Sayings Referring to Clothing

Many of your ancestors used words or phrases related to their clothing. It is interesting to recall these terms and what they meant. It would be good to include a few in your family history.

There is the phrase ‘fancy pants‘. This started as an advertisement from Maine in the 1840s that referred to “fancy” pants made from cashmere. This fabric was a very fine product made from merino wool imported from Spain. It was very fancy. Decades later the phrase referred to someone who acts uppity or too formal for the occasion.

In the Roaring Twenties, fashionable women were often referred to as “cats’. It was a great compliment. Even more so was anything the fashionable woman wore. The clothing would be referred to as the ‘cat’s pajamas‘. Another similar phrase was “Bee’s knees”.

During the turn of the 20th century and decades later, the phrase “All Gussied Up” was popular. It meant putting on more adornments or finery that was really needed.

Males have loved to have their shoes shined. If they needed some cleaning and the fellow didn’t have the right materials, he would use his human saliva, which had the right enzymes and binding properties to clean well. Those in the military many times used his hasty method to clean shoes. This was known as a “Spit Shine”. Today it can mean a very high gloss shoe from patent leather.

The phrase “Putting on Airs” goes back to France in the 1500s. The term ‘airs’ referred to clothing. Later when many merchants had made money they dressed in finer fabrics such as brocades, silks and laces, which had normally only been worn by those with titles and estates. So the phrase ‘putting on airs’ says you dressed above your class or social standing.

Then the phrase “Dressed to the Nines” referred to the necessary requirement in Europe of 9 yards of fabric to make a man’s 3-piece suit. It later became known for someone dressing up and sparing no expense.

Photo: Spit Shining your boots.

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