Which one is correct?

(1) It's a formal occasion so we'll have to get dressed to the nines - no jeans and pullovers this time.

(2) It's a formal occasion so we'll have to dress up to the nines - no jeans and pullovers this time.

(3) It's a formal occasion so we'll have to get dressed up to the nines - no jeans and pullovers this time.

CAMBRIDGE DICTIONARY - dressed (up) to the nines (informal) =to be wearing fashionable or formal clothes for a special occasion

I wonder whether the phrase " get dressed up" actually exists or not because I can't find any native material including it except some examples written by my country-non-native English speaking country.

  • 1
    Get dressed usually refers to the physical process of putting clothes on - I was getting dressed when the telephone rang. The verb dress can mean this, but it can also include the selection of one's outfit, as in dress to the nines. Dress up means either to dress formally or to wear some kind of costume - the little girl was dressed up as a fairy. I don't think get dressed up is particularly idiomatic. Commented May 1, 2019 at 8:09
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it naively conflates three different usages ("get dressed", "dressed up" and "dressed to the nines") each of which can be understood using commonly-available references. Commented May 11, 2019 at 0:31
  • Personally, “I don’t like the leading get or the up: “It’s a formal occasion so we’ll have to dress to the nines” or “... be dressed to the nines”. It’s a question of describing the result or the action we’ll have to take. I prefer to describe to resultant state in this instance.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 20:01
  • Collins dictionary has "You don't have to get dressed up for this party." as an example sentence collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/dressed-up
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 14, 2021 at 10:28

4 Answers 4


"Dressed to the nines" is the ubiquitous modern construction I find in a newspaper search. But it seems to have originated in the 1850s or earlier and wavered for decades, often adding "up".

"A blind partizan would now have recommended that the vote should be reversed, as the ministerial men--dress up to the nines--had come tumbling in from Government House." - Hamilton Spectator (Canada), 29 Jul 1858.

"Tom Thumb and his bride held a levee at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia. Tom was dressed 'to the nines,' in black broadcloth, and ware a diamond ring and patent leather boots." Pittsfield Sun (MA), 19 Feb 1863.

"How do you supposed, Mr Editor, one of our modern churches, dressed to the nines, with its numberless evergreen arches and festoons would have seemed to the eyes of the pious Cotton Mather...?" - Wyandotte Commercial Gazette (KS) 18 Jan 1868.

"Miss Claremont, who impersonates the Miller's daughter, is a saucily pretty or prettily saucy little lady who is dressed up 'to the nines.'" The Conservative via The Era (London, England), 6 Apr 1873.

"He viewed that; it was about half full of a dowdy, Irish-looking woman, 'dressed up' to the nines, but...." Buck County Gazette (PA), 22 Jul 1875.

"Pete was brought into court by a deputy, and was, as usual, dressed up to the nines in a swell suit and flashy collar and necktie and scarf-pin..." Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL), 28 Mar 1879.


All three are acceptable.

I prefer "up to the nines" but simply "to the nines" is attested in Lexico.

Since the up can be part of the phrase "up to the nines" the question of whether "get dressed up" exists or not could be ignored, as the up is not related to the dressing directly in that interpretation.

However, since that can be ambiguous*, I searched Google books for "get dressed up" and found thousands of hits from native speakers. A small selection:

*It could be "get dressed up to the nines" or "get dressed up to the nines"

  • The last two examples in your answer are identical except for the preposition 'up' in the first which is not in bold. Is the emphasis supposed to show where the ambiguity lies?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 10:22
  • @Mari-LouA yes it is Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 10:31
  • OK so you're saying that the idiom can be used with up "up to the nines" or be used with the PHRASAL expression "get dressed up". However, I'm not sure I would call it ambiguity. What Would be the difference in meaning?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 10:34
  • It's about emphasis. "up to the nines" and "to the nines" essentially mean the same thing, but "getting dressed" and "getting dressed up" do not. It's the difference between saying "I'm going to make myself look nice" and "I'm going to make my self look nice, really nice". Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 10:37
  • But how is that difference in emphasis conveyed in writing if the words used are totally identical? Do you see what I'm driving at? Also, if you remove "up" from "get dressed to the nines" the meaning of paying extra attention to one's appearance and clothes for a special event doesn't change. The difference in meaning (and emphasis) is apparent between get dressed and get dressed up.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 10:43

"dress up to the nines", while perfectly idiomatic, is still less frequently used than the simpler phrase "dress up". (Younger speakers might also be less likely to use this idiom -- but it'll be hard to find data on this.)

"dress up" is neutral and can be used in both informal and formal contexts.

"get dressed up" is possible. It depends on the context.


Firstly, up is an emphatic adverb – it implies “completely.” Adverbs are not essential and can be omitted with little or no change to the meaning o the sentence.

To get = to become

To get, in this sense, when used with a past participle, can form a type of passive, although the participle is probably adjectival:

We ate the food -> The food got eaten [by us] -> the food became eaten -> the food was eaten.

(Compare The food was heated -> the food became hot/heated)

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