Jargon Watch: The Language Of Fashion

Get your vocabulary all dressed up for its runway debut.
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Jargon Watch: The Language Of Fashion

Let’s face it. Keeping up with the latest fashion trends is exhausting. There’s always some new trend, some fresh line released by some legendary designer, and it can all be so hard to keep track of. In such a volatile and exclusive industry, it’s no surprise, then, that there’s a whole world of fashion words and terms that might fly right over someone’s head if he or she isn’t paying attention.

Whether you’re obsessed with stitching, sewing and styling, you’re a DIY designer who dabbles in the art of dress-up as a hobby, or you just put on whatever clothing is closest to you (and isn’t in your laundry hamper), taking the time to familiarize yourself with the jargon of fashion is no wasted effort. If you plan on traveling to new destinations and shopping for some of the hottest local items, knowing fashion words and terms — and the distinct types of fashion in each community — can help you make an impression on the culturally conscious locals around the world. (Not that you need their validation, anyways. You’re beautiful just as you are.) Plus, if you’re able to compliment and comment on someone’s clothing and talk more about the story behind it, you’re likely to impress that person (and win his or her affection, if you’re after that).

Read on to find a whole collection of fashion words and expressions to add to your word-robe! (Get it?)

Fashion Words For The Fashion-Forward

Accessoriesitems like jewelry, shoes, glasses or bags that complement and contribute to an existing ensemble but that aren’t standalone garments by themselves. Accessories can be carried or worn.

A la mode — one of those fashion words that means in style, trendy or up to date. The flavor of the moment. See “chic” and “vogue.”

Avant-garde — a term used to describe fashion designs (and other works of art) that are particularly innovative, experimentally creative or cutting-edge.

Catwalk — as a noun, it refers to the stretch of stage or platform, often raised off the ground, that models walk on top of when they’re showing off a designer’s looks to an audience (alternatively, you might have heard it called a “runway”). A catwalk is also the act of catwalking.

Chic — sophisticated, elegant and in style, but perhaps making less of a statement than something that’s the most extreme high fashion.

Collection — a designer’s group of creations that is often united by a common theme and usually released altogether in a particular season. For example, designer Dries Van Noten debuted his spring 2019 line at Paris Fashion Week.

Couture — this term refers to clothes that are made-to-measure with a client’s specific size and proportions in mind. Because couture clothing is custom-fitted, these designs are often expensive and created with meticulous detail. One who designs couture is a couturier.

Designer — the brains behind the creation of garments. The most talented designers can be identified from the characteristic elements of their clothes. Famous designers include Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen, among many other international icons.

Distressing — a process by which a fabric is worn down or its aging is sped up artificially to change its aesthetic elements, often used on denim.

Ensemble — a whole coordinated outfit comprising garments and accessories that work together in harmony and complement each other to create a complete look.

Evening wear — clothing that’s appropriate for nighttime activities like fine dining, cocktail parties or anything other formal events.

Fabric — the flexible cloth material that makes up the surface area and foundation of a garment. Fabric textiles are made most often by weaving or knitting together individual fibers or wool, cotton or silk, for example.

Garment — a piece of clothing that’s a combination of fabrics and anything fastened or attached to it. Can be a whole outfit in and of itself (like a dress) or combined with other garments to build an ensemble (like a shirt-and-pants combo).

Haute couture even more hoity-toity than couture alone is haute couture, a French term for high sewing or dressmaking, which implies that a piece is crafted completely by hand. Each haute couture creation is a one-of-a-kind exclusive from a designer and is often considered the pinnacle of contemporary fashion.

Lookbook — sometimes used as teasers for upcoming collections, a lookbook is a marketing catalogue of images (often of well-groomed models wearing brand new looks) and ideas that are styled to show off a label or brand in a creative light and build a story behind a collection.

Off-the-rackThis term refers to “ready-made” or “ready-to-wear” clothing that’s mass produced and sold in large quantities to the general public in standard sizes in retail stores — so no custom creations here. If you’re worried about being seen in anything less than couture, don’t be. Most people (by a large margin) wear clothing that’s off the rack, and many can make it look chic effortlessly with the right styling.

Seam — the line where two pieces of fabric come together and are sewn to make one larger swatch of fabric. Seams can be hidden or emphasized as a design element.

Silhouette — the fundamental shape or contour of an outfit when worn on the body, which can include shapes like A-line, straight, empire, trumpet and sheath, among others.

Vogue — something that’s referred to as “in vogue” is trendy or fashionable, often to a high degree. It typically sets the standard for the current fashion trend.

Learning a new language is so in right now.
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David Doochin
David is a content producer for Babbel USA, where he writes for Babbel Magazine and oversees Babbel's presence on Quora. He’s a native of Nashville and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied linguistics and history. Before Babbel he worked at Quizlet and Atlas Obscura. A geek for grammar and an editorial enthusiast, he speaks Spanish (and dabbles in German, Dutch, Afrikaans and Italian). When he’s not curating his Instagram meme collection, you can find him spending too much money on food and exploring new cities around the world.
David is a content producer for Babbel USA, where he writes for Babbel Magazine and oversees Babbel's presence on Quora. He’s a native of Nashville and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied linguistics and history. Before Babbel he worked at Quizlet and Atlas Obscura. A geek for grammar and an editorial enthusiast, he speaks Spanish (and dabbles in German, Dutch, Afrikaans and Italian). When he’s not curating his Instagram meme collection, you can find him spending too much money on food and exploring new cities around the world.
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