Every industry has a lexicon, but how does the lexicon of the fashion industry effect those of us who are interested in style, clothes and their creation but who do not work in it? Obviously, there is a wealth of specific terms related to pattern creation, garment construction and the necessary technology that are common between the commercial and home-based forms of clothing production. But what about all the other terms that exist as a way of describing what we see/make? How much of a DIYers’ vocabulary has been directly affected by ‘the industry’?
Let me explain my personal angle. When I was small, my mother brought in extra cash as a dressmaker, her sewing machine seemingly permanently set up on the dining table (except for when it was put away so we could actually eat our dinner). Before that time she worked stints in a bridle wear company and at a big London-based costumier. Yet the tissue of her craft and labour was called material. By the age of 19, I had decided to follow a similar path and went to university to study Fashion Design. It wasn’t until I found myself in the studios of the Fashion Department, that I discovered material was also called fabric. In fact, the lecturers, tutors and technicians there seemed to have their own foreign tongue. Like infants learning to talk, through emersion, repetition and reinforcement we students also began to adopt many of these words. Material became fabric. Photos became images. Magazines became sources (this was largely pre-internet).
Although the acquisition of this new language was largely subconscious, the times in which I was made consciously aware of my vague fluency, I felt proud. Proud I guess to be part of something (Fashion!) that at the age of 20 seemed so vital, energising and socially relevant (which, at its best, I still believe it can be).
As the university course wore on, I heard my tutors use other words and phrases too: ones that I wasn’t so inclined to pick up. An obvious example of what I mean is the singularisation of items commonly accepted as plural. When analysing high street trends for a group assignment, we were asked to uncover the most prevalent ‘trouser’ trend. For my very casual final collection, I received some (rare) praise for an innovative ‘jean’ design. In fact, in my subsequent post-university involvement in the fashion industry, I even heard speak of the latest look for ‘glass wear’, meaning spectacles. Where did this singularisation of plurals come from? I can’t tell you, but what I do know is that it didn’t sit well with me. It was a bridge too far, uncomfortably close to the fashion-speak satirised in ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, linked to well-worn fashion journalist phrases such as ‘must-have’ and something being ‘important this season’.
Such language felt pretentious, exclusive and snobby, often used by people too concerned with projecting the perception that they somehow understand fashion and are uniquely able to translate for the benefit of the rest of the population. Before my awareness of the environmental and social damage caused by the fashion industry, the essence of the aforementioned mentality was what I hated the most about the industry as I saw it: the apparent continual preoccupation of appearance without meaning.
My reaction was to make a strong personal distinction between the language I felt represents the more vacuous side of fashion, and the language I believed genuinely assisted the communication of descriptions and concepts. I even began to, and in fact probably still do, distrust the word ‘fashion’ itself, as it seemed to me too closely associated with the showy, faddy and self-promoting elements of the industry. Instead, where appropriate, I preferred to replace ‘fashion’ with ‘style’ and the ‘fashion industry’ became the ‘clothing industry’.
It seems, post-Sex in the City, people are more clued in to such speak than ever before. Am I alone in my reaction towards it? Have I over-thought the situation or not allowed myself to grow out of an arguably juvenile take on it? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.