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A “birthday suit” is a humorous expression for the state of being naked. It literally means to wear what someone wore on his or her day of birth, that is, nothing. It serves as a euphemism for writers and speakers seeking a delicate or amusing way to refer to the state of nudity, usually in a non-sexual sense. At least 200 years old, the phrase “birthday suit” was widely used in the 20th century and is still popular in the present day.
According to Robert Hendrickson’s Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, the phrase was recorded as early as 1771, but probably in use as a spoken expression before that. Although the specific coinage of the phrase has not been documented, its origin is obvious. All people are born naked; the birthday suit, therefore, is the suit worn on the day of birth. The comical yet non-vulgar nature of the phrase has lent it an enduring popularity since the 18th century.
The word “suit” in birthday suit is used in the sense of an all-over body covering, as in the phrases “suit of armor” or “wetsuit.” In this case, the word suit refers to the skin, which does indeed cover the entire body. The skin, or epidermis, is a single organ that contains and protects all the body’s other organs. It is composed of specialized cells that prevent most infectious materials from entering the body while absorbing or releasing other substances. Its sensory apparatus also serves as an important link with the rest of the world.
Nudity is taboo in most social situations, partly because of its association with sexual activity. There are, however, many non-sexual occasions when nudity is acceptable, such as bathing or sleeping. These are generally exercised in private, but not always. Young children, in particular, often do not understand or care if nudity is appropriate in a given situation. When a person of any age is engaged in non-sexual nudity, particularly when visible to others, it is whimsical to say that person is wearing his or her birthday suit.
Numerous films, television shows, and other artistic works have used variations of the phrase “birthday suit” in titles and the like. Among its many uses, the phrase was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine in 1992. Artist Joanne Gair painted a business suit, complete with necktie, cuffs, and vest, onto the nude body of actress and model Demi Moore. The photo was titled "Demi’s Birthday Suit." The use of the image on the cover provoked some controversy, causing many to overlook the clever visual pun of the title.
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