Dressed to the Nines

D Svenson: Where did the expression "dressed to the nines" originate?

Frank Pierce: There is a shortage of explanations for this one... and most, even the authoritative ones, seem to be speculative. The fact that "nine is the highest single-digit number" as quoted in a recent phrase book, seems like the author was hard-put for an explanation and came up with the easiest one at hand. Thomas Hardy used it in one of his writings. Wonder if he knew where it came from.

John Thor Newlander: Cf: Knight-Ridder Newspapers, April 13, 1997
Merriam-Webster's WORDWATCH
... Scottish phrase "to the nines"... cited Robert Burns "to perfection, just right."... Speculates that it may derive from game of ninepins. - See article.

R.Ryan: Also used in Ireland

dave reich: My understanding is that the phrase stems from an old British saying, "it takes nine tailors to make the man", refering to one's hatter, glove maker, etc.

Ed Dienes: In the old days (Victorian era and perhaps even before), it took nine yards of cloth or material to tailor a proper outfit for a gentleman, namely the pants, waist coat, cloak, etc. A person sporting the finest possible outfit was often described as being "dressed to the nines", meaning it took the entire nine yards to make the outfit.
I should also add that the term "the whole nine yards" means much the same; a tailor used an excessive amount of cloth or material to create a gentleman's outfit. It means nothing was spared to create this dashing and impressive outfit. (But see the whole nine yards in the archive. -Terry O'Connor)

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