Dressed to the Nines – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did your girlfriend tell you she’s “dressing to the nines” for your birthday dinner tonight? What does she mean? This post unpacks the origin and meaning of this expression.

Meaning

If you’re “dressed to the nines,” it means that you are looking above and beyond what is expected of your appearance in a stylish way. People around you stop and turn to admire your look.

You can think of it as “looking like perfection.” Typically, the phrase will describe someone with an elegant and appealing look, such as dressing to the nines to attend the opera. However, the term also suits an ironic or sarcastic use in some cases.

Example Usage

“Look at Cindy, she dressed to the nines for the occasion. She looks fantastic; I’m going to go say hi and try my luck with her.”

“Greg and Jake dressed to the nines for the press conference. They are all about showing their image of being rich and successful.”

“We dressed to the nines for the high school reunion. We should have known better; everyone else was in shorts and t-shirts.”

“I’m going to come dressed to the nines for the wedding. I want to look good in the photos so that the folks remember me like that forever.”

“Come to the event dressed to the nines, or you can clean out your desk on Monday and go home.”

Origin

The origin of the expression “dressed to the nines” comes from the mid-19th century. The phrase derives from the old Scottish mythology surrounding the “Nine Muses” or “Nine Worthies.” Coincidentally, this is the source of the expression, “you’re my muse.”

The muse was a perfect source of artistic expression. They would often take the form of a beautiful woman dressed in appealing garments. Thus, the meaning of the phrase “dressed to the nines” stems from a good-looking goddess.

The phrase appears in Scottish poetry describing a well-dressed woman. The Epistle to Ramsay, published in 1719 by Scottish poet William Hamilton, pens it.

The bonny Lines therein thou sent me,

How to the nines they did content me.”

Therefore, “dressed to the nines” is an adaptation of the Scottish, “to the nines.” The earliest written evidence in literature is in the 18th century by poet Robert Burns.

Though paints auld nature to the nines,

In thy sweet Caledonian lines.”

Phrases Similar to Dressed to the Nines

  • Sunday best.
  • Dressed to the hilt.

Phrases Opposite to Dressed to the Nines

  • Derelict.
  • Unfashionable.
  • Not putting in the effort.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Dressed to the nines.
  • Dressing to the nines.

Ways People May Say Dressed to the Nines Incorrectly

Using the phrase “dressed to the nines” has nothing to do with the number nine. Therefore, using it to describe dressing up to go out to a club called “the Nines” or to go out at 9pm at night would be the incorrect use of the expression.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Dressed to the Nines

You can use the expression, dressed to the nines when you’re trying to tell other people that they look all dressed up or when expressing the act of dressing up yourself.

The phrase suits professional and social use. You could use it at home to tell your partner that they “dressed to the nines” for the ball you’re attending.

Or, you could use it at work to describe a colleague dressing up for an awards ceremony. The expression describes the act of dressing up in your “Sunday best” for other people or a social or professional event.

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