hair shirt

a garment of coarse haircloth, worn next to the skin as a penance by ascetics and penitents.
self-imposed punishment, suffering, sacrifice, or penance.

1350–1400; cf. hair Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
hair shirt
1.  a shirt made of haircloth worn next to the skin as a penance
2.  a secret trouble or affliction

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

hair shirt

A self-imposed punishment or penance, as in I apologized a dozen timesdo you want me to wear a hair shirt forever? This term, mentioned from the 13th century on, alludes to wearing a coarse, scratchy hair shirt, the practice of religious ascetics. Its figurative use dates from the mid-1800s.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
Under his episcopal ornaments he wore a rough hair shirt, and had no better
  covering to his bed than sackcloth.
He always wore a hair shirt, took his short rest sitting, and spent great part
  of the night in prayer.
The holy hermit loaded himself with a heavy iron chain, and his garment was a
  rough hair shirt, made of large hair of camels.
She wore continually a hair shirt, and a girdle of horse-hair.
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