12 Common Clothing Idioms

Learn some common clothing idioms!

Hi from Speak More Clearly!

All languages have idioms and most of the time the words in the idiom don’t match the meaning of the idiom. This can make for tricky and funny situations. 

One of our students told us that when he first arrived in Australia, he was at work and a colleague who was bringing boxes in from his car said ‘Can you give me a hand.’ The student said he had looked at his hand, and looked at his colleague in confusion without a clue what to do! Of course his colleague meant he just wanted some help with what he was doing. 

Let’s have a look at some common clothing idioms, so that you can understand them and more importantly use them yourself, and of course pronounce them clearly.


1. At the drop of a hat (don’t forget to link the words ‘dropofa’)

This means: Immediately, without delay, without needing any advance notice.  

For example: We were ready to pack our bags and go on vacation at the drop of a hat.

He was ready to come into the office at the drop of a hat. 


2. Below the belt

This means: beyond what is fair or socially acceptable. Unfair or disregarding the rules.

For example: The nasty rumour they spread about Mark, was below the belt.

The expression comes from boxing, in which it is illegal to hit an opponent below the belt.


3. To tighten one’s belt

This means:  If you have to tighten your belt, you have to spend less money and manage without things because you have less money than you used to have.

For example: I had to tighten my belt for a while till I got another job. 


4. Caught with one’s pants down  (not literally though)

This means: unprepared.

For example: We spent a lot of time preparing for the inspection; we didn’t want to get caught with our pants down.


5. Have a card up one’s sleeve

This means: have a secret or reserve plan; have an advantage that other people may not know about and you can use later.

For example: She still has one card up her sleeve – she knows the director.


The next idiom is: Dress to kill or dressed to the nines – don’t leave the /s/ (which says /z/) off nines

This means: wearing very fancy, attractive or sexy clothes 

For example: My cousin was dressed to kill for her 21st birthday party.

The stars on the red carpet dress to the nines.


6. Fit like a glove

This means: something being worn fits perfectly or fits tight to the body

For example: That last dress fit like a glove.


7. Fly by the seat of one’s pants (link seatof)

This means: use your instincts to tell you what to do in a new or difficult situation rather than following a plan or relying on equipment.

For example: I had never managed people before and I was  flying by the seat of my pants for the first few months.


8. In one’s birthday suit

This means: with no clothes on; in the nude

For example: The swimmers in the river were all in their birthday suits.


9. Pull one’s socks up

This means: try harder 

For example: Mario will have to pull his socks up if he wants to pass his next test.


10. Take one’s hat off to someone (link hatoff)

This means: recognise or honour someone for something

For example: I take my hat off to you. Even though you haven’t been well, you still came first in the marathon.


11. Put a sock in it  (you can practise linking here ‘puta’ ‘sockinit’)

This means: to tell someone to stop talking

For example: Put a sock in it! I’m trying to listen to the speaker. 


12. Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve (WEAR is said ‘where’ like where are you going)

This means: to display one’s emotions openly

For example: My partner’s not afraid to cry in public. He wears his heart on his sleeve. (This isn’t a very polite idioms!)


You may also check this audio lesson on 12 common English animal idioms.

If you found this video helpful, please share it with someone who would benefit from it 🙂

Happy practising!

Choose:- I want to speak more clearly in a…