There is an expression, "like putting lipstick on a pig", which means (in context) that if you take something obviously bad, no matter how many cosmetic changes you make to it, it will remain obviously bad.

Is there an expression that means the opposite? That is, if there is something obviously good, no amount of minor blemishes will take away from it.

  • 2
    'Handsome is as handsome does' works for goodness of character. I'm not sure that it's totally suitable for a reliable old banger. But then I wouldn't use the lipstick simile with cars. Aug 2, 2017 at 10:24
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    Some politicians were described with the word teflon because (at least for a period) even though others tried to besmirch their character or their actions, nothing (bad) stuck.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 2, 2017 at 11:33
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    The problem is, there are few things that cannot be readily blemished when someone wants to do so. Therefore there is no common idiom.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 2, 2017 at 12:12
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    A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
    – Jim
    Aug 2, 2017 at 14:49
  • Why hasn't anyone suggested hidden gem? Is it wrong?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2017 at 22:04

3 Answers 3


Maybe "diamonds in the rough" is close to what you mean.

Uncut diamonds don't look so good. But they're worth diamonds either way.

There are different variations of it.

Wiktionary example:

The auto mechanic is a diamond in the rough, tough-talking, but honest, even generous.

  • I am sorry, but I am voting against it. It seems good on first impression, but I need some convincing that it does not only apply to people, as most definitions indicate (including your linked Wiktionary entry). That is important since lipstick on a pig is often used in the marketing of inanimate things, like cars (which is strange if you stop to think about it since pigs are animate and diamonds are not). Also, as long as I am commenting, I would like to add that if we were looking for a word for a person, Disney's Aladdin has too good of an example to ignore.
    – Tonepoet
    Aug 15, 2017 at 23:54

gild the lily

Fig. to add ornament or decoration to something that is pleasing in its original state; to attempt to improve something that is already fine the way it is. (Often refers to flattery or exaggeration.) Your house has lovely brickwork. Don't paint it. That would be gilding the lily. Oh, Sally. You're beautiful the way you are. You don't need makeup. You would be gilding the lily.


  • @Ynhockey Please see answer. I would stake my life on this being correct.
    – Zan700
    Aug 19, 2017 at 2:49

One kind of object that fits the OP's description is something very old, whose historical and/or artistic value is so great that even major blemishes leave it of enormous value. Thus, the phrase I suggest is:

of incalculable value

incalculable, Merriam-Webster

not capable of being calculated

Thus, if the value of an object or a person or an experience cannot be calculated to begin with, the effect of blemishes cannot be calculated either. Would Venus de Milo be more valuable with her arms? By how much?

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