"Did not the Abbe F-M say: 'Lost is that man who sees a beautiful woman descending a noble staircase', and were not both these ingredients here, and ready to her hand? What else but a staircase could so perfectly set off the jewel she had made of Elfine?"
The USTful, Will They or Won't They?, Slap Slap Kiss couple is at a formal event—either as reluctant dates or as part of a group. Usually in some sort of ballroom or fancy dress setting. The girl (it's always the girl—almost) appears a little late, standing at the top of the stairs in an outfit which is probably an order of magnitude more attractive and stylish than her usual wear. The light catches her just right so she Sparkles. And, of course, suddenly she's got boobs. The guy, at the foot of the stairs, glances up and sees her and his jaw drops, eyes widen. The music rises. His heart flutters. He may gulp loudly. Can't make a coherent sentence for a minute or two. Sometimes the girl is self-conscious and shy of her new appearance, and sometimes she looks at the guy and goes "What? What are you looking at me for?" Occasionally she smirks instead, enjoying the effect she's having on the guy.
For non-native English speakers (or anyone who's confused), the trope name refers to the subject cleaning herself nicely—all prettied up for admiration.
Wrench Wenches are likely to have at least one scene like this. Tomboys and The Ladette also often have a moment like this—often tagged with a "Hey, I guess you really are a girl." This happens to the Undercover Model for work-related reasons.
While the ballroom and the staircase are not strictly necessary for this trope to function, they are the most common elements in which to place the events unfolding.
Sister Trope to Beautiful All Along, Princess for a Day, Hollywood Homely and Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me. Occasionally involves a Pimped-Out Dress, but just as often a regular fancy dress will do. May be part of a Rags to Royalty situation. Sometimes overlaps with She's All Grown Up. Contrast Unkempt Beauty, where she doesn't need to be cleaned up to look nice. Be aware of the Unnecessary Makeover where this trope doesn't work for the audience.
Anime and Manga
- Louise in The Familiar of Zero. Saito always thinks Louise is cute (physically, anyway), but her attitude is less tsun-tsun and more dere-dere at parties.
- In Ranma ½, Akane gets Ranma but good twice, at the start and conclusion of the final story arc, when he sees her in a wedding kimono (first instance) and then in a Western-style wedding dress. Of course, she dresses up in fancy dresses whenever she can and usually does look pretty good, it's just that those two are the most prominent.
- Also Ukyō in the Episode "Ukyō's Skirt, The Great Girly-Girl Gambit". Ukyō looks so stunning in a Fūrinkan girl's uniform that Kunō promptly decides to start courting her as well as Akane and "the pigtailed girl". Even Ranma only recognizes her because she's still carrying her giant spatula. Unfortunately for her, while all of the other guys at school wanted to date her, Ranma still didn't seem to get that what she wanted was to try and give their relationship a boost. Between that, and the fact it ended up in a contest where Ranma got beaten up by all of the other guys, she stopped wearing it out of remorse. She does occasionally dress up in more feminine garb, though the series has something of a Limited Wardrobe for her.
- A male example occurs with Ranma, in a brief storyline in which Kodachi brings him as her date, to be compared to her rival's date. When said rival sees Ranma for the first time, he'd just been run over by a herd of cows and hardly looked his best. When he shows up at the actual date, cleaned up and looking awesome in a suit, the rival actually is impressed.
- In the same arc, Akane becomes very offended when the rival insults Ranma. So, she helps make him look handsome for the date and mentally lampshades this trope while doing it.
Akane: I'll show her! When you dress Ranma up, he can be plenty cool!
- Similarly, in Urusei Yatsura: Ryūnosuke, who is easily the most manly character in the show, has an episode dedicated to her struggle to become feminine. She really only wished to wear a sailor suit, but in the end ends up wearing the same dress as seen in My Fair Lady—yes, it is the dress you are thinking of—and looked amazing. In fact she could easily be the Trope Codifier. Before and After. Yes, it is the same girl.
- Misty of Pokémon fame has done this from time to time. The infamous example of her wearing a kimono at the Summer Festival and actually rendering Ash speechless comes to mind.
- Also, in one episode, Ash and Company met a girl who dresses and acts tough. At the end of the episode, when she invoked the trope, Brock reacted the way he usually does around beautiful girls, which prompted her into resume her boyishness.
- Kaname of Full Metal Panic!! does this to Sōsuke while posing as an older, married, and sexually frustrated woman. It works amazingly.
- She also pulls it with a kimono, shocking everyone.
- Nadja Applefield from Ashita no Nadja embodies the trope whether dolled up via Leonardo and Thierry or wearing her Gorgeous Period Dress inherited from her Missing Mom. When said gown is destroyed by Rosemary, with help of Grandma Anna Nadja sews the intact top part into a new dress.
- Cagalli had this trope deliberately invoked on her in the Gundam SEED first season. Twice. She wasn't really amused in any occasion.
- Continually subverted in The Wallflower—whenever the guys trick/force Sunako-chan into some proper clothes, Kyohei knows she's still the same person, and is (frustratingly) not quite cognisant of any attraction to her no matter how good she looks.
- Even Amy Rose has done this on Sonic X, complete with the reaction from Sonic himself.
- Subverted in Code Geass, where Nina Einstein is all dressed up in the pre-wedding celebration but is still much more confident at work as a scientist, which is demonstrated by comparison to matter. However, played straight with Milly Ashford on the same occasion and Cecile Croomy earlier. Absolute Cleavage indeed.
- Hitomi in Vision of Escaflowne. When she borrows one of Millerna's Pimped Out Dresses, Van can't help but spend the entirety of the dinner conversation just gawking dumbly at her (or Dope Slapping Merle for getting in the way of his gawking dumbly at her).
- Akane-Iro ni Somaru Saka uses this. All of the girls dress up and appear, getting a vague response from the main character. Then his sister shows up (late to the entrance) and he's dumbfounded. She's squicked by this, and he's berated by his fiancée (part of the first group).
- In Powerpuff Girls Z, Kaoru/Buttercup gets her hair done and is dressed up nicely in the episode where she gets a crush on a guy with big muscles. She looks so different that the Professor and his son Ken didn't even recognize her. Momoko/Blossom and Miyako/Bubbles even managed to up it to eleven when they taught Kaoru manners.
- Ouran High School Host Club's Haruhi cleans up nicely in the first chapter/episode going from frumpy and disheveled to a Bifauxnen. She's also dolled up during the Christmas ball to help get two fiancés back together, complete with a wig, dress, and makeup.
- She complains about it, though, stating that her face feels heavy with all the makeup, and that it's hard to walk in the heels the boys gave her.
- Louise Halevy from Gundam 00 puts on a nice pink kimono while visiting Japan. In the second season, she makes a really beautiful Elegant Gothic Lolita during a ball.
- Tieria Erde not only dresses up really nicely for the same second season party, but mixes this with Wholesome Crossdresser.
- Setsuna also cleaned up nicely in that same ball. Seeing him in a black suit was a very, very nice surprise.
- In Record of Lodoss War Deedlit, wearing an extravagant white gown, walks down the stairs with Parn, who is having a LOT of trouble looking her in the eye. Subverted slightly as he spends most of the ball ignoring her advances and swooning over a famous hero.
- And Deedo is so uncomfortable that she whines quite a bit at first, too.
Deedlit: Ah, this dress is so tight! Seriously, I don't know how you court ladies can wear these things ever day...
- Subverted in Private Prince, where female lead Miyako looks extremely good but is terribly uncomfortable and trips over her high heels and long dress... in front of Will, the lead male.
- Asuna in Mahou Sensei Negima!, once she lets her hair down and stops being overly violent for a bit.
- Oscar in Rose of Versailles. She dressed like a man every day of her life, except one, at a ball, where she decided to go as a woman, in order to impress Fersen. It will work in a kind of way, but before it worked even more on her manservant and future lover Andre. The idea of Oscar in dress made him furious in manga, burst into laughter in anime... but in both, he stopped and looked amazed when Oscar showed up at the top of stairs in her white odalisque dress. And so were the guests at the ball later.
- Kimi ni Todoke: normally Sawako's look wavers between scary or rather plain (except when she smiles from the heart). After a surprise makeover and a butterfly hairclip from Yano and Chizu, though, she broke the pretty barrier.
- In Yotsuba&!, even rival Man Child Jumbo is impressed with Miura's traditional dress and performance at the autumn matsuri.
- In Berserk, Hot Amazon Casca, who usually goes around in men's clothing, short hair and non-Stripperiffic armour, is seen for the first time in a very nice, feminine dress upon Griffith's brief triumph after defeating Midland's king's rivals. Guts' priceless blank stare upon seeing her dressed this way is one of the series' very rare Crowning Moments Of Funny.
- Area no Kishi: Kakeru notices this when he reunites with childhood friend Seven. She appears far more feminine than he remembered from their days in elementary school.
- City Hunter: Kaori has sometimes put on a long wig and fooled her partner Ryo Saeba. In episode 137, an old friend of her buy Kaori fashionable clothes, and, with her wig, starts successfully dating Ryo at night. "Cinderella" was even the French title.
- In Heartcatch Pretty Cure episode 23, everyone's got their eyes on Itsuki after she first transforms into Cure Sunshine and later, when she first debuts in female clothing during the fashion club's trip in episode 25.
- Miranda Lotto in D.Gray-man. It was a shock for most readers when they saw her for the first time. Only for Miranda to become like this after she gained her Innocence and self-confidence for the first time in her life.
- Played for Laughs in episode 85 of Shugo Chara Doki. The Guardians go to a fashion event, so the girls wake up early to pick stylish outfits for the occasion. However, Nagihiko shows up a little late, and once he arrives, the others are in shock when they see him in clothes that manage to be even more stylish than the girls', complete with Bishie Sparkle. His justification makes the scene even funnier.
Nagihiko: I couldn't decide what to wear, so I ended up running behind.
- Pai in the first chapter of Sazan Eyes.
- Happens during a Fancy Dinner scene in Gun X Sword, with Wendy borrowing a fancy dress, taking her hair out of pigtails, and using makeup. Her dinner companion doesn't even recognize her at first. In context, his surprise may have a lot to do with the fact that she looks older—like a young woman rather than a child—than she does in her usual clothing.
- Used in a somewhat weird way in the seventh Detective Conan movie. When Kazuha and Heiji were little, they visited Kazuha's family in Kyoto. Little Heiji ran off to a temple, and while waiting for him little Kazuha was dolled up in a kimono and got her hair done by her relatives. Little Heiji then saw her playing under the Cherry Blossoms, but didn't recognize her... and "that girl from Kyoto" remained in his memory as "his first love". Since the movie had a subplot in which Heiji was searching for the anonymous girl he once liked, it means Kazuha was jealous of... her dolled up little girl self. And Heiji didn't find out until the end of the movie.
- In another male example, Brief from Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt cleans up very nicely.
- Masane from Witchblade looks rather good when she gets dolled up for a party. Unfortunately, her personality and manners are exactly the same.
- When Maka of Soul Eater shows up in Soul's soul, wearing heels and a black ballgown. he's rather shocked.
- Liechtenstein, Ukraine and Hungary from Hetalia. The first looks very cute in a blue ballgown, the second is quite a babe in her national dress, and Finland got a picture of the third wearing a very elegant Pimped-Out Dress during the Hetalia Bloodbath 2010.
- Victorian Romance Emma: Emma is convinced to attend a ball, and is shown to clean up nicely when she wears a ball gown and no glasses in comparison with her usual maid outfit and glasses.
- Daily Lives of High School Boys have Nago—not that she had done that, but a convex mirror shows that she will look quite cute if she loses some weight.
- Used in Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation). It's a graphic novel that sets the fairy tale "Rapunzel" in the American South, and turns the title character into a hair-lassoing cowgirl. Better Than It Sounds, really.
- Yoko Tsuno isn't afraid to dress up in a kimono once when she's invited to have dinner in a German castle, much to the surprise of everyone who sees her ("A kimono! In my castle! This is definitely something to celebrate for!", says their host). She also dolls up when she and her partners spent the night in a Scottish castle, and later spends a whole chase scene in a dress.
- In the Furry Fandom comic Ebin and May, Prince Ebin insists on having his girlfriend, May the servant girl, join him for a royal function. Lord Valkyn is against this since he thinks the humble rabbit doe would feel terribly out of place, but Ebin insists she'll do fine. Valkyn is instantly convinced when May joins them all properly made up and wonderfully dressed to look like something like the most idealized fairy tale princess while Ebin smugly enjoys his point being proven.
- Strangers in Paradise's Katchoo says this to Detective Walsh (and he to her) when he goes undercover to help her bust Darcy. The normally tomboyish and disheveled Katchoo is wearing a fancy evening dress and makeup.
- Inverted in the early Post-Crisis Wonder Woman, Mynda Mayer, publicist extraordinaire, first appears in a sleazy dress and jewelry when she comes to Julia Kapatelis' residence to talk turkey with the new superhero. After being told to take a hike by the Greek professor as a cheap opportunist, Mayer doesn't give up and asks for a meeting in her office. Princess Diana and Ms. Kapatelis decide to come to stop her harassment, and are stunned to see the publicist in plain casual clothes and pants with far more subtle makeup and thus looking cute as a button.
- Erstwhile demonstrates this trope while telling All-Fur, when the princess changes from her scruffy appearance to nice clothing for the ball. See it here.
- A central part of the "Persecuted Heroine" fairy tale type. This falls into two types:
- "Cinderella", where the heroine is oppressed at home (usually by her Wicked Stepmother, sometimes by her sisters) and given magical aid to go to some event (a ball, church, etc.). Others of this type include "The Hearth Cat", "The Maiden and The Fish", "The Sharp Grey Sheep", and "The Wonderful Birch".
- "Catskin", where the heroine must flee her home (usually because of her father) and take a job as a servant. She has brought along her dresses, or a magical way to get them, and can put them on for the ball or other event. Others of this type include "Katie Woodencloak", Joseph Jacobs's "Rashin-Coatie", "The Bear", The Brothers Grimm's "All-Kinds-Of-Fur", "The King Who Wished Marry To His Daughter", and "Cap O' Rushes".
- Joseph Jacobs's "Tattercoats" also is a variant of the Persecuted Heroine, but unusually enough, the prince falls in love with her when she's wearing her tatters; she is cleaned up only at the end to convince his father and the court that she is suitable to marry her guy.
- In another version of the tale, the prince agrees to marry her while she's in tatters but is confused as to why she goes around riding a goat and dressed in rags, while carrying a wooden spoon and with her face always dirty. With each question he has about her appearance (her mount, her clothing, her face, and her spoon), she replies that she only keeps those things because she wants to, and shows him that she is able to turn them into more beautiful things (a white horse, a gorgeous dress, a clean face, and a wand) should she desire. The prince gradually catches on and at the end, he doesn't even ask about the spoon, already knowing why she carries it.
- In "The True Sweetheart", the heroine dresses up for the ball in order to win back the prince, who had been enchanted into forgetting her.
- Also used in the Japanese tale "Hat-wearing Hanako". The heroine is a Fallen Princess who hides her Memento MacGuffin (a small chest with a scroll that proves her heritage) under a huge straw hat, which she wears 24/7 and refuses to take off. She is taken in as a maid by a high-class samurai clan, and when the eldest son falls for her, she has to clean up nicely to be accepted by her beau's family and prove who she truly is.
- In a Gender Flipped variant, in "Bearskin", when the hero, appalling shaggy, filthy and ragged, but rich, rescues a man from financial distress, the man promises that he may marry one of his daughters. Only the youngest is willing. However, his appearance stemmed from a Deal with the Devil, and that being over, He Cleans Up Nicely and formally arrives at their house as a wooer—or, in some variants, at his own wedding. Somewhat subverted, in that while the older sisters are impressed, the youngest, being the sort who would marry a hideous man to redeem her father's promise, ignores him until he proves that handsome as he is, he is still the same man whom she promised to marry.
Film -- Animation
- The beginning of the ballroom scene in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. In a variation, both Belle and Beast are cleaning up nicely.
- She was beautiful in her plain clothes, and the time spent in the castle shows her in various elegant dresses. This was just taking her beauty Up to Eleven.
- Aladdin has never been bad looking but looks especially dashing in his formal "Prince Ali" attire.
- Tarzan looks quite good in his father's suit, even if we're happy when he goes back to his usual loincloth.
- The beginning of the ballet scene in Anastasia (ends in the "what are you staring at?" vein).
- Odette in The Swan Princess.
Derek: She started out as such an ugly duckling / and somehow suddenly became a swan.
- Tanya Mousekewitz gets this kind of effect in An American Tail: Fievel Goes West after a makeover from Miss Kitty. Even the cats in the saloon take notice.
- A variation in Tangled: Rapunzel's clothing doesn't change, but when Flynn gets four little girls to fix up her hair so it doesn't drag on the ground while they're touring the kingdom, Rapunzel ends up looking even cuter than before. Flynn's face when he sees the final result has the name of this trope written all over it.
- Over the Hedge has a little makeover scene for Stella who, with a haircut and comb run through her fur, looks really pretty. For a skunk.
- Mulan looks quite nice in her matchmaker ceremony dress.
- Deunan of Appleseed stunned everyone when she turned up for Hitomi's birthday party in a stylish dress, specially designed by Muiccia Prada
- It was even lampshaded by one of the people present. Not surprising, considering the vast difference from Deunan's usual tomboy-ish looks.
Film -- Live Action
- In the 2008 Japanese film Ichi, hapless samurai Toma meets the title character—a blind swordswoman—when she is in a goze's customary rags. When she's called to play for the local yakuza boss to celebrate Toma's hiring as a bodyguard, though, he is visibly stunned by how she looks in a kimono.
- Rocky. Adrian is the Trope Codifier.
- In Enchanted, the example is recursive. Giselle shows up at the ball (with Edward in tow) in this fashion. Funnily enough, the ball is an "old fashioned fancy dress" kind, involving clothing of the sort Giselle's been wearing for the whole movie—except now she shows up in a fairly simple modern-day dress. Robert still gets distracted away from his date Nancy, who is also dressed up fancily. The reason for Giselle's very striking effect is that she suddenly looks like a grown woman instead of a little girl playing dress-up with the Disney Princess dresses she'd worn until then.
- Used retroactively in the book and The Film of the Book Harry Potter. In the book, Harry wonders who that pretty girl in a blue dress on Victor Krum's arm is, and nearly falls over when he realizes it's Hermione; Ron has an even worse reaction. Used straight, however, in the movie (because nobody in the audience could ever fail to recognize Emma Watson).
- According to the extras in the DVD release, that was one of the hardest scenes for Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint to get right, because although Ron and Harry had never seen Hermione all dolled up before, they had seen Emma done up to the nines on many occasions.
- "I used to think looks weren't important, but now I think they're more important than anything!"
- A parody fic of The Movie called her "Sparkly Princess Hermione".
- In Titanic Rose DeWitt Bukater descends the grand staircase of the RMS Titanic, drawing the obligatory wide-eyed expression from Jack Dawson. However, most of their fellow passengers' comments are focused on the fact it's Jack who cleans up nicely. Molly even says "You shine up like a new penny!"
- Not to mention that Rose was wearing a rather pretty dress to dinner the night before. Seeing her dressed up would be a frequent event.
- The title character from Carrie.
- Alison from The Breakfast Club. Although many viewers thought she was hotter when all gothy and angsty.
- Batman Returns has Selina Kyle.
- There's Something About Mary has one of these, too... although they never left for the party due to a zipper problem.
- My Fair Lady has this moment for Eliza just before the ball, when she comes downstairs from her room and Higgins sees her in her gown for the first time.
- Near the end of Quest for Camelot when Kayley stepped into the room in her white dress.
- The entire point of the movie Miss Congeniality. The scene where Gracie originally walks out of the hangar in a tight short knit dress with her hair up and makeup on, has all of her fellow FBI agents standing there with their jaws dropping.
- Patrick and Kat have this effect on each other in 10 Things I Hate About You.
- In an inversion of the trope, Australia has the male lead follow the trope nearly to the letter at a charity ball.
- Inverted also in The Mummy Trilogy after Rick O'Connell is rescued from the gallows. His shiny reappearance is nicely timed to Evelyn's rant about what a filthy, rude, complete scoundrel he is.
- Evie herself gets a moment like this as before they go on their expedition we are used to seeing her in dowdy and plain librarian's clothes but after they escape from the ship Evie appears wearing an Egyptian black dress and veil which certainly made Rick's eyes widen.
- In the pee-wee football themed movie Little Giants, Becky "Icebox" O'Shea (a girl who plays halfback) falls in love with the team's quarterback and decides to go be a cheerleader instead, cleaning up nicely in the process. Of course, since the quarterback liked the girl who played halfback as opposed to a cheerleader, she un-cleans and wins the big game instead.
- Happens in Bend It Like Beckham, when the girls are in Germany and Jessminder has nothing to wear for the party.
- Inverted by Michelle Rodriguez in whatever movie she does; the dirtier she gets, the hotter she is.
- Steven Spielberg's Always. Holly Hunter's character is a pilot and dispatcher who always dresses in dirty overalls. Her boyfriend Richard Dreyfuss buys her a white dress for her birthday. She puts it on and all the other male pilots are stunned and they quickly wash their hands and line up to take turns to dance with her to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes".
- In Watchmen, Laurie Jupiter walks down the stairs to the Owl Cave in her Silk Spectre outfit, in slow motion with music and Nite Owl open-mouthed.
- Male example in the first George of the Jungle movie;
Narrator: Later, in the Men's Department, after discovering his long lost brothers, the jungle king was pleased to find he looked pretty good in Armani.
- Parodied in Not Another Teen Movie. Jenny goes downstairs in her new dress and without glasses, with her family and Jake just unable to believe their eyes, then suddenly a tread breaks and she falls to the bottom of the stairs.
- Played straight with Mia in The Princess Diaries.
- Jennifer Love Hewitt's character in Trojan War.
- Dragonslayer: After Valerian is revealed as a female to the hero Galen, she appears at a social event in feminine garb, causing jaws to impact the floor, including Galen's.
- Averted with Mui in Shaolin Soccer, she starts off as rather plain with acne and when she tries to doll herself up she looks even worse.
- Played straight in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Toula starts off frumpy, and then later on she ditches the glasses in favor of contacts, and starts wearing makeup, proving she was Beautiful All Along.
- Jane's reaction to a fully restored Thor in Thor.
Jane: This is how you normally look?
- Played subtly near the end of The Journey of Natty Gann, when Natty and Harry reach Seattle after days of hopping trains and hiking cross-country and Natty gets the chance to actually wash her face and comb her hair. Harry is visibly startled the first time he gets a good look at her after she's cleaned up.
- Played with in Some Kind of Wonderful. Tomboy Watts has spent the entire movie dressed in raggedy old hand-me-down men's clothes. In the last act, when she agrees to chauffeur her best friend (and crush) Keith and his crush, Amanda, around on their date, she decides to get dressed up. The effect is striking, and she's much more attractive—but she's wearing, not a dress, but a male chauffeur's uniform. Keith doesn't seem to mind.
- In the James Bond film Licence to Kill, CIA agent Pam Bouvier is insulted by the idea that she should play Bond's secretary, but when she shows up at the Bank in the dress she bought with the money Bond gave her, he's so stunned by how beautiful she looks that he does a Double Take.
- Iron Man: Pepper Potts starts off the film wearing drab business suits with her hair pulled back. But for the Stark charity gala halfway through the film, she styles her hair and wears a sexy backless dress, stunning her playboy employer, who finally starts looking at her as a romantic interest rather than just his long-suffering secretary.
- Laney Boggs from the teen movie She's All That
- A variation where it happens in Snow White a Tale of Terror near the start of the film. Our first image of the older Lilli is her in a nightgown so she arrives at the ball wearing her mother's dress to the surprise of many guests.
- See the Harry Potter example under Film, above. Except since the director of the third movie decided to prematurely tame Hermione's hair and give her more stylish muggle clothes, the sleek up-do and gorgeous dress effect on Emma was rather lost in the movie.
- Gaia Moore in one of the Fearless books, although Gaia does not recognize this about herself.
- Male example with Harry Dresden in The Dresden Files: Death Masks. Harry seems to enjoy the effect he has in his tuxedo when he goes to an art sales event with Susan to investigate Johnnie Marcone.
- Truth in Television: There's a reason they've never gone out of style. It's incredibly hard not to be a dude that cleans up nicely once wearing a fitted tux.
- In Changes it's Murphy who cleans up nicely. Although it's a cute pants outfit rather than a serious dress, and Harry never gets to see it because the book ends with him getting shot dead and falling overboard before Murphy's eyes.
- Subverted in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon; the modern-day female lead specifically doesn't undergo a dramatic Hollywoodesque transformation. She's as awkward in a formal dress as a tomboyish salvage diver might be expected to be, despite being quite attractive.
- This just serves to illustrate why he's attracted to her, though, so there's something of a similar effect.
- Kit has a scene like this in the book Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Tease.
- Another male example, courtesy of Louisa May Alcott. In Rose in Bloom, Rose Campbell must go to a social event and is told one of her seven cousins will go for her. She sees the guy waiting downstairs very elegantly dressed... but when he turns to stare at her, she's shocked when she realizes it's local bookworm Mackenzie aka Mac, the less fashion-versed of the guys, who wears clothes borrowed from his much more fashion-oriented younger brother Steve aka The Dandy. In fact, poor Mac is so "lost" at what to do that Rose has to help him fix his cape.
- Lessa in Dragonflight, who begins the book as a filth-encrusted drudge, gets this after a vigorous bath and acquires something of a bathing fetish thereafter.
- Though she doesn't actually do so, Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan, in The Color Of Magic, is implied to be the sort who would clean up well. Unlike most women depicted on fantasy cover art, though, she is described as wearing sensible mail and no leather (except the boots. However, the boots are not black leather).
- Redwall did this in Mariel of Redwall. Dandin is described as being surprised that the previously scruffy Mariel (then the amnesiac Storm Gullwhacker), after having been forced to take a bath and get a new green dress, could actually be pretty.
- Atlas Shrugged: Dagny Taggart, several times.
- Hero Series: Lee Mallorough, at least once in every book.
- In the Belgariad and its sequels, it's revealed that the regal, strikingly beautiful Polgara spent her life up to age sixteen being a filthy wreck with tangled hair, peeling skin (she doesn't tan well) and scabby knees. When her twin sister was getting married, Polgara decided to clean herself up and discovered that she was quite a looker once she'd had a bath and combed her hair straight. After the wedding Polgara went back to live with her father, Belgarath, and he complained that after being aggressively indifferent to her appearance, she went off the the other end of the scale and bathed every day and brushed her hair to the point that on a cold day she'd build up a sizeable static charge which would go off when touched anything even remotely metallic.
- Occurs in an Anita Blake novel to what is described as Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 on steroids in order to distract a group of men. Anita points out that said character has the most Common Superpower so all said character has to do is do up her hair.
- In the X Wing Series, one of Corran Horn's friends tells another of his friends, and his love interest, about what he did one year at the Annual [CorSec] Awards Ball to make his date's night special. One part of this was ordering a new formal dress uniform, and it turned out that he cleaned up nicely.
- Gender-flipped and inverted in Chessmen of Mars, one of the John Carter of Mars books. Gahan, the Jed (Prince) of Gathol, first shows up to court Tara in a gloriously bejeweled outfit worthy of his wealth and status. She is unimpressed. When next they meet, he is in the garb of an ordinary warrior. She doesn't recognize him and falls head over heels.
- Though what she falls for isn't mainly his appearance, but his demonstrating now that he's a brave man and a darned good fighter even by comparison with her dad, the "greatest swordsman of two worlds."
- Inverted in Rats Bats and Vats; the hero, Chip, has no interest in the heroine Virginia... until she gets nice and dirty.
- The Princess Bride, where it's played straight and then again not quite so straight. Buttercup starts out as incredibly pretty anyway but moves up to Number One in the "Most Beautiful in the World" Chart when she decides to clean herself up, "unearth the territory behind her ears," and comb her hair. She does it all for Westley, though, so it's also The Power of Love.
- Dairine in Wizards at War goes from jeans and a t shirt to a gown and tiara using magic, also doubles as an involuntary flashing moment.
- Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. When Frodo and company first encounter him in Bree, he is described as a gaunt looking man, due to the long and hard years he has endured as a hunter and warrior in the wilds of Middle Earth. When they reach Rivendell, he is noted to look much more noble and regal after cleaning himself up and wearing finer clothing. There are many points in the story (especially after receiving his family regalia in Lothlorien) where he is described as suddenly seeming taller and fairer and more obviously the heir of Numenorean royalty in the eyes of his companions.
- This occurs with Aragorn earlier in his life as well, as described in the appendices: when he enters Lothlorien for the first time, Galadriel dresses him up in rich, princely clothing like an Elven-lord, so that he might catch Arwen's eye.
- Inverted after the siege of Isengard. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are reunited with Merry and Pippin and can finally relax after weeks of chase and battle. They all sit down around a fire and Aragorn takes out a pipe for a relaxing smoke. To the surprise of the hobbits, he's no longer a lordly captain of war, but "merely" the man with whom they have travelled many miles to and from Rivendell. "Look! Strider the Ranger is back!"
- Huckleberry Finn, despite the widow's noble efforts, does not clean up nicely. In his own words: 'The widder's good to me, and friendly; but I can't stand them ways. She makes me get up just at the same time every morning; she makes me wash, they comb me all to thunder; she won't let me sleep in the woodshed; I got to wear them blamed clothes that just smothers me, Tom; they don't seem to any air git through 'em, somehow; and they're so rotten nice that I can't set down, nor lay down, nor roll around anywher's.'
- Alanna of the Tortall Universe. Then again, for most of her training years, she had to pretend that she was a boy, so she stuck with boy clothing. It wasn't until she started wearing dresses that Prince Jonathan truly began pursuing her. And the first time she wore a dress, with George's mother helping her, both Jonathan and George walked in on them and both were promptly stunned by the pretty girl before them.
- In Bound by Donna Jo Napoli, a Chinese Cinderella story, main character Xing Xing spends most of the story as a lowly servant. It wasn't until she properly bathed, combed her tangled hair and dressed in her mother's old clothes that she becomes the beautiful and unrecognizable "Cinderella".
- In The Hunger Games, a not so small part of the preparation for the Hunger Games is all about cleaning up nicely. It appears to be more important than actually training combat skills. And while it can be assumed that the children from the first districts didn't need much "cleaning up" to be done, the people assigned to take care of Katniss nearly fainted when they saw her with her unplucked eyebrows, hairy legs, etc.
- In L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, Anne is introduced as wearing plain, unflattering outfits, having ungracefully long legs, and having orangish-red hair which most people in the book find unappealing. After Anne grows up and is given prettier outfits to wear, there are several points where her friends and various people in the town comment on how attractive she is. In particular, when Anne is giving a monologue for an event, it's mentioned that Gilbert Blythe is admiring how nice she looks in the white dress she's wearing.
- Happens to both Bertie and Peaseblossom in Eyes Like Stars.
- Echo Mockery in Ready, Okay! before her date with Fringie. Even her little sister and twin brother think she's incredibly hot, and Echo's date remarks that he's pleasantly surprised; he had no idea what she'd look like when she wasn't wearing a baggy sweatshirt.
- Beautifully subverted in A Storm of Swords: When Gendry sees Tomboy Princess Arya in a dress for the first time, he laughs so hard that wine comes out of his nose. (He does admit that she looks nice later, though.)
- Same with Brienne. She looks like a man in men's clothes. In women's clothes, she still looks like a man—she just looks like a man in a dress. Not helped by the fact that it's very hard to find a dress that fits her.
- In The Rivers of Zadaa, the sixth book of D. J. MacHale's Pendragon series, Bobby is rendered drooling and speechless at the sight of Loor in a red dress, the first time she's not wearing her fur-and-leather warrior garb.
- In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, Freckles does not recognize the bird woman at a party, because she has dressed for the occasion.
The curtains parted and a woman came toward them. Her silks and laces trailed across the polished floors. The lights gleamed on her neck and arms, and flashed from rare jewels. She was smiling brightly; and until she spoke, Freckles had not realized fully that it was his loved Bird Woman.
- In The Fangs Of Kaath, Sandhri manages to finagle herself into the palace to find her love, Prince Raschid, and finds herself washed up and beset by tailors who manage to create a dress that best flatters her underweight figure. When Sandhri sees herself in the mirror, she is stunned and delighted to see herself transformed into the stuff of Arabian Nights sexual fantasies.
- In Devon Monk's Magic In the Shadows, Allie is struck by how Zayvion looks when he arrives for their date, and says, "Don't you clean up nice."
Live Action TV
- This is one of the premises of the Colombian telenovela "Yo Soy Betty, la Fea". Although she doesn't get "princess pretty" at the end, her appearance definitely improves during the series.
- This happens in the many spinoffs too (such as Ugly Betty).
- This is the entire premise of the show How Do I Look?. Take a woman whose friends don't like her fashion sense, buy her a new wardrobe, change her hair and makeup, and show her new look to a crowd of her friends and family as She Cleans Up Nicely. Often, the show gives a useful gift to the woman (besides the clothes, hair and makeup) such as paying 1/2 the past-due mortgage debt so a woman and her kids can stay in their house.
- In Castle, Fair Cop Kate Beckett is told this explicitly using the trope name on at least two occasions: the high society fundraiser in "Home Is Where The Heart Stops" where she and Castle go undercover and the book launch of Heat Wave in "When The Bough Breaks". They're not wrong, either. The first time is a 'nervous and shy' example because she's wearing an amazingly expensive and beautiful dress that Castle has bought for her; the second time, everyone assumes she's a character actor hired to play 'Nikki', the character based on her.
- Also, in "A Death in the Family", Alexis in her prom dress combines this with a She's All Grown Up moment for her father.
- Kaylee, in the Firefly episode, "Shindig". Some women at the party snark at her for wearing a store-bought dress, but she is happily vindicated when one male partygoer comes to her defense (and later the men are delighted to discover how tech-savvy she is).
- Battlestar Galactica (2004). The sight of Starbuck in a long slinky blue dress instead of her usual military-issue tanks or flight suit renders Apollo quite literally speechless. Lampshaded by a previous exchange between them where he teases her about her (lack of) hygiene, and she tells him she cleans up nicely sometimes.
- Though it should be noted, Starbuck is an Unkempt Beauty anyway, and Apollo was attracted to her long before the cleanup.
- Audrey Parker on Haven is so inept at picking out pretty clothes she has to have elderly bachelor brothers do it for her but she wears them so, so well.
- Stargate SG-1:
- In a way, they got to this by the 3rd episode by forcing Carter into a Mongol concubine dress. No staircase, but she starts the scene with her back to the camera; after the dramatic turnaround, her teammates have few words to say.
- Vala Mal Doran also does one of these in "Bounty". Of course, the only person who pays any attention to her is Cam's friend Darell.
- Word for word in Dark Angel. While there's the obligatory slow-mo pan up Max's dress, she's the one who says "You clean up nice" to Logan and he just says "So do you."
- Happens with Fran at one point in The Nanny, though the shock may have been due to her dress being quite garish as well as sexy (I can't really tell, but this moment did happen).
- Many episodes got use out of Chateau Sheffield's sweeping staircase.
- Also happens with Brighton's nerdy classmate Brooke, who Brighton (initially) didn't want to go to a dance with in "The Playwright".
- Mark's boyfriend Cliff on Ugly Betty has one of these at Bradford and Wilhemina's wedding, causing Amanda to quip "Who knew there were hardwood floors under that shag rug?"
- Supernatural: While the brothers Winchester are hardly chopped liver even at their slobbiest, in the episode "Red Sky at Morning" the costume designers very wisely put Dean in a tux and had him swagger down a staircase to the sounds of Bond music. A more surefire recipie for swoon-age I cannot conceive.
- In John Adams, Abigail Adams spends most of the first few episodes in rather plain dresses. When she does the make-up hair and nice dress thing at Versailles, her husband is lost for words.
- Truth in Television, adorably enough! When Gilbert Stuart mentioned that he "wished to God he could have painted Mrs. Adams when she was young; she would have made a perfect Venus," Mr. Adams expressed emphatic agreement.
- On Friends when Rachel heads out for her first night with the girls since having Emma, she does this. As Ross puts it: "You clean up good!" Yes, Mr. "I'm a Doctor" used improper grammar. One imagines his brain wasn't in control at the time.
- "You clean up good" is how the trope is usually phrased in Westerns. Ross is invoking this.
- In the Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode, "The Tale of the Closet Keepers", the resident tomboy, Kiki gets one of these. When she is revealed to the Midnight society by Betty Ann, she even gets a whistle from Gary and Tucker incredulously says, "I don't believe it! You look like... Like a girl!"
- Happened again in "The Tale of the Mystical Mirror" which featured a rather homely girl starting work in a beauty shop. After a bit of primping by the owner, the girl walks out in a stylish black dress with full hair and make-up to the glee of her two co-workers. She's back to her normal clothes when she finishes work however.
- Parodied mercilessly in the finale of Spaced. Daisy tries to invoke this trope (including a memorable sequence where she extends a lipstick accompanied by the Star Wars lightsaber sound effect) and at first appears it's working, but then it turns out that the men were actually ooh-ing and aah-ing over a spectacular flaming birthday cake behind her.
- In an early Wings episode, Helen decides to wear a sexy dress to a cello audition. When she doesn't get the job, she isn't sure whether it was because her cello playing wasn't good enough, or she wasn't sexy in the dress. She shows Joe what she looks like in the dress, and after noting his reaction, she promptly hurries off to practice her cello some more.
- Yes, there's a few Doctor Who examples...
- Subverted in "Enlightenment". Tegan changes into Gorgeous Period Dress to the amazement of everyone. Except the 5th Doctor, who doesn't seem to notice. Much to Tegan's annoyance.
- In "The Unquiet Dead", Rose is ordered to change from her 21st century clothes into something a bit more appropriate for the Victorian period. The Doctor is impressed.
- And again in "The Unicorn and the Wasp", when Donna puts on a flapper dress for a party with Agatha Christie.
- The boys get in on the act too. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors certainly do when they change their usual "Geek Chic" for more formal attire in "Voyage of the Damned" and "The Big Bang". Also Rory Williams when he puts on a suit, and even more so when he wears a uniform - any kind of uniform.
- Doctor Who's spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures gives one of these to Luke Smith, who is rather stunned to notice that Rani does clean up nicely. Actually, he has one right after the other - first for his mum Sarah Jane, and then for Rani. (This version, obviously, is purely platonic on both counts.)
- While Van Pelt of The Mentalist already looks pretty sharp in her work attire, when she really dresses up to pretend to be co-worker Rigsby's girlfriend for a sting, she drives the poor man to distraction.
- And Lisbon, who is often overshadowed by Van Pelt, has one of these moments at a society fundraiser that she's been ordered to go to because the CBI is broke. Jane, UST-ee/unrequited love/co-worker seems not to notice, but then he is Patrick Jane, and probably thought he could screw with her in some way by not mentioning it. Made better by the fact that when she gets called away to a crime scene, she just sticks her regular leather jacket over the top and looks eccentric and beautiful.
- Some fans have drawn a connection between this and his Bunny Ears Lawyer stunt of the week—an unexpected Undercover As Lovers, which leaves poor Lisbon stunned and furious. She goes with furious.
- In the BBC's Robin Hood, tomboy Djaq glams up in order to infiltrate Nottingham castle. The scene features both the possible outcomes mentioned in the trope description: Will is reduced to a staring, stuttering mess and receives a somewhat sharp Moment Killer response, while Allan manages to be a little more smooth, pays her a compliment and gets the gratified smirk.
- In Smallville's season 4 episode "Spirit", a possessed Lois descends the stairs at the Kent Farm in one of the most hideous dresses ever seen -- Clark catches sight of her and gulps. There was also perhaps a better example from season eight's "Bride", where Lois comes down the same staircase in her formal wear as maid of honour at Chloe's wedding; Clark comes to meet her at the bottom in his formal wear and they both seem silently impressed.
- Parodied in Working. Chris is one of many applicants for a newly opened position under the male chauvinist boss at the office. Chris prays on the boss's good-old-boy tendencies and general machismo to land the job. The show's main character (along with the audience) soon discovers that Chris is really a woman in disguise: Christine. When Christine outs herself, in the sauna, accompanied by all the company's execs, she returns to the office looking quite sexy in a skirt-suit. Cue one of the male characters saying "That's Chris?! He sure cleans up nice!"
- On Angel, the titular character scores tickets for the opera. Everyone cleans up well, but Fred and Gunn, both of whom are probably the least upscale fashionable, seem to attract the most attention—especially from each other.
- Subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when Buffy dresses in a beautiful period gown for Halloween in an attempt to impress Angel, it turns her into a dithering, helpless creature (because everyone's being possessed by their costumes). He is not impressed.
- In the same episode, Buffy attempts to get Willow to do the whole "coming down the staircase" thing to impress Xander, albeit dressed as a hot goth rather than a fairytale princess. However, Willow backs out and comes down the stairs... in a traditional "sheet" ghost costume.
- Played straight with Willow and Xander in the Homecoming episode, although without the staircase. Later spoofed in a callback to that same scene when Xander is about to get married, Willow in her bridesmaid's dress looks at him in his tuxedo and comments "Good thing I realized I was gay, otherwise, you, me, formal wear... bad combination."
- Subverted again in "Inca Mummy Girl" in which the gang are having a world cultures themed costume party and Willow turns up wearing an eskimo costume and Xander of course only has eyes for the Monster of the Week Ampata dressed to the nines. Willow remarks that maybe she should have worn something sexy instead but Oz is playing on stage and this following exchange happens:
Oz: Hey, that girl. Who is she?
- Inverted on Taxi: Elaine asks Jim to go to a fancy party with her (out of concern for his feelings and with major reservations). He shows up at her door groomed and shaved, in a neato tux. Elaine gasps "You're gorgeous!" He replies in his quavering burnout voice "Yeah, I never get tired of hearing that."
- In The Magnificent Seven, recurring character and tomboy Casey Wells is persuaded to put on a dress and fix her hair in order to impress JD. It works... for all of ten seconds, at which point she steps on her hem, tears her skirt off, and is left standing in her bloomers.
- Happens in Bones (sort of) when the title character descends the stairs in an awful bridesmaid's dress. Her main love interest says she looks "nice", until Cam helps her fix the dress to be prettier. He then tells her that she looks "gorgeous" to which she simply complains "I thought you said I looked nice before!"
- In the Halloween-themed episode "The Mummy In The Maze", Booth has a similar reaction to seeing Bones in a Wonder Woman costume.
- Ace Lightning's Jessica Fisgus, during the dance at the end of the first season.
- In Young Riders, Louise "Lou" Macloud has to keep her gender a secret from most folks but on one occasion she gets a chance to dress like a girl and wow her teammates.
- In The West Wing, Leo says this to Congressman Matt Santos...no, it's not Ho Yay, it's just meant to be taken literally.
- In the Hana Yori Dango live action drama, Tsukushi originally comes to Shizuka's party, she's the only one not in a stylish dress. After getting pushed into a swimming pool, Shizuka dolls her up with much make-up, hair pampering and a beautiful dress. Needless to say, she finally gets everyone's attention.
- In Degrassi, given the age most characters are introduced at, and how long they remain in the series, most will have this moment if they aren't introduced as stylish (which is most of the cast). Usually it goes hand in hand with She's All Grown Up, male and female. Both of the Van Zandt siblings pulled this, just compare Liberty and Danny's intro looks to their last appearances, and Clare got this as a plotline.
- Subverted in The L Word. Early on in Season 3, Shane (usually found in casual and/or traditionally masculine outfits) is given a dress to wear by her then-girlfriend's relatives.She looks absolutely ridiculous.
- Most of the contestants for NBC's The Biggest Loser are quite good looking once they achieve a healthy weight.
- Hannah Montana Both played straight and subverted in the episode, "You Are So Sue-able To Me". When Lilly's crush Matt asks her to the school dance, Miley convinces Lilly to get a Girliness Upgrade to impress him. When she later shows up at school with her new look, she has quite a few guys drooling over her, but then she gets stood up by Matt. It turns out he preferred her Tomboy look.
- iCarly The focus of the episode "iMake Sam Girlier", both played straight and subverted. Sam is feeling down about her Tomboy/ladette image and decides to get a Girliness Upgrade to impress a boy she likes named Pete. She looks quite good in her more feminine outfit, prompting an audience reaction, and even though Pete is quite smitten with her new look, he reveals that he actually liked her tough girl image better.
- However, there have been other times in the series, before and after this episode, that Sam has put a dress on, and she looks quite good in them.
- Subverted to the point of parody in the Mash episode "Stars & Stripes". Margaret likes Sgt. (busted to Pvt.) Scully, whose attitude toward women is shall we say less than enlightened. To prove to him she's a woman along with being a Major and a Head Nurse, she gets all dolled up in an outlandish pink prom gown with Stepford pearls, high heels and lipstick. He appreciates it so much he flops down on her bed and asks her to (literally) cook him an omelet.
- Dårfinkar & dönickar. Simone, having been masquerading as a boy at her new school, turns up to class in a dress and lipstick. Subverted in that Isak, her crush, decides he likes her back after finding out she's a girl, but before he's ever seen her in girls' clothes.
- In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody Zack is persuaded to take tomboy Max out on a date. She appears at the restaurant in a nice dress with her hair done up and Zack's jaw drops.
- In an episode of H₂O: Just Add Water Zane buys tomboy Rikki a dress for her to wear at a dinner party at his house. Emma is at the dinner and her jaw drops when she sees Rikki walking down the stairs in the dress with her hair down. She's seen wearing dresses more frequently afterwards.
- In New Girl, this is Schmidt and Coach's reaction when they see Jess in the Little Black Dress her friend Cece helps her pick out... a reaction which is killed soon after, when Jess breaks into a celebratory dance.
- Played With in an episode of Boy Meets World. Topanga suddenly becomes self-conscious about her looks, and decides to get a makeover. However, Cory and Shawn recognize that she was already beautiful before getting "cleaned up" and now with the makeover she will be "mega-beautiful", and sure enough she stuns them when she walks out of the beauty parlor. At the end of the episode she decides not to keep up the new appearance because it's not who she is.
- In Cheers, Frasier starts salivating with desire when Lilith, who normally sports a criminally tight bun, lets her hair down.
- Babylon 5: Delenn is always lovely, as per her Lady of War status, but her usual clothing is Minbari and, while quite beautiful, isn't all that revealing. So when Delenn has dinner with John Sheridan and puts on a human-style black evening gown, Sheridan is lost for words.
- She does it again two seasons later in "Atonement." This time the gown is even more revealing, and Sheridan—who is deeply and openly in love with her by that point—has an even more pronounced reaction.
- At the end of The Twilight Zone episode "Two", the male soldier puts on an old and damaged suit... not that impressive. The female soldier puts on a white dress and puts her hair in a ponytail. He falls in love.
- An episode of The Brady Bunch had this as a plot point for Jan, the middle sister. She's wondering why boys—and one boy in particular—don't show any interest in her, so she has one of her brothers ask the particular boy what he thinks of her. He casually answers, "She's a good guy." Jan gets the picture, dolls herself up, and ends the episiode with a Grand Staircase Entrance before the boy in her girly clothes.
- Usually at the Hall Of Fame ceremony, most wrestlers will be dressed up in formal wear which is a startling change for some when we're used to seeing them in ring gear.
- WWE such as Beth Phoenix, Tamina, and Natalya are of noticeably different body shapes than the rest of the roster and so are not really pushed forward as the "sexy" divas. However when they do clean up, the result is jaw dropping. Tamina especially considering what wonders straightened hair and figure flattering clothes can do:
- Anyone remember Molly Holly? The Hollywood Homely self righteous prude who as a heel was always promoted as unattractive? Well this is her at the 2009 Hall of Fame.
- This probably wasn't intentional but ODB sure looked pretty at her TNA wedding.
- Pathfinder iconics example: This is Seelah as she usually appears. And this is Seelah in something quite different.
- Subverted in, of all things, the musical Wicked where Elphaba appears at the top of the stairs at a party and everyone turns to stare, before bursting out in raucous laughter at the hideous hat she's been tricked into wearing.
- Sarah at the ball in Tanz der Vampire.
- At the climax of the ballet Rodeo, the dancing grinds to a halt and Aaron Copland's hoedown music loses pitch like a record winding down as the tomboy reappears in a nice dress.
- In Legally Blonde The Musical, this doesn't happen at a party, but in fact in a courthouse; Elle gives Emmett a makeover during "Take It Like a Man" so that he'll have this effect on his boss before the big murder trial, after said boss refers to him as "Tattered Corduroy." (Both Elle and Emmett have very Jaw Drop reactions to seeing his transformation - as does an entire department store staff who all call him hot.)
- Played completely straight in Calamity Jane, with all attendants being shocked at seeing Jane in a dress.
- A Very Potter Musical has the song Granger Danger, which consists of Ron and Draco singing about how beautiful Hermione is now that looking good has become important to her:
"Strange how a dress,
- A variant is done in Les Misérables. While Marius is bowled over by Cosette's beauty, he doesn't know how she used to like when she was a starved, abused child (the last time we see her in the musical). It is Eponine, raised throughout her childhood with Cosette, who gapes in amazement.
- Final Fantasy V Also, Faris appears in a dress either once or twice in the entirety.
- Final Fantasy VI battle-hardened former soldier Celes Chere reluctantly dresses as opera singer Maria for plot furthering purposes, causing Locke to blush red and ask "have you always been this pretty?"
- Gau provides a rare male example, when he's given a makeover courtesy of the rest of the party. He ends up coming out looking like someone straight out of the Opera House (where the above example takes place, mind), and a Cloudcuckoolander stops being crazy enough to compliment his appearance (literally the only time in the game the man manages to say something that isn't completely insane). This was roughly the plan, since said nutjob happens to be Gau's father, who went crazy after his wife died giving birth to Gau.
- Inverted in Final Fantasy VIII as when we first see Rinoa she is all dolled up in her white dress at the party. Squall does take a fancy to her but they don't hit it off until she's wearing her normal clothes.
- This Machinima adaptation plays it straight with all the girls getting dressed up for the Garden Festival.
- Fire Emblem Subverted where Lyn tells Eliwood in their B support that she's very uncomfortable whenever she tries to clean up nicely in the Caelin court. Understandable, since Lyn has been raised in the plains of Sacae and only arrived to Caelin during the last year.
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Midna uses this at the end of the game.
- On the Heroic Mime, much to the amusement of the player. "Am I so beautiful, that you have no words left?" We have been asking that ourselfs for ages, dear princess. For ages.
- Luminous Arc 2, this happens to either Althea or Fatima, depending on who Roland was paired up with, with the dresses designed by Kaph and ends the scene with a special anime scene.
- Mass Effect 2's Commander Shepard during Kasumi's DLC quest, particularly if female: she gets a Little Black Dress and heels, the only even remotely feminine attire female Shepard ever wears. However, Kasumi is the only person to comment on it, and that's just because she's the one who picked it out.
- After Kasumi's loyalty mission, it's possible to select the dress as the outfit Shepherd wears on the Normandy. No one comments on it.
- Mother 3 Kumatora had to dress up as a beautiful waitress at one point, and while we don't directly see Lucas's reaction to it (due to his Heroic Mime status), we do see Kumatora having to remind Lucas three times to "not change his expression".
- Persona 4 Naoto Shirogane if you get her Christmas Eve event.
- Quintessence: The Blighted Venom Reivier masquerading as Duke Heath had his jaw drop when Lunair enters the room in her wedding gown.
- Super Smash Bros.. Brawl There's an ongoing line of texture hacks at Stack Smash based on this concept. So far, Yoshi, Pikachu, and even Wario had this done to them.
- Tales of Symphonia Depending on who the character chooses, someone will have this effect on Lloyd during a subquest. Sheena's is notably the most like this trope, though.
- This also applies to Lloyd himself in a formal outfit. Sheena tells him he's handsome during the above sidequest, and Lloyd gets embarrassed.
- The scene in the Hidden Elf Village in RPG World is like this. Cherry all dressed up gives the Hero pause. The others think he is awed by her, but he's just impressed by the higher polygon count her character model now has.
- Subverted in Cwen's Quest when the main character and resident "Action Girl" Cwen attempts to dress up to make her sister jealous only to look sublimely average. (The "Fancy Hat" didn't help any either.)
- Deliberately played by Agatha in a non-canon Girl Genius short story; they didn't have stairs in the right location so she brought her own.
- Then there's the crossdressing Jägermonster, Maxim.
- Helen complains that she has been cheated out of this effect in this Narbonic strip.
- Teen Girl Squad -- (It's sortof comic-like, right?) -- The Ugly One isn't so ugly after all at her party... So much So, Strong Bad prevents the "Arrow'd Guy" from, err, Arrowing her, and proceeds to make out with the piece of loose-leaf she's drawn on. "Whoa! Did I draw that new hotness?"
- Hi-Ho Casino part 2 in Zap has a moment like this when Reona first appears in her evening gown.
- Jean Poule in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob gets a moment like this when they attend Voluptua's royal ball.
- Policeguy in Girly, as lampshaded by Mystery Girl. So does she- she's his date, Officer Hipbone. Even the readers were shocked!
- One girl comments that Eiji Hayashihara has cleaned up well between school years in this Red String strip; even though all he seems to have done is lose the ponytail.
- In Rhapsodies, Kate, who usually favors thrift store and army surplus clothes, prefers that nobody finds this out.
- "Max Overacts" has the "you scrub up nice" phrasing in this comic.
- Skin Horse's Marcy was the physical embodiment of dowdy—until she (briefly) started dating Tip. Once that happened she took a sudden turn for the attractive, and has kept up this look even after they broke up.
- Strays: Meela has to be cleaned up for the party -- even though she's going as a servant.
- In No Rest for The Wicked, inverted. November met Princess Colette at a ball, but Colette doesn't recognize her in her travel-stained clothing.
- When The Nostalgia Critic showed up in the Chick's review of The Worst Witch in an all white suit (instead of his usual rumpled one), Nella and Elisa giggled and fangirled over him, much to the Chick's irritation.
- As Told by Ginger: An entire episode was dedicated to this trope where Darren was finally able to take off his head gear braces. Upon removing, he finds himself being an instant Chick Magnet.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender did it in the episode "City of Walls and Secrets", with both Katara and Toph all dolled up and Aang stunned into blushing silence and a stumbling compliment before they had even left for the party.
- A more subtle example would be Zuko at the start of season three. After spending the first season being kinda ugly and the second being dirty and scruffy, the viewers finally got to see him all dressed up and prince-like.
- And it gets better. The follow-up comics show him as Fire Lord fixing up the world. And DAYUMN, he looks HOT.
- A more subtle example would be Zuko at the start of season three. After spending the first season being kinda ugly and the second being dirty and scruffy, the viewers finally got to see him all dressed up and prince-like.
- Ben 10 Alien Force: A both-genders instance happened for Gwen and Kevin at the end of one episode.
- Danny Phantom: Tucker gets to experience the tongue-tied moment rather than Danny when Sam dolls up for a party.
- Family Guy: Parodied with Meg in the episode "Don't Make Me Over".
- Generator Rex Doc Holiday dons a lovely white dress for one episode. Rex himself also looks suave in one of Six's suits and his hair combed back.
- Jimmy Two-Shoes: An episode had Jimmy attending one of Lucius' formal events, on edge that he's going to find out about how he ruined things for him earlier. He states it's all he can think about...until he sees Heloise dressed up.
- The Simpsons has Lisa, in one episode convinced that she's ugly, in an attempt to rectify this, Homer enters her in a beauty pageant. Lisa competes, and wins second place. Bart more or less tells her in this episode that she is quite pretty.
- KaBlam!: June, the tomboyish female host is usually shown to be very beautiful in a dress, aside from her usual t-shirt, shorts, and hoodie.
- It's actually stated in an episode that she'll only wear one if she's made to, otherwise, she dislikes wearing them. (Was her little act in "Won't Stick to Most Dental Work" plainly fanservice?)
- Kim Possible did this one, on two separate occasions, on the stairs at her house. There's no grand staircases in High School gymnasiums, so one would think that the real-life temptation to attempt this trope for a prom date is very hard to fight for a teenage girl.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man Peter Parker. The trope name is quoted nearly word-for-word even.
- Not part of the dialogue, but clearly true for Gwen Stacy as well.
- SpongeBob SquarePants makes himself over to be "long, tan and handsome" to chaperon Mr. Krabs' daughter Pearl to her prom, by way of a wig and stilts. Mr. Krabs even comments "Well he cleans up nicely" when he sees the new look.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987: Occurs to April in the first cartoon, after Irma insists she dress up for a royal ball at an embassy. All four turtles go gaga over her new look and despite the fact that she's never been a slouch in the looks department, and the fact that they're...well, turtles.
- Improbable Species Compatibility!
- In the new series Casey Jones looks damn sexy in a tux.
- Teen Titans: Robin experiences this with Starfire in when she unexpectedly shows up at the party all dolled up so she can "investigate Kitten (the episode's antagonist) thoroughly". Whatever that means.
- In the same episode, Robin himself looks quite nice in that tux.
- There's another instance for Starfire, in the episode "Go!". Throughout the entire episode, Starfire has been wearing her prison garb and either screaming at everyone or being suspicious of them (since she just escaped being sold into slavery, that's understandable). At the end, when the enemy has been driven away, Starfire shows up wearing the outfit she spends most of the series wearing, smiling and looking happy and relaxed for the first time. Everyone is amazed.
- Wakfu: Played with episode 4. When Evangelyne lets down her hair and puts on a princess gown, she thinks she must look ridiculous, but her friends are impressed. There are a few problems with this, though: they are supposed to disguise as "ugly" princesses, and Eva's cuteness makes her suspicious. Also, she can barely walks in high heels and falls several times, making the stairs part of the trope quite perilous. As for the Love Interest, Sadlygrove, he sure finds her good-looking... although he doesn't even recognize her.
- Daria invokes this trope in order to convince Quinn to stop posing as an intellectual.
- Done in an episode of The Weekenders where Lor develops a crush on a boy and starts acting more girly to impress him including wearing dresses and makeup and even Tino is shocked at how good she looks.
- In The Powerpuff Girls episode "Octi Gone", the girls all wear party dress versions of the normal clothes. Bubbles and Buttercup are even decked out in hair bows. Of course, Buttercup is the one to complain:
Professor Utonium: I sure do love parties, don’t you, girls?
- In Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Frankie was never lacking in the looks department, but when she dressed up for a date, Mac and Bloo began fighting for her affection.