Clothes Make the Man. Naked People Have Little or No Influence in Society

Mark Twain? Merle Johnson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Comments about stylish clothing always remind me of Mark Twain’s comment:

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.

But I cannot seem to find any direct reference for this quote. The best citation I have seen was dated more than fifteen years after Twain’s death in 1910.

Quote Investigator: The earliest known evidence for this saying was published in the book: “More Maxims of Mark”. This slim volume was compiled by Merle Johnson and privately printed in November 1927. Only fifty first edition copies were created, so gaining access to the work can be difficult. The Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University holds book number 14 of 50. With the help of digital images captured by a friend, QI was able to verify that the quotation is present on page number 6 of this book. Below is the saying under investigation together with the preceding and succeeding entries. All the maxims in the work were presented in uppercase [MJMT]:




Merle Johnson was a rare book collector, and he published the first careful bibliography of Twain’s works in 1910 shortly after the writer’s death. Twain scholars believe that the sayings compiled by Johnson in “More Maxims of Mark” are properly ascribed to Twain.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

A passage that Twain wrote in one of his notebooks in the period around August 1897 dealt with the theme of this quotation. In 1935 his biographer Albert Bigelow Paine selected material from the author’s collection of notes and published a volume called “Mark Twain’s Notebook”. Here is the relevant passage [APMT]:

Strip the human race, absolutely naked, and it would be a real democracy. But the introduction of even a rag of tiger skin, or a cowtail, could make a badge of distinction and be the beginning of a monarchy.

In 1905 Twain published a story titled “The Czar’s Soliloquy” in The North American Review. The work began with an epigram that provided the framework of the narrative [CSMT]:

After the Czar’s morning bath it is his habit to meditate an hour before dressing himself—London Times Correspondence.

In the following two short excerpts Twain was writing in the voice of the Czar of Russia. The opinions being expressed were the Czar’s constructed and refracted through the creative prism of Twain’s intellect [CSMT]:

As Teufelsdröckh suggested what would man be—what would any man be—without his clothes? As soon as one stops and thinks over that proposition, one realizes that without his clothes a man would be nothing at all; that the clothes do not merely make the man, the clothes are the man; that without them he is a cipher, a vacancy, a nobody, a nothing.

There is no power without clothes. It is the power that governs the human race. Strip its chiefs to the skin, and no State could be governed; naked officials could exercise no authority; they would look (and be) like everybody else–commonplace, inconsequential.

In 1927 “More Maxims of Mark” was published and it included the quotation as mentioned above in this post. Here is an image showing three of the maxims on page six [MJMT]:

Many variations of the expression “clothes make the man” have been created over the years. Here are two examples printed in “Esar’s Comic Dictionary” in 1943 [CDEE]:

Clothes make the man—uncomfortable.

Clothes make the man, but when it comes to a woman, clothes merely show how she is made.

In conclusion, it is reasonable to credit Twain with this quotation despite the fact that the earliest evidence is posthumous.

[MJMT] 1927, More Maxims of Mark by Mark Twain, Compiled by Merle Johnson, Quote Page 6, First edition privately printed November 1927; Number 14 of 50 copies. (Verified with page images from the Rubenstein Library at Duke University; special thanks to Mike)

[APMT] 1935, “Mark Twain’s Notebook” by Mark Twain, Edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, Page 337, [August or September 1897], Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)

[CSMT] 1905 March, The North American Review, Volume 180, Number 3, The Czar’s Soliloquy by Mark Twain, Start Page 321, Quote Page 321 and 322, The North American Review Publishing Company, Franklin Square, New York. (Google Books full view) link

[CDEE] 1943, Esar’s Comic Dictionary by Evan Esar, Page 52 and 292, Harvest House, New York. (Verified on paper)