show one's true colors, to

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show one's true colors

Reveal oneself as one really is, as in We always thought he was completely honest, but he showed his true colors when he tried to use a stolen credit card . This expression alludes to the antonym, false colors, that is, sailing under a flag other than one's own. [Late 1700s]
See also: color, show, true

show one's true colors, to

To reveal oneself frankly; to admit one’s genuine opinions or character. This term, the converse of sail under false colors, similarly alludes to the practice of deceiving the enemy by flying a friendly flag. However, it also was applied to cosmetics used to conceal or enhance a complexion. Thus Thomas Dekker wrote (A Description of a Lady by Her Lover, ca. 1632), “The reason why fond women love to buy Adulterate complexion: here ’tis read,—False colours last after the true be dead.” The metaphor was used for one’s genuine character by numerous writers, Dickens among them: “He didn’t venture to come out in his true colours” (The Old Curiosity Shop, 1840).
See also: show, true