Fashion Dictionary for Beginners

I have come to the realization that a lot of fashion terminology is derived from the French language. Since I am basically fluent in French, and I have a passion for fashion, I thought I would write a quick little dictionary for people who are looking to learn more about fashion, but do not understand the terminology that stylists, designers and critics use. So here we go…these are in no particular order, and certainly not in alphabetical…sorry!

Avant-Garde: This term is a French term meaning “fore-ground”…What does fore-ground have to do with fashion? Well if you look at an avant-garde fashion shoot, or ensemble, it means it is in the fore-ground of fashion, it is breaking boundaries and status quo, or the “norms” of fashion. Avant garde is also not necessarily only for fashion…you can be an avant-garde artist, composer, thinker, writer…the list goes on. All you have to know is that in fashion, if someone says that the collection was “avant-garde” it means that it was unconventional,  risky innovative and experimental…which is not always a bad thing.

Avant Garde

Avant Garde

Haute Couture: Another French term meaning “high fashion”. This term refers to hand-made items, hand sewn clothes, custom fit clothes which were done by hand. Haute couture also refers to high luxury fabrics that are not conventionally used. Couture actually means “dressmaking” in French, however, in the fashion world a lot of people use the term couture as “fashion”.

Haute Couture - Designer Stephan Rolland

Haute Couture – Designer Stephan Rolland

DID YOU KNOW: In France, the term haute couture is protected by law and is defined by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris based in Paris,France. The chambre syndicale de la haute couture is defined as “the regulating commission that determines which fashion houses are eligible to be true haute couture houses”. Their rules state that only “those companies mentioned on the list drawn up each year by a commission domiciled at the Ministry for Industry are entitled to avail themselves” of the label haute couture. (Wikipedia)

Boxy: Refers to an article of clothing that has little to no tailoring, and is square in shape. You usually see this in jackets or blazers.

Boxy - Designer Balmain, Autumn '12

Boxy – Designer Balmain, Autumn ’12

Epaulets: I call these shoulder ornaments. If you buy a blazer, or a sweater and it has a decoration on the shoulders, like a clasp or jewels, those are epaulets. These are also used in military uniforms.


Epaulets – Givenchy

Filigree: This is the art of manipulating fine wire to create jewelry. Sometimes also includes beads. You can usually find filigree in silver or gold.

Filigree - D&G, Winter '13-'14

Filigree – D&G, Winter ’13-’14

Herringbone: One can usually find herringbone in outerwear or in a suit. The herringbone print actually was made to resemble the bones of the fish “herring”. It is a “v” shaped weave that is usually found in wool or tweed.

Herringbone - Tommy Hilfiger, Fall '11

Herringbone – Tommy Hilfiger, Fall ’11

Knife Pleat: A sharp straight pleat, often used in skirts.

Knife Pleat - Salvatore Ferragamo Spring 2014

Knife Pleat – Salvatore Ferragamo Spring 2014

Mandarin Collar: A tight fitted upright collar, usually found on a blouse.

Mandarin Collar - Victoria Beckham RTW Fall 2013

Mandarin Collar – Victoria Beckham RTW Fall 2013

Degradé: also known as ombré. This is the gradual change from a colors darkest shade, to its lightest shade.

Ombre dress - Fendi Spring 2014

Ombre dress – Fendi Spring 2014

Vent: This is a cut in the fabric of clothing to allow the garment to breathe and allow you to move freely. This is often seen in women’s business wear, for instance, pencil skirts, most of the time have some sort of vent, be it in the front, side or back; this is because it makes it easier to move.

Vent - Chadwick Bell Spring 2014

Vent – Chadwick Bell Spring 2014

Lapel: The folded flaps (fabric) on a blazer, coat or shirt. There are three kinds of lapels: Notch Lapel: which is standard on single breasted (I will define this after) jackets or blazers. This kind of lapel is American-English. Peaked Lapel: another American-English lapel which is commonly found on double-breasted formal jackets or tuxedos. You can find a peaked lapel on a single breasted jacket easier than you can find a notch lapel on a double-breasted jacket. Peaked lapel blazers are often more expensive than notch lapel blazers because properly cutting a peaked lapel and sewing it to a jacket, is one of the hardest tasks for a tailor to perform. Shawl Lapel: Refers to a continuous, rounded lapel, seen mostly on tuxedo’s or Victorian smoking jackets.

Notch lapel

Notch lapel

Peaked Lapel

Peaked Lapel

Shawl Lapel - D&G Fall '09

Shawl Lapel – D&G Fall ’09

Double-Breasted: Refers to a jacket or blazer with overlapping flaps, with two parallel sets of buttons or snaps. This can be found in men’s wear and women’s wear. Most of the time one column of buttons is decorative while the other side is functional (meaning you only have to button one set of the buttons) However, there are exceptions to this.

Double Breasted - Givinchy Fall/Winter '13-'14

Double Breasted – Givenchy Fall/Winter ’13-’14




About Rachel

My name is Rachel Boudreau. I am 24 years old and have been blogging for the Bangor Daily News for almost a year. I am a Certified Personal Shopper and a Certified Fashion Stylist. I have always had a complete love and desire for anything fashion. I have recently started studying French fashion, (Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc.) I watch all of the high fashion runway shows every spring and fall. I love shopping for people and picking out clothes for them because I like when people try things they normally would not, that, after all, is how you find new things you like! Happy reading!!!