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Shabby Heroes, Well-Dressed Villains

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Among the many ways of visually distinguishing heroes and villains, there has always been a quick technique: making use of the varying quality of clothes.

Countless stories depict heroes wearing casual clothes or serving as living embodiments of the Rummage Sale Reject, if not outright decked out in rags, while the villains dress as stylish and/or high-end as they come. There are many ways to display this trope: The Rebel Leader may wear a patchwork cloak while the Evil Overlord wears a jewel-encrusted cape, or the Working-Class Hero may wear a pair of overalls every day while the Corrupt Corporate Executive has a closet full of suits. No matter what, the general class difference that fuels this trope is always present - the usual explanation is that heroes are a ragtag band of La Résistance against the wealthy, villainous establishment, whether the funding comes from The Empire, a Mega-Corp or something else. Another is that our heroes come from a lower-class background (if not outright social pariahs/criminals) while the villains are high-class and wealthy (if not outright Aristocrats Are Evil). In short, our heroes are underdogs and their choice of clothing shows it.

This can overlap with Rummage Sale Reject, Limited Wardrobe, Homeless Hero, Misfit Lab Rat, Man of Wealth and Taste, Wicked Cultured, and/or Slobs Versus Snobs.

Can also overlap with Dark Is Not Evil and Light Is Not Good when the shabby hero invoke a dark and low-class style to contrast with the villain's more high-class light theme

A Sub-Trope of Dress-Coded for Your Convenience and Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty.

Compare Polite Villains, Rude Heroes, Privileged Rival, Ugly Hero, Good-Looking Villain, Putting on the Reich. Contrast Sensible Heroes, Skimpy Villains, which is usually used for females, not males like this trope.

Truth in Television for La Résistance fighters, who often wear a wide range of civilian clothes suitable for the environment and combat setting. To reduce Friendly Fire accidents, some resistance fighters may wear a colored armband or other insignia.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Guts and Griffith from Berserk with the former wearing low-classed armor and clothing in contrast to Griffith's more regal armor and clothing.
  • Although not really bad-looking, Dragon Ball Z uses Son Goku's traditional gi to contrast Vegeta's high-tech and pristine armor. When Vegeta cements his Heel–Face Turn, he switches to casual clothing.
  • Castle in the Sky: Pazu wears work clothes and Sheeta wears a plain dress, contrasting the fine maroon suit lead by the Big Bad Muska.
  • Death Note: Light's wardrobe consists mainly of dress wear and school uniforms, while L's typical attire is a plain white shirt and jeans, and rarely wearing shoes. Lampshaded during the entrance ceremony at Light's new college.
  • Played with in Ichi the Killer. The titular character has a compulsion to kill people, but saves it for the underworld, and so alternates between wearing street clothes or full-body armor. The antagonist Kakihara is a violent sadomasochist who always wears a suit and tie.
  • In Moriarty the Patriot, William Moriarty is rarely seen out of a full three-piece suit and top hat with a cane, and when he is, it's usually the jacket is missing. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes cannot even remember how to tie a necktie since he hasn't properly worn one since his university graduation.

    Comic Books 
  • The Boys have the titular characters wear civilian clothes and longcoats while the supes wear tailored, PR-focused costumes (which can still come off as gaudy to the average leader).
  • Über: While the Allied super soldiers are dressed in practical combat fatigues, the Nazi "Ubers" take to the battlefield in tailored black leather suits; this is because they're important to the Nazi Propaganda Machine.

    Films — Animation 
  • Aladdin: Aladdin wears pauper's clothes, complete with a patch on his pants, while Jafar dresses in finery befitting a Royal Vizier.
  • All Dogs Go to Heaven: Anne-Marie's dress is full of patches, while Carface's clothes are well suited to his casino owner's status.
  • Despite the Beast from Beauty and the Beast being a prince, his initial outfit is a cape and a pair of tattered pants. Despite adding a shirt later in the movie, he is still much more shabbily dressed than Gaston when not wearing his formal suit.
  • In Coco, Héctor's clothes are tattered and torn, and he wears a flaking straw hat, while Ernesto de la Cruz wears a sparkling mariachi suit complete with a silver ribbon bowtie.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney): Quasimodo wears a simple tunic and tights, while Claude Frollo dons an ornamental robe and hat. This is explained by Quasimodo living a sheltered life away from society, while Frollo is a public figure.
  • The Iron Giant: Hogarth wears typical attire for a 9-year-old in the '50s. Kent Mansley works for the government. And all that that implies.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2: Po wears nothing more than a pair of sandals and shorts with obvious patches. Lord Shen wears a pure white robe made from "the finest silk in the province," as he puts it.
  • Raya and the Last Dragon: Raya, as well as the rest of her companions, are wearing shabby clothes, either due to living in poorer areas or due to their constant travels. The main human villain, Namaari, is dressed in more clean and royal looking attire.
  • Recess: School's Out: Lampshaded on both ends by Dr. Benedict, who wears an Italian raw silk suit and calls T.J. a "rude and badly dressed little boy".
  • The Thief and the Cobbler: Tack wears ragged overalls while ZigZag wears a black robe with bright yellow highlights and dozens of rings on each hand.
  • The titular character of Wreck-It Ralph wears a shabby shirt and a worn set of overalls, while King Candy is The Dandy and the Big Bad.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan inverts this trope. The crew of the Enterprise are uniformed as always. The title villain is a Rummage Sale Reject and his men follow suit in terms of dress.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: The Anti-Hero pirates wear motley rags and coats while the sailors of the Royal Navy wear fresh and redesigned uniforms.
  • The Dark Knight plays with this. Batman wears a suit of high-tech armor to contrast the filthiness and poor hygiene of the Joker, which would make this an inversion. However, it's revealed later that the Joker had all of his clothing custom-made so that no labels could be traced to him, and he emphasizes that they were not cheap.
  • Star Wars: As a general rule, Rebels dress casually, while members of the Galactic Empire are clad in either military uniforms or heavy armor (the page image is from Rogue One, where heroine Jyn Erso wears simple fatigues while villainous Krennic even adds a stylish cape to his uniform). There are exceptions; royal characters affiliated to the Republic/Rebellion, like Princess Leia or Queen Amidala, will wear appropriately opulent costumes (although both are more often seen in civilian clothes), and Sith Lords wear simple black robes not that dissimilar to the monastic robes of the Jedi.
  • Super Mario Bros. (1993): King Koopa wears a scaly black suit, Lena wears many different fancy dresses, and the Goombas are dressed in longcoats, while Mario and Luigi dress in their usual clothes before switching to red/blue and green/blue work overalls found in a maintenance locker.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: While searching for Odin on Earth, Thor dresses in simple, worn workman's clothes, while Loki sports an all-black suit.
  • The hero of Oldboy (2003), Oh Dae-Su, is a fugitive and vagabond, leaving him to wear whatever he can scrounge. The Big Bad Woo-jin always wears fine or at least trendy-looking clothes, and makes a point to shower and put on his best suit the night of his planned suicide.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • In Batman's visions of the Bad Future where Superman has become a puppet of Darkseid, the Dark Knight has downgraded his batsuit for combat fatigues while the Man of Steel maintains his colourful outfit.
    • Wonder Woman wears a suit of armour and leather that grows increasingly dull over time. Her enemies such as General Ludendorff, Ares and Maxwell Lord all dress formally.
    • Aquaman tends to wear nomadic clothing while his brother Orm dresses in regal attire.
    • In Shazam Billy Batson wears cheap clothes befitting an orphan that relies on public servants to keep him clothed. Doctor Sivana on the other hand wears a fine suit with a leather longcoat.
    • In Birds of Prey Harley Quinn wears the most random pieces of clothing she can gather, including what appear to be shredded magazines on her shoulders and she cut her own hair. Crime boss Roman Sionis dresses in flashy suits and has slicked-back hair.
  • In Shredder Orpheus Orpheus and the Grey Zoners wear lived-in, shabby clothes, while Hades and Persephone wear gaudy outfits with plenty of jewelry and shiny surfaces.

  • Gods and Warriors: The main antagonists are the members of the House of Koronos, a powerful warrior clan that can afford fineries and bronze armor. The main heroes are Hylas, an Outsider who's used to living in squalor and half-decent clothing, and Pirra, the daughter of Keftiu's High Priestess who frequently runs away and happily disregards her fineries in the real world which represents freedom for her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Firefly: While the series operates on a Grey-and-Gray Morality, the "good guys" are the ragtag crew of Serenity, whose style is mostly a combination of western and old military fatigues. The antagonists tend to be more clean-cut: e.g. the militaristic/bureaucratic Alliance and the wealthy crime boss Niska.
    • Also seen more broadly in the relative aesthetics of the poor, frontier Rim worlds and wealthy, Alliance-controlled Core worlds. There are good and bad people throughout the 'Verse, but the inhabitants of the Rim are generally more sympathetic as the underdogs.
  • Game of Thrones: The soldiers of House Stark wear furs and utilitarian plate armor. The men of House Lannister are very partial to enforcing Bling of War.
  • Oz has something of an inversion. The prisoners often wear dull and shabby Institutional Apparel or pieces of casual clothing if they're lucky, while the prison staff wear suits or clean jet-black uniforms. Although no one is without Jerkass moments, the latter group are still depicted more sympathetically than the former.
  • Supernatural: Heroes Sam and Dean Winchester wear jeans, t-shirts, and flannels. Over the course of the series, they have faced several well-dressed villains.
    • Crowley is the most prominent, and he's always in a meticulously tailored suit. He also mocks the Winchesters' love of flannel, a lot.
    • In the Bad Future, Dean meets Villain in a White Suit Lucifer himself, who also happens to be wearing Sam Winchester as his vessel, much to his brother's horror.
    • In Season 7, the season's Big Bad is Dick Roman, a Leviathan/corporate executive who is always in a slick suit.

  • In Hadestown, Orpheus and Eurydice wear worn, very lived-in casual clothes, while Hades wears an expensive leather coat and pinstripe suits.

    Video Games 

    Web Video 
  • One episode of Epic Rap Battles of History has Frank Sinatra, who wears a stylish black tux, against Freddie Mercury, who wears his signature white tank top and jeans. Guess which one is portrayed in a more positive light.
  • Fortnite The Movie: Dirt and Jokeman Ranch in Fortnite the Movie 3, Fortnite the Movie 5: Vengeance and Fortnite the Movie 6. Dirt wears a grimy hoodie and jeans in Fortnite the Movie 3, while Jokeman Ranch wears a dapper suit and top hat, and wears the same suit in Fortnite the Movie 5: Vengeance and Fortnite the Movie 6. In Fortnite the Movie 5: Vengeance and Fortnite the Movie 6, Dirt gets a little fancier with a grey suit jacket, however underneath is a hideous Santa t-shirt.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang starts off with simple orange clothes, and later has to make new robes out of salvaged cloth. Fire Lord Ozai is always dressed as richly as possible to convey his royal heritage.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door has the members of the Kids Next Door wear regular clothes or battle armor made from junk. The Delightful Children From Down the Line, on the other hand, are always dressed in school uniforms.
  • Gargoyles: The Gargoyles of the Manhattan Clan all wear loincloths made of what looks to be tattered cloth or leather, with the exception of Hudson, who wears armor, and Angela, who wears a shirt (still made from tattered cloth). By contrast, David Xanatos, being a billionaire, is usually rocking business attire, while his butler Owen is typically in a full suit.
  • Gravity Falls: Dipper, Mabel, Soos, and Wendy all wear pretty casual clothes most of the time, while Ford's getup is worn from his interdimensional travels. Stan's two outfits are either a full suit or shorts, a tank top, and sandals. Meanwhile, Gideon, Preston Northwest, and Agents Trigger and Powers all wear suits the majority of the time. Even Bill Cipher has a top hat, tie, and cane.
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson always wears a plain white shirt and jeans, while local Corrupt Corporate Executive Monty Burns always wears a suit.
  • Total Television's Underdog wears a superhero outfit that seems too big for him. His two primary nemeses are Mad Scientist Simon Bar Sinister in a proper white lab coat and Roaring Twenties mobster Riff Raff in a dark pinstripe suit.

  • Much of this is based on photographs from WWII. The Nazis and Fascists were heavily focused on aesthetics, deliberately Putting on the Reich as a way to inspire the locals and intimidate their enemies. The SS were intimidating and aristocratic from the jump, and Nazi officers always dressed to impress. Meanwhile, US forces were wearing mass produced and somewhat ill-fitting garb (as the US was somewhat less prepared to enter the war than Germany had been), and thus they tended to wear... pants, bloused shirts, greasy hats. This was amplified by the US idealization of the Working-Class Hero, in contrast to the German love of the Prussian aristocracy. All in all, when a Nazi surrendered to a US commander, you could be forgiven for thinking it was the other way around, as the Nazi would be immaculate and the American would look like he just rolled out of a lunch truck.