Off The Shelf

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Also: Off the Rack


Meaning of Idiom 'Off the Shelf'

Off the shelf refers to a product that is ready-made for use and able to be used without any set-up or alteration. 1,2,3


This idiom is often used to describe clothing that is not custom-made to fit one individual but is available in-stock and ready to be worn by the customer. The variant off the rack refers specifically to clothing, especially dresses and suits.

Off the shelf can refer to many other items, such as, for example, the components of a computer which can be bought off the shelf and then assembled.

Examples Of Use

"I may be rich, but I buy my clothes off the shelf like most people," said Mr. Robertson.

"The actress was criticized for wearing an off-the-rack dress, but her response was brilliant."

"I built my first product using off the shelf parts. Now I have my own machine shop."


Off the shelf is the earliest of these two variants. Shelf refers to a shelf displaying products for sale in a retail store. This variant has been in use since the first half of the 1900's.

The second variant, off the rack, has been used since the mid-1900's. Rack refers to a frame from which clothes are hung.

There is an earlier British variant, off the peg. A peg refers to a pin from which clothing is hung. This version dates from the late 1800's. 1

1. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
3. Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill's American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.

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