plain·​clothes | \ ˈplān-ˈklō(t͟h)z How to pronounce plainclothes (audio) \

Definition of plainclothes

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: dressed in civilian clothes while on duty used especially of a police officer

plain clothes


Definition of plain clothes (Entry 2 of 2)

: civilian clothes : the dress of an ordinary citizen … he had brought in a stenographer, more cops, and an older man in plain clothes.— E. L. Doctorow used especially in describing the clothes of a police officer a detective in plain clothes

Examples of plainclothes in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective In the early morning hours of February 4, 1999, Amadou was standing outside his building when four white plainclothes officers drove by. CBS News, "Amadou Diallo's mom on George Floyd's last words: "Every mother heard him"," 9 June 2020 The agents are part of the Ohio Investigative Unit, which is made up of plainclothes peace officers responsible for enforcing Ohio’s alcohol, tobacco and food stamp fraud laws. Sean Mcdonnell/akron Beacon Journal,, "Undercover agents enforcing state health rules at restaurants, bars," 22 May 2020 Taylor, 26, was at home with her boyfriend on March 13 when three plainclothes officers with the Louisville Metro Police Department arrived to execute a search warrant in a drug case. NBC News, "FBI investigating death of Breonna Taylor, killed by police in her Louisville home," 13 May 2020 Video taken in the East Village on Saturday shows a plainclothes officer tackling one man on the sidewalk as a crowd of bystanders looks on. Brianna Provenzano,, "Viral Video Shows NYPD Treating Social Distancing Offenders In Grossly Different Ways," 4 May 2020 Kneeling on the top of Wright's back or neck to keep him down, the plainclothes officer started jawing and cursing at bystanders. Michael R. Sisak, USA TODAY, "'Not acceptable': Violent arrest raises concerns about NYPD distancing patrols amid coronavirus pandemic," 4 May 2020 His plainclothes security agents loiter and listen in cafes and hotel lobbies. David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, "A Police State With an Islamist Twist: Inside Hifter’s Libya," 20 Feb. 2020 As Áñez and her entourage arrived, a soldier and a plainclothes bodyguard took up protective positions: one behind her, the other by a window overlooking the plaza. Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, "The Fall of Evo Morales," 16 Mar. 2020 Detective Vaughan Ettienne, a bodybuilder and veteran member of plainclothes anti-crime teams in Brooklyn, is also on the list. Joseph Goldstein, New York Times, "Why 7 Police Officers Were Blacklisted in Brooklyn," 7 Nov. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'plainclothes.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of plainclothes


1856, in the meaning defined above


1822, in the meaning defined above

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Time Traveler for plainclothes

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The first known use of plainclothes was in 1822

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Cite this Entry

“Plainclothes.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of plainclothes

: dressed in ordinary clothes and not a uniform while on duty


plain·​clothes | \ ˈplān-ˈklōz, -ˈklōt͟hz How to pronounce plainclothes (audio) \

Legal Definition of plainclothes

: dressed in civilian clothes while on duty used especially of a police officer

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