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School of Fashion: Sartorial Terms Demystified

Couture for teens! Color-blocking extravaganza! Bias-cut! Too many fashion words are thrown around—and abused—these days.

What's word abuse? It's when a word is forced to do something it's simply not meant to do; when it's bent against its will to mean something else. Word abuse is extremely common when discussing fashion, so we've decided to do our part in ending it. Before I dropped out of fashion school—sorry, Mom and Dad!—I did manage to pick up a few terms that are thrown around by the fashion crowd—and often misused. So grab a pencil and get comfortable, because it's time for John's School of Fashion Vocabulary.

Christian Lacroix S 2008 Haute Couture, Fairchild

Ahhh, the world of couture, the world of expensive dresses. Of all the words in the fashion glossary, couture is the one that gets tormented the most. One often hears people referring to any fancy, expensive dress as couture, but they're wrong.

They're so wrong. For a garment to be classified as couture, it has to meet certain standards and come from a couture designer. Who names these couture designers? The Chambre de Commerce et d'industrie de Paris. What exactly are the standards? I thought you'd never ask! Any true couture designer must custom make pieces for their very lucky, very exclusive clientele, must have an atelier in Paris and present two collections each year of at least 35 day and evening looks. (Custom dresses that don't meet these standards are considered just that—custom.)

So, when your friend is all—"Do you like my dress? It's couture!"—make sure you put her to the test, because chances are, she needs some enlightening. If it is couture, then damn, you have a rich friend. (Like "I don't mind spending $50,000-plus on a dress" rich.)

Not all jeans are created equal—one distinguishing factor is the manufacturing process. The most coveted jeans are made of selvedge denim. What? It's actually exactly how it sounds...selvedge denim is so special because when woven, it forms it's own "self-edge." This occurs by using one continuous thread from side to side when looming the material, as opposed to several. This method creates stronger denim and eliminates the need to serge the seams.

How can you spot it? There's often a red thread that appears on the inner-seam that will indicate if they're selvedge or not. Selvedge is pricey, but worth it.

Fairchild Archive

A Button-Down Collar

Button-Up vs. Button-Down
This mistake is VERY common—almost so common, it shouldn't be a mistake. When somebody refers to a shirt as a button-down, they typically mean it's a shirt that buttons up the front, like an oxford shirt. However, the term button-down actually refers to the collar. Any shirt with a collar that attaches to the shirt with a button is technically a button-down. The proper way to refer to a shirt that buttons up the placket is "button-up." Not a high-level offense, but still, it irks us sometimes.

Disclaimer: I say button-down all the time, SUE ME.

One often hears that a dress is cut on the bias, but I've found, more often-than-not, that the declarer doesn't actually know what that means. It's quite simple. When something is cut on a bias, it's all about how the pattern is placed on the material. When the fabric is rotated on a 45 degree angle, it has a softer, stretchier and more malleable drape to it. Clothing cut on a bias is often more body conscious and lets designers accentuate the curves of the body more. Next time you see somebody in a body-hugging piece, chances are (if it's not a bandage dress) it's cut on the bias.

Kenzo Spring 2012, via Fairchild Archive

This one caused quite a debate in the office. Color-blocking can be seen in two ways.

First, for a single garment to be color-blocked, it must have separate blocks of color that come together in one piece. That doesn't mean that a striped shirt or a plaid shirt count, though. Color-blocking requires bold sections of color, often in bright hues.

However, to dress in color-block style, you must expand on that principle. A navy pant paired with a neon yellow sweater, a crisp pale blue shirt and an electric blue coat would be a fine example of color-block styling. Don't think this means you can wear jeans, a grey sweater and a white shirt and call it color-blocking: it still requires bold and bright colors.

And that concludes this session of fashion school with Jannuzzi. I hope you paid attention.

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