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The young daughter of a friend of mine said, "I think 'suit yourself' comes from a lazy tailor," which cracked us up. It also got me wondering.

I did the obligatory google search and came up with lots of discussions as to its meaning (even though the search was on 'history of..' or 'origins of...'). Even on our lovely Stack Exchange we have a great discussion about meaning.

Anyone know where/how it originated? If not, I'm going to endorse the 'lazy tailor' story just because it tickles my funny bone.

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4 Answers 4

The OED gives the pertinent meaning of suit as:

  1. To provide, furnish. Chiefly pass. (or refl.), to be provided (or provide oneself) with something desired and in such a manner as to please one.

Therefore 'suit yourself' is just another way of saying 'please yourself'. It's not metaphorical.

The OED also has an entry for the phrase itself:

b. suit yourself v. do (or think) as you please, please yourself. colloq.

1897 R. Kipling Capt. Courageous i. 21 ‘You stole it.’ ‘Suit yourself. We stole it ef it's any comfort to you.’

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Thank you! I'm really surprised it's not metaphorical, but it makes sense. –  HTG May 21 '13 at 13:54

OED has as its earliest citation an extract from Kipling's Captain Courageous (1897):

13 a. To be agreeable or convenient to (a person, his inclinations, etc.); to fall in with the views or wishes of.

13 b. suit yourself v. do (or think) as you please, please yourself. colloq.

1897 R. Kipling Capt. Courageous i. 21 ‘You stole it.’ ‘Suit yourself. We stole it ef it's any comfort to you.’

There are certainly earlier occurrences of the phrase in related (but not entirely identical) senses.

1831 J. Newton, R. Cecil The select works of the Revd John Newton p.240 "I hope you will endeavour likewise, to be plain and familiar in your language and manner (though not low or vulgar) so as to suit yourself as much as possible to the apprehensions of the most ignorant people."

"Suit yourself to something" means "adapt yourself", "to make yourself agreeable to"; whereas just "suit yourself" as in 13b means "whatever is agreeable to you".

Etymonline gives the etymology.

suit (v.) "be agreeable or convenient," 1570s, from suit (n.), probably from the notion of "provide with a set of new clothes."

suit (n.) c.1300, "attendance at court, the company attending," also their livery or uniform, via Anglo-French siwte, from Old French suitte "attendance, act of following," from Gallo-Romance *sequita, fem. of *sequitus, from Latin secutus, past participle of sequi "to attend, follow" (see sequel). Meaning "application to a court for justice, lawsuit" is first recorded early 15c. Meaning "set of clothes to be worn together" is attested from early 15c., from notion of the livery or uniform of court attendants (a sense recorded from late 13c.).

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Thanks! Wishing I had easy access to the OED! –  HTG May 21 '13 at 13:53

I was always told this came from the old west era. When a man called out another man out to a gunfight, the response was "Suit yourself...". This response implied that after the gunfight was over and the challenger lost, he'd be putting himself into a suit provided by the local coffin maker before he was buried.

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That seems rather far-fetched. It doesn’t match the current meaning of the phrase at all. Do you have any (reputable) sources that back this hypothesis up? –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 2 '14 at 13:52

As the definitions in the other answers demonstrate, to suit means to please. If a shirt doesn't suit you, it means that you either do not like it, or it does not look good on you.

If someone else says it to you, then it would mean that the shirt doesn't please that someone else, or rather, it is ugly on you.

This umbrella doesn't suit me

Your attitude doesn't suit you.

The phrase carries a lot of personal opinion with it.

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