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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 La Résistance against the villainous establishment, whether 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, 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.



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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 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Aladdin: Aladdin wears pauper's clothes, complete with a patch on his pants, while Jafar dresses in finery befitting a Royal Vizier.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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.: King Koopa wears a scally black suit, and his Goombas are dressed in longcoats; while Mario and Luigi dress in 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.

  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • In Jet Set Radio games (JSR and JSR Future), the normal/modified clothes of the GG's and other gangs are contrasted with the Elite Mooks of Golden Rhinos, dressed in black suits and ties, and the Big Bad Gouji Rokkaku, which is a Man of Wealth and Taste.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has Link, who wears a patched and repaired green tunic over thin chainmail. Zant wears long black robes with an elaborate helmet, and Ganondorf wears an ornate set of armor with a cape.
  • In XCOM 2, most XCOM operatives wear Rummage Sale Reject clothes, while ADVENT soldiers are in uniforms, and the Speaker and dark VIPs are sharply dressed.
  • In Streets of Rage, Axel and Adam wear jeans and a tank top, Skate wears a baggy shirt and shorts, and Max wears only wrestling tights while shirtless. Mr. X wears a suit and tie.

    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.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson always wears a plain white shirt and jeans, while local Corrupt Corporate Executive Monty Burns always wears a suit.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.