The Irish American Clothing Dictionary

A significant naming difference for clothing items exists between Ireland and America.  It is something I didn’t think twice about before packing my bags to come to America twenty something years ago.

As I threw vests and jumpers into a bag I had no idea I would need to relearn the nomenclature for my wardrobe.

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Now, as I dress my kids for school each morning it is clearly evident that Mom was not raised in America, and has not studied the Irish-American Clothing Dictionary satisfactorily.

For example, my little girl was looking for her “jumper”.  Now any American mom will immediately know this to be a sleeveless dress worn over a blouse.  But alack and alas, nothing is that simple in our house.  I started directing her to her sweater.

She called down the stairs in exasperation:

“I wasn’t looking for my sweater, Mom.  I want my jumper.”

“Oh, you mean your pinafore,” I replied trying to search the recesses of my foggy brain for the words in that illusive Irish-American clothing dictionary.

“What’s a pinafore?” she questioned me.  “I need my jumper.  You live in America now, Mom.”

So let me explain our dilemma as best I can.

In Ireland a jumper is a pinafore and a sweater is a jumper.  A buttoned sweater is a cardigan, and overalls are dungarees.

Image Courtesy Of Ian Lamont –

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The confusion only gets worse when I try to help one of my boys get dressed.  In the winter I tell him to put a vest under his jumper to keep warm, meaning to put an undershirt under his sweater for insulation.

You see, in Ireland a vest is a waistcoat and an undershirt is a vest.  A jogging suit is a track suit, and sneakers are runners.

Are you as confused as I am at this stage of my story?

Befuddlement deepens when I do my little girl’s hair.  I pin up her tresses with clips instead of berets, and try to hold her pony tail with a bobbin rather than a hair elastic.  I tell her to brush her fringe out of her eyes, as opposed to her bangs, and then, to add insult to injury, I try to plait her hair rather than braid it.

Luckily my little ones are pretty bilingual when it comes to clothing talk.  If they had not mastered the linguistics of both cultures, who knows what state they would be in when they walk out the door to school.

For anyone interested, here is my clothing dictionary in two columns.  If you can think of any other clothing anomalies between both countries, please just let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to add them to the list.

American Word           Irish Word

sneakers =  runners

jumper = pinafore

sweater = jumper

overalls = dungarees

vest = waistcoat

undershirt = vest

pants = trousers

skort = divided skirt

underpants = pants/knickers

knickers = bloomers

jogging suit = track suit

beret = clip

hair tie or elastic = bobbin

bangs = fringe

braids = plaits



Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)


Irish American Mom