The Emperor's New Clothes is a Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1837, as part of Eventyr, Fortalte for Born (Fairy Tales, Told for Children). It was originally known as Keiserens Nye Klæder.
Many years ago there lived an emperor who cared only about his clothes and about showing them off. One day he heard from two swindlers that they could make the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they said, also had the special capability that it was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position.
Being a bit nervous about whether he himself would be able to see the cloth, the emperor first sent two of his trusted men to see it. Of course, neither would admit that they could not see the cloth and so praised it. All the townspeople had also heard of the cloth and were interested to learn how stupid their neighbors were.
The emperor then allowed himself to be dressed in the clothes for a procession through town, never admitting that he was too unfit and stupid to see what he was wearing. For he was afraid that the other people would think that he was stupid.
Of course, all the townspeople wildly praised the magnificent clothes of the emperor, afraid to admit that they could not see them, until a small child said:
"But he has nothing on"!
This was whispered from person to person until everyone in the crowd was shouting that the emperor had nothing on. The emperor heard it and felt that they were correct, but held his head high and finished the procession.
It has been claimed that Andersen's original source was a Spanish story recorded by Don Juan Manuel (1282-1348).
This story of the little boy puncturing the pretensions of the emperor's court has parallels from other cultures, categorized as Aarne-Thompson folktale type 1620.
The expressions The Emperor's new clothes and The Emperor has no clothes are often used with allusion to Andersen's tale. Most frequently, the metaphor involves a situation wherein the overwhelming (usually unempowered) majority of observers willingly share in a collective ignorance of an obvious fact, despite individually recognising the absurdity. A similar twentieth-century metaphor is the Elephant in the room.
The story is also used to express a concept of "truth seen by the eyes of a child", an idea that truth is often spoken by a person too naïve to understand group pressures to see contrary to the obvious. This is a general theme of "purity within innocence" throughout Andersen's fables and many similar works of literature.
"The Emperor Wears No Clothes" or "The Emperor Has No Clothes" is often used in political and social contexts for any obvious truth denied by the majority despite the evidence of their eyes, especially when proclaimed by the government. Amazon.com alone lists 17 works with one of these two phrases in the title, and this ignores political magazine articles and non-mainstream authors