One of the most overlooked aspects of fashion is language. The evolution of the English language has created an entirely new way for us to communicate. (Which we can’t deny, is very important to us ladies!). Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter – that we all love – have aided the evolution of language and allow for a separate social universe with a whole new way of speaking. Of course, like everything else, this affects fashion!
Of course it isn’t just modern words that we’ve brought into fashion. The creation of neologisms (new words) for fashion has been going on for centuries.
Here’s a bit of background: the renaissance period was renowned for coining new terms for fashion. Ever wondered where the words ‘beret’ and ‘flat cap’ came from? Ladies, I present to you the renaissance. We all love a good pair of high heels, but did you know the original name for heels was ‘chopines’? As you can see, English Language has a huge impact on the way we interpret fashion today.
Now, linking back to social media. Everyone loves a good selfie, right? Let’s be honest, we all take them! (Kim Kardashian included.) Instagram is flooded with ‘ootd’ (outfit of the day) and ‘ootn’ (outfit of the night) photos which are quite obviously words we have acquired through the evolution of our language. “Ye Olde Selfie” doesn’t quite fit, does it? That returns us to neologisms (new words if you had forgotten). These neologisms which have evolved from social media are now consistently used within the fashion industry. Perhaps not so much in high fashion, (not really a classic couture concept), but fashion none the less. Urban street style is a blooming area on the social media front; particularly Tumblr and Instagram. Alternative street style personalities such as Charlie Barker and Joanna Kuchta repeatedly post their ‘selfies’ and ‘ootd’s’, but did you know the word ‘selfie’ wasn’t added into the dictionary until 2013? In fact, neologisms and street style go hand in hand – but that’s a whole different linguistic fashion love match.
Image of Joanna Kutcha, Elizabeth Jane Bishop and Charlie Barker taken from Google Images
English language adopts words from all kinds of places, don’t forget. In 1993 the word ‘fashionista’ was coined in Stephen Fried’s biography of Gia Carangi. That’s right – it’s not just about glorified teenage slang! Fried claimed to take the 70’s term ‘sandinista’ and adapted the suffix ‘ista’ into his own word. Evidently it caught on – due to Angelina Jolie’s flawless portrayal of Gia in 1998 – and fashionista a still a (slightly cringey) word we continue to use today. Don’t be fooled, though, it isn’t just neologisms that fashion has taken under its flowing chiffon wing.
Portmanteau’s are another huge part of English Language and fashion. These are when parts of two words (morphemes) are put together to create a new word. Treggings and Jeggings are obvious examples in which designers have put the two words (trousers/jeans and leggings) together to create a new name for their product. These words have since been added to the Collins English Dictionary as well as other questionable words such as ‘flannies’ and ‘frugalista’ (which are arguably worse than fashionista). Perhaps these words belong in Urban Dictionary or the monologue of a Bridget Jones novel instead?
Linguistic development has also allowed for a new way to refer to clothes themselves. Have you ever wondered who came up with the names we attach to certain items? Even the simplest of garments such as the t-shirt has its name for a reason – even if that reason is simply due to the shape and function of it. There are also etymological constructions based on foreign origins. The word ‘lingerie’ for example derives from the French ‘linge’ meaning linen. The development of lingerie in French applies to the underwear of both genders. The English have since adapted the term further to mean women’s nightwear and under wear. (enchanté!). As I’m sure you can tell, French is very influential in developing the way we speak about fashion today. Avant-garde (cutting edge), Décolleté (low cut neckline) and of course haute couture (high fashion) are French terms that are constantly used in fashion. (Not quite the same as a ‘YOLO’ Primark tee obviously).
Not only has the language of fashion altered throughout time due to the modern impact of social media, it has also been dipping into different cultures to adapt its terminology. So, now you know where all your fashion jargon comes from – from high street to catwalk! Not only can you impress your fashion savvy friends with your outfits, but your linguistic knowledge, too!