Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Full Monty

Posted by Admin on April 10, 2021

Contrary to popular believe, the full monty is not a euphemism for stripping as the movie of the same name implied. In fact, literally, the full monty is actually a three-piece suit with a waistcoat and all the trimmings that go with such a suit including a spare pair of trousers, and figuratively, it means to pursue something to its absolute limits.

On 21 February 1993, the Sunday Life newspaper of Belfast in County Antrim reported on the goal David Montgomery of the Carrick Rangers Football Club scored against the Glentoran Football Club. Because of that goal, his team won the game. Of course, for obvious reasons, David Montgomery’s nickname was Monty, but the headline that went with the photograph and news story was:

The Full Monty: Carrick’s Co. Antrim Shield Hero David Montgomery (left0 Salutes the Fans After Tuesday’s Game.

In 1986, the book “Street Talk: The Language of Coronation Street” was published. The book was compiled by Jeffery Miller and edited by Graham Nown. For those who may know, Coronation Street is a long-running, well-loved British soap opera. Because Jeffrey Miller included the expression his book nearly a decade earlier than the movie “The Full Monty” was released in theaters is that the expression was known in the mid-80s.

The podcast from České Podcasty in the Czech Republic talked about men in the 1970s “wearing the full Monty” so it appears the idiom was not only well known, but well known long before the movie was a glimmer in the scriptwriter’s eye.

So what’s the connection between clothes and this full Monty?

Sir Montague Burton (15 August 1885 – 21 September 1952) was born in Lithuania and was previously known as Moshe David Osinsky. He opened a shop in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in England in 1903, and within a decade it was a respected chain. It went on to become one of Britain’s largest high street clothing retailers.

What began as a single shop in 1903 turned into a chain of 400 shops by 1929. When WWII broke out, his business was responsible for making a quarter of the British military uniforms, and a third of the demobilization clothing. Demobilization clothing was civilian clothing provided to servicemen who were demobilized after WWII. The outfit, known as the “Full Monty” comprised of a hat, a three-piece suit or a jacket with flannel trousers, two shirts, a tie, a pair of shoes, and a raincoat.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The other manufacturers of demobilization clothing were Fifty Shilling Tailors which was established in 1905 by Henry Price in Leeds, and Simpsons of Piccadilly which was originally established by Simeon Simpson in 1894 as S. Simpson. His son, Alexander Simpson, joined the business in 1917 and in 1936 Simpsons of Piccadilly was established.

The tradition of giving servicemen after the war a new suit originated after WWI (yes, back in 1918) when servicemen exchanged their service uniforms for civilian clothes.

In a July 2005 article by the BBC, a number of former employees and children of former employees spoke of the “full Monty” as being this complete outfit, some of them remembering the term as far back as 1925.

The West Yorkshire Archive Service (which documents local history from the 12th century through to the present) has photographs of the Leeds factory of Montague Burton from the 1930s and includes photographs of the Australian Cricket Team visiting in the summer of 1938. One of the photographs identifies the Australian team’s captain, Don Bradman (27 August 1908 – 25 February 2001), being fitted for what is described as the “full Monty” at one of Burton’s stores.

So while this expression is a difficult idiom to research (Idiomation invested three days on this quest) with an inordinately large number of red herrings to chase after, the best Idiomation can confirm is that it appears most likely the expression is from Montague Burton based on the demobilization suits (1945) and the factory photos (1938).

What Idiomation can confirm is that the idiom existed long before the movie was filmed.

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