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Basically, this trope is about outfits that are perfectly wearable, but they're just for show, not for practical use.
Reasons they are impractical are many. The most common one is the outfit is just too expensive to risk damage from normal use. The outfit could also be heavy and/or hot. Or the fabric and/or trimmings would make it too delicate. Either way, the outfit is best used only when the wearer wants to, well, look his/her best.
The line where an outfit becomes impractical can depend on the outfit's purpose. If it's a dress for a black-tie dinner, it could have quite a few trimmings and still work. If it's for construction, the only accessories should be tool belts and safety gear. But let's say the company is shooting an ad, and the agency thinks the normal construction outfit isn't cool enough. So they throw on a few pieces of gear that look as though they fit, at least to those not familiar with construction work. That would be an Impractically Fancy Outfit.
There are some jobs where such outfits actually are practical, in the sense that part of the job is showing off the outfit. This includes showgirls and certain modeling jobs. If you see an outfit on a runway that looks as if it's just the designer showing off, it probably is.
A Super-Trope to:
- Absolute Cleavage
- Bling of War - War uniforms fancied up to be practically useless in all but the most formal warfare.
- Dangerously-Short Skirt
- Impossibly Cool Clothes - Outfits in animation that (mostly) cannot be worn in Real Life (although cosplayers are giving it their best).
- Impossibly Low Neckline
- Pimped-Out Dress - Dresses that are fancied up enough to be impractical for everyday wear.
- Requisite Royal Regalia
- Scary Impractical Armor
- Showgirl Skirt
- Spoofing this trope is the whole point of a series of TV commercials by Reitmans, a Canadian chain of women's clothing stores. In each ad, the impracticality of "haute couture" is hilariously contrasted with Reitmans clothes, "designed for real life".
Anime and Manga
- Some of the Magical Girl outfits with their Frills of Justice really shouldn't be all that practical -- Sailor Moon's outfit with the gigantic wings, and all of Wedding Peach, come to mind.
- The Sailor Moon example suffers a Lampshade Hanging in one episode where they have to fight inside Usagi's house. The stock footage of her In the Name of the Moon speech is accompanied by crashing sounds and by the end of the fight the house is a mess... at which point the Starlight, Uranus and Neptune promptly leave.
- As does Bubblegum Crisis, though for somewhat different reasons. In the seventh episode of the original OAV, Double Vision, one has to wonder how many assistants are required to help strap Idol Singer Vision into her stage outfit (or how she keeps from falling right back out of it, for that matter). Might almost qualify as Impossibly Cool Clothes, were it not for the fact that at least in theory someone could probably make this sort of outfit work.
- Subverted somewhat with Utena -- her impractical "shirt" is actually her jacket and she wears a perfectly reasonable tank top and bicycle shorts underneath. Her shoes also seem more practical than others...
- When Sakura goes off capturing clow cards, Tomoyo dresses her in such outfits in every chance she gets.
- Averted by the fact that some of them are examples of Stylish Protection Gear, such as a rubber dress worn to help capture a lightning spirit.
- Watchmen has poor Dollar Bill. He was hired by a bank as a gimmick, and his employers designed his costume to appeal to the public as much as possible. His pretty cape got stuck in the bank's revolving door while he was trying to stop a heist, and he was shot to death.
- The first Nite Owl briefly went through a similar phase before he officially started crimefighting. When he realized that he couldn't move around his own house in the caped version of his costume without knocking things over or getting the cape caught on something, he removed it from the costume.
- Similarly, Nite Owl II had to redesign his outfit after he lost a thug during a chase. Why? Because he had to urinate and removing the lower part of his suit took too long.
- Trickster suffered a similar demise in the trainwreck that was Countdown. Odds are decent he would've survived the train-encounter with Deadshot, him and Piper having thrown the assassin off the car, had Deadshot not managed to grab his cape as he fell. James reaction to the realisation that he will have such a lame C.O.D. is moderately amusing.
- Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose: Tarot's Stripperiffic costume has tall boots with spikes that are about eighteen inches long jutting straight out to the side. You'd think she'd be banging into doorjambs and poking people all the time with those things.
- The Creeper, being loopy, sports a completely reasonable superhero suit of boots, gloves and speedos... And incredibly floofy, mane-like red fluff around his shoulders.
- He also wears a green wig and yellow body paint, and those "completely reasonable" boots and gloves are trimmed with fake fur. His origin story explains the costume: he's an Accidental Hero, and it was a spur of the moment thing based on what he could find handy to conceal his real identity. The loopy bit is an act, because it tends to scare the hell out of bad guys. You know more or less where you stand with Batman, but somebody who dresses like the Creeper and laughs all the time might do anything.
- Batman's cape is incredibly impressive, but Depending on the Artist can be anywhere up to four feet longer than Batman is tall.
- In the Golden Age of Hollywood, the studios would often dress up their actresses (and some actors) in extravagant outfits for publicity.
- Take the ermine-trimmed skating dress Sonja Henie is wearing in the page picture (although it's for a cigarette ad).
- Just watch any - repeat, any - production number in a Golden Age of Hollywood musical and you'll be almost certain to see the lead singer/dancer, especially if an actress, wearing an Impractically Fancy Outfit.
- Impractically Fancy dresses can still be seen at "red carpet" events, such as the Oscars. (There are people who watch the Oscars just to see the dresses, in the same way that some people watch the Super Bowl just to see the commercials.)
- Queen Amidala.
- Anything on a Hollywood catwalk will be five parts art and one-half part wardrobe.
- For that matter, most outfits on a haute couture catwalk these days are much more about art than about wardrobe (a notion which must have Dior, Fath and Balenciaga spinning in their graves). For things people would be more likely to actually wear, check the "ready-to-wear" shows.
- Carmen Miranda and her famous fruit salad hat. This includes the many spoofs of that outfit.
- Giselle's wedding dress in Enchanted. Amy Adams said it was really hard to move wearing so much fabric (especially since the skirt shape was from loads of petticoats instead of a hoopskirt).
- Many of 50's swimming star Esther Williams costumes, but most notably the one from Million Dollar Mermaid, which nearly killed her. (Wearing a crown + diving from a 6-story height + not landing absolutely perfectly = 3 broken vertabrae + 6 months in a body cast)
- The more Troperiffic Bollywood films will often include scenes where the female lead is wearing incredibly fancy clothes, usually a sari or a type of choli with a skirt. This can overlap with Fan Service as a sari can be draped to bare the midriff on one side.
- Subverted in The Incredibles, which features a costume designer to the superheroes who refuses to include capes in her costumes. She points out the danger and inconvenience of a cape, including anecdotes about superheroes who got sucked into jet turbines and such.
- Later demonstrated using the villain.
- In a short story by Saki a character was riding (fox hunting) when a friend needed help that would have necessitated them dismounting, they refused because: frankly it was rather an art even to ride in my riding clothes.
Live Action TV
- The Time Lord robes from Doctor Who are reasonable, save that it makes it impossible to turn your head. The giant collars are only worn for ceremonial occasions, and that Gallifrey is at a Crystal Spires and Togas level of advancement so they don't really need to do anything that their robes would interfere with.
- Mal tries to use this to convince Kaylee that the fancy dress she wants in "Shindig" would be completely useless to her. His comments just piss everyone off, but the plot does contrive to get her the dress later.
- The Glam Rock trend of The Seventies was made of this, with acts such as KISS, David Bowie and Elton John leading the way.
- Finnish shock rockers Lordi dress up as monsters for all public appearances, including interviews. This is possibly part of the reason why they've never toured to Australia, despite having a large and vocal fanbase there.
- Lady Gaga. Her totally outlandish
costumesnormal clothing is part of the reason some people know her. She had trouble sitting down to play the piano during her 2nd performance on SNL.
- Visual Kei. That is, the half of it that isn't Rummage Sale Reject-tastic.
- When David Bowie performed "The Man Who Sold the World" on Saturday Night Live in 1979 - with Klaus Nomi, no less - he wore a rigid skirt that enclosed his legs, and had to be carried into place by his co-stars in order to reach the microphone.
- Averted with GWAR: The inner casts of their suits are manufactured by one of the members whose regular job is making prosthetic limbs. The joints move freely, allowing the band to play and move somewhat normally.
- In Ayn Rand's Night of January 16th, a minor character mentions Bjorn Faulkner having presented Karen Andre with a sheer platinum gown, "fine and soft as silk," which she put on after it was warmed in the fireplace. This symbol of extravagant luxury is, perhaps fortunately, left to the audience's imagination.
- Just about every other outfit Barbie has ever worn.
- In a comic (yes, there are licensed comics about her), Stacy's Play for the Drama Club got selected simply because hers is the only one that didn't require elaborate costumes, making it a bit of a subversion (since her original ideas were all Gorgeous Period Dresses romances)
- Ezio from Assassin's Creed 2 has a garb so fancy, it stretches one's Willing Suspension of Disbelief if he could actually be inconspicuous in such a thing. And that's not getting into Altair's armor, which really doesn't look like something Altair would've worn.
- The outfit is more plausible when you take into context Renaissance-era fashion and the elaborate clothes a nobleman would wear (Of which, the Auditore family is a noble family). When you account for all of the Assassin skills Ezio has and the functions his outfit serves to hide in plain sight, he actually makes his outfits Awesome Yet Practical.
- Many of the newer Harvest Moon protagonist clothing are rather impracticable for a farmer, and overly fancy considering how they should get dirty and broken often.
- Lampshaded in Fey Winds, when the characters, unexpectedly thrust into battle when all dressed up, promptly dress down.
- In Kappa Mikey, Mikey and Lilly go overboard with all kinds of crazy clothing designs when trying to get their ideas bought by a well-known clothing designer. This included a cement dress and clothing made of garbage and food.
- Fetish wear. Thick rubber clothes which commonly restrict movement and make breathing difficult. Also prone to significant Wardrobe Malfunctions. Of course, this is the point.
- Just about any costume for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or the Notting Hill carnival in London.
- Remarkably averted by Cirque Du Soleil -- you would think the fancier costumes should be completely unsuited for acrobatics, dance, etc., but they are all safe and functional thanks to careful designs, unusual choices of material, exact measurements taken of the performers, etc.
- Likewise with figure skating outfits which have to look good and withstand athletic performance. Makers specialize only in these costumes.
- Fashion Shows love this trope
- Haute couture collections, in particular, take this Up to Eleven.
- Very long hemmed wedding gowns that are easy to trip over.
- Low-rise jeans, backless tops and many types of shoes can only be worn properly by a select few. They never sit right and look awful on most people.
- Togas. They were very restricting and the wearers had to constantly hold them up with one hand. The Senate eventually had to pass a law making it illegal for citizens not to wear them in the Forum.
- Any US Navy junior enlisted man will tell you that the Dress Blue uniform  is, despite the traditions of practicality that it originates from during the age of sail, the most impractical uniform they will ever wear. Mostly because it only uses technology available in the age of sail. Enjoy your zippers.
- CRACKED, you did it again.
- The fashion sensibilities Goth, Cyberpunk and Steampunk subcultures (and various overlaps like Cyber Goths) can come off this way, sometimes reaching the point where the wearer no longer looks human. They are also very heavy on the Awesome but Impractical side.
- like the kid on boxes of "Cracker Jack" snacks, resulting in the uniform nickname of "crackerjacks"