Thursday, March 7, 2024

"All Dressed Up and No Place to Go" - a Tricked-Out History of the Expression

The expression, “all dressed up with no place to go,” has been part of American pop-culture and language since at least 1910, although it may have been in use earlier. The earliest example I have found in print appeared in February of that year, in an anecdote recounting events that occurred years earlier.

The minister who took charge of us was a jolly man and after dinner when we would all be setting around on deck in our best clothes he would come along and say, “Well girls, all dressed up again and no place to go.”

Fowler Ensign (Fowler, California), February 26, 1910, page 4.


The article was written by a local teacher, Evangeline E. Ellis. She was recounting a steamship voyage to Hamburg, Germany, via Plymouth, England and Cherbourg, France, on the German ship, “Praetoria,” early on the morning of Saturday, the 28th of September - no year given.i The specific details of the day of the week and time of day were critical to an incident in her story. She said that the passengers had been asked to board the ship on Friday, because of a planned, early-morning departure the next morning. But since there was apparently, at that time, a superstition against boarding ships on a Friday, most of the passengers lined up on shore to board after midnight.

It is impossible to know whether she recounted the incident precisely as it happened at the time, or embellished the story using contemporary slang of 1910. Comparing details of her story to the historical record, however, suggest that other parts of her story were recounted accurately.

Ellis is known to have studied at the University of Berlin, from 1902 through 1904,ii so her story may have been based on her actual experiences. But September 28th fell on a Sunday, and the “Pretoria,” of the Hamburg-American Line, sailed for Bermuda on Saturday the 27th.iii The Pretoria was scheduled to sail from New York to Hamburg, via Plymouth and Cherbourg, on a Saturday, but not until October 11, and not early in the morning, but with a noon departure.iv A ship of the same line, the Patricia, was scheduled to depart for Hamburg on Tuesday, September 30, but with an afternoon departure, at 3:00 PM.

It is likely, however, that she actually made the trip in 1901, one year before the date listed as the year she entered the University of Berlin. The German ship, Pretoria, was scheduled to sail from New York City to Hamburg, via Plymouth and Cherbourg, on Saturday, September 28, 1901, with an early-morning departure time of 5:00 amv - every detail matching those given in her travel story written nearly a decade later.

New York Tribune, September 28, 1901, page 3.


But whether or not the expression had already been in occasional use earlier, it did not find its way into print (as far as I know) until 1910, after which it appears in print regularly and often. Its widespread familiarity and usage appears to have been influenced by prominent use on the stage.

The second-earliest example in print is the lyric of a song in the musical stage play, Madame Sherry, which had its first performance in April 1910. The song relates the story of a woman who was left at the altar - “Won’t Some One Take Me Home?”

I wouldn’t mind if I only could find

Another nice young beau,

Here, I’ve got these clothes,

And goodness knows,

They’re growing old and I can’t get another trousseau;


Every cent I had saved I have spent,

For this bum veil and comb,

Here I’m all dressed up with no place to go,

Won’t some one take me home.

Madam Sherry, a Three Act French Vaudeville, Book and Lyrics by Otto Hauerbach, Music by Karl L. Hoschna, M. Witmark & Sons, New York, 1910.


Despite these early appearances of the expression in early-1910, it does not appear to have become particularly popular until spoken in a later musical stage play, The Girl of My Dreams, which had its debut in August 1910. Several early examples of the expression in print mention that play by name.

“All dressed up and no place to go.” This is the very latest, down to the minute slang. It has been declared. . . . as being strictly aufait. . . .


“All dressed up and no place to go” was first thrust upon the unsuspecting public by an eccentric female character in “The Girl of My Dreams,” one of the prettiest, cleanest little operas of the season. . . .

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 28, 1910, page 22.


[T]he idle ones have no place to loaf and are in the position of the man in “The Girl of My Dreams,” all dressed up and no place to go.

Coatesville Record (Coatesville, Pennsylvania), February 11, 1911, page 1.


Like the fascinating milliner in “The Girl of My Dreams,” who was all dressed up, but no place to go, so similarly are placed many of Omaha’s society girls who have received sweet and beautiful corsage bouquets of flowers in token of St. Valentine, and now have no particular occasion at which they might wear them.

Omaha Daily Bee, February 15, 1913, page 10.


Curiously, however, although The Girl of My Dreams was written by the same writing team as Madame Sherry (Hoschna and Hauerbach), the expression was said to have been added by a cast member, Nita Allen. Allen played the “eccentric” and “fascinating milliner,” Daphne Daffington, who was said to have been “all dressed up and no place to go.” Did she learn the lines from her collaborators’ song from Madame Sherry earlier that season?


The Elmore Tribune (Elmore, Ohio), September 1, 1911, page 7.

During the play, Daphne Daffington is in hiding in various rooms of the home of an ex-boyfriend. She is hiding to protect his reputation, even though her presence in the home is entirely innocent. That is the reason, perhaps, that she had “no place to go.”vi

But what was the “eccentric” milliner wearing, all “dressed up” as she was? She was wearing a “hobble skirt.” Nita Allen even achieved some notoriety for inventing a particularly silly walk for her character - the “Daffy Hobble.”

Several days ago, Nita Allen, creator of the “Daffy Hobble,” was called upon to monologize on the [hobble skirt] with the reefed aftersail, and said:

To be or not to be; that is the question. They say the hobble is on its way, which way? I have had my was as Daffy Daphne Daffington, and through necessity created the walk I now use in “The Girl of My Dreams” by wearing the hobble.

The Dayton Herald (Dayton, Ohio), November 19, 1910, page 3.


The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 25, 1910, section 2, page 4.


Nita left the production after one year, to perform in a new play she had written, Hello Paris. She liked her catch-phrase so much that she incorporated it (and one other line of her own creation) into her new play. The management of The Girl of My Dreams also liked the lines so much that they retained them in the play after her departure.

With a new book by William Le Baron, new comedy by Nita Allen and James J. Morton, “Hello Paris” became a new show at the Folies Monday evening. . . . During the performance, Miss Allen employed for laughs, “You can’t insult me, I have been insulted by experts,” and “All dressed up with no place to go.” These lines are in “The Girl of My Dreams,” at the Criterion. Miss Allen claims that when playing the eccentric female role in that show she interpolated these remarks, but when leaving could not remove them, the management holding onto the quips for Alice Hills, her successor.

Variety, Volume 23, Number 12, August 26, 1911, page 14.


Within months of the opening of The Girl of My Dreams, the expression began to appear more regularly in print, sometimes literally (about someone dressed up) and sometimes idiomatically, with reference to anyone or anything prepared for some event that did not materialize.

In 1911, for example, a boxer with a strong punch, but lacking the skill to use it properly, was said to be “all dressed up and has no place to go,”vii and a newspaper-filler joke suggested that the “saddest predicament a young woman can come in contact with” was to be “[a]ll dressed up and no place to go.”viii


In the years following 1910, at least three songs capitalized on the recent surge in popularity of the expression. United States copyright records list two songs: “When You’re All Dressed Up and Have No Place to Go,” by George Whiting and Will Rossiter, filed on May 10, 1912; and “When You’re All Dressed Up and No Place to Go,” by Silvio Hein, filed on December 3, 1913. Sheet music for a third song, called “I’m All Dressed Up and No Place to Go,” by Thomas S. Allen and Joseph M. Daly (copyright 1913) can be found online.ix


 Of the three, Silvio Hein’s version appears to have been the most popular and influential. There are a few references to the other songs in advertisements for the sale of sheet music, but I found no other specific references to those songs. Hein’s version, however, was famously sung by a popular comedian in a popular musical stage play. The song also appears to have been how the phrase was introduced to Britain, when the same comedian brought to song to England in another show, three years later.

The American comic actor, Raymond Hitchcock, introduced the song, “When You’re All Dressed Up and No Place to Go,” in the debut of his new play, The Beauty Shop, in Detroit, Michigan in September 1913.x The song was written by Benjamin Hapgood Burt and Silvio Hein.


When you're all dressed up and no place to go,
Life seems weary, dreary, and slow.
My heart has ached and bled for the tears I've shed,
When I've no place to go unless I went back to bed.

I've had a sad, sad life and whenever I go
To that peaceful spot where the violets grow,
Upon a nice white stone will be written below:
“He was all dressed up and no place to go.”

You can hear a recording by Billy Murray (Victor 17527, recorded in December 1913) on YouTube or the Library of Congress website.xi


Raymond Hitchcock’s use of the expression also received specific mention in the press, even when the topic at issue was something else, entirely.

In Marysville, Ohio, the expression was used in reference to an early version of the department of motor vehicles, at a time when the automobile was new, license plates were new, and the constitutionality of requiring tags on cars was still an open question.

The State registrar of automobiles is all but out of a job. In the words of Raymond Hitchcock’s famous song, he is “all dressed up and no place to go.” He has received the new tags for 1914, but on account of the legal fight now to determine the constitutionality of the new automobile license law, he is not permitted to give them out to owners of motor cars.

Marysville Journal-Tribune (Marysville, Ohio), December 15, 1913, page 4.



At a time before prohibition, when the temperance movement was growing in strength and influence, the concept of “free lunch” in saloons was under attack. “Free lunch” had long been a marketing ploy by drinking establishments to lure customers to buy drink by feeding them free snacks. Attempts to ban the practice, and establish “free lunch” in safer environments, like church, made “free lunch” itself “all dressed up and no place to go.”

Evansville Press (Evansville, Indiana), December 24, 1913, page 3.

The thing called “free lunch” has been having a pretty hard time in the last few years, and has been handed some hard blows, being banished from certain saloons and banged about as something to be avoided and shunned as it was in such bad society all the time, so it was getting to be pretty near a tramp, or in the words of the popular song of Raymond Hitchcock; “All Dressed Up and No Place to Go.”

But a strange thing has happened. Free lunch, banished from the awful precincts of the saloon, has been taken into the church and in Aurora, Ill., this discard has been admitted and is one of the most popular things about the place . . . .

The Santa Fe New Mexican, December 26, 1913, page 8.


In early-1914, the famous evangelist and temperance proponent, Billy Sunday, visited Pittsburgh. Due to his influence, many of the saloons and other forms of vice to closed down during his extended stay. Raymond Hitchcock brought The Beauty Shop to Pittsburgh at the same time, inspiring a local political cartoonist to portray the Devil as “all dressed up and no place to go.” Later that year, Cartoons Magazine selected the sketch as the “best” cartoon from Pittsburgh.

The Rev. William A. Sunday was conducting an evangelistic campaign in Pittsburgh, and, as almost everybody knows, while here he received even more of the publicity and interest than was his fair share. Anyway, his efforts, combined with the extra exertions of hundreds of ministers and thousands of church members, placed the city in a condition of tense religious enthusiasm.

Everything of a contradictory nature suffered accordingly. many high-school classes abandoned their periodical dances. Bible students organized in all parts of the city, attendance at the theaters fell off considerably and vice and dissipation seemed for the time to be pushed into the background.

Then one week Raymond Hitchcock, with his spicy musical play, “The Beauty Shop,” appeared in a local theater and Mr. Hitchcock sang the son which, peculiarly adaptable to the situation then existing, inspired [the Pittsburgh Gazette political cartoonist] Mr. De Beck for his next morning’s picture.

Cartoons Magazine, Volume 6, Number 3, September 1914, page 423.


Raymond Hitchcock may also have introduced the expression to Britain. In March of 1916, Hitchcock brought the song to England in a show called Mr. Manhattan. References to his show are the earliest known examples of the expression in print in Britain. The lyrics had been updated to reflect current events.

From America, the Confidential Comedianxii [(Raymond Hitchcock)] has brought a dirge-like ditty, which is doubtless all over the place ere now, while its title - “All Dressed Up - and No Place to Go!” - will inevitably become a catch-phrase. . . .

When you’re all dressed up, and no place to go,

Life seems dreary, weary, and slow.

My heart has ached and bled

for all the tears I’ve shed,

When I’d no place to go -

Unless I went home to bed!


We’re all at sea about the German war:

How did it start? one asks, and what is it for?

I’ll tell you how, by Heck, and you’ll know it’s so -

The Kaiser was all dressed up - and no place to go.

The Royal Magazine, Volume 36, April 1916, pages 136 and 138.


A few early cartoon examples of the expression also relate to the war in Europe.

When Kaiser Wilhelm’s German army was not quite able to penetrate into a much-emptied Paris in August and September of 1914, Kaiser “Willie” was said to be “all dressed up and no place to go.”

Harper’s Weekly, Volume 59, Number 3014, September 16, 1914, page 303.


The German warship, Prince Eitel Friederich, was “all dressed up and no place to go” while in port for repairs in the then-still neutral United States. It was effectively trapped within the American three-mile territorial limit by a fleet of allied ships waiting to engage it if it attempted to sail back to Europe.

St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Missouri), April 2, 1915, page 1.


During May of 1915, Italy was “all dressed up an no place to go” after it revoked the Triple Alliance with Germany, and before it joined forces with allies on the opposing side.

The Brooklyn Eagle, May 17, 1915, page 3.

In the United States, when neutrality and relations with Germany were campaign issues, the domestic “German Vote” was said to be “all dressed up and no place to go,” when neither party was thought to be aligned with general feelings among German-Americans.

Life, Volume 67, Number 1753, June 1, 1916, page 1030.

So-called “Enemy Aliens” (males over the age of fourteen who were citizens of countries at war with the United States, and who were not naturalized as American citizens) were “all dressed up and no place to go” when rules were promulgated requiring them to register with authorities, and subject them restrictions on gun ownership, operating aircraft or radio equipment, entering the District of Columbia, going to the beach, traveling or buying a new house.xiii

Cartoons Magazine, Volume 13, Number 4, April 1918, page 567.

The people of Washington DC were “all dressed up and no place to go” when incoming President Harding announced that he wanted to dispense with expensive and wasteful inaugural balls, parades and fireworks.

Cartoons Magazine, Volume 19, Number 3, march 1921, page 356.


The expression, “all dressed up and no place to go,” has been in continuous use since at least 1910. It may have been used earlier, even as early as 1901, although there is no conclusive evidence.

Although the expression appeared in lyrics of a song in Madame Sherry in early 1910, its use by the actress Nita Allen in The Girl of My Dreams appears to have been more memorable, and may have helped popularize the expression.

Over the following several years, at least three songs used the expression (or a variant of it) in their titles. One of those songs, “When I’m All Dressed Up and No Place to Go,” famously sung by Raymond Hitchcock in The Beauty Shop, appears to have been the most popular. Hitchcock later introduced the song to England in 1916, in the show, Mr. Manhattan, which may have introduced the expression to Britain.

I could not find any examples of the expression in print before 1910 in the United States or before 1916 in Britain. After 1910 in the United States and 1916 in Britain, the expression has appeared in print regularly.




i  Evangeline E. Ellis wrote at least two travel articles for the Fowler Ensign, one published on February 26, 1910, and a follow-up on April 2, 1910. She was an 1896 graduate of San Jose Normal (“Given Their Diplomas,” The San Francisco Examiner, November 9, 1896, page 12). Details in her story match sailing schedules published in the New York Tribune on September 28, 1901 (page 3).

ii  Catalogue of Mills College and Seminary, Alameda County California 1906-1907, page 11 (Faculty: “Evangeline E. Ellis, (State Normal, San Jose, Calif.; Student at University of Berlin, 1902-1904), Tutor.”).

iii  The New York Evening World, September 27, 1902, page 8.

iv  New York Tribune, September 28, 1902, part 2, page 11.

v   New York Tribune, September 28, 1901, page 3.

vi  “Serial Story: The Girl of My Dreams, a Novelization of the Play by Wilbur D. Nesbit and Otto Hauerbach” (synopsis), Wilbur D. Nesbit, The Elmore Tribune, October 26, 1911, page 7.

vii  The Buffalo Commercial, May 15, 1911, page 6.

viii  Herald News (Joliet, Illinois), December 10, 1911, page 14.


x  “The Stage,” The Detroit Evening Times, September 30, 1913, page 5.

xi ;

xii  The writer referred to Hitchcock as the “confidential comedian,” because of his technique of breaking the fourth-wall to make private, “confidential” comic asides to the audience.