Fashion dictionary: Style terms, words, and vocabulary every fashion lover should know

Fashion dictionary: Style terms, words, and vocabulary every fashion lover should know

Voguish vocabulary

Text: Ryan Sng

Image: Alison Hoenes

Popular depictions of the fashion industry in which people are aloof and judgemental — such as The Devil Wears Prada, entertaining though it may be as a film — are easily construed as flawed, borderline insulting even. That having been said, us poor, lonely fashion folk are so used to being misunderstood that if you dazzle us with a mastery of key terms, we'll soon be talking your ear off about Hedi Slimane and saving your phone number under 'New best friend' (we kid). To get you started on your path to fashion insiderdom, we've prepared a list of common fashion terminology for you below — TTYL, BFF (still kidding)!


Traditionally applied to men's suits and shoes, bespoke items are created from scratch from the measurements of the wearer. Made-to-measure items, meanwhile, are modified to fit from an pre-existing, 'standard sized' sample or pattern.

Dior Haute Couture fall/winter 2019


Short for 'computer-aided design', digitisation plays an increasingly important role in the fashion design and development process, influencing almost every step from print design to pattern grading (i.e. taking a sample-sized clothing pattern, and scaling up or down for different sizes).

Cut and sew

Refers to clothing that is cut and assembled from raw fabric, as opposed to pre-existing, plain/'greige' items — mostly sweatshirts, T-shirts etc. — that are modified and then re-sold as original garments.

Du jour

Anything that is of-the-moment or trendy.

Viktor & Rolf Haute Couture fall/winter 2019


The amount of extra room in an item of clothing, that allows a wearer to move (wearing ease, usually concentrated at articulated areas like the hips, elbows, and knees) or that creates a desired volume or shape (style ease, 'cause fashion's about lookin' pretty, after all). Most useful after festive seasons in which plenty of feasting occurred.


'False' or 'fake' in French (what else, chéri(e)?). A desirable quality when it comes to fur, but an infuriating one when it comes to pockets.

Schiaparelli Haute Couture fall/winter 2019

Haute couture

Luxurious, bespoke fashion that's constructed almost entirely by hand. Use of the term — which is protected by French law — is controlled by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

According to the Business of Fashion, eligibility is awarded to fashion houses that "design made-to-order clothes for private clients, with more than one fitting, using an atelier that employs at least fifteen fulltime staff. They must also have twenty full-time technical workers in one of their workshops. Finally... houses must present a collection of no less than 50 original designs — both day and evening garments — to the public every season, in January and July."

Behind the scenes, haute couture design studios are usually divided into flou or tailleur divisions; broadly speaking, the former refers to eveningwear, while the latter refers to daywear and outerwear. Haute couture craftsmen and technicians are colloquially referred to as petites mains.

Iris van Herpen Haute Couture fall/winter 2019


Textiles that are sewn-in or adhered to the inside of key garment areas (shirt collars and cuffs, trouser or skirt waistbands etc.) to structurally support or stiffen them. Interfacing does for droopy collars and waistbands what a bold red lip or heart-to-heart conversation does for most of us on a bad day — keep us from slow, internal collapse.


A fancy term for head-wear and the art of hatmaking. Best used when discussing the work of Stephen Jones, Philip Treacy et al., not so much for 'Make America Great Again' caps or Mickey Mouse ears.


A recurring design or pattern. Easy-peasy, do keep up, dahling.

Armani Privé fall/winter 2019


Also referred to as off-the-rack or prêt-à-porter (literally ready-to-wear, but en français), RTW is mass-produced clothing — 'mass' implying an edition of more than a single copy — made available in a range of pre-determined sizes (unless you're shopping at a hip mall anywhere in Asia, at which point everything is miraculously 'one size fits all!" *eyeroll emoji*).


A mockup — in inexpensive fabric — of an in-progress design, that mimics the look and feel of the desired finished product. Used for cost-saving purposes, or to finesse fit and finishing before introducing colour, pattern, and/or embellishment.

Jean-Paul Gaultier Haute Couture fall/winter 2019

Trompe l'œil

'Trick the eye' in French (again); simply put, optical illusion fashion. We fashion folk are quite the tricksters, n'est-ce pas?


The prevailing look or style of any given moment. The term has also become associated with a style of dance from the LGBTQI+ ballroom culture.


One of three major fabric categories, describing textiles that are created by weaving threads in a gridlike pattern. Knit fabrics, on the other hand, are comprised of threads woven in intertwined loops, offering increased elasticity compared to wovens. Non-woven fabrics, such as felt, are costructed from a tangled web of fibers, that may be further bonded by heat or chemicals.

Woven, knitted, and non-woven fabric Alison Hoenes