26 October 2008

"Charlie's dead"

You learn something every day. A BBC article about a new fashion trend of exposing underwear as outerwear included this tidbit:
When I was at school, the whispered warning "Charlie's dead" alerted a girl to the fact that her petticoat was showing...

There are various theories as to where that curious phrase came from. It seems to date from World War II, and my own favourite explanation is that in the 1940s, the window-blinds were lowered whenever there was a death in the house.

The dipping half-slip was like a lowered window-shade. More fanciful versions involving Bonny Prince Charlie or Charles II, are, I am afraid, historically implausible...
A Google search yields about 3000 hits for "Charlie's dead," including some referring to expired pet goldfish. These are the only relevant bits I could find ...

In my youth, we used to say "It's raining in Paris" in such circumstances. I have no idea why. The French said "Tu cherche une belle-mere" (you're looking for a mother-in-law) which makes much more sense.

"It's snowing down south" is listed in Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British." Partridge says it's Australian, current during the late 1940s and the 1950s "but rapidly less since then," and it may have reached Australia from the U.S. It was known in the U.S. as early as the 1930s, Partridge says.

found some other sayings: Mrs White is out of Jail, Saturdays longer than Sunday.

"Your cat's died!" was an expression said when I was a child to mean a girl/ladies petticoat was showing below their skirt/dress or it meant a boy/man's trousers were too short. [???]

And a restaurant on Petticoat Lane details the Prince Charlie/King Charles I/II theories.

Image credit here.


  1. The only one I ever heard was, "It's snowing down south".

  2. During the 50's and 60's whenever my mother went out with her petticoat showing the old man would always say, "Charlie's Dead" or Ït's snowing down under". Both were quite common around that time in Northern NSW.

  3. How quaint to see people talking about a garment women almost never wear any more, having abandoned them. Meantime, in 2012, Greek males sometimes wear what can be called petticoats. Phooey on the style selfish female fashion monopoly.

  4. - I have never heard of any of these expressions either as a child or as an adult - I started wearing my older sister's panties at age 4, her bra at age 7 and I finally purchased my own lingerie at age 9 including a petticoat. As far as I know, no body ever suspected that I had this fetish as a child !

  5. We used to play a game when I was a kid, seemed perfectly ok at the time, but we used to pull up a girls skirt and shout out Charlie's dead. It was very innocent I might add and was just a silly game. I am female by the way. I have absolutely no idea where this game came from and doubt very much if it is played now. That was back in the 70's. It does seem weird now that I'm writing it down now!!

  6. I always thought that it referred to Charlie Peace since it was a common saying in Peckham and Charlie lived on Evelina Road, Nunhead. He was hanged and the impression I got in reference to petticoats drooping was to do with his death; (the drop)at least that's what my mum and dad used to say.

  7. Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans governed after the beheading of Charles 1st. The mode of dress then was far different to that of the dandified fashions that went before. Puritan dres was plain black or grey with no fancy cuffs, collars or frills. I have no historical evidence for saying this, but logic dictates it might have been whispered to women breaking the dress code by wearing hidden lace edged undergarments when unwittingly showing the lace bottom of their petticoat during the Puritan era - "Charlies dead".


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