Katia Johansen
Royal Danish Collections



Costume expressions are a colorful part of how we talk!

An idiom is a combination of words that has a figurativemeaning, due to its common usage. Its figurative meaning is different from its literal meaning. Idioms are numerous and they occur frequently in all languages. There are estimated to be at least 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language.

Reprinted with kind permission from the Using English website




All dressed up and nowhere to go


You're prepared for something that isn't going to happen.

All hat, no cattle


(USA) When someone talks big, but cannot back it up, they are all hat, no cattle.('Big hat, no cattle' is also used.)

All mouth and trousers


(UK) Someone who's all mouth and trousers talks or boasts a lot but doesn't deliver. 'All mouth and no trousers' is also used, though this is a corruption of the original.

All talk and no trousers


(UK) Someone who is all talk and no trousers, talks about doing big, important things, but doesn't take any action.

Apron strings


A man who is tied to a woman's apron strings is excessively dependent on her, especially when it is his mother's apron strings.

At the drop of a hat


If you would do something at the drop of a hat, you'd do it immediately.

Belt and braces


(UK) Someone who wears belt and braces is very cautious and takes no risks.

Belt and suspenders


(USA) Someone who wears belt and suspenders is very cautious and takes no risks.

Big girl's blouse


A person who is very weak or fussy is a big girl's blouse.

Birthday suit


If you are in your birthday suit, you are naked.



An intellectual woman is a bluestocking.

Boot is on the other foot


When the boot's on the other foot, a person who was in a position of weakness is now in a position of strength.

Bright as a button


A person who is as bright as a button is very intelligent or smart.

By the seat of your pants


If you do something by the seat of your pants, you achieve something, but only by a narrow margin or do something without advance preparation.

Caught with your pants down


If you are caught with your pants down, you are exposed in an embarrassing situation.It can also mean that you were caught unprepared for a situation or an event.

Crepe hanger


(USA) One who always looks at the bad side of things and is morbid or gloomy. In olden days crepe was hung on the door of a deceased person's home.

Cut from the same cloth


If people are cut from the same cloth, they are very similar in terms of ideas, opinions, beliefs, etc.

Cut your coat according to your cloth


If you cut your coat according to your cloth, you only buy things that you have sufficient money to pay for.

Cute as a button


If someone's as cute as a button, they are very attractive.

Dead men's shoes


If promotion or success requires replacing somebody, then it can only be reached by getting rid of them, so you can step into the “dead men’s shoes”.

Deep pockets


If someone has deep pockets, they are wealthy.

Dig your heels in


If you dig your heels in, you start to resist something.

Down at heel


Someone who is down at heel is short of money. ('Down in heel' is used in American English)

Drag your heels


If you drag your heels, you either delay doing something or do it as slowly as possible because you don't want to do it.

Dressed to kill


When someone is dressed to kill, they are dressed very smartly.

Dressed to the nines


If you are in your very best clothes, you're dressed to the nines.



If someone is a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of a political party, etc, they support them totally, without any questions.

Eat my hat


People say this when they don't believe that something is going to happen e.g. 'If he passes that exam, I'll eat my hat!'

Feather in your cap


A success or achievement that may help you in the future is a feather in your cap.

Fit like a glove


If something fits like a glove, it is suitable or the right size.

Fly by the seat of one's pants


If you fly by the seat of your pants, you do something difficult even though you don't have the experience or training required.

Fur coat and no knickers


Someone with airs and graces, but no real class is fur coat and no knickers.

Gloves are off


When the gloves are off, people start to argue or fight in a more serious way. ('The gloves come off' and 'take the gloves off' are also used. It comes from boxing, where fighters normally wear gloves so that they don't do too much damage to each other.)

Goody two-shoes


A goody two-shoes is a self-righteous person who makes a great deal of his/her virtue.

Grey suits


The men in grey suits are people who have a lot of power in business or politics, but aren't well-known or charismatic.

Hand in glove


If people are hand in glove, they have an extremely close relationship.

Hang by a thread


If something hangs by a thread, there is a very small chance indeed of it being successful or surviving.

Hang your hat on (something)


To depend on or believe in something.

Hard on someone's heels


If you are hard on someone's heels, you are close to them and trying to catch or overtake them.('Hot on someone's heels' is also used.)

Have a trick up your sleeve


If you have a trick up your sleeve, you have a secret strategy to use when the time is right.

Have something up your sleeve


If you have something up your sleeve, you have some hidden or secret plan, idea, etc, to use to your advantage when the time is right.

Have your collar felt


(UK) If someone has his collar felt, he is arrested.

Hot under the collar


If you're hot under the collar, you're feeling angry or bothered.

I'll eat my hat


You can say this when you are absolutely sure that you are right to let the other person know that there is no chance of your being wrong.

If the cap fits, wear it


This idiom means that if the description is correct, then it is describing the truth, often when someone is being criticised. ('If the shoe fits, wear it' is an alternative)

If the shoe fits, wear it


This is used to suggest that something that has been said might apply to a person.

In another's shoes


It is difficult to know what another person's life is really like, so we don't know what it is like to be in someone's shoes.

Lay a glove on


If you lay a glove on someone, you strike a blow against them in an argument, dispute, etc.(Mostly used in the negative)

Lick someone's boots


If you lick someone's boots, you behave in a very servile manner and try to please someone.

Lose your shirt


If someone loses his shirt, he loses all his money through a bad investment, gambling, etc.

Notch on your belt


A success or achievement that might help you in the future is a notch on your belt.

Off the cuff


If you do something off the cuff, you do it without any preparation.

Old hat


If something's old hat, it seems rather old fashioned and dated.

On pins and needles


If you are on pins and needles, you are very worried about something.

Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches


This means that it's hard to know how much someone else is suffering.

Out of pocket


If you are out of pocket on a deal, you have lost money.

Pass the hat


If you pass the hat, you ask a people in a group to give money.

Pop your clogs


When someone pops his clogs, he dies.

Pull up your socks


If you aren't satisfied with someone and want them to do better, you can tell them to pull up their socks.

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps


If you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you improve your problem or situation by your own efforts, without anyone else's help.

Put a sock in it


If someone tells you to put a sock in it, they are telling you to shut up.

Put it on the cuff


(USA) If you put something on the cuff, you will take it now and pay for it later.

Put on your thinking cap


If you put on your thinking cap, you think very hard about something.

Put yourself in someone's shoes


If you put yourself in someone's shoes, you imagine what it is like to be in their position.

Roll up your sleeves


If you roll up your sleeves, you get ready to start working hard.

Shoe is on the other foot


If the shoe is on the other foot, someone is experiencing what they used to make others experience, normally negative things.



If you do something on a shoestring, you try to spend the absolute minimum amount of money possible on it.

Show someone a clean pair of heels


If you show someone a clean pair of heels, you run faster than them when they are chasing you.

Smarty pants


A smarty pants is someone who displays the intelligence in an annoying way.

Take to your heels


If you take to your heels, you run away.

Take your hat off


If you say that you take your hat off to someone, you are showing your respect or admiration.

Take your hat off to somebody


If you take your hat off to someone, you acknowledge that he has done something exceptional or otherwise deserves your respect.

Talk out of your hat


If someone is talking out of his hat, he’s talking utter rubbish, especially if compounded with total ignorance of the subject on which he is pontificating. ('Talk through your hat' is also used.)

Throw down the gauntlet


Throw down the gauntlet is to issue a challenge to somebody.

Throw your hat in the ring


If someone throws his hat in the ring, he announces that he wants to take part in a competition or contest. 'Toss your hat in the ring' is an alternative.

Tighten your belt


If you have to tighten your belt, you have to economise.

Too big for your boots


If someone is too big for his boots, he is conceited and has an exaggerated sense of his own importance.

Too big for your britches


If someone is too big for his britches, he is conceited and has an exaggerated sense of his own importance.

Tough as old boots


Something or someone that is as tough as old boots is strong and resilient.

Trail your coat


If you trail your coat, you act in a provocative way.

Under someone's heel


If you are under someone's heel, they have complete control over you.

Under your belt


If you have something under your belt, you have already achieved or experienced it and it will probably be of benefit to you in the future.

Velvet glove


This idiom is used to describe a person who appears gentle, but is determined and inflexible underneath. ('Iron fist in a velvet glove' is the full form.)

Walk a mile in my shoes


This idiom means that you should try to understand someone before criticising them.

Wear many hats


If someone wears many hats, he has different roles or tasks to perform.

Wear sackcloth and ashes


If someone displays his grief or contrition publicly, he wears sackcloth and ashes.

Wear the trousers


The person who wears the trousers is the dominant or controlling person in a relationship, especially the woman.



Someone who is well-heeled is rich.

Who wears the pants?


(USA) The person who wears the pants in a relationship is the dominant person who controls things.

Who wears the trousers?


(UK) The person who wears the trousers in a relationship is the dominant person who controls things.

Whole cloth


(USA) If something is made out of whole cloth, it is a fabrication and not true.

Work your socks off


If you work your socks off, you work very hard.

Zip it


This is used to tell someone to be quiet.

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