The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Fashion Speak: The Idiot’s Guide to Fashionese

Although “Couture” and “Haute Couture” get bandied around to mean any new clothing items that don’t come from Walmart, technically these terms have a very exact definition:

To earn the right to call itself a couture house and to use the term haute couture in its advertising and any other way, members of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture must follow these rules:

▪ Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
▪ Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen people full-time.
▪ Must have 20 full time technical people in at least one atelier or workshop.
▪ Each season (i.e., twice a year), present a collection to the Paris press, comprising at least thirty-five runs/exits with outfits for both daytime wear and evening wear.


In an industry that sets such a definition for what is essentially “Manufacturer of overpriced frocks for people with more money than sense” it is not surprising that this is only the tip of the iceberg — especially recently.
Fashion jargon, it seems, is out of control.

Couture or calculus?

In a statement last year, Ed Watson, a spokesman for UK department store Debenhams said:

“It’s now easier to understand complex calculus than some of the words commonly used by commentators within the fashion industry to describe garments.”

While I personally disagree with him, on the grounds that I would find the Dead Sea Scrolls easier to understand than complex calculus, he has a point.

Debenhams, apparently, had to introduce a lexicon of fashion terms so its personal stylists could translate modern Fashionese into plain English for their customers.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a copy of it online to assist TDN readers, so I’m having a go at recreating it myself.

Fashionese and How To Speak It

Parts of Speech:

When translating Fashionese, one needs to be aware that it has an extra part of speech — the Absensicoun.

That’s a contraction of three words: Absolutely, Nonsensical, and Noun.

Contracting words is how much of Fashionese is derived.

For example, the Skort (Skirt+Shorts) and Jeggings (Jeans + Leggings). While we all might be familiar with these two, some more obscure Absensicouns are:

• Jorts = Denim hot-pants (Jeans+Shorts)

• Mube = a long, tight dress (Maxi + Tube)

• Spants = Harem pants (Skirt+pants)

• Swacket = something that is not quite Sweater, not quite Jacket

• Coatigan = a cardigan that resembles a coat (presumably for people who don’t want to admit they’re wearing cardigans)

• Glittens = Gloves that roll up into mittens

• Shress = a dress that’s like a T-shirt. (They couldn’t call it a Tress because that’s already a word. “Dirt” wouldn’t work, either. See how complicated this is?)

And my favorite:

• Whorts, which are winter shorts worn with woolly tights.

Words purloined (“Worpurls”) by Fashionese

Just as the English language shamelessly pinches foreign words and gives them different meanings from the original, so do words purloined by Fashionese (“Worpurls”) take on a new dimension.
Directional —
English (adj): having a particular direction of motion, progression, or orientation.
Fashionese (adj): something that looks completely weird now but is so trendsetting that in a few months’ time everyone will be wearing it. It will look weird again in another few months, when people look through last year’s photos and say, “My God, can you believe we actually used to wear that?”

Faux pas —
French (n): Literally “wrong step”.
English usage (n): A social blunder or indiscretion.
Fashionese (n): Dressing in a way to cause minor embarrassment to oneself. Examples include shrimp cocktail toes (wearing open-toed sandals that are too small so the toes extend past the end of the shoe, like a shrimp cocktail dish), inadvertently leaving your flies undone, and all of the 1970s. (See Directional, Past Tense.)

Thrifting —
English: No direct translation, since Thrift is a noun, not a verb.
Fashionese: Hunting for vintage clothes (must be over a certain age to be considered vintage and not just last season’s cast-offs) which have taken on an aura of mystique due to the fact they were produced at the same time as, say, the Ford Edsel.

Arm party –
This should have been an Absensicoun, but it’s difficult to contract satisfactorily. (“Arty”? “Arparty”? “Parmarty”?)
English: Umm…Beats me. A variation on “Twister”?
Fashionese: An armful of bracelets, where less is less.

Covert couture
English (n): Not sure. Anything to do with James Bond’s suit?
Fashionese (n): Clothes that cost a fortune but don’t look as if they did. (See Joel, Billy; Still Rock & Roll To Me: “You can’t dress trashy till you spend a lot of money.”)

Play them at their own game.

Back to Mr Ed Watson, the Debenhams spokesman, who had this to add:

Ideally we would like to drop all these amalgamations, but our hands are tied due to the terms being used on search engines.

Indeed. So the only solution is “If you can’t beat them — join them.”
Which words would you like to see adopted by Fashionese?

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Img: By mandiberg [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

2 responses to “Fashion Speak: The Idiot’s Guide to Fashionese

  1. Emily Cannell March 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    I`m impressed that you were even able to write this post. I learned quite a bit. Please don`t let me get caught with the horrible combination of shrimp cocktail toes and jorts. Ouch.

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