There are some differences between American English (AmE) and British English (BrE) and in the subject area of clothing, these can lead to some amusing mistakes. I have two examples of this where the AmE clothing term can cause some amusement (or even offence) to a BrE speaker. I would like to know if there are any that work the other way round.

The most obvious example is the pants/trousers comparison. An American friend, on arrival in the UK, complimented a native with the phrase "Nice pants!". Apparently they looked horrified and disappeared to check on the visibility of their underwear. The word "pants" is equivalent to "underpants" or "knickers" in the UK, and what you wear over them is called "trousers".

There is an item of clothing which is made to hold trousers up. I've just found out that in the US, the word is suspenders. In the UK, the word is "braces" or "galluses". It leads to the lovely alliteration "belt and braces". The BrE term "suspenders" means an undergarment to hold stockings up: suspenders attach to a suspender belt (which is a garter belt in AmE). Suggesting that someone whose trousers are falling down should wear suspenders could be taken the wrong way in the UK. It also leads me to question how the suspenders reference in The Lumberjack Song was interpreted internationally.

In both cases, a word that refers to an undergarment in BrE names an outer garment in AmE. I'm looking for any examples that work the other way round. I'd like to avoid any possible clothing-related faux pas in the US, or, indeed, any other English speaking nation.

To clarify, I can think of three examples of items of clothing that refer to outerwear in AmE but underwear in BrE. The examples are pants (trousers vs knickers), suspenders (braces vs garter belt) and vest (waistcoat vs, well, vest). The question is are there any examples which are considered outerwear in BrE but underwear in AmE? Anything that is likely to raise a snigger or a wardrobe-malfunction check if you compliment someone on it.

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    It's probably true that there are still some Americans who snigger if a Brit says he's dying for a fag (cigarette). But Brits are used to the fact that Americans sometimes use different words than we do, so I doubt anyone would actually be "offended" if you unintentionally used an AmE rather that BrE word. Incidentally, in The Lumberjack Song, lyrics transcriptions notwithstanding, Whatsisname explicitly sings suspendies rather than suspenders to accentuate the "campness". Alluding to BrE undies, I suspect. – FumbleFingers Jan 30 at 15:43
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    @FumbleFingers, as a Brit, I know I sometimes inadvertently snigger at references to "pants" (I'm immature). I want to know how often I'm sniggered at in return, but lack the necessary AmE vocabulary. I've limited it to clothing because those are the two examples that spring to mind. – Pam Jan 30 at 15:51
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    @tmgr "Rubbers" means "erasers" in BrE, like a pencil eraser—she wasn't talking about clothing. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Jan 30 at 17:23
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    In the 1970s you heard about Brits going to Australia, renting a room, and being surprised when their landlady told them not to use "Durex" to fix posters on the walls of their rooms. Durex to Britons is the best known brand of rubber johnny, but in Oz it is a brand of sticky tape (like Scotch). – Michael Harvey Jan 30 at 17:44
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    A rubber johnny is a rather old-fashioned term for a condom. – Michael Harvey Jan 31 at 20:44

It is common to find in lazily written "divided by a common language" blogs that Brits get shocked or angry at these things, but I find it very hard to believe that any Brit who has watched TV or been to the cinema in the last 60 years or so would be "offended" when a visiting American says "pants" for trousers. Or speaks of a "fanny pack" for that matter. We know that Americans use these words, and, it being 2019 and not 1819, we just smile a bit and make an easy allowance. When we go over there we take care not to say "I like faggots at lunchtime", etc, I suppose. Honestly. It's not a thing. We invented Mrs Slocombe for God's sake. I had never encountered the word 'gallus' before this thread.

  • I live in Scotland and i can say not only that the word gallus is used here but that Scots regard it as a distinctively Scots word and that it is one of those words that is often printed on tourist souvenirs as a typical Scots word. It is defined in thefreedictionary with no reference to region. Their encyclopaedia suggests the term was used in the C19. DSL has only the sense "gallows" which is presumably the quaint if metaphorical origin of the term. – David Robinson Feb 1 at 1:19
  • @DavidRobinson the word in the question is "galluses" meaning "braces". Nonetheless, "gallus" is a fun word. – Pam Feb 1 at 9:50
  • Perhaps I should have made it clearer. Galluses is the plural of gallus. This garment seems to be equally plural whether it's braces, suspenders or galluses. If its origin is indeed gallows then it's a double plural since gallows is in origin plural according to M-W even though it's used as singular. – David Robinson Feb 1 at 10:29
  • In "Hellfire and Herring: A Childhood Remembered", Christopher Rush says his uncle Billy described his playground gang, the "One-Gallus Gang". The prized method of holding up a boy's trousers was an snake clasp elasticated belt. Boys who lacked this had to use galluses. Uncle Billy's gang, he claimed, modified them to signify rebelliousness by cutting off one side strap and pulling the single remaining strap across their chests to meet a button, repositioned centrally, on their trousers. Rush says that he had "begun to suspect" Billy's tales, so maybe the singular use of 'gallus' is suspect. – Michael Harvey Feb 1 at 11:12

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