Slang dictionary

picture perfect

or picture-perfect [pik-cher pur-fikt]

What does picture perfect mean?

Something described as picture perfect is considered flawless or ideal in appearance or character.

Where does picture perfect come from?

picture perfect

The expression picture perfect may date back to as early as the 1850s, appearing in specialty photography newsletters and journals. One instance, in an article on taking color photographs, describes a “picture perfect in itself,” which may have helped inspire its use as an adjective, picture-perfect, or as perfect as if taken for a picture or as perfect as things appear in a picture. Early on, photography was expensive and laborious, so photographers and their subjects may have wanted things to look or be arranged as nicely as possible for the prized picture.

Picture perfect readily lent itself to metaphor. One notable early example came in January, 1909, when an article in The Atlanta Constitution ran: “Exquisite decoration made the setting for the wedding picture perfect, quantities of lovely flowers being used in the adornment of the four rooms.” Here, picture perfect isn’t describing the quality of a picture, but likening the quality of the setting to how it might appear if prepared for a photograph.

The term spread in the 1960s as an advertising buzzword. As photography became more sophisticated and accessible around this time, advertisers began promising products that would deliver some picture perfect result or experience. For example, a seller of a hair-color dye might boast their products transform the user into a picture perfect blonde, directly appealing to a consumer’s desire to be as gorgeous as a blonde model they’d seen in photos.

Examples of picture perfect

The game has one of the most memorable art styles in years and turns every moment into a picture-perfect display of cartoon merriment.
Heather Alexandra, Kotaku, September, 2017
landlords forget people LIVE in those properties. they are not indentured servants there only to keep their place picture perfect 24/7 😡
@traceyb65, March, 2018
With the right download, it’s easier than ever to ensure your vacation shots are picture-perfect — and to preserve precious family memories for years to come.
Amy Lynch, Holiday Inn Joy of Travel, June, 2017

Who uses picture perfect?

The phrase picture perfect is still used in advertising, though it has since gained broad currency in colloquial speech and writing. It can be used by anyone to describe anything that is flawless or, more loosely, is beautiful or high-quality. Picture perfect is especially said of physical appearances, marriages, families, homes, and vacations.

Picture perfect is frequently used to highlight the superficial or performative nature of outward beauty and happiness (e.g., They seemed like a picture-perfect family, but they were hiding a dark secret.). A 1997 romantic comedy, Picture Perfect, notably draws on this sense of the expression. It stars Jennifer Aniston as a striving professional pretending to be engaged to a man she just met in order to impress her boss. The title suggests how things that seem ideal are often just keeping up appearances. Thanks to these more ironic uses of the phrase, picture perfect can also connote an unreasonably or impossibly high standard.

The familiar expression has inspired countless business names (e.g., Picture Perfect Landscape Designs).

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of picture perfect like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of picture perfect that will help our users expand their word mastery.