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.

Image Credit


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 –

Image Credit

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


  1. nappy = diaper
    purse in IRL = change purse (small wallet for coins) in USA
    purse in USA = a woman’s handbag in IRL

    Oh I have so many more of these that have nothing to do with clothing…serviettes, biro’s, craic…. I had 2 roommates from Dublin years ago and it took months for us to finally understand each other. :)

    • Theresa – Thanks for your great suggestions. When my eldest boy was in day care he kept calling his diaper a nappy, because that’s what I called it. His teacher didn’t know what he was talking about.
      I’ll have to do some more posts on the Irish-American Driving Dictionary or the School Dictionary. The possibilities are endless.

      • The possibilities really are endless. My cousins and I continue to translate each other’s slang… for 40 years now. :)

    • anne nolan says:

      What about ‘ ride’ & ‘fanny’?

      • “Park & Ride” signs by the railway stations in New Jersey always make me laugh, as well as fanny packs and Fanny Farmer chocolates. Names you could never use in Ireland. I think these deserve a blog post all of their own. I’ll have to work on it.
        All the best,

  2. Love this! If I hadn’t heard this when I was in Ireland and ASKED about some of these words when I heard them I never would have known what they were – Cool!

    • Thanks Chris. I had fun writing this post and racking my brain for all the different terms. There still are many more I forgot about. So glad you asked what people were talking about when you were in Ireland – it’s the only way to get in touch with the lingo.
      Best wishes,

  3. Pinafore ?, since when. Don’t you mean smock.

    • Vince – So true – I got very fancy with my pinafore, and totally forgot about a smock, which got me thinking about a frock. Did you ever hear the saying “I wouldn’t know you only for the frock”. (A frock is another word for a dress). Also I forgot to include the term slacks for pants. I’ll have many additions to this list.
      All the best,

      • Have you thrown strealish at them yet, as in bedraggled.

        • Vince – I often heard the word “strealish” as a teenager growing up in Ireland. I think I’ll save that one for when my little girl is a teenager. When she tries to sneak out the door in some ridiculous outfit I’ll sort her out: –
          “Look at the cut of you in that strealish rig-out. You’re not leaving this house looking like that.”
          That should send her straight back upstairs to change. Thanks for a good laugh, and reminding me of some good old Irish words I have hidden away in the recesses of my mind.
          All the best,

  4. “Look at the pegs on that guy” should have known better to have worn shorts in cold weather.

    • Thanks Brian – once you mentioned the “pegs” I realized I had forgotten all about the “wellies”. For American readers, wellies are rain boots. The term wellies is short for Wellington boots. I think the Duke of Wellington was one of the first to wear them, hence the name.
      All the best,

Speak Your Mind