Tightening your belt and wearing the trousers (Clothes idioms, Part 2)

close-up image of a man in business clothes fastening his belt
GSO Images/The Image Bank/GettyImages

by Kate Woodford

In Part 1 of this post, we looked at English idioms containing words for items of clothing that cover the top half of the body. This week, we’re working our way down the body with idioms that include words such as ‘belt’, ‘trousers’ and ‘shoe’. (Footwear features in a surprising number of current idioms!)

Let’s start with ‘belt’. If you have achieved something, such as a qualification, a success or work experience, you can say you now have it under your belt:

It felt great to finally have a win under my belt.

Once you’ve got some experience under your belt, you’ll be in a better position to apply for jobs.

If you make an effort to spend less money, you can say that you tighten your belt:

Like a lot of small companies, we’re having to tighten our belts.

Meanwhile, a comment (often a personal one) that is described as below the belt is unkind and unfair:

That comment about his height was a bit below the belt.

Moving on to a different garment, in a relationship, the person who is said to wear the trousers (UK)/wear the pants (US) is the one who is in control, making the big decisions.

Now to footwear, the word ‘shoes’ features in two nice idioms that are both related to other people’s experiences. You say you wouldn’t want to be in someone’s shoes, meaning that you would not like to be in their situation:

I wouldn’t want to be in Sophie’s shoes when James finds out what she’s done.

If you were giving a friend advice, you might start by using the idiom If I were in your shoes, meaning ‘If I were in your situation’:

If I were in your shoes, I think I’d call Zoe and explain what’s happened.

Two other ‘shoe’ idioms relate to roles at work. If you step into or fill someone’s shoes, you start to do their job after they have stopped doing it:

There’s certainly no shortage of candidates willing to step into the manager’s shoes.

If someone replaces a person at work who has done an excellent job (especially in a public role), you might say they have big shoes to fill or Those are big shoes to fill:

Whoever steps in as the replacement coach will have big shoes to fill.

It’s going to be tough for whoever takes over. Those are big shoes to fill.

‘Boots’ also feature in some nice idioms. In UK English, if your heart is in your boots you feel very sad or worried, often about something that is going to happen, and if you are shaking or quaking in your boots, you are very frightened or nervous. (This idiom is often used negatively.)

My heart’s in my boots at the prospect of returning to the office.

They won’t be exactly quaking in their boots at the prospect of playing England.

In British English, we might describe someone who is strong both physically and emotionally (as) tough as old boots:

She’ll be fine. She’s tough as old boots!

We’ll finish with two ‘sock’ idioms. A person who says to someone Put a sock in it! is rudely telling them to be quiet:

Hey, put a sock in it, will you? I’m trying to sleep!

Finally, in UK English, if you tell someone they need to pull their socks up, you mean they must start to work or study harder because their current performance isn’t good enough:

This is your exam year so you’re really going to have to pull your socks up.

That concludes my two-part post on clothes idioms. Thank you for reading it. If you haven’t read Part 1, please follow this link. https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2022/07/13/i-take-my-hat-off-to-you-clothes-idioms-part-1/


14 thoughts on “Tightening your belt and wearing the trousers (Clothes idioms, Part 2)

  1. Lawrence

    Put yoursock in it does’nt sound appropriate to it’s meaning.
    Maybe, put your sock in your mouth would be closer.

    1. Dr.Jayanand S.Khandagale

      Thank you Kate Woodford.
      I enjoy reading your articles on English language usages (Idioms, Phrasal verbs etc).

  2. Ashin Sarana

    Very beautiful. Thank you so much for this excellent list of very useful and interesting idioms. 🌞

  3. These shoes idioms stuck in my mind for years, and this article is something I’ve been looking for a long time. Thank you so much Kate

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