Comme un tablier à une vache

Shy cow
Photography by Gimli.

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to the culinary world. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Aller à quelqu’un comme un tablier à une vache.”

Literally translated as, “suiting someone like an apron suits a cow,” it is used to express that something, usually an outfit or a piece of clothing, is unbecoming, or even ridiculous on someone.

Example: “J’ai commandé une robe à sequins sur Internet, mais elle m’allait vraiment comme un tablier à une vache, alors je l’ai renvoyée.” “I ordered a sequined dress online, but it really suited me like an apron suits a cow, so I returned it.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

It is a colloquial expression that is, as you might infer from the bovine simile, self-deprecatingly humorous if you’re referring to yourself, and somewhat unkind if you’re referring to someone else. It can also imply that the person has tried to dress with elegance and sophistication, but doesn’t have the class or figure to pull it off.

Probably because the cow is female, it is my impression that this one is chiefly applied to women. If you’re looking for a more masculine equivalent, also concerning an edible animal, I can suggest “ça lui va comme des guêtres à un lapin,” it suits him like gaiters suit a rabbit.

  • This is a very useful expression for me, because lately every time I go shopping, I get so frustrated as all the current styles just look so awkward on me. Next time my boyfriend asks why I came home empty-handed, I will have a way to explain it to him!

  • I love this series Clotilde!

  • I think this may be my favorite one yet and just in time for shopping with my sister.

  • MJ

    In Spanish, we have an idiom, of a very different sort, to express the same. We say “le sienta como a un Cristo dos pistolas”, or (roughly translated) “It suits her/him like two guns would suit Jesus” I find it hilarious…

    I love these posts.

  • I love these phrases! As witty and appropriate as they are, I can’t believe I’ve never heard them before. Guess I’ll have to learn French and visit France.

  • Love this one. Tho’ I think a cow would look lovely in an apron. It just needs the right apron! And gaiters definitely suit a rabbit. I’m sure the one Alice followed into Wonderland wore gaiters and she definitely wore an apron.

  • Thank you for the series! Until now, I enjoyed reading your explanations, but today, I feel slightly unsettled: I knew neither the cow version nor the rabbit version. I wonder how long it will take until someone rings at my door to take back my French passport. :-)

  • piccola

    Tiens, c’est la première de la série que je ne connaissais pas…

  • Anita

    This one is great. I love these food idioms.

  • Aiyana

    Great fun! Thank you for this one :)

  • “Like a hip pocket in a singlet” is what they say in my country, but the idea is the same, right?

  • I love this one! I will totally start using this in daily conversation…I think it will apply to quite a few situations that I find myself in!

  • sally j.

    My grandfather had a similar saying, “Like pants on a rattlesnake”. But this one sounds much more sophisticated:)

  • barbie

    Thanks for these idioms! I’m learning French, and though I can communicate with a fair command of the language, idioms are always the hardest to pick up and quite useful — and yet they are never included in textbooks. Not to this extent, anyway.

    Also, your blog is simply wonderful.

  • I love this series! It makes me want to go to Paris and try these sayings on people. How do you think the Parisians would go for that? LOL

  • Ellen

    I just discovered your blog. It’s great! I have a suggestion. Could you please provide a pronunciation guide to the idioms? I have no French experience, but it would be so cool to know how say some foodie phrases. Even better, a recording of somebody saying it would be fabulous!

  • Ellen – Thanks for the suggestion; I’ll look into it and see if it’s doable!

  • Amy

    Sadly, I have had several internet purchases go quite like this! Thanks for the new phrase!

  • I’m French and I had never ever heard this expression before ! Is it a local expression, Clotilde ?

  • Jenny – From what I’ve found, it isn’t a particularly regional expression, but since a couple of you commented that they’d never heard it, it is apparently less widely used than other idioms featured in this series.

  • Jan

    On néerlandais on a une expression similaire : “als een tang op een varken” (comme une pince sur un porc). Probablement parce que – en Flandre surtout – on cultivait plus de porcs que des vaches…

  • Fidèle lectrice de l’ombre, je sors de mon silence habituel pour ajouter ma contribution à cette fascinante histoire, je ne connais pas non plus la vache au tablier, mais ma mère parle de la même chose, avec changement d’animal et d’accessoire “ça me va comme des guêtres à un lapin”!

    Bonne continuation, j’adore ce blog!

  • Sarah Canet

    I should be working but this addition to your site (which I only discovered today) is just so wonderfully distracting. Hope all is going well and keep them coming! Sarah.

  • My husband introduced me to a similar expression from the southern United States – like a hat on a horse. I also like this one that refers to being in the wrong place – like a dog in a manger.

    Thank you for this series!

  • bangprem
  • bangprem

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