What Does Keep Your Shirt On Mean?

Keep Your Shirt on Definition

Definition: Don’t get agitated; be patient.

Origin of Keep Your Shirt On

This expression and its variant keep your hair on both originated around the mid-1800s. The phrase most likely developed from the practice of men wearing starched shirts or wigs in the past.

If they became upset and wished to fight, they might remove their shirt or wig in order to have a freer range of motion.  Therefore, if someone wanted to tell an individual not to fight, or to calm down, he implied that by using this expression.

Examples of Keep Your Shirt On

keep your shirt on sparkyIn this example, two high-school students use the idiom below in a conversation about not overreacting.

Lisa: You’ll never believe what happened last night at the basketball game.

Jackie: I heard that Tommy checked your phone without asking you.

Lisa: The rumors spread so quickly in this school! Anyway, I can’t believe he did that. He betrayed my trust! I’m going to tell him what a terrible person I think he is, and I’m going to do it right now.

Jackie: Hey! Keep your shirt on! Wait a minute before you go.

Lisa: Why? Do you think I should just forgive him?

Jackie: No, not at all. I just want you to be calm and in control before you talk to him.

definition of keep your shirt onIn the dialogue below, a man uses the expression when he is trying to prevent another man from fighting him in the middle of a soccer game.

Seth: Hey! Why didn’t you pass me the ball?

Jimmy: You weren’t open. The other team would have easily stolen it.

Seth: Lies! No one from the other team was anywhere around me! Admit it! You have something against me, and that’s why you have been working against me this whole time even though we’re supposed to be on the same team!

Jimmy: Keep your shirt on, Seth! It’s just a game!

More Examples

In this example of the expression, a son uses the phrase to describe how his father wanted him to be patient.

  • “Every time I asked dad if it was time to buy more stock, he would say, ‘keep your shirt on, boy.’ There was no schedule and he sold us more stock whenever he felt like it.”  –Colorado Springs Gazette

The second news excerpt uses the expression to show that if you have a flight cancellation, it is important to stay calm if you want to have any chance of resolving the issue quickly.

  • Suddenly you are stuck in Chicago and your hopes of making it to your embarkation point in time are eroding. Your nightmare comes true; you don’t make it. You shake your fist, literally or figuratively, at the airline and hope it knows it’s going to pay. Don’t get your hopes up, but do keep your shirt on. –Minneapolis Star Tribune

Summary

The phrase keep your shirt on is another way to tell someone to calm down or wait.