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Wardrobe Flaw of Characterization

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Television and movies are full of beautiful, well-dressed people. Even "ugly" people will be merely Hollywood Homely, and even "lame" people will be Cool Losers. There are entire makeup and wardrobe departments dedicated to helping ensure that this is so. Even a blue-collar wardrobe straight from Wal-mart will fit perfectly and be well-cared-for.

Therefore, whenever this rule is Averted, there is always a reason.

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This trope happens when a small flaw in a character's wardrobe, such as poor fit or cheap material, is used to show something about their character. This isn't about a homeless person or someone living After the End wearing rags because they have no choice. Nor is it about someone who lacks the time or motivation to dress well, or wears ill-fitting clothes as a purposeful fashion statement (à la the baggy pants trend of The '90s). It's when a character tries to dress nicely, but for whatever reason, they do not quite pull it off as well as they want to or think they do.

It could establish them as a minor slob, illustrate that they're a wannabe or Nouveau Riche dressing in a manner they're unused to, that they're trying too hard, or that they suffer a lack of attention to detail. Sometimes used to contrast one half of an Odd Couple with his better-dressed counterpart. Compare Seriously Scruffy, where a character is entirely unkempt because they just don't care, and Tacky Tuxedo and Impossibly Tacky Clothing, in which it's not just the details that are wrong. If the character's wardrobe is supposedly cool in-universe, it's What the Hell, Costuming Department?.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan, Mikasa constantly wears a red scarf that doesn't quite go with her uniform, because Eren gave it to her to keep her warm on the night that she lost her parents.
  • In one episode of Genshiken, Madarame spends the better part of the episode considering the slovenly state of his wardrobe and agonizing over the high cost of stylish clothes. He finally screws up his courage enough to buy some very nice clothes that earn a stamp of approval from The Fashionista of the group. However, at the end of the episode, it's revealed that he now wears the exact same outfit every time stylish clothes are called for.
  • Kaizaki Arata, the main character of ReLIFE, always wears his necktie loose. While he looks like any normal, if a bit sloppy, high schooler, he actually can't tighten it after the trauma of seeing his senpai hang herself.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Izuku Midoriya, the protagonist, is the only student in his class who hasn't gotten the hang of tying a necktie, appearing as a round bundle around his neck. It ties into his nervous, jittery demeanor and his lack of experience with his superpowers compared to his classmates.
    • Bakugo's clothes are rumpled and ill-fitting to show how he doesn't really like playing by the rules. He also refuses to wear a tie and have his collar buttoned, showing his inherent disdain for authority. Later, when Best Jeanist tries to groom him to look crisper, it really pisses Bakugo off.
  • Gendo Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion has some obvious ones when you examine his clothes. His jet-black outfit is actually a Custom Uniform, but he can't be bothered to button up the front of it. The conspicuous white gloves he wears (to cover some burn scars) obviously don't match the rest of his clothes, and he's perpetually sporting a thick chinstrap beard. It's all meant to show that Gendo is professional but also deeply jaded and doesn't quite care about the overall goal of NERV despite being the guy in charge of it.

    Comic Books 
  • In League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, Mina continues to keep her neck heavily wrapped, even as her fashion sense evolves to fit with the times, in order to cover up the many scars that she got from Dracula.
  • Batman:
    • Even though his clothes are usually well made, Dick Grayson/Nightwing usually finds a way to make them visually tacky with bright colors and/or bizarre prints or textures (like glitter). It's partially a sign that he grew up in the circus and partially a sign that he's just going to dress how he wants regardless of society's expectations.
    • When he's not stuck in one type of uniform or another, or a suit, Tim Drake (Robin III/Red Robin III) usually dresses in band T-shirts and old worn jeans as a sign of mild rebellion against his father's expectations of him and because he just cares more about being comfortable than looking put together. He does this less after getting stuck as taking over a large portion of Wayne Industries but he still throws on pretty casual clothes to go hang out with friends.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert: Dilbert's tie is always curving upwards, showing his powerlessness over his environment. He can't even keep his tie under control.
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    Fan Works 
  • The First Saniwa sequel: Minamoto no Kanemasa is so much of a Manchild it affects even his taste in clothing.
    It was as though his mind was filled with nothing but poetry and scenery to the detriment of even his fashion sense.
    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Agent Coulson's suit in the first Iron Man is ill-fitting, in keeping with his role as comic relief. Later movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe give him better duds.
  • Jurassic World: In the very first scene with Hoskins and Owen, we see that both characters carry hunting knives at their backs. The difference, however, is that Hoskins has his strapped perpendicular to his belt, with the handle pointed upward. It would be rather difficult to draw the weapon effectively this way (and downright impossible if, say, his back were to a wall). By contrast, Owen has his strapped parallel to his belt, where he can draw the blade quickly from myriad positions. This illustrates the contrast between the two: Hoskins is an "armchair" badass, pretending to have a warrior's understanding, while Owen is the one with actual, practical experience.
  • It's subtle, but in Planes, Trains and Automobiles the viewer can tell that John Candy's traveling salesman character's suit is off-the-rack and made of synthetic material, especially by contrast with Steve Martin's successful, relatively wealthy character, who wears one made of fine wool that looks custom-tailored.
  • In xXx, the title character makes a point of commenting on Milon Sova's bad suit, described as "motel drapes". Later on, we see Sova wearing a better suit because he's sold information on Xander to the Big Bad — "My government doesn't pay as well as Yorgi."
  • In Always Be My Maybe, Marcus's struggles to fit into Sasha's world is reflected in his wardrobe choices, either overdressing or underdressing for the situation. In the end, his decision to buy a proper suit reflects his increasing maturity and desire to make an effort to be with Sasha.

    Literature 
  • In the children's book Bootsy Barker Bites, the main character is a bit of a pushover, and her saggy knee socks are frequently falling down, or are asymmetrical.
  • Discworld: In Night Watch, Findthee Swing is impeccably dressed except that his shoes are in bad repair. Sam Vimes notices this, along with his mother's advice to not trust anyone who doesn't take care of their shoes. Findthee Swing is the head of the Secret Police. While Swing looks like a clerk, he's as much of a bastard as any scruffy criminal (like Carcer), and he's also a surprisingly dangerous fighter.
  • When Remus Lupin is first introduced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it's mentioned that his clothes and luggage bear signs of frequent repair, establishing him as a somewhat shabby and hard-used character. Once he becomes popular among the students, it's mentioned that Draco Malfoy makes fun of his clothes, but no one else cares; thus, the wardrobe flaw helps emphasize Draco's shallowness as well as Lupin's underdog status. It's also an effective contrast to the previous Defense teacherGilderoy Lockhart was all style and no substance, while Lupin is the opposite.
  • In The Hunger Games Prim's shirt is always untucked. Katniss describes this as resembling a ducktail. She uses this fact to express how innocent and unready for combat Prim would be if thrust into the Arena.
  • Curly in Of Mice and Men wears a glove on one hand. The rumor is that he keeps the glove full of vaseline so as to keep that hand soft for his wife.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Andy Griffith Show. In "Rafe Hollister Sings", Andy is tasked with trying to make Seriously Scruffy farmer Rafe Hollister look more presentable as he will be singing for a Mayberry social function being emceed by Mayor Stoner, who feels Rafe is far too seedy and raggedy to represent, "The finer things Mayberry has to offer". At one point, Andy does try dropping hints to Rafe to clean himself up, but Rafe's idea of doing so pretty much only consists of an old sportcoat, and tacky tie... while still in his overalls and straw hat otherwise. Later still, Andy and Barney try to outfit him in a new suit himself, however, they are unable to find a suit big enough to fit him, and nearly suffocates in the too-small suit they provide for him.
  • Breaking Bad: The pilot episode reveals that Walter wears white brief underwear, which is quite unfashionable and embarrassing in the 21st century. Actor Bryan Cranston noted that the choice shows that Walter had "given up."
    • Walter also wears shirts that are a couple of sizes too big, making him appear rather meek (which fits his personality at first) and highlighting his tendency to miss details when he makes plans.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The First Doctor dresses in slightly unusual but rather appropriate Edwardian clothing. The Second Doctor dresses in a similar outfit (supposedly the same outfit), but the clothes are all clownishly large and baggy, his bowtie is perpetually askew and he has an unkempt mop-top hairstyle. When he is put into a machine in "The Macra Terror" that makes him look sharp and gorgeous, he moans about it and immediately resets his outfit to normal much to Polly's displeasure.
    • The Third Doctor thinks sharp but inconspicuous dress for a wealthy gentleman in 1970s Britain (or at least a time aesthetically based on it) consists of brightly-coloured velvet suits, frilly dress shirts, bow ties, and a satin cape. Other characters derisively comment on his ridiculous dress sense, and in "Carnival of Monsters" Vorg even assumes from his outfit that he's a working-class carnie.
    • The Fourth Doctor dresses in well-coordinated and obviously very expensive Awesome Anachronistic Apparel with a Byronic or gothic vibe topped with a designer hat, but wears it with a tackily-coloured stripy knitted scarf that is far, far longer than necessary. And never does the buttons up right. And Can't Tie His Tie. And doesn't iron anything. And the hat's visibly crumpled because he tends to just shove it into his pocket. And he rarely even brushes his hair...
    • The Fifth Doctor dresses in a sharp Cricket outfit... with the exception of a celery stalk attached to his left lapel and a pair of sneakers.
    • The Sixth Doctor dressed in an outfit which was frequently compared to that of a clown.
    • The Seventh Doctor wears mostly somewhat casual formal wear with a hat, beige or dark dress jacket on top of (usually) tartan trousers with a shirt and a tie. He also wears a sweater vest, which wouldn't be an issue, if the thing wasn't covered in question marks. When he shows up in the TV Movie he's ditched it, (and the hat) but he's gone with Albert Einstein's hairdo.
    • The Ninth Doctor was a relatively subdued example, wearing a black leather jacket over a plain cream-coloured sweater and jeans: Not always appropriate for the situation he found himself in this episode (not that it ever really came up, except when they ended up in London during the Blitz because it vaguely resembled the uniform of a German U-boat skipper) but much more low-key and understated than previous incarnations. This turned out to foreshadow the direction the revival series was going to take, with the darker palette and less cheerfully eccentric style reflecting a soberer and less relaxed Doctor who'd come out of the Time War with a lot of emotional baggage.
    • The Tenth Doctor is nearly always seen in a slim-cut four-button brown or navy pinstripe suit and tie that seems somewhat professional at first glance but is actually casual and geeky upon closer inspection, combined with casual Converse sneakers to emphasize his eccentric nature.note  He even wears sneakers with a tuxedo.
    • The Master, when given any choice in the matter, is colour-coordinated and often downright dapper. Even managing this in the usually-ridiculously awful Time Lord ceremonial robes. Granted, it's easy to coordinate if you like to wear predominantly the darker, neutral parts of the spectrum, but this is beyond weird by the normal Time Lord "clashing is a thing" standards. Heck, s/he can even match a full outfit temporally, let alone culturally. Oh, and yup: considered madder than a bag full of hammers, if brilliant, by most other Time Lords.
  • Elementary inverts this twice where Sherlock sees through a character's attempt to appear lower class by their shoes.
    • In "You Do It to Yourself" Sherlock and Bell visit a Chinese gambling parlor, and Bells wonders who speaks English. Sherlock points out a supposed janitor who he deduces is the owner, as a janitor would not wear such fancy shoes.
    • In "A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs", Sherlock evades a hit squad disguised as painters, because their shoes do not have paint stains.
  • In the Firefly episode "Shindig", Kaylee's idea of fancy dress is a store-bought, ultra-frilly Pimped-Out Dress. She is mocked for her lack of class by the Rich Bitches at the titular party, who favor custom-made and clearly expensive Simple, yet Opulent attire.
  • On The Jack Benny Program, Jack shows off his new suit he bought in Hong Kong. He goes on to play a violin duet with guest Giselle McKenzie, during which his cheap suit slowly shreds itself. On radio, Jack was often described as being too cheap to buy any new clothes, wearing ancient styles such as a tuxedo with a belt in the back and buckle shoes.
  • M*A*S*H. Radar often wears over-sized and wrinkled fatigues, as well as boots one size too large for his feet. Watsonian: Radar doesn't really dress right for his lack of height. Doylist: Gary Burghoff wanted to distinguish Radar in appearance as well as behavior, and felt such wardrobe would emphasize the character's youthfulness.
  • Parks and Recreation:
    • For the first few seasons, Andy wears very casual clothing such as sweats, jeans, and T-shirts. In later seasons when he gets a better job and begins wearing button-up shirts and ties, his ties are always tied improperly short, showing that although he is making an effort, he is still unused to dressing up. (A man's tie should always touch his belt buckle; Andy's leave a one-to-two-inch gap.) He also tends to wear ties with short-sleeved shirts, usually considered a fashion no-no. Contrast this with characters like Ben, whose suits always fit impeccably and with a slight nod to current style (narrow lapels, skinny ties).
    • Jean-Ralphio attempts to dress in a very stylish and fashion-forward manner, but tries too hard and winds up looking clownish. Compare and contrast with Tom, whose trendy dress becomes a plot point when he rents out his wardrobe to fashion-conscious high schoolers.
  • Seinfeld. Jerry invokes this in one episode, when he mentions he is disappointed in an adaptation of Frankenstein he saw because the Monster didn't wear a blazer. Jerry likes the idea of the Monster in a blazer, on the grounds that he shows he at least makes an effort to make himself presentable.
  • In Supernatural, Castiel almost exclusively wears the same trench coat-and-tie combo, with the tie always loosened or even on backwards, demonstrating that he is unconcerned with (or completely clueless about, Depending on the Writer) human customs.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
    • Charlie wears shabby clothing and is the only character with a Limited Wardrobe, showing that he's quite poor and downtrodden compared to the rest of the cast. His black T-shirt with the horse on it shows noticeable holes around the armpits. One episode establishes that Charlie repairs his clothing rather than purchase new articles.
    • Mac occasionally wears ties with polo shirts, showing that he's pretty clueless when it comes to formal settings.
  • When NCIS finally introduced Anthony DiNozzo, Sr. he's seen wearing a very fine suit, but, on close inspection, one that is several years out of style. The episode eventually reveals that he's been broke for a long time and is surviving by using his charms to mooch off of friends and acquaintances.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy VII:
    • It's hard to tell due to the PS1-era polygons, but Rufus Shinra appears to be wearing an incredibly large and baggy white business suit immediately after his promotion to President, like a boy trying on his father's clothes. In later appearances, he is more of a Man of Wealth and Taste.
    • Cloud's SOLDIER uniform is about half-accurate — the clothes are right, but unlike the symmetrical, sleek armour favoured by most members, it uses quirky, industrial-looking asymmetrical light armour apparently modelled after motorcycle parts, bandages and mismatched accessories. It oozes a very '90s manga kind of cool and suits an out-of-work mercenary living in a Cyberpunk slum, but the effect is to make him look a bit scruffy and crazy, as if he'd desperately cobbled together something that looks a bit like a SOLDIER uniform out of bits and pieces that other people have thrown away. Besides being almost certainly the literal truth, this is a pretty straightforward metaphor for what is going on in his head.
  • Street Fighter EX: Cracker Jack wears a shirt with tie, a Nice Hat and blue trousers. Except that, being a thug, his shirt is sleeveless and his tie is tied directly on his neck. EX2 has him become a proper Sharp-Dressed Man, though.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Legend of Korra, Mako wears an old scarf at all times, even when dressing to the nines for a fancy date, because it's one of the few mementos he has of his parents. Something of an Informed Flaw; although some characters react to it as though it clashes horribly with his fine clothes, to the audience it looks perfectly normal, even stylish.

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