I take my hat off to you! (Clothes idioms, Part 1)

young man raising his straw hat and smiling at the cameraby Kate Woodford

English has a number of really useful, current idioms and phrases that feature items of clothes. This week we’ll start by looking at idioms with the word ‘hat’ and we’ll work our way down the body to ‘shirt’ idioms. In Part 2, we’ll consider idioms containing words for clothes that cover the bottom half of the body.

Starting at the head, let’s look at four nice ‘hat’ idioms. People sometimes describe their role or responsibilities in a situation by saying they are wearing their teacher’s/journalist’s/lawyer’s, etc. hat:

Of course, I was wearing my lawyer’s hat at the meeting. With my parent’s hat on, I might have said something different.

If you say you take your hat off to someone, or tip your hat to someone, you mean you admire and respect them, usually because they do something difficult:

I take my hat off to teachers – teaching is such a demanding job.

I tip my hat to anyone prepared to take on the big companies.

If you do something at the drop of a hat, you do it immediately, without any hesitation:

If we needed help, she’d be round here at the drop of a hat.

Someone who throws or tosses their hat into the ring announces that they are going to compete, especially in an election:

In all, 15 candidates have thrown their hat into the ring to run for the presidency.

The bonnet – an old-fashioned style of hat – features in one useful idiom. If you have a bee in your bonnet, you keep talking about something, especially something that annoys or worries you: She’s got a real bee in her bonnet about people who change their names.

Moving down the body, someone who would give you the shirt off their back is extremely kind and generous and would do anything to help you:

He’s such a nice guy – he’d give you the shirt off his back.

Someone who tells a person who is getting angry to keep their shirt on is telling them informally to stop being angry:

All right, mate, keep your shirt on! I didn’t mean to push you.

Focusing now on the parts of a shirt (the sleeve and the cuff), someone who shows their emotions a lot may be said to wear their heart on their sleeve:

You know what Jamie’s like – he wears his heart on his sleeve.

Meanwhile, someone who has something up their sleeve has a secret plan:

Who knows what she has up her sleeve.

I’m sure he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

If you roll up your sleeves, you prepare to work hard:

We need someone who’ll roll up their sleeves and get on with the job.

Finally, if you speak off the cuff, you say something without having prepared or thought about your words first:

I just said a few words off the cuff.

It was an off-the-cuff remark.

That concludes Part 1 of my clothes idioms post. I hope you enjoyed it. Do come back for Part 2!

36 thoughts on “I take my hat off to you! (Clothes idioms, Part 1)

    1. Mike

      Great idioms! As a Guardsman I was always reminded ” If you can’t fight, wear a big hat” Worked well for us at Waterloo!

  1. Ssenyonjo Moses

    Ssenyonjo Moses is my name, and I have just joined in. I have liked your teaching, and allow me to be your student.
    Thanks Madam, God bless you.

      1. Ssenyonjo Moses

        Hi madam wood,
        I greet you in Jesus’ name.
        Well, I have not yet received part two lesson on idioms, yet I made a subscription.
        Thanks, madam Wood.

  2. denys1979

    In Russian we have an idiom “to work with pulled down the sleeves” which means to work lazy, inactive.

    1. Denis

      Yes, that’s a good one. Although, I’d say ‘to work with your sleeves rolled down’, which, from my perspective, would sound a bit better.

  3. Huasong Yin

    Hat off to you for wearing your educator’s hat in writing this wonderful blog. From now on I am going to have few phrases up my sleeve whenever I make off-the-cuff remarks.

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