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Stumbling across a discarded pile of empty clothing is a bad omen in Speculative Fiction.
After all, those clothes used to belong to somebody, and people don't just ... decide to take off and leave their clothes behind on a regular basis. (Sure, Naked People Are Funny, but let's be serious here.) Therefore, discovering a pile of uninhabited clothing is a definite clue that something ... unnatural happened to its owner. The cause may be anything (disintegration, a Shrink Ray, Baleful Polymorph, Caught Up in the Rapture etc.) but this may or may not be obvious to the characters or the audience. The Foreshadowing goes double if the clothing is ripped, torn, or otherwise provides forensic clues about what might have happened to them.
This can be considered a combination of No Body Left Behind and the inversion of Magic Pants: For example, if a character was subjected to a transformation into some kind of monster (say, a werewolf), they may have had to rip and shred their own clothing off during the process (unless the process did this all by itself). If the owner's companions should stumble across this monster standing near an empty pile of their friend's shredded clothing, they might mistakenly assume that the monster killed the person (unaware that said monster is that person).
In the event that the owner was merely teleported somewhere else and is otherwise fine (sans clothing, that is), see Naked on Arrival.
Anime & Manga
- In Lily CAT, a flesh-absorbing virus leaves only clothing behind after it assimilates crew members on board the ship.
- In Dragon Ball Z, a whole city full of empty clothes is a sure sign that Cell has been feeding.
- Vampires that get staked in Black Blood Brothers usually leave behind a small pile of dust and a pile of clothing.
- Kirihara in Darker Than Black followed an agent she saw at the scene where she didn't expect him, and found his clothes. The next thing she saw was a chair with another set of clothes "sitting" on it, with sleeves on armpads. It was a case of perve-portation, but she didn't know this at the time.
- Used in Fullmetal Alchemist when Alphonse Elric's body is destroyed when he and his brother Edward attempt human transmutation. When Edward sees Al's clothes on the floor empty he knows his little experiment has truly Gone Horribly Wrong.
- Occurs in Katekyo Hitman Reborn after Yuni and Gamma sacrifice themselves during the final battle of the Future Arc.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha As, after Signum and Shamal are absorbed into the Book of Darkness, only their winter coats remain on the ground.
- In one work submitted for serialization in Bakuman｡, about a survival challenge in which anyone who tells a lie dies, the people who are killed in such a manner disappear, leaving only their clothes behind, while a voice comes from their clothes and announces the truth.
- In Bleach's "Turn Back the Pendulum" arc, the ninth division knows that something terrible befell the ten Soul Reapers sent to investigate a string of disappearances when they find ten loose uniforms that were removed without being untied.
- In S-Cry-ed, Scheris Adjani attempts to save her love interest by using her powers, which drains her life force. it happens off screen, but when he wakes up, all he finds are her clothes.
- Princess Tutu. A girl called Duck, because she was a duck, turns back into a duck whenever she acts like a duck, thus leaving an empty pile of clothing behind.
- In Magic Users Club, a girl catches a magical cold and suddenly shrinks, leaving her clothes piled on the club room floor.
- In Baccano, immortals leave these when they are eaten.
- Combined with No Body Left Behind in Ranma One Half: when Saffron is absorbing everything in range during his metamorphosis, Akane tries to shut off the magical water he needs by closing the Phoenix Tap. Unfortunately, the heat-based Kinjakan, a weapon used to open the device, instantly disintegrates anything that touches it while water is running through the tap. So Akane manages to shut the tap off, Ranma screams at her to run and -- after a flash of light, Akane's empty clothes flutter to the ground. It turns out that she had only been magically dehydrated into the size of a doll, and was still inside those clothes, but pretty much everyone had a Heroic BSOD until they found out they could still save her.
- This is what happens whenever someone dies of Troy in Double Arts. First, the seizures, then they become transparents and disappear.
- The dreaded Third Impact in Neon Genesis Evangelion reduces everyone in the world to puddles of orange fluid and a pile of their clothes, even if that person was already dead at the time.
- In Magic the Gathering, the card Snakeform shows a snake slithering out of a pile of clothes that was once a mage.
- Turn to Frog uses the same basic concept in its art.
- In Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Flash runs so fast that he loses himself to the Speed Force, leaving just his uniform behind.
- In the Chick Tracts "Last Generation," this happens to the people who ascend in the Rapture.
- X-Men: The Hidden Years # 1 "Once More the Savage Land": Marvel Girl is said to have passed onto the land of the dead, showing only her empty costume laying across a table.
- In Fables #51, Cinderella is turned into a mouse, her clothes falling empty to the meadow floor, so she can enter the village of the smalls.
Films -- Animation
- Tiana emerges from her now-empty princess dress after kissing Naveen turns her into a frog in The Princess and the Frog.
- Rock-a-Doodle has the scene where the evil owl turns Edmund into a furry.
- Tangled: Happens to Mother Gothel at the end, as a result of Flynn finally cutting Rapunzel's hair.
Films -- Live-Action
- Star Wars
- When Vader swings a killing blow at Obi-Wan in A New Hope, the only thing left of Obi-wan is his robe and lightsaber. Vader stomps on the robe as if to make sure he's not just hiding in there.
- Later in the trilogy, Yoda disappears too.
- In the most recent Narnia film (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), Edmund and Caspian find Eustace's smoldering clothes and assume something terrible's happened to him. It has, though not what they expect.
- Another variant in Night of the Comet. After almost everyone on Earth goes outside to look at a comet, their bodies are reduced to a red dust, leaving their clothes scattered on the ground with the dust spilling out of them.
- The Tom Cruise remake of The War of the Worlds, the alien heat ray reduces people to ash, leaving their clothing behind. But not underwear for some reason. Non Magic Pants?
- Which, of course, was parodied by Scary Movie: a bunch of rappers instead left their Bling behind.
- In the film Vanishing on 7th Street, during a brief power failure, just about everyone in the city vanishes, leaving only their clothes.
- In the film The H-Man, There is a radioactive blob going around absorbing people until only their clothes are left.
- In the film called The Moment After, the beginning scenes show signs of the recent "rapture" event, showing piles of empty clothes littering the street and homes.
- In the new Alice in Wonderland, Alice is shrunk until only her dress remains.
- In the movie Unearthly Stranger, A man's wife turns out to be a member of an invading alien race. when she tries to stop them, her people, they kill her by fading her out of existance while being held by him leaving only her clothes draped over his arms.
- In the movie Constantine, Keanu Reeves plays a priest-like warrior who battles demons. when the demon is killed its human body is destroy, turning to ash, until only clothes remain.
- In the movie adaptation of The Witches, when someone is turned into a mouse, they leave their clothes behind. When this happens to Luke, the witches stomp on his clothes in an effort to kill him before he can escape.
- Proteus (1995) is a movie about an experiment gone wrong on an oil platform out in the middle of the ocean. The creature that is created absorbs the bodies of its victims until nothing is left but clothes, so it can mimic their form. It's based on the book called Slimer by Harry Adam Knight.
- In the movie Troll 2, a girl drinks a potion from a woman pretending to help. It turns out that the woman is in league with the goblins and the potion given to the girl slowly melts her into slime. You have to look close but you can see her clothes laying in the puddle of green slime before the goblins come to eat her.
- The Sword of the Valiant, starring Sean Connery. An apprentice witch is turned into a red frog for being naughty by his character. The scene finishes as they converse while she is perched a top of her empty dress surrounded by her accessories.
- When Santa dies in The Santa Clause, all that's left is his Santa suit, which Tim Allen must don.
- The 1974 movie Where Have All The People Gone, most of the world has become piles of empty clothes and white powder.
- Harry Potter
- In the first movie, Quirrell collapses to dust, leaving his clothes to fall empty to the floor.
- In the third film, Pettigrew leaves behind his clothes after turning into a rat. Which is weird, seeing how Animagi always have clothes on when they turn human and McGonagall's cat form is noted to have markings around its eyes which resemble her glasses. In the book, this occurs at a different point, also with Pettigrew. After he framed Sirius for his death and turned into a rat, it's mentioned he left behind a pile of clothes and one finger. So... was he naked in the Shrieking Shack? Maybe they just conjure clothes when they turn human since they are wizards, after all.
- In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, one of the trio's completely missing except for his neatly-arranged clothing (and a toad).
- Empty piles of bandages are all that is left after the protagonist of Mannequin is whisked across time and space.
- Allison in The Grudge 2 is pulled into her clothes, leaving them in a heap on the floor in front of Jake. Kayako then manifests inside the clothes to menace her next victim.
- In Daddy Day Care, the guys panic when they find Tony's empty Flash costume. In homage to this trope's prevalence in science fiction, uber-nerd Marvin even worries that he's been vaporised. Turns out he just doesn't want to be Flash anymore. He wants to be Tony.
- Used in Left Behind and other "Rapture" stories to indicate that the person in question has been taken by the Lord. Depending on the skill of the writer, this can still be pretty terrifying.
- Subverted in The Rapture of Canaan. In a religious community, everyone believes that the narrator's illegitimate son is the second coming of Christ and thus figure that the Rapture is on the way. One morning, they find the leader of the community's pile of clothes lying around, leading the more extreme members to assume that the Rapture happened and they weren't taken because they'd sinned. Most of the other members assumed that their leader (who had recently had a stroke) just went crazy and ran off with no clothes on. Turns out, that's just what happened.
- Used in The Time Travelers Wife, when the title time traveler... time travels.
- In The Indian in the Cupboard, when the person who would have been sent through time and space to the cupboard is dead, all that gets sent is a pile of clothing.
- In one of Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael murder mysteries, a monk who was standing an all-night vigil is found in the morning to have vanished, leaving only his clothes behind, and many of his fellow monks assume he's been bodily assumed into heaven. The truth is rather more mundane.
- Averted somewhat weirdly in Stephen King's The Langoliers, where most of the passangers disappear from a plane when it crosses a time rip, and they leave behind watches, glasses, jewels, even surgical pins -- but not clothes. One character lampshades this, saying: "What was taken and what was left behind [...] doesn't seem to have a lot of rhyme or reason to it."
- In a book called The Demon in Me by Michelle Rowen, Dark Witches are dissolved to nothingness very quickly when killed leaving only a pile of clothes.
- In the book Samantha Slade -- Confession of a Teenage Frog, a girl tests a "formula for greatness" created by a small boy she babysits to help her win an election at school. It turns out that the stuff randomly turns her into a frog, so she is constantly having to crawl out of a pile of her clothes.
- In the Stephen King book series The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger -- Little Sisters of Eluria, one of the sisters betrays the others to help Roland, The Lone Gunslinger. After they have gotten away and believe they are safe, they rest in a cave. But during the sleep, Roland hears tiny bells and awakes to find only the empty clothes of the woman who helped him. She was turned into a bunch of tiny bugs by the sound of the bell.
- In the book True Angel: Hero by Laura Amy O'Hanlon, Kennedy kills her mother Ocran, who is a bad woman. When she dies, she vanishes instantly leaving her empty clothes to fall to the ground.
- In the book Blood Music by Greg Bear, a strange infection ravages Europe that totally and complete destroys the human in most cases almost instantly leaving only their clothes.
- In the William Essex novel Slime, the living, flesh-eating toxic waste dissolves and consumes its victims, leaving nothing but their empty clothes behind, without any blood or even any residue of itself.
- The Clone has an interesting variation. The titular Blob Monster is an Extreme Omnivore that absorbs both living and nonliving matter, but there are certain types of fabrics it won't eat. Nylon, for example, will get incorporated into the "clone" mass, but cotton will be rejected. Regardless, there's always some kind of empty clothes left after it gets done with someone.
- The Twilight Zone
- Star Trek the Original Series: "The Omega Glory" is a subversion as the crew's uniforms weren't empty: they still had crystals (the remains of the crew's bodies) inside of them.
- Star Trek the Next Generation
- An example occurs when Deanna and her mother are transported to a Ferengi ship without their clothes.
- In "The Best of Both Worlds", after Picard is captured by the Borg, the search party looking for him on the Borg cube initially find only his uniform in a locker. They shortly thereafter find out he's been turned into a Borg himself.
- Doctor Who
- In the episode "Utopia", a crewman is vaporised by Particle of the Week Radiation, leaving only his clothes behind.
- In the episode "Partners in Crime", little creatures called Adipose are born from the fat of those who have been taking the enzyme used to create them. In a pinch, however, the Adipose can convert all types of cell tissue, resulting in this trope.
- In the show Freddys Nightmares, on a episode called "Sister's Keeper", Freddy is attacked by twin girls, one in front to distract and one in back to attack. When she swings her bat to attack Freddy, he vanishes and his clothes drop to the floor.
- In the UK Being Human episode The Longest Day, Lauren kills herself, dissolves and leaves a pile of empty clothes.
- The X-Files episode "Agua Mala" has wet piles of clothes left behind as the only trace of victims of a water-born parasite. This is because the parasite converts the human body to water in order to further its reproductive cycle.
- Stargate SG-1
- When they Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, people in the series leave their clothes behind.
- This is also what is left after an attack with the Dakara Superweapon set to destroy living matter, in season 10 episode "Conterstrike".
- In the new Axe Anti Dandruff commercial called "Dusted," three lovely young women are instantly reduced to dust in the presence of a certain young man, leaving their empty clothes to flutter to the ground.
- Happens in a Koff Beer commercial called "cinderella," where a man walks up to the bar looking confused and carrying a single shoe. He sees a beautiful woman across the bar. She runs out and he chases her. She runs down an alley about half way. For some odd reason that isn't explained, she disappears in a flash of light. Her dress falls to the pavement covering one of her shoes. He picks up the exposed one and finds himself walking up to the bar looking confused and carrying a single shoe. It's a loop!
- Rule of Rose: Empty piles of clothes are shown in the background during the Stray Dog bossfight. It's not really explained, but the prevalent fan theory is that Jennifer is mentally censoring out the corpses that should be inhabiting them. It's a justification for the practical reason that showing dead children in a video game, a console game at any rate, is a big no-no. The game pretty masterfully avoids showing almost any of the horrible things kids go through in the story, arguably making it feel a lot worse than if they just said and showed things straight up.
- In the game Missing on Lost Island you and your girlfriend are attacked by goons. During the fight your girlfriend is shot by a strange ray gun and vanishes leaving only her clothes. Soon after, you are also shot with the same gun.
- Trope Namer: In one strip of The Dragon Doctors, an explorer investigating a science station exclaims, "Empty piles of discarded clothing! That's bad. That's always a bad sign!" He wonders if they've been disintegrated or mutated into monsters; turns out most of them overdosed on a Fountain of Youth.
- The Good Witch: The only thing left behind after a sinister minister sucks people up into himself to consume their life force.
- El Goonish Shive had Sensei Greg running to help Grace who he thought was in danger and finding clothes on the floor. And then he met Jeremy.
- In the American Dad Christmas episode "For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls", the Smiths dig up Santa's corpse to find that Santa's body has vanished, leaving the iconic Santa outfit behind. Turns out he was magically transported to the North Pole to regenerate.
- In the Extreme Ghostbusters has Evil Clowns that feed off laughter. They find victims that laugh and shallow them into their mouths, minus the clothes.
- When Harold Camping declared that the Rapture would happen on the 21 of May 2011, a project on The Imageboard That Must Not Be Named encouraged posters to get up early and lay out empty piles of clothes to freak people out.