Worn-out fashion terms

NYT_cartoonI had to laugh at an article titled Worn-out Fashion Terms in the New York Times. Did you read it too? Some terms couture are dated couture; I’ve been couture complaining couture about some couture fashion words couture for 15 years couture. Guess which word that is? she chirps. I’ll never forget the words of one commentor here who said “this is America, anyone with a sewing machine is a couturier”. Actually, I thought the accompanying graphic was hysterical (and I hope they don’t make me take it down).  Here’s the run down:

Statement outfits
Concept store
Geek chic
D.I.Y. fashion

Most of these don’t bug me although some of the items or concepts purported to be represented by some of those terms do but only because it amounts to over the top marketing. I do think the D.I.Y. shoes in the illustration are hysterical, akin to these train wrecks (context), you see such things everywhere. I think it’s symptomatic of the IKEA Effect and certainly explains the, well, exuberant and enthusiastic pricing of such items.

So which worn out words annoy you? Feel free to post any not on this list. I have first dibs on my perennial favorites such as atelier, croqui, sloper etc.

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  1. Reader says:

    The article was funny. How did she forget “Investment Dressing”? Or is that too 2000?

    They can use “Green” until they’re blue in face; I still think it’s only the marketing term of the moment.

    I don’t have a problem with “Pop-up” for merchants that open up a store in a space for a couple of days.

  2. Naomi R. says:

    Bespoke and (Haute) Couture have official meanings. It irks me when they’re used for anything other than one-of-a-kind, cut-to-measure, hand-sewn suits and garments. Cheapens and confuses, I tell you.

  3. Deb Hillen says:

    I love when people call themselves “Designers” when they only sewed a few miss matched buttons and painted a scribbled design on an Abecrombie shirt they got at Goodwill ! Puullllease!!!

  4. Jasonda says:

    My nomination is artisan. A loaf of bread made by a commercial bakery by the thousands is not any more “artisan crafted” than the Wonder Bread on the next shelf.

  5. “anyone with a sewing machine is a couturier”. – ridiculous! And I can hear the French sneers from across the ocean. Reminds me of how television networks overuse the word “premiere” (it seems they know not the definition). Only more so.
    We are overrun with managers, but can scarcely find a leader. The path of least resistance is the most expensive path (monetary) yet cheapest (tacky) route and buzz words are just too easy to grab as they are swarming.
    I agree with another commenter, “green” has become overused (this from a “tree hugger”, probably one from another era). I feel that soon “in the cloud” (or is it “to the cloud”?) will be abused very soon.
    I am particularity tired of “24/7”.
    thanks for the blog entry

  6. Was it in the movie “The Town” where I heard 24/7 described at “31?” Some movie I just saw. The person using it was questioned about what he meant, and he simply said, “24…7….31” and I thought it was hilarious. So that’s my new phrase.


  7. Suzanne says:

    Ohhh, I love this. Also, I wanted to shout out a thanks for posting the link to the train wrecks which led me to the argument against batching (which I have read dozens of times) and further cemented my arguments against batching. It is a battle I fight every day with my stitchers, even though I have to tell them that one-at-a-time is not optional, it is REQUIRED. It is not my “opinion,” it is what I hired them to do. I think people want to batch because they feel like they can turn their brain off.

    That being said, we do batch cut and ship, which are the beginning and the end of the process. ;-)

  8. Betsy Cook says:

    I nominate “VINTAGE”. I second “ARTISAN” although I will admit to using worn out words if it they still communicate to the right people for the right setting. We are immersed in marketing our stuff and worn out to us might not be worn out to everyone else. Trends also travel into other regions across time. I’d love to try a pop-up in not-yet-popped-out Philly.

  9. Kathleen says:

    I agree to use words that reflect actual meaning regardless if others over-use them. Pop-up is a good example, what else would you call it?

    I like artisan tho, in a traditional “craft” (not crapt) sense.

    What does vintage mean? I’m trying to decide if I object to the 80’s as being defined as vintage because it was the 80’s, or because the clothes were so bad or because it dates me. I can’t decide which thought appalls me most.

    I have become wary of “collaboration” because it increasingly seems to refer to a situation in which I am to do a bunch of stuff for someone for nothing.

  10. “Vintage” means “used.” It’s a polite way of saying “second-hand.”

    I first noticed it in fashion spreads in magazines where they tell you where to buy the stuff in he pictures. Anything that belonged to the stylist and was not NEW NEW NEW and available IN STORES NOW was “vintage.”

    The eighties are totally vintage. In some jurisdicitons I think they are even “antique”! (Over 25 years old in much of North America; I think in Europe “antiques” have to be older than that.)

  11. Betsy Cook says:

    I guess I’d have to change my nomination to “vintage look” or “vintage style”, since where it is overused is in selling product. Thanks for pointing that out, you are right, it has a distinct meaning when celebs are decked out in stuff that isn’t for sale anymore.

  12. dosfashionistas says:

    Does this mean I have to change my name? After all my brand building!!

    I nominate the soon to be overused “retro”.

  13. sfriedberg says:

    “Antique” is very much in the eye of the beholder, even when there are written guidelines. In the US, the government declares aircraft official antique at 30 years, while the main enthusiast organization insist on 65 years (pre-1945) before declaring something antique. To the Vintage Aircraft Association, a 30-year old airplane is merely a “classic”, with an entire “vintage” category between classic and antique.

  14. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    @Martin Taylor: I thought that couture meant, literally, “seam”, and haute couture means “high seam”. By the literal definition of the word itself, a couturiere is a seamstress. (Babelfish tells me that couturiere means dressmaker. I assume that there is a separate term for a tailor.) I was taught in school that haute couture, aside from meaning that you were a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, was the ultimate refinement of custom/MTM clothing.

    But yeah, the term is way, way overused. Too bad that no one uses the term inferieur couture… :P

  15. @Seth:
    “Couture” means “seam”, but also “sewing”. “Couturière” is “dressmaker” indeed, but can also mean “seamstress” (the one who actually sew, not the devious other meaning). Tailors are “tailleur”.

    “Haute couture” means “high dressmaking”: it is the best of the art of dressmaking. The fact that you have to be a member of the Chambre Syndicale is just brand protection. Much more important is that you have to work a certain way. You have to create 2 collections per year, with a minimum number of pieces per collection (I don’t remember how many). Everything is hand-sewn, machine sewing is forbidden. The garments are designed and presented for the show, and then made to measures (“bespoke”) for the few clients who buy them. Only a very small number of each design are sold, so that a client can’t find herself in the embarassing situation of meeting someone else with the exact same dress as her. Fabric is frequently custom made, and there is a lot of expensive techniques involved, such as extensive embroidery, use of feathers, etc. I see no reason (except legal brand protection) why it could’nt be done elsewhere than in Paris, as long as you play along the rules. After all, there are damn good bespoke tailors elsewhere than in London.

    I’ve never understood the use of “couture” in English, which anyway has lost any meaning it could have had.

    Being myself an artisan, who makes bespoke, hand-made garments, I just hate to see use everywhere the words “artisan”, “bespoke”, “hand-sewn” or “hand-made”. It seems that today, everything that is not done by a robot or a computer is “hand made”. It is ridiculous. We see a lot of companies advertising “artisan” quality for their industrial, taylorised, standardised products. Sometimes they are good product, but I don’t see how a good made in a factory where 200 people work, made with a machine, even if there is an operator on the machine, can be “artisan” nor “hand-made”.

    I even cringed when I read here Kathleen saying that in the clothing industry, “hand-made” has a different meaning. Because I know many people who actually make hand-made products, such as garments or shoes. Sewn by hand, with a needle and a thimble (or similar tools for leather). Human-operated machine is not hand-made.

    I also find it funny to see French words borrowed in English, giving them a “hish-end”, luxury connotation in the process that it didn’t have originally. Artisan, for example. It just means that it was made by a self-employed craftman. There are good ones, but also bad ones. It is not a proof of quality per se. But in English, it got tainted with a strange glamour…

    In French, we see more and more “sur mesure” (made to measures, custom…) to describe an industrial product where the client chooses in a set of a few options. When I go to a woodworker to have a table made custom, I don’t want to choose options on a catalogue. I want him to measure the room, listen to what I need, and make what I want.

    People has be trained to believe they have choice when they can select an option amongst 10. They are lost when they really have choice, because they have been trained to buy ready-made, not to describe what they need and want. So, “custom”, “bespoke”, “sur mesure” etc. have lost their meaning…

  16. Marie-Christine says:

    dosfashionistas.. I hate to break it to you, but you should probably consider now what you’re going to change your name to.
    Consider for instance Sandra Betzina, who published in the early 90s a series of ‘power sewing’ books. After power everything was already getting passe (I think passe is old enough I can use it again, no :-)?). And then got obstinate about it, and trademarked the thing and got the domain name and now is doing videos still under that name. Maybe now it’s getting to the point where young people are beginning to think it’s cool and retro, but she’s done untold harm to herself for 20 years. Really cool books, useful techniques, but an image of insurmountable fuddy-duddiness, you have to practically tie people up to get them to wade beyond the title.
    Picking a really cool name is only good if you’re planning on being out of business in 6 months for some reason. Otherwise, something a bit less hot will have more staying power.

  17. JustGail says:

    Couture and bespoke would not be on my list. They are terms that have been used for decades. They’d probably qualify as antiques if they were furniture. I think 100 years is the age for furniture to be antiques in the US. They may be over-used right now, but they are still good words. To me, vintage also fills the space between antique and used. An item not old enough to be antique, but old enough to be inspiring new fashions, not so recent as to be “so last season”. In general, items that you remember from your childhood, maybe items your parents had.

    Many of the other terms were invented to put a positive spin on formerly unappreciated qualities. Remember when geek was not a good thing to be? And someone who was living in malls and only read the fashion magazines, but had no clue about anything else? Amazing what re-branding with a new term can do, just ask anyone involved in politics or marketing.

    What annoys me is the use of “button down” for all button FRONT shirts. Or am I wrong in thinking that button-down shirt correctly (formerly?) refers to only those that have the collars that button down?

  18. @seth… I stand corrected. Paul has an excellent write up in his comment. I went to my collection of books, some of which I hadn’t looked at since the mid-late 90s and looked through them. I took my response (above) from (mostly, it seems) Roberta Carr’s book “Couture, The Art of Fine Sewing”. She places ‘couture’ as a higher art than simple sewing. But that is known as haute couture. I agree with Paul in that we (Americans, in general) try to sound ‘high end’ by using foreign words or origins. Just look at the products advertised as “… as used/enjoyed/successful in Europe” (or Australia).
    Once I had an assistant, a French lady. She said the French didn’t understand American use of “French” in terms such as “french fries”, “french curves” or even “french kiss”.
    I suppose that in China ‘Chinese food’ is called simply “food”.
    I sought translations for Couture and found both that is simply refers to sewing, and in places (google ‘couture definition’) it means the high end of sewing.
    It may be a word which doesn’t translate very well. I turned to “Glossary of Garment Industry Terms: English-French-German” (CETIH, april 1990- a book put together for the Single European Market) and in it ‘Couturier’ simply carried itself through the languages as is, with the exception/addition of Germany’s ‘Modeschöpfer’ (fashion designer).
    “inferieur couture” – I like that term! But you are right, no one would adopt it (well, it does have potential as a gimmick!)
    I took this picture* of some of my books collection (after reading somewhere here of Kathleen’s book adventures)… her book is on top (meaning- being read; within reach).
    thanks all!


  19. Kathleen says:

    I even cringed when I read here Kathleen saying that in the clothing industry, “hand-made” has a different meaning…Human-operated machine is not hand-made.

    Paul, the definition I use is the legal one. Since we can quibble back and forth endlessly and never come to terms, I have to run with that.

  20. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    No, it’s like this: anything 10 years old or older is “retro”. Anything 30-40 years old or older is “vintage.” And I’d say 75+ years would be antique, depending on the item. :-)

    You have to remember there is a big market for vintage and vintage reproduction clothing.

    But I lived thru the ’80s and am not ready to call THEM vintage! Not yet. :-)

  21. Annik Van Steen says:

    an “exclusive interview” …

    This used to mean the interview was exclusive, this was the only one the interviewed person did. These days it means: no other reporter was in the same room (or worse… allowed to speak) during the interview.

    It’s not “exclusive” if we see the same questions on 7 tv channels, 5 newspapers and 9 magazines.

  22. Simeona says:

    I love this article can you please post another article on the fashion terms that are currently in please.

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