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What Does "Dress to Kill" Mean?

Jim B.
Updated: May 23, 2024

"Dress to kill" is an English idiom describing someone who wants to put on attire so attractive that it impresses everyone who sees this person. The literal meaning of the phrase, that people could dress so well that it would kill anyone who sees them, gives the idiom its power. In actuality, the idiom actually builds off the English slang meaning for "to kill," which informally means "to impress." If someone were to "dress to kill," he or she would be so stylish that everyone who sees the clothing would be overwhelmed by it and how well it is worn by the person in question.

Idioms are phrases that gain more meaning through popular usage than what they would otherwise have if taken literally. These idiomatic expressions allow for speakers to talk in a way that is familiar to folks who know the expressions. The idioms also add a little flavor to conversation since they often use exaggeration for humorous or dramatic effect. One such exaggerated idiom is the phrase "dress to kill."

When someone uses this particular phrase, it means that he or she is describing a person who is almost outlandishly stylish. Often, the phrase "to kill" is an exaggerated way of saying that a person's dress or appearance will have an exaggerated effect on observers. In that case, people who know how to "dress to kill" have the ability to wear clothes that leave everyone in their presence in awe. It requires that the clothes be stylish and not so garish that they're tasteless.

As an example of how this phrase might be used in a sentence, imagine someone is trying to describe the kind of attire that a person needs to wear on a job interview. He might say, "You better have a nice suit to wear tomorrow, because you'll need to dress to kill to impress those executives." The literal meaning of the phrase would suggest that the person is going to try to kill his would-be employers, but, obviously, that is not the case. By contrast, he simply wants to impress them.

The phrase "dress to kill" and its adjectival counterpart "dressed to kill" often have some connection with the world of espionage. Popular spy literature and movies often depict the heroes of those stories as being impeccably dressed as a way to throw potential enemies off-guard. These characters may be literally "dressed to kill," considering that they are often required to kill their foes.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jim B.
By Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own successful blog. His passion led to a popular book series, which has gained the attention of fans worldwide. With a background in journalism, Beviglia brings his love for storytelling to his writing career where he engages readers with his unique insights.
Discussion Comments
By anon968224 — On Sep 01, 2014

The expression originated from English fox hunting where the lords and gentry would dress in their top hats and tails and "ride to the hounds"

the fox hunt ended when the hounds caught and killed the fox,

hence the phrase dressed to kill.

By Calvin77 — On Aug 01, 2011

@amsden2000 - I'm not sure why, but a lot of men lack confidence. They slouch forward and are fidgety. I go to a lot of bars and there are so many people that don't pay attention to how they act. Most of them are dressed fantastically -- they just don't act it.

I always dress my best. I know what I like and what look good on me. A lot of men are afraid of seeming effeminate if they pay any attention to their clothes -- so they dress like slobs and expect to attract hot confident women.

It's no wonder why there are so many singles around.

By Almita — On Jul 31, 2011

@amsden2000 - you're right about confidence. Confidence is one of the hardest things to learn. Wearing properly fitting clothes that make you feel sexy will actually help you be more confident.

Remember when you dress nicely that your clothes aren't your only important feature. Your hair and your scent are also vital. Just don't go overkill with the perfume or you'll knock the person you're trying to impress over.

Wear make up, but only to enhance the features you already have. Mascara is my favorite – there's nothing like long black lashes to catch some attention.

By amsden2000 — On Jul 30, 2011

James Bond was a perfect example of the literal meaning of "dressed to kill." He always wore a nice suit, calm and confident.

If you want to "dress to kill," you'll have to know exactly what looks good on you and how to project confidence when you wear it. Practically everyone finds confidence attractive.

If you aren't very confident, observe people who are and learn to be. It's not always just attitude -- most of your confidence comes from how your body moves. Even acting confident when you aren't will boost your confidence.

Jim B.
Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own...
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