Definition: Having or showing very strict moral attitudes; law abiding; morally upstanding.
The correct spelling of this phrase is strait-laced. Referring to something as straight-laced is a confusion of the words strait and straight, which are not the same.
Nowadays, strait is far less common than straight, but it remains in phrases like strait and narrow, strait-laced, and dire straits.
Origin of Strait-Laced
This term comes from a women’s clothing item: a bodice. Women wear this garment on the upper body, and it is similar to a vest. People fasten it with ties or laces. A woman with a strait-laced bodice has the bodice laced tightly.
This term finds its first printed sources from the 15th century. One of the first print sources is John Lydgate’s 1430 poem My Fayr Lady.
- Hire crowpe doth the semys shrede, Whan they so streyght lasyd been.
This is written in Middle English, so some of the words and spellings are different than that of Modern English. It loosely translates into her butt ripped the seams of her clothes, which were previously strait-laced.
This, of course, is a comedic poem.
The term expanded by the 1500s to include someone who is rigid in his or her beliefs.
Examples of Strait-Laced
In this example, a man uses the expression when giving advice.
Rodrigo: Alisha, you seem stressed lately. What’s up?
Alisha: Nothing much. I’ve just been having a few problems at work recently.
Rodrigo: Really? Tell me about it.
Alisha: I’ve been trying really hard to make sure all my work is perfect, and I’m exhausted all the time. It would be worth it if my bosses recognized and rewarded my hard work, but they don’t!
Rodrigo: Can I offer you some advice? Don’t be so strait laced. You follow the rules too often, and worry too much about obeying each and every detail of policy. If you relaxed a little, you’d be less stressed, and have more energy to be more creative.
Alisha: Well, I would do that if I could, but it’s just not my personality.
In the example below, two friends are discussing the fancy dinner party they just finished throwing.
Luis: That was fun! We should do that again sometime.
Stephanie: I’m glad you had fun. I was miserable!
Luis: Why do you say that?
Stephanie: Well, you were having all these great conversations with the guests, and laughing and enjoying yourself. No one seemed to want to talk to me!
Luis: I guess you’re right. You’re just so strait laced. You worry too much about being proper and polite, and you can’t just let go and have fun.
This excerpt is about a girl who became addicted to drugs.
- For Stephany Gay from Illinois, it all started when she was a straight-laced teenager suffering with kidney stones. The pills didn’t just offer her relief. “It numbed my feelings, and made me feel, like, okay about everything,” says Gay, who was soon taking far more than she was supposed to. –Washington Post
This excerpt is about basketball players who can now have a variety of hairstyles. In the past, the rules were stricter about the haircuts that were allowed.
- So for many Cavaliers players, hairstyle is a form of self-expression within a famously strait-laced program. –Chicago Tribune
Strait laced is an adjective phrase that describes someone who adheres rigorously to rules and to their moral beliefs.
It is sometimes mistakenly spelled as straight-laced, as in the Washington Post example above.