The Huron County Historic Museum presents our newest temporary gallery “Say It with Style”. This exhibit explores different fashion idioms from around the world, along with displays of clothing and accessories from dresses to collars, all from our own collection.

Some idioms, are hard to understand until they are defined. Some of them, you also will find you have never heard of. But the history from where these idioms originated is very interesting and every idiom has a story to tell. Here is the history of two idioms presented in the gallery and their definitions:

To wear your heart on your sleeve essentially means to openly display all of your emotions and feelings. This idiom has a few places where it could have originated from. The first and most likely place is from Shakespeare’s play Othello. Spoken by Iago, he is saying that to show his feelings would be like wearing his heart on his sleeve, where birds could peck at it. In other words, he is saying that to be open about your feelings is to make yourself vulnerable. Another theory about where it could have been started was in the middle ages. Claudius II, the Emperor of the Roman Empire from 268 to 270. He thought that unattached men make better soldiers, making marriage illegal. As an alternative, he would suggest temporary coupling. Every year, he would hold festivals and men would draw names of different ladies and whoever they got would be their partner for the next year. Once this was done, the man would wear her name on his sleeve for the rest of the festival. The last story originates from a time when knights would joust by order of the king and dedicate his performance to a woman of the court. So, by wearing something around his arm like a handkerchief, he let everyone know that the match was in defense of the woman’s honour.   Which of these stories would you choose?

Another idiom, dressed to the nines, means to be dressed in your best, fanciest clothing. The origin of this idiom is unclear, but there are a few theories to where it could have come from. The phrase “to the nines” was found in poetry and stories before it was associated with clothing. One of the first encounters with the slang came from an English poem by William Hamilton called Epistle to Ramsay in 1719 where he wrote: “The bonny Lines therin thou sent me, How to the nines they did content me.” Another theory is that it came from the British Army’s 99th Regiment of Foot. They were well known for their intelligence and well kept uniforms, so well-known that other regiments that were based with them were would try to emulate them — to equal “the nines”.  The most likely origin is the instance of the phrase being applied to using 9 yards of material to perfectly craft a suit, not to mention 9 yards of material for a suit is way too much material than actually needed.  It would be an extravagance!

All of the textile pieces in our gallery feature different types and styles and are all designed to pair with each idiom presented. We have also included idioms from around the world, exploring different languages and cultures so you can also explore what other countries might say when expressing how they feel about clothing. If you would like to see for yourself, this exhibit is on display now for you to learn and explore, located in the Feature Gallery on the second floor of the Huron County Museum until November 3rd. We hope to see you there!

Written by Olivia Vanstone, Huron County Museum Co-op student from Goderich District Collegiate institute.   Olivia recently graduated from grade 12 and enjoys photography, art, fashion, music and dramatic arts. During Olivia’s placement she was busy assisting with exhibit and programming activities.