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Industry Glossary

Clothing terminology
comprises the names of individual garments and classes of garments, as well as the specialized vocabularies of the trades that have designed, manufactured, marketed and sold clothing over hundreds of years.

Clothing terminology ranges from the arcane (watchet, a pale blue color name from the sixteenth century) to the everyday (t-shirt), and changes over time in response to fashion which in turn reflects social, artistic, and political trends.

Categories of clothing terminology

At its broadest, clothing terminology may be said to include names for:

Classes of basic garments: shirt, coat, dress, suit, underwear

Contemporary and historical styles of garments: frock coat, t-shirt, doublet

Parts of garments: sleeve, collar, lapel

Styles of these: juliette sleeve, Peter Pan collar

Clothing details: pocket, french cuff, zipper

Traditional garments: cheongsam, kilt, dirndl

Fashions and "anti-fashions": preppy, New Look, hip-hop, rational dress

fabrics: denim, wool

Colors and dyes: madder red, indigo, isabella

Sewing terms: cut, hem, armscye, lining

Patternmaking terms: sloper

Methods of manufacture: haute couture, bespoke tailoring, ready-to-wear

Retailers' terms:

Size ranges: missy, plus size, big-and-tall

Retail seasons: back-to-school, holiday, resort

Departments: special occasion, sportswear, bridge fashion

Degrees of formality: formal wear, bridal, business casual

Persistence of clothing terminology

Despite the constant introduction of new terms by fashion designers, clothing manufacturers and marketers, the names for several basic garment classes in English are very stable over time. Gown, shirt/skirt, frock, and coat are all attested back to the early medieval period.

Gown (from medieval Latin gunna) was a basic clothing term for hundreds of years, referring to a garment that hangs from the shoulders. In medieval and renaissance England gown referred to a loose outer garment worn by both men and women, sometimes short, more often ankle length, with sleeves. By the eighteenth century gown had become a standard category term for a woman's dress, a meaning it retained until the mid-twentieth century. Only in the last few decades has gown lost this general meaning in favor of dress. Today the term gown is retained only in specialized cases: academic dress or cap and gown, evening gown, nightgown, hospital gown, and so on.

Shirt and skirt are originally the same word, the former being the southern and the latter the northern pronunication in early Middle English. Like gown, shirt is becoming a specialized term in Britain, though it retains its general meaning in the U.S. (see Shirt).

Coat remains a term for an over-garment, its essential meaning for the last thousand years (see Coat).

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Clothing & Fashion Industry Definitions
fabric & Textile Industry Definitions
Fashion Terms / Fashion History / Fashion Designers / Fashion Brands etc.
Dye & Dyeing Industry Terms
Embroidery & Embroidery Industry Terms
fibers & fiber Industry Definitions
Sewing Terms & Definitions
yarns & yarn Industry Definitions
Hat & Headwear Definitions
Footwear & Shoe Industry Definitions
Shipping Industry Freight Definitions
Miscellaneous Apparel Industry Terms

Sources of new terminology

Names for new styles or fashions in clothing are frequently the deliberate inventions of fashion designers or clothing manufacturers; these include Chanel's Little Black Dress (a term which has survived) and Lanvin's robe de style (which has not). Other terms are of more obscure origin.

Personal names

Clothing styles are frequently named after people
often with a military connection:

  • The Garibaldi jacket and Garibaldi shirt were bright red woolen garments for women with black embroidery or braid and military details popular in the 1860s; they are named after the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi who visited England in 1863.
  • The Eisenhower jacket is a waist-length, military jacket based on the World War II Army "Wool Field Jacket, M-1944" introduced by General Dwight Eisenhower.
  • The cardigan is a knitted jacket or button-front sweater created to keep British soldiers warm in Russian winters. It is named for James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War (1854).

Short forms

A notable trend at the turn of the twenty-first century is "cute" short forms: camisole becomes cami, hooded sweaters or sweatshirts become hoodies.  Learn about college sweatshirts.

The much-older term shimmy for "slip" is most likely a false singular from chemise.

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