noi at the general store. The saleswoman promptly assumes he loves dolls and is overjoyed to have someone share her hobby.
- Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: A Nosferatu Player Character's appearance is so monstrous that you violate the Masquerade just by being seen by most humans. Your Friend in the Black Market Trip, meanwhile, compliments you for what he thinks are some awesome body modifications. Similarly, the nightclub owner Venus Dare assumes you're looking for a mosh pit.
- An episode of The Amazing World of Gumball has Principal Brown making an Accidental Public Confession that he isn't a Furry, he just wanted to know he would look like with a tail.
- An episode of American Dad! had one of Steve's friends under fire for supposedly stealing a classmate's Bar Mitzvah money. When a bunch of bald guys ragged on him for it, he said "you're skinheads, you hate us." Turns out they were just the Lex Luthor fan club; the skinheads were one table over.
- Daria is a satire where cliques are treated as Serious Business, so naturally there are shades of this in places—characters who show any sign of intelligence will be labeled a "brain," for example.
- My Dad the Rock Star: A lot of Willy's problems come from people assuming that A) He's like his parents and B) that his parents fit every bad trope about Rock Culture. Then there's Angela D'Angelo's parents, who assume Willy's mother is some tramp and gold digger despite just seeing her from a distance once, and Willy's only hope of dating their daughter was to pretend he had different parents (which was blown out of the water once they started making comments about how awful the Zillas were).
- Phineas and Ferb:
- An episode had Candance and Vanessa wearing each other's clothes after their dry cleaning is switched. Candace is mistaken for being a Goth, and Vanessa is mistaken for being a clown by her father.
- Also this dialogue from the episode "Brain Drain:"
Doofenshmirtz: I just called to remind you that I will be picking up you and your Visigoth friends up after the dance.
Vanessa: Dad, it's "Goths," not "Visigoths." And they're punks, not Goths. (Hangs up phone.)
Doofenshmirtz: Ah. (Turns to a Visigoth who was standing just offscreen.) Sorry, Alaric note , I thought they were Visigoths. You're not going to impress the punks. You're free to go.
- On South Park, this is a running thing with the Goth Kids, who are not stupid conformist Vampire Kids or Emos. The episodes "The Ungroundable" and "Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Poseurs" are largely based around this trope with them.
- The Venture Brothers: Kim is mistaken for a supervillain (which in-series is a distinct subculture with its own Weird Trade Union) by both Hank and Doctor Girlfriend due to her outfit and hair. She decides just to roll with it.