meaning and origin of ‘one’s best bib and tucker’


Best Bib and Tucker - The Sketch - 18 November 1942

Best Bib and Tucker was a musical revue produced by George Black (1890-1945), created in November 1942 at the Palladium, London.—photograph from The Sketch (London) – 18th November 1942





one’s best bib and tucker: one’s smartest clothes




In this phrase, originally used only of women’s clothes, bib denotes a piece of cloth (usually the upper part of an apron) worn between throat and waist, and tucker designates a piece of lace or linen worn in or around the top of a bodice.

The expression is first recorded in Some Thoughts by Mademoiselle Cochois on the Art of Beautifying the Face (London, 1747), the translation of Pensées diverses sur l’art d’embellir le Visage, written by Barbe Cochois (1722?-17..?), a French woman of letters who was a comedian before marrying the French philosopher and writer Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d’Argens (1704-71) in 1749:

The Country-woman, who has work’d hard all the Week long, minds nothing on Sundays so much as her best Bib and Tucker.

The phrase came to be applied to men’s clothes as well. One of the earliest attestations of this usage is in the following passage from The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle (London) of September 1765:

[The] Lord Judge […] is to be escorted into town by a large party of townsmen with javelins, marching on foot, two and two, drest in their best bibs and tuckers.

A variant of the phrase used band instead of tucker (band denoting a collara ruff); for example, in The memory of Washington; with biographical sketches of his mother and wife (Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1852), Nathaniel Hervey wrote that Mrs Troupe, “the lady of a half-pay Captain in the British Navy”, related the following anecdote:

I never was so ashamed in all my life. You see Madame ——, and Madame ——, and Madame Bubb, and myself, thought we would visit lady Washington, and as she was said to be so grand a lady, we thought we must put on our best bibs and bands. So we dressed ourselves in our most elegant ruffles, and silks, and were introduced to her ladyship. And don’t you think, we found her knitting, and with a specked (check) apron on! She received us very graciously, and easily, but after the compliments were over, she resumed her knitting. There we were without a stitch of work, and sitting in state, but General Washington’s lady with her own hands was knitting stockings for herself and husband!

The original (and current) sense of the noun bib is a piece of cloth placed under a child’s chin to keep its clothes clean while eating. It is probably from the verb to bib, meaning to drink, to tipple, either because a bib is worn by a child when drinking or because it imbibes moisture. This verb may either have originated in an imitation of repeated movements of the lips or be derived from the Latin verb bibereto drink.

The French verb biberonner means to bib, to tipple. It is from the noun biberon, feeding bottle for an invalid or a baby, derived from Latin bibere.

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