Haley: Me too! Guess it was just a crappy haircut.
You've missed a few episodes of a show you are watching. Shouldn't be a big deal...wait, when did Alice grow her hair out? And why did Bob shave his beard? And did they just kiss!? When did they get together? And why does Charley look so different? And suddenly so much better at sports? Looks like you missed the Wham Episode and some Character Development.
As vision is our primary sense, using that to show how characters have changed is helpful. In real life, people who go through dramatic changes do sometimes change their appearance. Two people who just had a Relationship Upgrade might change their appearance to better appeal to their significant other. Someone who just lost someone might dress to reflect their grief. The connection may not be made clear, but the visual change coincides with the emotional change.
This trope is very useful in Long-Runners, as it allows for the fanbase to differentiate between major arcs by the visual differences. Sub Tropes are Important Haircut, Expository Hairstyle Change, Significant Wardrobe Shift, and Evil Makes You Ugly (for falls to The Dark Side). Not to be mistaken for Art Evolution.
Anime & Manga
- Naruto: Naruto stops wearing his village headband for a while after vowing to bring peace to the world. As fate would have it, a shinobi alliance ss formed and creates its own new headbands.
- My Hero Academia has Deku steadily get more muscular and gain scars over the course of the series as he settles into his roles as The Hero and heir to the legendary All Might.
- In Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers changes her hairstyle and dyes it a new color every three weeks. That is, until her relationship with Scott deepens. Scott suspects that he's the reason she goes so long without changing it.
- In The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon notes that Haruhi has stopped changing her hairstyle everyday, and takes this as a sign she's interested in someone. Sure enough, she chooses Kyon to be the first member of her new student group, the "SOS Brigade".
- Farscape: Crichton spends much of season one in his astronaut jumpsuit, one of his few mementos from his life on Earth. In later seasons, after he Took a Level in Badass, he tends to wear the Peacekeeper leathers, which look frickin' awesome. Later, he upgrades to a Badass Longcoat.
- Setsuka from the Soul Series (making her debut in SoulCalibur III) is a woman of European descent who was adopted by a Japanese master and taught to live like any normal Japanese girl from the 16th century. Shunned for being a foreigner, Setsuka dyed her blond hair black to fit in better (this could be discerned only if the player chose Setsuka's 2P costume in III). However, in IV, Setsuka completely ditches the hair dye in both outfits and reverts to her natural hair color.
- In Dragon Age II, Merrill's armor changes from black-and-green to white-and-red upon completion of her Romance Sidequest.
- Commander Shepard's unhealed scars in Mass Effect 2 will become more prominent if s/he follows the Renegade path but heal almost completely if s/he is a Paragon.
- The Fable series changes the Hero's appearance based on game developments. A good Hero gains a Holy Halo and healthy complexion, while an evil one gets Horns of Villainy and Glowing Eyes of Doom. They become more muscular as they invest in physical skills and gain Power Tattoos from magical ones. Some plot developments change the Hero directly, like growing a Time-Passage Beard on a difficult sea voyage in Fable I.
- In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series, the player character gets more healthy-looking if they follow the Light Side on the Karma Meter, or more pallid if they lean towards the Dark Side.
- Throughout Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Sister Nia, a traveling nun who becomes one of the castaways, becomes noticeably more tan after an Action Dress Rip and she spends more time outside actively helping the village as part of her Character Development.
- In The Order of the Stick:
- When the Idiot Hero Elan has to step up, think his way out of a problem, and save his friends, he Takes a Level in Badass and gains a new wardrobe. As a Quirky Bard who's aware of storytelling conventions, he's sensitive to that sort of thing.
- Haley gets a Traumatic Haircut from her nemesis when she's forced to face the Thieves' Guild she left behind. The story arc provokes a lot of Character Development in her, but the trope is subverted when she takes the first opportunity to have her hair magically regrown.
- Vaarsuvius starts with neat, tidy hair, which gets more and more disheveled during their period of Sanity Slippage and then gets a stint of Power Makes Your Hair Grow from their Deal with the Devil. After realizing how terribly they've behaved towards others and making an effort to improve, Vaarsuvius ties their hair back into a ponytail.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: For both Zuko and Azula, the state of their hair tends to demonstrate their state of mind. For Zuko, the messier it is the better he's doing, as he steps out of his father's shadow. For Azula, it gets messier as she becomes more stressed, more alone, and less stable, culminating in her messily chopping her own hair soon before she has a complete breakdown.
- Infinity Train: In the first season, Amelia dons a dark cloak, a messy braid and looks quite slim. When she returns in season 3, she now wears a gray jacket, which she removed to reveal a clear gray tank top, has a neat braid, and has buffed up a little, this seems to relate to the fact that she is no longer trapped in permanent grief (getting past the dark moment in her life), and has since been exploring the trains, finding the bugs she inflicted on the train's code.
- The Simpsons: When Milhouse's parents are thought to be dead, he becomes a Bad Boy loner (including a change of wardrobe) and the girls really go for him.
- Legend of Korra: Korra wears her hair short for most of the fourth season. The other characters wear different clothes as well, while the younger characters are three years older.
- When Stephanie McMahon went through a FaceHeel Turn, she started wearing heavy makeup and had kinked hair.