What Does Earn Your Stripes Mean?

Earn Your Stripes Meaning

Definition: To deserve the position one holds or the recognition that one has.

Origin of Earn Your Stripes

Digital records show that this expression likely originated in the 1900s.

This idiom comes from the military practice of awarding someone who has served with insignias that often resemble stripes. These can also sometimes look like stars or other symbols.

Generally speaking, the more stripes (or similar markings) someone has, the higher his or her rank. The word stripes has been used to describe these markings since the early-1800s.

Nowadays people use this for anyone who has earned his or her rank through hard work, not only people in the military.

Examples of Earn Your Stripes

earning your stripesIn the dialogue below, two men use the idiom while discussing the new boss that one of them has.

Robert: Marty, you told me that your new boss was supposed to start today. Did that happen?

Marty: Yeah, she seems great so far.

Robert: That’s good. I knew you were worried that the company would hire someone right out of college who had no experience.

Marty: Luckily that didn’t happen. She has really earned her stripes. She has taken several failing branches and turned them around to becoming profitable again.

earn the stripesThe second dialogue shows two students who are talking about a new job that one of them got recently.

Josh: You should get a job with me at the place I just started working at.

Jeff: How’s the pay?

Josh: It’s decent. They said I have to earn my stripes by starting at the lowest position in the company and working my way up. In a few years, I should be making a lot more money, assuming that I do a good job.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a young politician.

  • If Emanuel chooses to seek a third term as mayor, the move paves the way for him to run for re-election on a rainbow ticket with an attractive and articulate Hispanic woman who has earned her stripes as the mayor’s political point person. –Chicago Sun Times

This excerpt is from an article about a talented police officer.

  • Coogan earned her stripes, said Andrew Ramirez, a member of the Denver SWAT team who worked with her for 20 years. –Denver Post


The phrase earn one’s stripes is another way to say one gained their professional position through hard work and skill.