Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Dressed To The Nines

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 7, 2011

When someone is dressed to the nines the world knows he or she is so well-dressed that the person is wearing very fashionable or expensive clothes,  and nothing has been overlooked.  This person is the picture of perfection in every sense of the word.

Many of us learned in elementary school that multiplying any number by nine creates a mirror symmetry among numbers. If any number is multiplied by nine, the resulting digits always add to nine. What’s more, the digital root of any multiple of 9 is also 9.

The Tuscaloosa News ran a news story by journalist Bill Rose entitled, “President’s Wife Makes Gamblers Help” on May 2, 1949 that read in part:

I had prepared several questions on veltpolitik that I wanted to put to her, but for the first ten minutes of the interview, I might as well have been on Sixth Avenue.  Eleanor, as luck and 17 charge accounts would have it, was dressed to the nines, and the tactful Evita complimented her on her dress.

On April 15, 1908 the Melbourne Evening Post reported on what they referred to as a “sensational scene at the Treasury” by the unemployed of Melbourne (Australia) who, led by Mr. P.M. Koonin, tried to force their way into the Premier’s office. The news story read in part:

When he was informed that they had gone he remarked, “I told them that if they did not go they would be arrested.  If they went out it is all right.  While I went out into the passage with the Minister of Lands these men were there dressed up to the nines.  The place seemed to be full.”

Dressed to the nines as it pertains to being dressed is found cited in John C. Hotten’s “A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words” published in 1859:

DRESSED UP TO THE NINES:  in a showy ‘recherché’ manner.

Robert Burns wrote “Poem On Pastoral Poetry” in 1791 and spoke thusly about Mother Nature in all her beauty:

Thou paints auld Nature to the nines,
In thy sweet Caledonian lines;
Nae gowden stream thro’ myrtle twines,
Where Philomel,
While nightly breezes sweep the vines,
Her griefs will tell!

In 1719, in William Hamilton’s book, “Epistle to Ramsay” the following is found:

The bonny Lines therein thou sent me
How to the nines they did content me.

In the 1687 book entitled, “The Poetick Miscellenies of Mr. John Rawlett” these lines are found:

The learned tribe whose works the World do bless
Finish those works in some recess;
Both the Philosopher and Divine,
And Poets most who still make their address
In private to the Nine.

The reference to the nines in this instance are the Nine Worthies of Pagan and Jewish history and are comprised of the following historical figures who were perceived as being the personification of all that was noble and heroic:  Hector, Alexander, Julius Caesar , Joshua, David, Judas Maccabaeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillion.

The earliest reference of “to the nines” appears in a translation of Voyages de Jehan de Mandeville chevalier, from France circa 1357.  The expression is attributed to Sir John Mandeville who, in the English translation, is found to make this comment:

Sir king! ye shall have war without peace, and always to the nine degree, ye shall be in subjection of your enemies, and ye shall be needy of all goods.

While the expression may not be about clothing, it certainly addressed being decked out to the utmost.

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