all dressed up with nowhere to go and variants:
– literally: specially or elaborately dressed for an occasion that fails to take place
– figuratively: fully prepared for something that ultimately fails to happen
Of American-English origin, it seems to have originated as a line in The Girl of My Dreams, a musical comedy first produced in 1910; the earliest occurrence of the phrase that I have found is from Good, Bad and Indifferent Are the Chicago Shows, Declares The Tribune Girl, published in The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) of 28th August 1910:
“All dressed up and no place to go.”
This is the very latest, down to the minute slang. It has been declared by connoisseur of the Argot as being strictly aufait. “Never, Never Again,” “I Love My Mother-in-law’s Daughter” and all the rest are now strictly passe.
“All dressed up and no place to go” was first thrust upon the unsuspecting public by an eccentric female character in “The Girl of My Dreams,” one of the prettiest, cleanest little operas of the season. The production was received from vaudeville, so to speak. Leila McIntyre (the Quaker girl) and her husband, John Hyams, share the leading honors, while Nita Allen, comparatively unknown even in vaudeville, makes the hit of the performance as the eccentric milliner.
“The Girl of My Dreams,” with its chorus of unsophisticated looking young women, as pretty as Christmas dolls, and its tangle as to the ownership of a yellow hat with red poppies, is a treat for the jaded theatergoer. This play is particularly well staged and there is one song, “I’m Ready to Quit and Be Good,” which is being whistled to such an extent that it will probably be played on phonographs and hand organs before the snow flies.
According to the review of the musical comedy Hello Paris published in Variety (New York City, N.Y.) of Saturday 26th August 1911, it was the above-mentioned artist Nita Allen who coined the phrase when playing in The Girl of My Dreams:
With a new book by William Le Baron, new comedy by Nita Allen and James J. Morton, “Hello Paris” became a new show at the Folies [Bergères] Monday evening. […] Miss Allen did extremely well. Her number, “That Aeroplane Rag” made a distinct score, and she brought laughter continually by eccentric comicalities. During the performance, Miss Allen employed for laughs, “You can’t insult me, I have been insulted by experts,” and “All dressed up with no place to go.” These lines are in “The Girl of My Dreams,” at the Criterion. Miss Allen claims that when playing the eccentric female role in that show she interpolated these remarks, but when leaving could not remove them, the management holding onto the quips for Alice Hills, her successor.
On Tuesday 26th September 1911, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) published a review of Madame Sherry, staged at the Broadway Theater; the song All Dressed Up, With No Place to Go that this review mentions was probably inspired either by the line allegedly coined by Nita Allen or by the fad that it had created:
Elizabeth Murray […] has a delightfully natural Irish brogue, and a method of singing catchy songs that cannot fail to impress anyone that has an ear for jingly melodies that cause the feet to keep time. “The Dublin Rag” and “All Dressed Up, With No Place to Go,” were big hits as delivered by the gifted and magnetic comedienne.
The earliest recorded instance of all dressed up and nowhere to go used not on the theatre stage but as an actual expression is from The Matrimonialists—Lean and Holbrook, an interview of two music-hall artists, Florence Holbrook and Cecil Lean, by Ralph E. Renaud, published in the San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) of Sunday 12th November 1911:
“Here I am, all dressed up, and nowhere to go,” murmured Florence Holbrook with an uneasy glance at her sealskins. “I do wish friend husband would come!”
This, I assumed, referred to Cecil Lean, who was also booked for the day to do a double on the interview stage, but had evidently missed his cue, as he had not yet put in an appearance. Wifey seemed (I say “seemed”) to be disturbed over his absence.
The earliest figurative use of the phrase that I have found is from Tales Told About Indianapolis, in The Indianapolis Sunday Star (Indianapolis, Indiana) of 25th August 1912:
Mayor Shank is in a quandary on the political situation. As far as the national ticket is concerned he says he is confronted with a proposition of voting for the re-election of President Taft1, who is a “sure loser.”
“I am all dressed up and nowhere to go,” said the mayor, recently. “I am for President Taft, but he is going to lose to the Democrats, sure as anything you know. I will not vote for Beveridge2 and I can’t vote for Sam Ralston3, because he’s a Democrat. I suppose I’ll just have to vote for Taft and Durbin4 and make speeches for Tom Shipp5 and let ’er go at that.”
1 William Howard Taft (1857-1930), 27th President (Republican) of the United States (1909-13)
2 Albert Jeremiah Beveridge (1862-1927), historian, Senator (Republican) from Indiana (1899-1911)
3 Samuel Moffett Ralston (1857-1925), Democratic politician, Governor of Indiana (1913-17), Senator from Indiana (1923-25)
4 Winfield Taylor Durbin (1847-1928), Governor (Republican) of Indiana (1901-05); nominated again as the Republican candidate for Governor of Indiana in 1912
5 Thomas R. Shipp, nominated in 1912 as the Republican candidate for Congress in the Indianapolis district