What Does All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go Mean?

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go Meaning

Definition: To be completely prepared for an event or a project that fails to materialize.

This expression appears in several variations, such as all dressed up and no place to go, all dressed up with nowhere to go, and all dressed up with no place to go

It can be used literally, as in someone getting attired for a date that doesn’t show. Or, it can be used figuratively. For example, a sales person may gear up for a major presentation that is canceled.

Origin of All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

Little is known of the origin of the phrase. The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations attributes it, as quotation at least, to journalist William Allen White in the year 1916. White was a prominent journalist in Kansas and across the United States. A Pulitzer Prize winner, owner of The Emporia Gazette, and anti-Klan campaigner, White published histories, biographies, poetry, and fiction.

all dressed up with no where to goWhite thus described the U.S. Progressive Party after its 1912 candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, endorsed Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes in 1916 as, “all dressed up in their fighting clothes, with nowhere to go.” With Roosevelt’s departure from the party, it had little left.

We know, however, that the phrase was used before 1916. In 1913, Benjamin Hapgood Burt and Silvio Hein wrote a song titled, “When you’re all dressed up and no place to go” for the 1913 play “The Beauty Shop.”

There are apparently tombstones from the 1800s that bear this phrase, sometimes humorously. One such tombstone in Thermon, Maryland reads,

  • Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.

There may be even earlier references to this phrase, but it difficult to find reliable sources.

Examples of All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

  • Considering the 2016 Presidential election, one might say, “The Clinton Democrats found themselves all dressed up and nowhere to go.”
  • After the expected NFL Superbowl winner was defeated by one point, “Their fans were left all dressed up and nowhere to go.”

More Examples

  • McCrory had donned his sharply starched green state Department of Public Safety shirt just for the occasion. But, it turned out he was all dressed up with nowhere to go. The photo-op was a little-noticed, overshadowed footnote. –The Washington Post
  • Talk about all dressed up and nowhere to go. The (doomed) party atmosphere is heightened by the fact that this is one of only a couple of pictures taken at night. –The New York Times

Summary

An American cliché with no clear origin, all dressed up and nowhere to go describes the disappointment in being fully attired or prepared for an important or critical event that does not happen.