Like a cheap suit
Frank Pierce
I've sometimes (perhaps too often) heard the expression "He was all over him (meaning confronting him, usually)like a cheap suit."

This is an improbable analogy but yet it seems to have a life of its own. Why a cheap suit, why not an exensive suit? What's so unique about the cheapness?

AdSumADS
The idea is that it's ill-fitting. An expensive suit would be well tailored, but a cheap one would tend to have tight areas and thus be "all over" one in a way that's unpleasant for that person.

The sense is given an extra punch through the appearance. Good grooming, clothes, make-up, etc. recede in their own presentation, eccentuating the person's favorable characteristics (concealing the problem areas). A bad suit is ostenstatious, obvious, vulgar, draws attention to itself rather than, favorably, the wearer. Based on the cliché, if you can't say something nice then don't say anthing at all, the recognition of the mere existential quality of something is understood as negative; as in, "my, it ceratinly is right there in my house, isn't it." So, for a suit to be all over one, there's not much positive to be said it other than it succeeds in full coverage (and so damned with faint praise), and to have even been noticed, an implication is that it's bad (and so, inexpensive).

Further, cheap suits can be said to be more available and so "all over," while a more expensive suit would be custom tailored and so unique. This third semantic connection would have the expression elliptical for something akin to "the women were all over him like a cheap suit [is found all over town]."

These are suppositions on the semantic connections; I haven't found the etymological references.

Frank Pierce
I think you're probably right on the "cheapness" image. Now that I think of it, I envision a cheap suit as one that's loose, unfitted, with lots of pants and lapels flopping in the breeze - and probably a garish color to boot.

It might well "cover" the unfortunate wearer more than something out of Bond Street.

Return to the archive