Beth recently sent me an email requesting a tutorial on fashion terms. This can be a tricky thing to do, because while there are some absolutes, often the definition of a fashion term is dependent on whom you are asking. Also, lots of garments, shoes, handbags, etc. fall in between certain categories, or a term we've long known to describe one aspect of a garment, suddenly describes something else. Designers and fashion trends sometimes require the invention of new terms that are used to describe a slight variation on a term we already know. However, despite these challenges, I'm going to do my best to put together some basic terms and their definitions to help you understand the often confusing fashion world. I'm going to attempt to cover silhouette, neckline, fabric, and the elements of garment construction, specifically geared towards women's clothing and accessories. Maybe if this post is popular (and not torturous for me to write), I'll do a menswear version.
A-line- A skirt or dress silhouette in which the waistline is narrow, extending to a fuller skirt in the shape of the letter "A."
Almond Toe- The tip of a close-toed shoe that is a rounded point, like the tip of an almond.
Ankle boot- A short boot that extends up to, but not beyond the ankle.
Ankle Wrap/Ankle Strap- A shoe whose closure includes a wrap around the ankle or a strap that fastens around the ankle.
Applique- A method of embellishing a garment by stitching pieces of one fabric onto another. The pieces are often referred to as "appliques," but the term can also be used to describe the technique. Appliques can be plain fabric, but they can also be embellished with beads/sequins, etc.
Baby Doll- A short dress made with an empire waist.
Baguette- A handbag that is small and narrow, like a loaf of French bread.
Ball Gown- A full skirted ball gown, often with crinoline to hold the shape of the skirt. A true ball gown will have pleats or gathering at the waist which helps to give it the extremely full shape.
Bandeau- A strapless, straight band across the bust.
Barrel Bag- A bag with a horizontal cylindrical shape.
Basque Waist- A waistline that dips into a "V" shape in the center.
Bateau or Boat Neck- A high neckline that runs almost straight across in front, back or both from shoulder to shoulder.
Batwing or Dolman Sleeve- A sleeve with a wide opening at the shoulder that tapers in at the wrist. This type of sleeve often has an opening that runs from the shoulder to as low as the waist or bottom of the blouse.
Bellows Pocket- A pocket with extra folds of fabric along the sides and bottom, so that they can expand. Most commonly used on cargo pants and sporty clothing.
Bias- Fabric that is cut diagonally across the grain of the fabric.
Bishop Sleeve- A long sleeve that is fuller at the bottom and gathered together into a cuff at the wrist. There can be gathering at the shoulder creating a puffed sleeve, or it can be full only at the bottom. A similar style that has the gathering at the elbow instead of the wrist is referred to as a "Leg of Mutton Sleeve."
Boning- Stiff metal or plastic pieces that run vertically within a gown or corset, providing stiffness to the garment. Originally made with actual bone, hence the term.
Bootleg- Pants or jeans that have a slightly flared opening at the hem to accommodate a boot.
Box pleat (and inverted box pleat)- A double pleat where the two upper pleats face away from each other and the under pleats face towards each other. The opposite is an inverted box pleat.
Brocade- An intricately woven fabric typically made to create a raised pattern. It often appears to be embroidered, but is actually woven, typically on a loom.
Bubble hem/skirt- A hemline in which the top layer of fabric (usually a very full cut) is sewn to the less-full lining with the top layer being gathered together as it is sewn. The effect creates a "bubble" at the hemline.
Bucket Bag- A bag resembling the shape of a bucket, typically with a height that is greater than its width. Can have a round or square bottom.
Cape/Capelet- Sleeveless outerwear that fastens at the neck and extends down from the shoulders. Can be any length from above the elbow to the floor.
Cap Sleeve- A small sleeve that sits on the outer edge of the shoulder. It can also extend just beyond the shoulder, or fall a bit onto the arm.
Chambray- A woven fabric, similar to linen or cotton, but which uses a white weft combined with a colored warp. Blue is the most common color used in chambray, and the result is like a faded, light-weight denim.
Circle skirt- A skirt that is cut literally in the shape of a circle. It creates a very full silhouette, but without any gathering or pleats.
Clutch- A small handbag without a strap or handle, meant to be held under the arm or "clutched" in the hand. Best with evening wear.
Covered Heel- A heel that is covered in the same material as the upper portion of the shoe. Most high heels have a covered heel.
Cowboy Heel/Cuban Heel- A heel that falls straight down in the front, but angles in from front to back at the back of the heel.
Cowl neck-A neckline with fabric that falls very loosely from shoulder to shoulder. It can drape in the front, back or both.
Cross-Body Handbag- A bag whose strap extends over the shoulder and across the body, allowing your hands to be free. Can be as small as a clutch, or large like a messenger bag, and everything in between.
Cuff- A large, rigid bracelet, typically made with an interior closure or opening. Also refers to the folded edge of a sleeve or pant.
Damask- Similar to a brocade in that it is woven and often features intricate patterns and scenes, however, unlike brocade, the pattern is reversible.
Dart- A fold stitched into the fabric of a garment to give it shape. Often found near the bust and waistline.
D'Orsay- A style of shoe where one or both sides are cut away from the center portion of the shoe.
Dropped Waist- A silhouette in which the definition of the waistline falls slightly below the natural waist.
Dupioni- A silk fabric woven from two cocoons which creates a slightly shimmery, sometimes iridescent effect. Similar to silk shantung, with the main difference being silk shantung is made using a single thread or cocoon. Both fabrics are characterized by the "slubs" or the bumps in the fabric, left behind by the silkworms.
Embroidered/Embroidery- A decorative pattern or method of embellishing fabric using thread to create the design.
Empire Waist- A silhouette in which the skirt falls from above the natural waist, as high as directly under the bust.
Envelope Bag/Clutch- A flat handbag with a flap closure that resembles an envelope. Typically it is made without straps and is a type of clutch handbag.
Espadrille- A shoe where the sole is made of jute. They can be flats, wedges or platforms.
Fit and Flare- A silhouette in which the bodice is fitted and flares out into a fuller skirt. Trumpet and Mermaid silhouettes are examples of this.
Flap Pocket- A pocket in which there is a top flap over the opening of the pocket. The flap may sometimes have a button or snap.
Frog Closure- A braided button/loop closure often used as an ornamental style closure. It is most commonly used in Asian-style attire.
Godet- A triangular piece of fabric sewn into a garment to create a flared effect.
Grain- The direction of the weft of the fabric. Cutting "with the grain" refers to cutting in the vertical direction of the fabric (weft). Cutting "across the grain" refers to cutting horizontally across the fabric (warp).
Halter- A neckline style in which a single strap fastens behind the neck.
Handkerchief- A hemline that falls in multiple triangular points.
Haute Couture- Extremely expensive, hand-made, high quality garment. To qualify as "haute couture," a garment must be made following strict guidelines within a certified haute couture house.
Hidden Platform- A platform shoe where a portion of the platform is "hidden" within the shoe under the ball of the foot.
High-Low (or Hi-Lo)- A hemline that is high in the front and long in the back- this can refer to a skirt, dress or blouse.
Hobo Purse- A slouchy style of handbag, typically made with a wide shoulder strap.
Inset or Slit Pocket- A pocket that rests on the inside of the garment, with the opening created by a slit in the fabric. This style of pocket can be set into the front or back of the garment, but is most commonly placed in a side seam.
Jacquard- A woven fabric similar to brocade or damask, but made using a Jacquard attachment on the loom. Damask and brocade can be made using a Jacquard attachment on a loom.
Jersey- A soft fabric that is created by knitting the thread, rather than weaving. It can be made with cotton, wool, silk and synthetic threads. The result is a stretchy fabric with a smooth "right side" and a more textured back or "wrong side."
Keyhole- A back or neckline that comes together at the top creating an open round or tear-shaped cutout.
Kitten Heel- A low, narrow heel, usually less than 2 inches in height.
Knife Pleats- Pleats of equal size and length, all facing the same direction. Accordion pleats are an example of this type of pleat.
Lace- An open-work fabric made by hand or machine, often characterized by the floral pattern that results. There are many types of lace including Alencon, Chantilly, crochet, tatting, laser cut, macrame, Shetland, etc.
Lariat- A style of necklace without a clasp. Rather, the chain is either looped around itself to hold the necklace in place, or worn wrapped around the neck like a scarf.
Mary Janes- A shoe characterized by the horizontal strap across the instep. A Mary Jane can be a flat or a heel.
Mermaid or Fishtail- A silhouette characterized by the fitted bodice that extends to the knees before flaring out to the hem.
Minaudiere- A small handbag or clutch with a hard case, typically jewel-encrusted. Generally carried with formal attire.
Modified Sweetheart- A neckline in which there is a dip in the center, similar to a sweetheart neckline, but not as deep or pronounced.
Mule- A shoe with the sides and back completely cut away, leaving only the front portion around the foot.
Natural Waist- A silhouette that is cinched at the smallest part of the torso, usually a few inches above the belly-button.
Netting- An open-weave fabric- examples include tulle, English net, and bobbinet and are typically used in wedding veils and lingerie.
Off the Shoulder- A neckline in which the straps or sleeves fall around the upper portion of the arm.
Patch Pocket- A style of pocket in which a separate piece is sewn onto the top of the fabric. Common on shirts and jackets.
Peep/Open Toe- A shoe style in which the front is cut out to expose the toes.
Pencil Skirt or Dress- A fitted silhouette with absolutely no fullness from the waist to the hem. Also referred to as "column" or "straight."
Peplum- A short piece of gathered, pleated, or flared fabric attached at the waist of a dress, skirt, blouse or jacket. Can be symmetrical/asymmetrical, full or partial.
Pin tuck- Tiny pleats that are stitched in place.
Platform- A style of shoe with a raised or exaggerated sole- can be either flat or heeled.
Pleat- A pressed fold in a garment.
Pointed Toe- A shoe style in which the front forms a point at the toe.
Pret-a-porter- A French term for "Ready to wear."
Princess Seam/Princess Dress- A princess seam garment consists of vertical seams that begin at the neckline and extend down to the hem. A princess seam gown would not have a separate bodice/skirt or a horizontal seam at the waist.
Pumps- A shoe style in which the upper portion of the shoe is closed on the heel and the sides, leaving the top of the foot mostly exposed. Pumps can have an open or a closed toe.
Round Toe- A shoe style in which the front is rounded.
Ruching- A technique in which the fabric is gathered or folded and then stitched in place.
Sandal- A shoe style characterized by the open upper that consists of one or more straps that hold the shoe in place.
Satchel- A bag with a top closure, top handle(s) and a flat bottom. Can have triangular, square or rounded side profile.
Satin- A style of woven fabric in which one side of the fabric is shiny, while the other is matte. Nearly any type of textile- silk, cotton, wool and synthetics- can be used to make satin. It can be very stiff and heavy like Duchess satin or very fluid like silk charmeuse.
Scoop or Round neck- A neckline with a soft "U" or rounded shape. It can be high or low. A high scoop neck is often referred to as a "crew" neck in casual clothing or a "jewel" neck in formalwear.
Sheath- A silhouette with a slim fit and definition at the waist.
Shift- A silhouette with a straight shape and no specific definition. It often falls straight from the shoulders to the hem.
Shoulder Bag- Any bag that is carried by a strap that rests on the shoulder. Different from a cross-body bag because its strap does not extend enough to go across the body.
Slingback- A shoe style with a single strap across the back of the heel.
Spaghetti Strap- A very narrow strap on a dress or blouse.
Split Neck- A scoop neck with a "V" cut out of the center.
Square Neck- An open neckline that forms the shape of a square from the shoulders to the top of the bust.
Square Toe- A shoe style in which the toe is shaped like a square.
Stacked Heel- A heel that is made using layers of wood stacked on top of each other.
Stiletto Heel- An extremely narrow high heel.
Straight Leg- A silhouette of pants in which the fabric falls straight down to the floor from the hip.
Sweetheart- A neckline that forms the shape of the top of a heart at the bust.
Tapered Leg- A silhouette of pants in which the fabric narrows towards the ankle.
Tea Length- A skirt or dress whose hemline falls below the knee, around mid-calf.
Tip of the Shoulder- A neckline that extends from the outer edge of each shoulder. It can be a boat neck, v-neck, scoop neck, etc.
Tote- An open-top bag with a double handle and a large inner compartment.
T-strap- A style of shoe similar to a Mary Jane, but with the addition of a vertical strap that connects to the horizontal one, forming a "T" across the top of the foot.
Trumpet- A silhouette in which the skirt flares out from the hip to the hem, much like the bell of a trumpet.
V-neck- A back or neckline that forms the shape of a "V." It can be high or very plunging.
Wedge Heel- A style of shoe in which the heel is filled in under the foot, creating a triangular "wedge" under the arch of the foot.
Weft- The threads of fabric that run vertically.
Warp- The threads of fabric that run horizontally.
Wrap- A style of dress or shirt in which the fabric overlaps around the waist either in the front or the back.
Wristlet- A small clutch or bag with a tiny strap just large enough to slip onto your wrist.