If someone tells you they’re wearing their “birthday suit,” don’t expect to be impressed by a stylish jacket and trousers. In fact, be ready to avert or cover your eyes! Keep reading for the definition of birthday suit.
What Does Birthday Suit Mean?
Put plainly, birthday suit means “nakedness” or “unclothed/bare skin.” When someone says they’re wearing their birthday suit, they’re speaking comically and ironically, as they’re not actually wearing anything at all! The phrase alludes to the fact that when we’re born, we enter the world completely naked. You may have also heard the expression naked as the day (one) was born, which again references the fact that newborn babies arrive in the world without a single stitch of clothing on.
Here are some example sentences using the informal and humorous term birthday suit:
- My family’s cabin is by a pond on 50 acres. Since there’s no one around to see, I sometimes go swimming in my birthday suit.
- When my brother asked what I was wearing to his wedding, I joked that I planned to show up in my birthday suit!
- I didn’t realize my roommate was home, and I walked into the kitchen in my birthday suit; I was so embarrassed!
- Before the first day of school, I always have a dream that I show up wearing nothing but my birthday suit. Thankfully, that’s never actually happened!
- When the delivery man came to the door, I was in my room in my birthday suit; I had to scramble to put on a robe so I could sign for my package.
- My husband asked what I wanted him to wear for our anniversary, and I cheekily said his birthday suit!
- During the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time lounging around in my birthday suit.
The Etymology of Birthday Suit
We don’t really know where the phrase came from. According to Merriam-Webster, the term was first used in 1734, although some experts date the first usage a bit later, to the 1750s.
Language historians speculate the term may have originally referred to actual clothing, specifically the fancy garments 18-century male nobility would wear on the king’s birthday, including the outfit the king would wear himself, aka “the birthday suit.” Royal birthdays were certainly the time to make a special fashion statement.
At some point, however, it came to comically refer to bare skin and the idea that on one’s true birthday, they enter the world entirely naked.
Understanding Idioms, Slang, and Euphemisms
Birthday suit can be considered both an idiom, slang term, and a euphemism. Slang is a very informal type of language. Typically, slang words and phrases are more often spoken than written, and they may be more commonly used by a particular group of people or in specific settings. In slang, words with one definition may be arbitrarily assigned a different definition. For example, tea is a slang word for gossip, and dough is a slang term for money.
An idiom is an expression that’s intended meaning can’t fully be deduced just by looking at the words that comprise it. These words and phrases have a figurative rather than literal meaning. Like slang words, idioms are often conversational and informal. Even if you’ve never heard the term idiom, you have most likely heard many idiomatic expressions. Here are just a few of the most common idioms used today:
You’re in hot water.
His boss gave him the ax.
It’s time to face the music.
You’ve hit the nail on the head.
If you took the first example literally, you’d think it was describing a person standing in a bathtub full of hot water, perhaps. But the expression is actually used to describe a
person who’s in trouble. Likewise, rather than literally being handed a tool for chopping
wood, if you get the ax from your boss, it means you’re getting fired. It’s time to face the music means that it’s time to come to terms with the consequences of your actions. And when someone has hit the nail on the head, they’ve gotten an answer exactly right or done something exactly as it should have been done.
Interpret the phrase birthday suit literally, and you’d probably imagine it meant its purported original definition: a special suit worn on one’s birthday. Like other idioms, you simply must know its figurative definition to understand its indented meaning as “complete nudity.”
Discover more common idioms here and more slang terms here.
Birthday suit can also be considered a euphemism. A euphemism is an inoffensive word or expression that is substituted for a word or phrase that some may find offensive. While naked isn’t thought of as shocking or disagreeable, per se, there may still be times when you wish to use another less obvious word in its place, say around children, for example—just as there are some words to describe nakendess that may be thought of as offensive; see a list of synonyms below.
Synonyms for Birthday Suit
There are many ways to say “nakedness.” Below is a list of synonyms, both words and phrases, for birthday suit. Consult a thesaurus for additional choices.
- altogether / in the altogether
- au naturel (borrowed from French)
- bare naked
- buff / in the buff
- full frontal (which specifically describes being naked but seen only from the front)
- raw / in the raw
- stark naked
The Term in Pop Culture
It makes sense that a humorous, ironic phrase would be popular in pop culture. And indeed, many contemporary musicians have recorded songs titled “Birthday Suit,” including Sean Paul, The Weekend, and Cosmo Sheldrake.
Considered an idiom and slang term, as well as a euphemism, the phrase birthday suit describes a state of total nakedness. It refers to the fact that on the day we are born, we enter the world completely and utterly nude, as does the similar expression naked as the day (one) is born. Often, people say they are “wearing their birthday suit,” which is, of course, ironic, because they aren’t in fact wearing a single piece of clothing.