Basic Fashionese for beginners – it’s essential dahling

Let’s start with a simple question. What colour is the sky? If you answered blue, I’m afraid you need to be more specific.

Let’s start with a simple question. What colour is the sky? If you answered blue, I’m afraid you need to be more specific. But don’t worry, you have plenty of shades of blue to choose from: azure, baby blue, beryl, cerulean, cobalt, cornflower blue, corporate blue, cyan, indigo, midnight blue, navy, Prussian blue, robin’s egg blue, royal, sapphire, sky blue, slate, steel blue.

Confused? Head exploding because of this sudden thesaurus-like onslaught of nuances? Don’t despair. You don’t need to run to the Oxford English Dictionary (and possibly several other foreign language dictionaries) and spend an afternoon taking notes, you just need to familiarise yourself with ‘fashionese’. And that is nowhere near as dull as the first option.

You might have heard that this so-called ‘fashionese’ was originally the language of designers, stylists, models, and fashion journalists, but is also currently adopted by the ‘fashionistas’, people generally interested (isn’t it more ‘obsessed ‘ than interested?) in fashion. ‘Who are you wearing?’ and ‘Pink just screams 1999’ aren’t oddities of language, but do make sense and are used more and more these days.

So how does fashionese differ from English, you say? Surprisingly, not that much. Fashionistas love their colours and their French words, and are very fond of acronyms. They also use the hyphen like it’s the new autumn/winter 2011 Prada bag. In other words, they show it off as much as possible. ‘The ready-to-wear collection from the Paris-born designer is a must-see’, ‘best-dressed’, ‘Re-see’… sounds familiar?

Thought so. Especially if you read Vogue, Marie Claire or ELLE. Most of these fashion journalists use fashionese, and perhaps you should be pointing a finger in their direction if you’re annoyed by the sudden invasion of ‘stylish’ non-standard English words. But be careful. Whether you see it as a friend or enemy, it’s better to know it then have other pointing fingers at you, laughing.

I’m talking about the so called ‘false friends’ in Fashionese. If you ever studied a foreign language, you might remember the concept. Things that sound like words you’re familiar with, but mean something completely different. Also known as the main trap of fashionese. If you thought nude was a fancy way of saying naked, or that vanilla was just an ice cream flavour, you’re not ‘tres maintenant’. In fact, you’re very ‘passe’. Nude is now also a fancy way of saying ‘skin coloured’ and the colour to wear last summer – the new black. Vanilla, as well as beige, are used to call an object (or even a person) common and even unpleasant, perhaps because neither vanilla nor beige are seen as bold or inspired choices in their designated fields. So don’t wear beige and eat vanilla ice-cream whilst passing a group of fashionistas, or you will be labelled ‘tired’, ‘done’, or ‘over’.

Fashionese seems pretty easy to dismiss as some kind of joke or phase that doesn’t really need to be taken seriously, doesn’t it? But it’s not quite that easy and we shouldn’t put the fashion dictionary to the back of the top shelf of the closet next to last season’s Manolo Blahniks. Surprise-surprise, darlings! It’s not a recent invention. Fashionese started developing a while ago (the word ‘brassiere’ for female underwear entered the English Language in 1910) but only recently became annoyingly prevalent. And what is this season’s ‘must-have’ term in fashionese? Two words: receshem theory. No, I didn’t misspell anything. Receshem theory is ‘the economic/fashion theory according to which hemlines rise and fall with the fortunes of the stock market’ according to

Weren’t expecting that, were you? They have coined terms and phrases connected to the ‘real world’, the not so glittery reality us non-fashionese speakers live in. It’s irrefutable proof that fashionistas have been developing the language for a few years if they had time to observe this trend and create a theory about it.

Remember the 1920s with all those short flapper dresses? Then you might also remember that the Roaring Twenties ended with the disastrous Wall Street crash of 1929, and then the 30s saw a drop in both fortune and hemlines… almost back to the floor. So ‘receshem theory’ might actually be serious business.

The concept of fashionese starts to come together now and doesn’t seem so threatening (or silly) anymore, does it? If a well-dressed and immaculately styled person uses a lot of basic French words (tres bon, c’est magnifique) is very specific about colour (tangerine instead of orange or cerulean instead of blue), and seems somewhat judgemental about style, they’re not necessarily an unfriendly snob, they could also be a fashionista trying to help you, but the language barrier makes that hard to come across.

Hopefully now, if someone asks you ‘Who are you wearing?’ you will automatically switch to the fashion mindset and give a designer’s name, rather than look scared at the prospect of wearing a person. If the answer to that question is actually Primark or New Look, it’s better to lie. It’s for your own good, little fashion biscuit.