Top Drawer – Phrase, Its Meaning & Origin

Meaning:

Something that’s described as ‘top drawer‘ is high quality, exceptional, or valuable.

Example: Billy said he had some funny jokes to tell. He said they were really funny. However, after he told me them, I didn’t think they were as top drawer as he made them out to be. (In other words, they were not outstanding.)

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. Out of sight
2. Tip-top
3. Top-notch
4. Top shelf

The Origin Of ‘Top Drawer’

It’s said that this phrase derives from the British expression ‘out of the top drawer.’ The ‘drawer’ in this phrase refers to the kind seen in common house furniture, such as chests or dressers. These have several drawers in them from top to bottom and usually the more valuable or useful things are kept in the top drawer so it’s easier to access them.

The earliest I could find of this saying in print is the early 1900s. For example, in The Argus, October 1926:

“Those who loved Rence Kelly in ‘Polly with a Past’ will love her even more as this frank, fresh young girl from the chorus, who speaks her mind and speaks it quickly, and who, although she ‘doesn’t come out of the top drawer,’ as she says, is pure gold through and through.”

However, The Phrase Finder has an earlier quote that comes from the book The Hill, a Romance of Friendship by Horace Vachell, 1905:

“You’ll find plenty of fellows abusing Harrow,” he said quietly; “but take it from me, that the fault lies not in Harrow, but in them. Such boys, as a rule, do not come out of the top drawer.”


Example Sentence(s)

  • The dinner you made last night was top drawer; it was delicious.

Similar Examples:

  • That was some top shelf guitar playing, I’m impressed.
  • The restaurant’s service was top-notch.

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