Follow TV Tropes


Seriously Scruffy

Go To

"With the long hours at a hospital, you don't have a lot of time to worry about your appearance."
JD, Scrubs, "My Clean Break"

This trope is about characters who, for various reasons, don't have time for the usual grooming rituals or to keep their personal space tidy. It can be a one-time thing (to show a given character is under pressure or has become obsessed with something) or part of their normal characterisation. Either way, they have something other than their appearance on their mind.

The reasons for this can be external; events out of the character's control are keeping them from a nice warm shower. Or they can be internal; the person in question has let their appearance slide because they're more interested in what they're doing. The former can either emphasise the significance of what they're doing (i.e. their job's hard) or suggest that the character's having difficulty dealing with it (i.e. they're bad at their job). The latter tends to simply mark the character out as devoted to their job (or whatever it is they're doing) and is far more likely to be Played for Laughs. Although it can still be Played for Drama, especially when it's motivated by guilt.

Characters who frequently show this trait include the Defective Detective (and their more well-adjusted colleagues when the situation's really serious), the Salaryman/White Collar Worker (especially if they're a Beleaguered Bureaucrat), The Atoner, Workaholics and the Absent-Minded Professor. The Panicky Expectant Father is an example of the "one-time" variation (although looking after their new offspring might make the trope stick). It can also be a sign of a Bunny-Ears Lawyer, Sanity Slippage, Villainous Breakdown, and the reason somebody's a Genius Slob. Someone who Must Have Caffeine will often display this trope with or without the two being connected (in the former case, it might be cleared up after they've had their fix). Plot-Powered Stamina tends to have this as a side effect when it's being played more realistically.

This is, obviously, Truth in Television; Your personal appearance needs daily maintenance (clean clothes, washing, combing hair, shaving, etc.), so it's usually the first thing to slip when someone's pressed for time.

Supertrope to Messy Hair and Einstein Hair (which specifically marks someone as a Mad Scientist). Compare Fashionable Asymmetry and Rummage Sale Reject for other wardrobe problems, Beard of Sorrow and Mess of Woe for depression-induced deterioration, and Forgets to Eat. Contrast The Pigpen (who's a mess because they're lazy rather than busy) and the more positive Adrenaline Makeover.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • As 7 Seeds takes place After the End and personal grooming is not an urgent priority to them, the majority of the characters will end up looking scruffy as things go along. The biggest visual examples are Hana, whose long hair becomes so unkempt, entangled, and split-ended, she ends up cutting it short; Aramaki, whose short hair grows down to his waist during the 15 years he's spent wandering the earth alone, including a pretty impressive beard that he eventually shaves off; and Tsunomata, who later appears with long stubbles in his face, though he shaves the stubble away to keep behind a scruffy, sort-of beard around his jawline.
  • L from Death Note is a genius detective who rarely seems to even sleep (let alone do something about his hair or put on something other than a baggy white shirt and trousers) when he's working on a case.
  • In Dr. STONE, Chrome is exhausted and has visible stubble after spending several all-nighters inventing a waterwheel.
  • Elfen Lied: Dr. Arakawa is working so hard that she never has time to take a shower. Becomes a Running Gag in a show that desperately needs the levity.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex often shows this trope when the team are burning the midnight oil (along with many empty or half-empty boxes of pizza and cigarette stubs). Mainly Ishikawa (and whoever ends up helping him), since he does most of the research-related work. Togusa also falls into this when he's investigating the death of a former colleague in "Interceptor".
  • Skip Beat! has this occur with Erika Koenji during her second appearance. She has been in an accident and, due to psychological trauma, is unable to move her legs anymore and is bound to a wheelchair. She's still festering about the accident, leaving her hair disheveled, and generally ignoring her appearance, which she usually keeps pristine.
  • Inverted by Dr. Stein in Soul Eater. When his appearance is going downhill, it's usually a sign he's in no fit state to work. In the anime, after the Kishin is released, Soul drags Maka away from her studies to play basketball in order to avert this trope.
  • Cher from Wolf's Rain usually looks like this whenever she's engrossed in her work, which was often enough that her marriage ended in part because of it.

    Comic Books 
  • In Fantastic Four comics, a common way of depicting that Shit Is Getting Real would be to depict the normally clean-shaven and fastidiously neat Mister Fantastic as becoming increasingly unkempt and unshaven as he spends longer and longer in his laboratory trying obsessively to find a solution to the team's current problem. This has been downplayed in recent years as the creators have updated his image to just show him growing and keeping a beard (likely to spare him the hassle of having to remember to shave), though he still normally keeps himself neat and tidy.
  • X-Men: Tends to happen to any man who spends a long time in the Savage Land. Not women, however. They can spend weeks or months running around it and still look like they just stepped out of the shower. At one point in the mid-seventies, Cyclops gets so scruffy without a chance to shave he starts noticing he looks an awful lot like Corsair (who was revealed, just not to Scott, to be his father a few issues prior). He's on the verge of figuring it out when Storm interrupts.

    Fan Fiction 
  • The erstwhile Winter Soldier is technically homeless for the full duration of If They Haven't Learned Your Name in addition to being severely mentally ill, and doesn't usually have access to clean clothes, or facilities where he can bathe or groom himself, never mind that he's usually too mentally disorganized to keep up on the latter. So for most of the story, when he's not in his tac gear, he goes around dressed in a pair of Victoria's Secret sweatpants with "PINK" emblazoned down one leg and a fuzzy lavender cardigan completely buttoned up. And apparently no underwear even when in tactical gear, possibly because his old employers never provided him any. Why would HYDRA give a damn about their asset's comfort?
  • Zuko in Towards the Sun looks perpetually disheveled with unkempt hair and bags under his eyes due to stress and overwork from trying to keep the Fire Nation from falling apart.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Batman (1989): News anchor Peter McElroy is well-groomed in his first scene, but in his second, he's unshaven and has several zits due to avoiding shaving cream and skin products because of how Joker has been poisoning household products to kill people.
  • C.H.U.D.: King of the Homeless A.J. has a few days' growth of beard in all of his scenes.
  • James Bond ends up with a Beard of Imprisonment in Die Another Day, one of the few times he's seen with any kind of facial hair on screen. (His chest hair, on the other hand...)
  • Discussed in Spider-Man; Aunt May remarks that Peter is so busy that he often leaves his room untidy.

  • In The Belgariad, Belgarath is introduced as a drifting storyteller with a shabby appearance. It's revealed in the prequel Belgarath the Sorcerer that this is the careful design on his part: the costume - made by one of the finest tailors of Tol Honeth - has no holes under the patches, the fraying of his tunic is woven into the cloth, and his shoes are unmatching and look like they were found in a ditch, but are actually well-made. The rope for a belt is an artistic touch on his part.
  • Combined with Mess of Woe in The Count of Monte Cristo when Villefort works several days nonstop to keep his mind off the death of his in-laws and his daughter, looking dishevelled and unshaved (though he shapes up in time for the trial).
  • The Discworld's unshaven and scruffy cop Samuel Vimes prefers to conform to this trope, although his wife is quite insistent that he maintain appearances after he marries her. One of his monologues even notes his disgust at a palace guard's sword, since it didn't show any nicks and dents and clearly never saw any use (as opposed to a well-maintained sword which still showed wear and tear). He's described by far more put-together newsman William de Worde in The Truth as being able to "rumple a helmet."
  • Severus Snape from Harry Potter is often described with greasy, stringy hair, which only adds to his appearance as an Evil Teacher.
    • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, while on the run, Harry spots his reflection and notices his hair is almost down to his shoulders and even more unkempt than usual on top of having unkempt facial hair as well.
  • Alan Grant is like this in Jurassic Park as a way of showing himself as a rugged outdoorsman and distancing himself from the more academically-minded sort, such as the well-groomed Malcolm.
  • Frequently alluded to by General Thiébault in his Mémoires; he seemed to measure how difficult and time-consuming his staff work was by the number of days he spent without shaving or changing clothes.
  • Goosefeather in Warrior Cats almost never washes himself and has extremely bad breath, possibly due to his role as the Mad Oracle, and the fact that his prophecies are often misleading.
  • The "Work" edition of the Worst Case Scenario Handbook series of Faux To Guides suggests invoking this (messing up your hair and clothes) as a tactic to avoid being made redundant.
  • Summer Knight, the fourth book of The Dresden Files, opens with Harry having abandoned shaving, washing his clothes, showering, eating and sleeping regularly, and cleaning his apartment in favor of finding a cure for his girlfriend's vampirism.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Angel, the biggest sign of Wesley's increasing competence is that he starts spending less and less time on his appearance and manners.
  • In Battlestar Galactica (2003)'s first "real" episode ("33"), Adama and Tigh are both sporting very noticeable facial hair. As the characters have been attacked near constantly for a week, this is understandable.
  • The great detective Columbo, the walking epitome of shabby-efficient. Like Sam Vimes, his wife appears to make sure he's better groomed off the job.
    • Lampshaded in "Negative Reaction" when he enters a soup kitchen and one of the volunteers mistakes him for a vagrant. When he explains he's a detective, she assumes he's working undercover in a disguise.
  • Community: In one of the documentary episodes, the Dean gets Annie to work as a script supervisor while he directs a commercial. He suffers from a severe case of Sanity Slippage, and after several days of putting up with his increasingly bizarre demands, Annie is completely out of it and ungroomed. She rationalizes the Dean's behaviour because she doesn't want to admit that she's wasted several weeks of her life helping him.
  • Doctor Who: This was the general idea behind the Ninth Doctor compared to how the Classic Doctors looked. The old, weather-beaten leather jacket and buzz-cut emphasized that he'd been through the trauma of the Time War and now went around mostly shorn of Doctorish characteristics (e.g. long scarf; velvet smoking jacket; cricketing garb; etc.) The TARDIS' interior demonstrated this as well, with a console made of junk and a moodily-lit, minimalist interior instead of the usual clean, white interior of the old series or the Jules Verne aesthetic of the TV Movie.
  • Frasier: By his standards at least. It's a sign of how rattled Niles gets when he's booted out of his mansion by his wife for standing up to her when Frasier finds him drinking beer from a can and not wearing a suit for once.
  • A recurring theme in Scrubs is the difficulty of looking good while working at a hospital;
    • "My Clean Break"'s B-Plot is about Elliot's habit of averting this (by getting up early), making the rest of the staff resent her.
    • Another episode features Elliot herself trying to get around this trope while chatting up an attractive patient.
    • Ted the lawyer always looks a mess thanks to his status as Dr. Kelso's whipping boy (and constantly dealing with lawsuits).
  • An episode of Seinfeld has Jerry and Kramer swap apartments. Thanks to a "Kenny Roger's Roasters" sign which shines into Kramer's window, this happens to Jerry:
    Jerry: [imitating Kramer's body language] Oh,...I'm stressed!
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine this is used as shorthand to show that there's something physically wrong with a changeling. If Odo has gone too long without a regeneration cycle his usually immaculate uniform starts to darken and flake and his slicked-back hair gets crazy. Also seen with the female Founder in the last season, courtesy of Section 31's bioweapon.
  • Supernatural:
    • In Season 7, Sam suffers from hallucinations created by his hell memories, and this results in him being unable to sleep and his normally neat appearance becomes undone.
    • After spending almost a year in Purgatory, Castiel looks pretty beat up. His normal perma-stubble has become a full beard and his signature trenchcoat is frayed and dirty. Dean also looks a little scruffier, but he's not as affected as Castiel.

  • The video for "Le Café" by Oldelaf features an office worker who slowly deteriorates through the day, thanks to the stress caused by work and too much coffee. The result is played for Black Comedy.

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Ciro usually appears disheveled, which is mostly due to him living in poverty- not only can he not afford decent personal hygiene, but he works so hard to make money that he doesn't have a lot of time to look after himself. Though it seems to cross over into Unkempt Beauty, considering he's still pretty popular with the girls.
    • Harriet's hair and clothes are constantly a mess, which is partially because she's homeless, and partially because she's so depressed that she doesn't care about her personal hygiene.
    • Benedict is a one-time variant the morning after he receives his power of Super Intelligence. The onslaught of information stopped him from having a peaceful night's rest, and he comes into school with rumpled clothes, baggy eyes, and even tufts of his hair pulled out.
    • Jae is another one-time example during the final exams. Daigo has placed bombs throughout the school, which Jae knows about, and has caused her so much stress that she arrives in wrinkled clothes and with mussy hair.

    Video Games 
  • Wilson, the basic character of Don't Starve, grows a beard over time in the game's permanent survival situation. It can even be used as a crafting ingredient.
  • Sebastian Castellanos of The Evil Within originally had Perma-Stubble as part of his gruff, hard-bitten detective look and dressed in a utilitarian yet still stylish way, complete with a Waistcoat of Style. By the time the sequel rolls around, he's let it grow into a scruffy Beard of Sorrow and is dressed down in a beat-up army jacket, as indicators of what a dark place he's been stuck in from the emotional trauma he suffered both before and after his experiences in the previous game.
  • In Lamplight City, Player Character Detective Miles Fordham, starts off as a clean-cut, well-groomed law official in the Prologue. But then the voice of his Dead Partner Bill starts haunting him, causing him stress and a lack of sleep, leading him to sport Perma-Stubble, Messy Hair, and Exhausted Eye Bags for most of the game. Miles' wife, Addy, grows quite concerned over his change in appearance, telling him to consider getting a haircut.
  • Psychonauts: Portraits and Memory Vaults show that Bob Zanotto of the Psychic Six was well-groomed in his youth. In the present day, he's gained weight, wears old and frayed clothes and his glasses are broken.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • Doctor Bartholomew Oobleck has an untidy look (mismatched shoes, untucked shirt, unfastened tie, Messy Hair) and only stops rushing around to take a swig of coffee. He's appropriately enthusiastic (and yet serious) about history.
    • A downplayed example with Blake occurs during episodes 5 and 6 of the second volume. She develops dark undereye circles (which, combined with her skin and colour scheme, made her look like Cesare, to reflect how she refuses to sleep when trying to track down Torchwick.
    • As of Volume 4, the previously clean-shaven General Ironwood has gained Permastubble, which serves as a visual indication of how he's becoming increasingly stressed and overwhelmed by his responsibilities as one of the few people who knows what's really going on. By Volume 7, he's sporting a full Beard of Sorrow and looks permanently exhausted.


    Western Animation 
  • Twilight Sparkle of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a tendency to turn into a disheveled mess whenever stressed or preoccupied. She usually ends up turning her library inside out in the process. Exaggerated in "Lesson Zero" (where forgetting to write a letter causes her to almost go completely insane).
  • The Owl House: After the events of "Hollow Mind", Hunter is forced to go on the run from the Emperor's Coven, and is found days later living in the closed down auditorium at Hexside. By the time Gus finds him, Hunter's hair is filthy, his face is scratched, and he's ditched his Golden Guard uniform in favor of his old, dirty Flyer Derby shirt and a blue cloak that looks like he dug it straight out of the dumpster. According to Gus, he definitely also smells like a teenage boy who hasn't seen a shower in a week.
  • In season 3 episode "The Rickshank Rickdemption" of Rick and Morty, Mantis/Cronenberg universe from "Rick Potion No. 9" Jerry has a big, bushy beard.
  • The 100th episode of The Simpsons introduces Principal Skinner with a dishevelled appearance from having a hectic day in his office.
    • Parodied in "Secrets of a Successful Marriage". Homer becomes this in a matter of hours, after leaving home following an argument with Marge.
      Marge: But how do I know I can trust you?
      Homer: Marge, look at me. We've been separated for a day, and I'm as dirty as a Frenchman. In another few hours, I'll be dead. I can't afford to lose your trust again.
  • In Steven Universe, Peridot's hair becomes less of a perfect triangle the longer she's stranded on Earth knowing it's about to be destroyed.
  • Stressed Eric plays this trope for laughs with the main character. As he gets more stressed, the vein on his temple throbs until it eventually bursts out and strangles him. Naturally, his environment tends to be rather cluttered, too.
  • Wander over Yonder: The titular character suffers stress from being prevented from helping, or from his curiosity being denied but doing so actually clears it up. The stress takes the form of his eyes changing color, pupils changing size, his fur getting frizzy and brittle, and patches appearing on his hat.
    • "The Bad Neighbors" achieves the Faceless Eye variant with Commander Peepers growing stubble on his lower eyelid.
  • When Jerrica is stranded on a desert island in Jem and the Holograms, the always clean-shaven Rio is seen leading the rescue efforts with a five o clock shadow to signify his tireless searching. Because Rio has purple hair, his stubble is also purple.

    Real Life 
  • During the early Twentieth century, being clean-shaven was the fashion; therefore, being bearded was a sign of either slovenliness or extreme poverty (or both), the more unkempt the beard the worse the person having it appeared. However, once revolutionaries such as Karl Marx started wearing the beard (both out of necessity and a political statement), it became fashionable for communists everywhere to grow a long, scraggly Beard of the Proletariat.


Kappa Mikey

A depressed Guano gets wasted on ice cream.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / DrunkOnMilk

Media sources: