There is a proverb in Telugu language which is as below.

అన్నం లేకపోయినా, పట్టుబట్ట కడతా అన్నాడట

It translates to someone who doesn't have a morsel to eat but insists on wearing expensive clothes. In short, a person who likes to show off but is disproportionate to his means.

What is the English equivalent proverb or idiom which conveys a similar meaning?

  • 2
    One common expression in this general area is keep up appearances (maintain an impression of wealth or well-being). It's usually used in contexts where someone barely has the resources to maintain a show of wealth / health / whatever, but is highly motivated to conceal their real circumstances for some reason (often, just personal pride). Commented Aug 26, 2017 at 12:53
  • A proverb usually gives advice; it is not usually a nominal. Is 'proverb' accurate here, or is the translation loose? // @FF Also 'keep[ing] up with the Joneses'. Commented Aug 26, 2017 at 13:39
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    A related quotation by Anne Bradstreet : "He that hath nothing to feed on but vanity and lies must needs lie down in the bed of sorrow."
    – Prem
    Commented Aug 26, 2017 at 18:50
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    Never judge a sausage by its skin, and Never judge a book by its cover both warn against accepting outward appearances as a representation of the contents within. One effect of a poor person wearing expensive clothes is to give a false appearance of riches.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 20:42

3 Answers 3


Two idioms in Br English might fit the bill - particularly this one: "A three-bob millionaire" is someone who acts like they have a lot of money while only having a small amount ( three bob = three shillings in pre-decimal British currency); also one of the meanings of the expression 'fur coat and no knickers' is similar - ie someone (usually female) who dresses like a rich person whilst not having the means to buy underwear)


One which covers much the same ground is

[You should] Cut your coat according to your cloth.

This proverb advises a person to cut and stitch the coat according to the cloth available; it warns that the size of the coat should not exceed the piece of the cloth in hand. Otherwise, the coat will be unfit to wear.... It is necessary for everyone to make a proper plan before they begin to put any task into practice. A person who spends more than their [disposable] income will soon fall into trouble. They will have to face financial problems and hardships and thereby mental agony. So this proverb instructs us to live within our means and resources.... Harmony and proportion are very much [more important than] [overall] income and expenditure.

Some people are showy in life in order to make others think that they are sophisticated and rich. Seeing others being rich and great, one should not [strive to imitate] them. One must build a castle on the ground – not in the air – with a strong foundation.... If one does something without [recognising] their limitations they will soon be sorry. If a person spends more than their income, they will some [encounter serious problems]. So this proverb says that we should spend money [wisely,] according to our income and resources.

[English for Students; much tidied]


This is not an exact match, but "a donkey (or an ass) in lion's skin" refers to one of Aesop's fables. A donkey used a lion's skin to make himself look more powerful and impressive than he really was.

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