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Clothes Idioms and Expressions – Video Lesson

by Oli Redman on 1 February, 2016 , No comments

In this lesson, you can learn about clothes idioms and expressions in English. Clothing idioms and expressions are quite common in English. Do you know any already? In this lesson, you can learn about five different groups of clothes idioms, and see how to use them.

Tighten your belt (vb. phrase) = Be careful with money; spend less than usual

On a shoestring (adv.) = If you do something on a shoestring, you do it very cheaply, without spending a lot.

Have something up (your) sleeve (vb. phrase) = To have a trick or a surprise which no one else knows about.

Pull something out of the hat (vb. phrase) = To find a way to turn a bad situation into a good one.

Off the cuff (adv.) = Spontaneously, without preparation

Pull (your) socks up (vb. phrase) = To work harder; stop being lazy

Work (your) socks off (vb. phrase) = To work very hard/too hard

Roll up (your) sleeves (vb. phrase) = To start some difficult work

Have deep pockets (vb. phrase) = To be very rich

To burn a hole in (your) pocket (vb. phrase) = Used to talk about someone who is irresponsible with money, or someone who finds it impossible to save money.

Out of pocket (adj. phrase) = Used when you have lost money due to an unfair situation.

Big for (your) boots (adj. phrase) = Used to describe someone who thinks he/she is better than others.

All mouth and no trousers (adj. phrase) = Describes someone who talks a lot, but never does anything.

Be caught with (your) pants down (vb. phrase) = To be the victim of your own overconfidence; to be caught in a very embarrassing situation which you should have been able to avoid.

1. Talking about Budgets

First, we’re going to look at two clothes idioms connected with budgets and saving money.

Our first idiom is tighten your belt. This means to spend less, or to budget more carefully, because you don’t have as much money as before.

Imagine someone who can’t afford to buy much food. They will get thinner, and their clothes will be too big, and so they will need to make their belt tighter so that it fits. That’s where the idea comes from.

For example, imagine that your rent goes up, but your salary stays the same. You’ll have to tighten your belt—you’ll need to spend less on other things, and be more careful with money.

Another useful phrase is to do something on a shoestring. This means to do something very cheaply, on an extremely tight budget.

For example, imagine that you want to go on holiday, but you don’t have much money to spend. You can do it on a shoestring—maybe you travel somewhere close to your hometown, you don’t eat in expensive restaurants, and you try to save money wherever you can.

Let’s look at some example sentences for these expressions:

  • Since I lost my job, we’ve really had to tighten our belts and watch what we’re spending. (= we’ve had to budget carefully and try to spend less)
  • If you stay at cheap hostels and cook your own food, it’s perfectly possible to travel on a shoestring. (= you can travel without spending a lot of money)

2. Talking about Improvising in a Difficult Situation

There are many clothes idioms connected with the idea of improvising, especially in a difficult situation.

Our first two idioms here are both related to magic tricks: if you have something up your sleeve, you have a trick or a surprise which no one else knows about. If you pull something out of the hat, you find a way to turn a bad situation into a good one.

For example: imagine that you take a really difficult exam. Your friend hasn’t studied or prepared at all, but she doesn’t seem nervous, and in the end she gets a really good score. How did she do it? How did she pull it out of the hat? She must have had something up her sleeve—there must be a trick which she knows about, but we can’t see.

Think about magicians: when magicians do magic tricks, they often hide things up their sleeves, or in their hats. That’s where these ideas come from.

Our third idiom is different: if you do something off the cuff, you do it spontaneously, without any preparation. It’s usually used for things you say: speeches, remarks, comments and so on.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • It’s strange that he’s so confident. Do you think he has something up his sleeve? (= Do you think he knows something we don’t, or that he has some kind of trick planned?)
  • There are three minutes of extra time—can they pull something out of the hat? (= Can they do something special to win the match?)
  • You don’t need to prepare a speech or anything like that—just say a few words off the cuff. (= Improvise a short speech)

3. Talking about Hard Work

Next, let’s look at clothes idioms related to working hard, or making effort.

Two are connected with socks. First: pull your socks up means to work harder. It has the idea that you are being lazy or sloppy at the moment, and you need to make more of an effort. On the other hand, work your socks off means to work extremely hard; perhaps in an unhealthy way.

So if your colleague is being lazy, you might tell him to pull his socks up and help you with your work. On the other hand, if your colleague is working his socks off, you might tell him to slow down and relax. Working so hard isn’t healthy!

Our third idiom is roll your sleeves up. If you are doing some sort of physical work, you might roll your sleeves up so that they don’t get dirty. However, we also use it with an indirect meaning. Roll your sleeves up means you need to start some serious or difficult work.

For example, today is Thursday, and tomorrow you have to finish a big piece of work, which you haven’t even started yet! You can’t waste time; you need to roll your sleeves up and start working hard.

  • If you don’t pull your socks up, you can forget about getting a raise this year. (= You need to make an effort and stop being so lazy)
  • She’s worked her socks off all year, and for what? (= Even though she’s worked hard all year, she hasn’t got anything in return)
  • Enough talking! It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get started. (= We need to get down to serious work)

4. Talking about Money and Wealth

Before, you saw idioms related to saving money and budgeting. There are also many other clothes idioms related to money in general.

Most of them involve pockets. Why? Because you keep your wallet or your money in your pockets.

If you have deep pockets, you are very rich. You have so much money that it never seems to run out.

If you are irresponsible with money, you might feel like money is burning a hole in your pocket. This means that you feel a really strong desire to spend the money you have. If someone finds it impossible to save money, and spends whatever they make very quickly, you can say that their money is burning a hole in their pocket.

Finally, if you are out of pocket, you have lost some money, often due to an unfair situation of some kind. For example, imagine that you lend some money to a friend, but your friend doesn’t pay you back. Your friend has left you out of pocket.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • They pay in cash, and the money never lasts long—it’s like it’s burning a hole in my pocket. (= I can’t stop myself spending the money)
  • The business failed in the first year, but he has deep enough pockets that it doesn’t matter. (= He’s rich enough not to be affected)
  • The HR department refused to pay for my travel costs, leaving me £50 out of pocket. (= I ended up £50 poorer than I should have)

5. Talking about Arrogance or Overconfidence

Finally, let’s look at clothes idioms we can use to talk about people who are arrogant, or overconfident.

If you are getting too big for your boots, it means you are acting as if you are better than other people. We often use it about people who have a little bit of success and get carried away.

For example, if your colleague at work acts like your manager, even though you’re on the same level, you can say your colleague is too big for his boots.

If someone talks a lot about their plans and skills, but never does anything with them, you can say he/she is all mouth and no trousers. The idiom all talk and no walk has the same meaning.

And lastly, if someone is the victim of a surprise which they should have been able to predict, you can say they were caught with their pants down. It’s often used if someone’s overconfidence leads to an embarrassing situation.

For example, imagine that a politician is always talking about the dangers of alcohol, and trying to pass new laws to make it more difficult to buy and sell alcohol. One day, the politician is caught by a newspaper photographer, drunk in a bar! He was really caught with his pants down.

Take a look at some example sentences:

  • She’s been getting a bit too big for her boots since she won that award. (= She’s been acting as if she’s better than everyone else)
  • Don’t listen to him—he’s all mouth and no trousers. (= He talks a lot about doing things, but rarely does them)
  • The company was really caught with their pants down—they had no idea the papers knew about the scandal. (= The company and its management were overconfident, and they were surprised when things went wrong)

Clothes Idioms Quiz


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Oli RedmanClothes Idioms and Expressions – Video Lesson