July 23, 2024

Fashion Design

Fashion Designs that Enlighten the Soul

Fashion A-Z | BoF

34 min read


A-line is the name of the triangle-like silhouette that begins fitted, typically starting at the waist, and gets gradually wider from the hips down to the hem. It echoes the shape of a capital A. The term was first coined in 1955 by Christian Dior to describe the shape of his A-line Spring Summer Collection. Later, it evolved into Yves Saint Laurent’s 1958 Trapeze Line in his first collection for the house, where the shape drops from the shoulder.

Almond-toe shoe

Almond-toe shoe, though you might not know its name, is in fact the most popular toe for shoes. It is neither too pointed, rounded or square. It gets its name from the shoe cap, which resembles the shape of an almond and creates a softer, more tapered rounded point to its toe.


Appliquéis a popular technique, particularly in haute and demi couture, where one material, usually plain, is placed on top of another to create unique contrasting motifs, pattern or texture. It is essentially the collaging, or layering of fabrics, traditionally using needlework techniques, to ‘ornament’ or ‘apply’ an extra dimension on to the fabric.


Armscye (also spelt arm scythe and pronounced ‘Arm’s Eye’) is a Scottish term in origin. It refers to the armhole opening in a garment and is also the tailoring term for the pattern shape used when constructing the armhole. If you were to label the anatomy of a dress, the armscye would be at the opening of the bodice, where the sleeve is attached.

Babushka Hood

Babushka Hood is a woman’s scarf. Usually triangular in shape, the scarf is tied under the chin — picture a Russian doll. Fabric can vary from silk to plastic, with the ‘hood’ covering the crown of the head.


Banding is the technique of ‘binding’ or fastening one piece of fabric to another. Banding can be for function as well as frivolity and is used to strengthen or tidy a seam, as much as to lengthen a hem or add an embellishment with a decorative inlay or border.

Bar Fagoting

Fagoting is an embroidery technique that can be worked in by hand, in a ‘bar’ effect. (a crisscross design) or using a machine with fine ribbon. The purpose of the stitches are to fill the space between two finished edges. Bar Fagoting is the simplest fagoting technique, which uses twisted embroidery thread, like a buttonhole twist, that is then covered over-and-over again with stitches.

Bar Jacket

Bar Jacket was the iconic jacket created originally by Christian Dior for his ‘Ligne Corolle’ in 1947, from the show that was famously dubbed ‘The New Look’ by Carmel Snow, then editor-in-chief of Harpers Bazaar US. The jacket is a softer shape, with sloping rounded shoulders, narrow waist and padding at the hips. It would become a signature code for the house.


Basque waistlines are French in origin. They are a type of bodice that either extends below the waistline or over the skirt. They have a V-shape and close contoured fit, in the style of a corset. Adopted from the traditional Basque country dress, these waistlines were popularised in the Victorian era. Today they share their name with a piece of similarly sculpted lingerie.


Basting, a bit like its cooking parallel, is an essential stage in the preparation of dressmaking. It refers to tacking — the long, loose stitches that, rather than pinning, anchor the material in place until the final sewing. If toiles need to be fitted on a body, it is far more professional and comfortable to baste, not pin, your silhouette or person in place.


Batwing sleeve is also known as a ‘Dolman’ or ‘Magyar’ sleeve. It is a long sleeve, cut wide at the shoulder with deep armholes that leads to thin tapered wrists, giving it a’wing-like’ appearance. The Dolman traces back to the Middle Ages, when it was a loose cape-like robe with a sleeve folded from the fabric. It is simpler to sew than a set in sleeve, as it is cut in one piece. But it lost popularity during World War I and II because of fabric shortages. It underwent a revival in the feminine 1940s, before being re-named the Batwing in the 80s, when it owed a lot to Madonna.

Bias Cut

Bias cut means to ‘be cut on the grain’. Rather than following the straight line of the weave, the bias cut places the pattern at a 45° angle on the woven fabric. At this angle, the ‘warp’ and ‘weft’ threads give the fabric more of an elastic ‘stretch.’ The bias cut is popular for accentuating body-lines and creating more fluid curves or soft drapes. It was championed in the 1920s by Madeleine Vionnet and later became one of John Galliano’s signature style.


Bolero here does not refer to the slow-tempo Latin music, but rather a shrug or short jacket. Typically open-fronted, it is collarless with long sleeves and characteristically stops above the waist. It originates, like the music, from Spain. Before the 19th century, it was more commonly referred to as a Zouave. Although these two jackets share all the same features, a Zouave had a military influence, while the bolero had been inspired by dance and sometime even a toreador, Ole!

Box Jacket

Box Jacket (or a box coat) has a straight, unfitted back that means it hangs loosely from the shoulders. It has evolved from the coachman’s heavy overcoat, but became a status symbol during the power dressing 1980s. Since then, the jacket become a wardrobe style staple and has been adopted by several high profile female politicians and leaders — think Chanel tweed coming to the White House.

Box Pleats

Box Pleats can be found in skirts, shirts or adding decorative flounces to interiors. Box pleats appear in ‘clusters’, often forming a panel, and are essentially back to back knife pleats.


Braiding — the dressmaking version — is not too dissimilar to hair plait it shares a name with. It is a trim, binding or embroidery that can be applied to embellish or pattern a garment, from the hem to a free-style design.


Bustle is the ‘pouf’ or padding that is worn at the back of a skirt, either underneath or folded in to the fabric. It can be a drape or twist of fabric, or use a framework of layers and it is meant to exaggerate the feminine charm of behind. Popular particularly the Victorian era, when women were still corseted, and crinolines were in fashion, the bustle adds fullness below a slim waist. It can be set off with bows and ribbons, although its original purpose was more practical — to pull the skirt back and keep the hem from dragging in the mud.

Cable Smocking

Cable Smocking is one of the most popular smocking stitches, along with the Trellis stitch. It is an outline stitch, worked in one row of dots that can then be developed in one of three ways to create traditional style English smocking.

Cap Sleeves

Cap Sleeves are a specific style of short sleeve that are cut and seamed to fit on the shoulder and taper to nothing underneath the arm. This style is usually not as loose as a standard short sleeve T-shirt, but more like a small umbrella — or cap — covering the shoulder.

Capsule Collections

Capsule Collections were originally popularised by Donna Karan in the 1980s. The idea was to create a capsule wardrobe that features only the most essential or influential pieces from a collection. A capsule collection is essentially a condensed version of a designer’s vision, often limited edition, which transcends seasons and trends by being functional — read commercial. They often focus on construction and delivering key looks, without the styling and theatrics of a show.

Cartridge Pleats

Cartridge Pleats are a form of pleats most often used in skirts or curtains. They are a series of small, rounded, stand-away folds of cloth. They are named so for resembling a line of cartridges on a cartridge belt, although few ladies doing their needlework would have actually ever seen one of these.

Circular Cut

Circular Cut is one of the simplest methods used to make or construct. A circle skirt is, as it sounds, just that — rather than cutting straight angles, you trace a circle, creating a soft fullness. Circular cut is also the basic pattern used to create ruffles, just like those that adorned traditional flamenco dresses.

Cone Heel

Cone Heel is the ice cream cone of a heel that scoops you up onto your toes. Triangular in shape, the heel starts wide at the sole and tapers narrower, sometimes to a point. They are wider, and perhaps more manageable, than a stiletto heel.

Cowl Neckline

Cowl Necklines are when a garment has draped, rounded folds around the neckline, which falls below the collarbone. Cowl necklines became popular in the 1930s, although they are thought to have been inspired by the fashions of Ancient Greece. Their drape works to flatter rather than conform and constrict the body’s contours.


Cross-stitch is a versatile embroidery stitch that can be make a simple background and is often used to throw tapestry and decorative embroidery into relief. It is also used for decorative edging, motifs or simple banding. As the name implies, the stitch is made up of a cross, or two diagonals.

Crow’s Feet

Crow’s Feet are the triangular stitches traditionally made at the end of pockets or darts on tailored garments. The shape is first marked by basting, before a needle twists the left to top corner in small left-to-right stitches and continues down, with top and outlined again. Crow’s feet are used to sew hidden strength in to points of stress, like pleats or corners.

Cruise Collection

Cruise Collections, or resort or holiday collections as they are otherwise known, launch between the two main ready-to-wear seasons; Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. Originally, they were created with the jet set in mind and catered for a client who needed a wardrobe for their mid-season travels to climates different to their own. Now, they have been adopted by many of the big brands as an opportunity to inject an entirely new must-have mid-season collection into market.

Curved Seams

Curved Seams are when the fold or line is curved, like Princess seams. They add tailored fit or shape to garment. When constructing a curved seam, fabric must be evenly slashed and pulled along the seam to allow it to follow the curve desired.


Darts are a dressmaker’s punctuation marks. They are a technique used for shaping garments by curving straight fabric to the body. Darts are created by stitching a long, thin pinch to a point, which is then pressed down to one side. They vary in width and length, as a garment requires, and can insert shape at the shoulder, neck, bust and waistlines by being tapered at one or both ends.


Dégradé is where a fabric’s colour, or the fabric itself, fades like a sunset, from the densest pigment or thread to the finest. It is a popular technique in couture, with all the colours of the spectrum, from the deepest to eh lightest, are often used in velvets or silks. But in a barber’s shop, un dégradé (coupe de cheveux) is the light layering of hair.

Diamond Smocking

Diamond Smocking is the diamond shaped form of smocking, which is an embroidery technique used to hold gathered cloth in even folds. Smocking was used to create a stretch long elastic was invented and enabled fabric to be fitted as well as flexible. It dates back to the cuffs, bodices and collars of the Middle Ages.


Dirndl is a country-inspired fashion. It is the traditional dress worn by women in Southern Germany to accompany the gentlemen in their lederhosen. The dirndl itself consists of a bodice, blouse, and full skirt — think Maria from ‘The Sound of Music’. A dirndl skit is part of a light, circular cut dress, which is gathered at the waist and falls below the knee.


Drape is the way a fabric or garment hangs. (Curtains are also referred to as draperies.) Coco Chanel once accused Christian Dior of draping women rather than dressing them, but draping is an important part of fashion design. It is the process of positioning and pinning fabric onto a dress or tailor’s dummy, to develop the more fluid structure. It is used particularly in haute couture.


Embroidery is the skilled technique of embellishing and decorating a garment by hand, using stitches in silks and yarns and sometimes including sequins, beads, feathers and pearls. Embroidery dates back to the 5th century BC in Ancient China. Today, Lesage in Paris is one of the most revered embroidery houses in the world. Embroidery employs an endless number of different stitching styles, from running to braiding, lazy-daisy, feather, blanket and cross, or French knots, beading, bullion and smocking. This skilled handicraft is at the very core of haute couture — it is the equivalent of the difference between handwritten calligraphy and a typed font; the beauty is in its uniqueness.

Empire Line

Empire Line takes its name from Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, who was married to Napoleon, leader of the First French Empire, in the 18th century. The style has Neo-classical inspirations — as this was a Court of Gods and Goddesses. The bodice is fitted under the bustline, while the silhouette is usually loosely fitted over the body.


Epaulet, sometimes spelt Epaulettes, were originally ornamental shoulder decorations that showed military rank. They have since been adopted as a fashion statement. From the shoulder pteruges of Ancient Rome, to ribbons worn on military coats, the epaulet (taken from the French ‘little shoulder’) was a mark of valour. They can be cut from metal or cloth, but are often gold trimmed with bullion fringing.


Eyelets are a small hole or perforation that is used as a fastening, with a cord or hook. Usually the eyelet is set with a metal, cord or fabric ring. The ‘little eye’ ring reinforces the hole and prevents it from stretching, while the small eye is for threading lace, string or rope through. Eyelets can be either functional or purely for decorative purposes.


Fabric is the blank canvas on which fashion creates. This is the starting point where anything goes. Cloth can be woven or non-woven, knitted or felted fibres and ranges from cotton to organdie, silk to georgette, pannier to jersey, tweed, velvet and more, coming in every spectrum of colour, weight and print imaginable.

Facing Fabric

Facing fabric has two meanings and two purposes in fashion design. A ‘facing fabric’ is applied to neaten the finish on the raw edges of a garment, like at necklines and armholes. Shaped facings, which are usually made from same fabric as the garment itself, are cut to match the edge they will face, while bias facings are strips of fabric cut on the true bias or cross-grain. These are shaped rather than cut to match an edge. Facing fabric could also refer to the ‘face side’ of a fabric. This is the more presentable, upper side of the fabric — always easier to recognise when it is a printed weave.


Fagoting: see bar fagoting or embroidery.

Faux Pas

Faux Pas, while not technically a sewing term, it is something greatly feared in fashion circles. It is a false step — be it in an error of judgement, a slip of the tongue or worst of all wearing (or creating) the wrong thing. A sartorial slip that could land you on the worst dressed list is to be avoided at all costs.

Feather Stitch

Feather Stitch is an embroidery stitch made up of diagonal blanket stitches, which zigzag from left to right. It is a technique consisting of looped stitches that was popular in the 19th century. Feather stitching, sometimes known as faggoting or fly stitch, can be used for decorating smocks or crazy quilting.


Filigree rhymes with pedigree for a reason. Filigree is most often found in haute couture; an intricate and decorative technique, where gold, silver or copper wire is twisted and formed into delicate scrolls, ornate arabesques or fanciful tracery, which is scattered like etching over a fabric’s surface.


Flounce is an exaggeration, a frill or a flounce. It is a wide strip of fabric gathered and sewn to a skirt or dress. They most often appear at the hem and help exaggerate the character and silhouette of a skirt.

Fluted Hem

Fluted Hem gives a flirty finish to a silhouette — imagine a pencil skirt with a flounce on its hem. It’s a popular feminine shape, which encompasses super slim pencil skirt that flairs out at the knees or below, in a style that evokes both the mermaid shape and a love of dancing.

Frog Fastenings

Frog Fastenings are sometimes referred to as a ‘Chinese frog’. These are ornamental braidings used to fasten the front of a garment and consist of a button on one side, with a loop to pass through on the other. The ‘frogs’ stand out either side like bookends. The fastenings date all the way back to Ancient China, but were famously used in in the brocade down the front of 17th century military uniforms. It was then that this decorative technique became known as ‘frogging’.


Gaiter, similar to a spat, is a protective covering of cloth or leather that sits over a shoe. Both cover the ankles and sometimes even the lower leg. But while a gaiter is is an overshoe, a spat can be incorporated into the shoe itself, covering the instep and ankle. Imagine ‘Spats’ Columbo, the gangster in Prohibition America in Billy Wilder’s 1959 film ‘Some Like it Hot’.


Gathering is a sewing technique that reduces the length of piece of fabric, so a longer piece can match and be attached to a shorter one. It is used to manage, as much as disguise, a source of fullness — such as on a cuff or sleeve — and can also pinch a skirt into a waistband or bodice.


Gaucho is not only a type of dance, but also a type of national legend in both Argentina and Uruguay — folklore heroes on horseback. The influence of their traditional dress can be seen from ponchos to espadrilles. The style of a Gaucho is quite distinct; these cow-herders would typically wear a brightly woven poncho (which doubled as a saddle blanket and sleeping gear), with loose-fitting trousers called bombachas that were belted with a tirador, or a chiripá, a loincloth. They also carried a facón (large knife), and a rebenque (leather whip).

Godet Pleat

Godet pleat — or a godet skirt — is a flared shape that uses triangular fabric inserts to give the garment extra movement. The skirt has a fitted upper part, with godet panels inserted at even intervals around the hem, giving it more swing.


Gore is a triangular or tapered segment (narrow at the top and wider at the base) that is subtly inserted to extend the width from the waistline to the hem of a skirt. Imagine the triangular sections of an umbrella or a ship’s sail; flared skirts can be made with two or more of these gores.


Gusset is a panel, either triangular or diamond in shape, that is inserted into a garment to help shape and reinforce key points, like the underarms or crotch. You get gussets in modern tights and pantyhose — they add breadth and breathe to the crotch seam. It’s from this panel that the term ‘don’t bust a gusset’ (don’t rip your pants) originates.


H-Line was one of the silhouettes introduced by Christian Dior. This silhouette was introduced in 1954 and, as the letter ‘H’ implies, was straight with a slight accent on the waist (the bar of the ‘H’). It was popular for emphasising length in the leg, making it a feminine shape, rather than something square and boxy.

Handkerchief Hems

Handkerchief hems are when the hemline of a dress or a skirt is made up of panels of fabric that fall in points — like the corners of a handkerchief. The technique is particularly suited to bias cutting, drawing the eye away from the hips and thighs and creating the illusion of an elongated lower half of the body.

Harem Pants

Harem pants are long, baggy pants that are fitted at the ankle. They were originally known as a harem skirt and were introduced to western fashion circles in 1910 by the Parisian designer, Paul Poiret. Harem pants were inspired by Middle Eastern styles that date back much further that the early 20th century, however. At the time, the Harem pant was considered a controversial way of introducing trousers into a woman’s wardrobe. Poiret was inspired by images of the harems of sultans to create a style that was as shocking as it was liberating.

Haute Couture

Haute Couture is a much-misused phrase that actually has very specific rules for qualification. Translated literally, couture is French for dressmaking, while haute means high. These are garments created as one off pieces for a specific client. 19th century Englishman Charles Frederick Worth is considered as the father of Haute Couture and today members are selected by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. To qualify as an official Haute Couture house, members must design made-to-order clothes for private clients, with more than one fitting, using an atelier (workshop) that employs at least fifteen full time staff. They must also have twenty fulltime technical workers in one of their workshops. Finally, Haute Couture houses must present a collection of no less than 50 original designs — both day and evening garments — to the public every season, in January and July.


Hems lie at the end of a piece of cloth, where the fabric has been folded and sewn into place to prevent the material from fraying or loosing its shape. The process of hemming uses small, nearly invisible stitches to catch the fabric and hold it securely in place. A hem’s length also often defines the silhouette of the entire outfit, from mini to maxi.


Herringbone is the name of a very distinct twill fabric, woven in a chevron pattern. Herringbone is a zigzag that reverses every few rows to produce a pattern like a herringbone’s skeleton — hence the name. It is a popular pattern in suits and high fashion, as well as sportswear. Think the Duke of Windsor meets Christian Dior.

Hobble Skirt

Hobble skirts do what the name implies — make striding down the catwalk or further almost impossible. They first became popular in the early 1910s, when the skirt was often ankle length, tapering even narrower below the knees and causing its wearer to hobble. This knee-long corset might have been restrictive, but it had its moment; not only did it avoid ladies’ skirts from blowing up in an unbecoming fashion, it was a popular signature style of the great Parisian designer Paul Poiret.


Interfacing and interlining are both unsung, invisible, yet essential ingredients in the tailoring and dressmaking processes. Interfacing is the extra layer of fabric that is set between the under-side of a garment — at a collar, cuff or pocket — where added strength and stiffness is needed. Interlining is the layer between the top, outer fabric and a garment’s lining, which again gives shape or strength.


Interfacing and interlining are both unsung, invisible, yet essential ingredients in the tailoring and dressmaking processes. Interfacing is the extra layer of fabric that is set between the under-side of a garment — at a collar, cuff or pocket — where added strength and stiffness is needed. Interlining is the layer between the top, outer fabric and a garment’s lining, which again gives shape or strength.


Jabots are the frilled, decorative ruffles (often lace) that hang at the front of the shirt. They were the equivalent of a 17th century gentleman’s tie, when jabots were often made of lace or cambric, and sewn to both sides of the front opening of a man’s shirt. Later, they were secured at the neck with a band or a pin. Think Pirates of the Caribbean meets the Supreme Court — jabots are still part of judges’ and barristers’ ceremonial dress.


Jacquard was an apparatus from the 19th century and is named after its inventor, Joseph-Marie Jacquard. It is attached to a loom and uses a punch-card system, which the loom reads like binary code — each card represents a line of the pattern and has holes that allow threads to pass through (or not), changing the colours and slowly creating the jacquard design. It allowed for more elaborate patterns to be produced in woven and knitted fabrics at greater quantities and speeds.

Kangaroo Pockets

Kangaroo Pockets are long, lengthwise pockets — a bit like a letterbox — that have two ‘pocket’ gaps for the hands at either end. They are often used on hoodies or in sportswear, and are named for resembling a Kangaroo’s pouch. (Although a real Kangaroo would actually pop her baby in from the top.)

Keyhole Neckline

Keyhole necklines are a style of neckline similar to a halter-neck, where the converging diagonals of the neckline’s construction meet at the front. But rather than there being solid fabric here, keyhole necklines have a central cutaway — the keyhole — just below the collarbone.

Kick Pleats

Kick Pleats are inverted pleats used at the base of a narrow skirt to give it a ‘kick’. They allow the wearer more freedom of movement. Kick pleats are often short pleats, leading up from the bottom hem, and are commonly found in the back of skirts or coats.


Kimonos are loose-fitting, T-shaped robes that are part of the traditional national dress of Japan. They have wide sleeves, typically cut in one piece with the rest of the garment, and are full length, wrapping to close at the front.

Knife Pleat

Knife Pleats, or accordion pleats (like the musical instrument) allow the garment to expand and relax in shape when moving. They are most commonly found in skirts and are a series of narrow, equal pleats, which have been sharply creased so to lie in one direction.


Knotting is the craft of tying knots — deliberately — in yarn and string to create decorative items, patterns, or techniques, such as macramé and tatting.


Lace is a fine, openwork fabric, typically created from cotton, line, silk or metallic threads to make net mesh patterned work. Lace dates back to the 15th century , when it was worn as a status symbol white edged cuffs and collars denoted your position in society. Today, it is a popular trim, particularly in lingerie and bridal wear.

Lettuce Hem

Lettuce Hem is pretty wavy — much like the legume itself when it’s been slice up. This wiggle of a hem works best edging jersey or fabrics that have stretch, as the cross-grain elastic quality keeps the ‘bounce’ of the wave, not letting your lettuce go limp and flat.


Lining is an inner layer of fabric, like silk or fur, that provides a polished finish — concealing any seam allowances, interfacing or construction details Linings can also add a layer of insulation or reinforce shapes and silhouettes, particularly in tailoring.


Look-books are a collection of photographs compiled by a designer to present their complete collection of clothing, accessories or footwear in a flick book. For buyers, or press, they’re useful tools to help select key pieces for editorial or sale orders. From the runway show to the commercial collections, as each look is numbered and clearly shown. Look books were created long before the Internet, when press and sales people had to rely on their notes and memory when picking looks.

Mad as a hatter

“Mad as a hatter” is a colloquial phrase referring to a crazy person — many of whom are found in fashion. The phrase stems from 18th and 19th century England, when mercury was used in the production of felt, which was essential to the manufacture of hats at the time. The workers in the factories were daily exposed to traces of the metal. As this accumulated over time, many of them developed dementia from the poisoning — and it became known as mad hatter’s syndrome. The phrase, which refers to someone seen as insane, was immortalised by the character of the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

Mandarin Collar

Mandarin Collar, or the Mao collar, is a small, close-fitting, stand up collar. It is usually about 3-4cm high, with edges that don’t quite meet at the front. As its name suggests, the Mandarin Collar comes from the traditional dress worn by the Mandarins in Imperial China. The style is also quite similar to the Nehru collar that is often found in modern Indian men’s clothing.

Mary Jane

Mary Jane shoes are closed toe and low-cut, with one or more straps across the instep. The classic Mary Jane came in black (sometimes patent) leather and became the quintessential shoe to wear with your school uniform — from Prince Charles to Princess Elizabeth, the Mary Jane can be traced as back far as King Henry VIII. In the 1930s, its name was trademarked in North America. Since then, the Mary Jane has left the school yard and travelled from Mao’s China to Manolo Blahnik. Today the Mary Jane show is a symbol of girlhood; both naughty and nice.

Mermaid Line

Mermaid Line — as the name suggests — is a slinky shaped gown that starts with a form-fitting bodice and a skirt silhouette that is designed to resemble the waft of a mermaid’s ‘tail’. The skirt may or may not be in the same colour or texture as the top, but fins, scales and underwater wearability are not essential part of the design.


Millinery is the manufacture and craft of making hats and headwear. A milliner historically would also produce everything from shirts, cloaks and shifts, to caps and neckerchiefs for both men and women, as well as designing and trimming their headgear. The term dates to the Middle Ages, when a Milner referred to someone from Milan — the home of the fashion and textiles trade. Millinery has evolved throughout history, but remains popular with a range of different events and uniforms. More often than not, hats can indicate social status, from a cowboy’s Stetson to a gentleman’s top hat, or the cocktail fascinators worn by ladies at the races.


Mitre is the very tall headdress worn by bishops, cardinals and a variety of high-ranking clergymen and dignitaries. The mitre dates back to at the 10th century and today, it is a symbol of office and authority. It tapers to a point at both the front and back, with a deep cleft in between.

Mitre Corners

Mitre Corners, or folds, are the diagonal fold used on either side of garment’s neck label, which create the loop and hook from which you can hang the piece.


Napping has nothing to do with a light rest in the afternoon. In fashion, napping is a finishing technique, where the short fibres are lifted from the fabric surface to create a ‘nap’. It can be achieved by brushing or rubbing fabrics or, alternatively, using a machine covered with fine wire teeth, which pick and raise loose fibres, fusing the ends together so nothing frays.


Necklines outline the upper edge of a garment — obviously — around or below the neckline. They come in many varieties of style from the low to the high, the square, the V, the halter, the sweetheart, the turtle, the polo and the scoop, to name a few.


Ombre is when a colour graduates from light to dark, using all the tones of colour in the spectrum. The name comes from the classical Latin umbrare, meaning to shade or overshadow. Chiaroscuro shading is artist’s technique achieved by cross-hatching or shading and is very popular in haute couture. For an example, see John Galliano’s Rene Gruau Dior Couture collection from January 2011.


Outré is to be outrageous, eccentric and highly unconventional and so is a perfect fit for all the un-shrinking violets of the fashion world. To be startling, unusual and perhaps a touch bizarre — it’s a nicer way than saying weird.


Overcasting refers not to the weather, but to a method of casting off. This often slanted needlework stitch that is usually done by hand and is worked over another stitch to outline a design motif. The act of overcasting can also be to stitch over raw edges to prevent work from unravelling.


Overlay is like a top coat of nail-varnish over a base colour — it is the top layer of frosting in fashion. Often, overlay is a lace or sheer fabric that has been placed over a different fabric underneath. It is also the shoemaking term for the pieces of material (usually leather) that are stitched onto the footwear to form decorative patterns.

Paper-bag Waistbands

Paper-bag waistbands are, actually, a contradiction — both refreshingly loose and using extra fabric. Imagine, if you will, a paper bag full of sweets twisted shut. Now turn this into fabric and instead of the twist, add a belt. Paper-bag waistlines can be both high and feminine or low slung, echoing the spirit of Katherine Hepburn. They get their name from the gathering technique and the fabric over the belt hooks.


Passe is to be past season, passé or out of style favour. It is better to be classic or staple, than to be deemed passé.

Passementerie Edging

Passementerie Edging is an ornamental edging or trim, made of braid, cord, lace or metallic beading, and often coming with tassels as well. The word comes from the French passement, meaning a passing. This elaborate edging, often with jet or metal beads, is frequently found in haute couture.

Patch Pockets

Patch Pockets are created by attaching a pre-cut pieces of material and sewing them, like a patch, to the outside of a garment, instead of constructing inset pockets. Often patch pockets have a flap at the top and become a feature of the design — think the patch pockets on Paddington Bear’s duffle coat.


Patchwork is a technique of sewing small pieces of shaped fabrics, of mixed patterns, colours and texture, all together to create larger geometric designs. Traditionally, this was a form of needlework used to create the patchwork quilt, but it is now a popular technique in clothing design and interiors.


Pattern can be one of two things. It is either the decorative design that repeats over and over a fabric, or it is a flat template, made of paper or card, that is used as the key instruction guide for cutting the separate pieces of a garment. Pattern pieces are traced to allow for size, seam allowance and fit. They can help the dressmaker calculate the correct amount of fabric and its fit, before the trace and cut the template on the final fabric.


Peignoir is the name for the long, sheer or chiffon outer-garment, worn over by ladies over their negligee. To say it is only a light dressing gown diminishes the frivolous beauty of this translucent garment, worn by women in the privacy of their boudoir. They take their name from the French word peigner, meaning to comb the hair — a reference to the ladies who used to sit at their dressing tables in their chiffons and silks while they brushed their hair.


Peplum comes from a Greek word for ‘tunic’ and is an almost skirt-like frill or addition. They were once fitted to a waistcoat or doublet, but now to a woman’s bodice, extending it below the waistline.

Peter Pan Collar

Peter Pan Collars are named after the collar worn by Maude Adam’s in her classic 1905 performance as the lead role in J.M.Barrie’s novel. Shaped to fit the neckline, it is a flat collar that lies upon the torso with soft, curved corners. It has also become associated with characters like Little Lord Fauntleroy and Buster Brown.


Petticoat was a term first used during the early 15th century, when it was actually used to describe a gentleman’s short coat or undershirt. Later on in the century, it was adopted for women’s dress and worn beneath a gown as an underskirt — only a small glimpse of the lacy under layer would peak through. Since then, the petticoat has evolved from plain to ornate, and is now used to add body to loose fitting skirts. Today, a petticoat hem describes the ornate lace or embellished hem that is added underneath a skirt — more as an extra flourish, than as an extra layer.


Piping is a trim or edging formed by sewing a thin strip of folded fabric — typically bias binding — into a narrow tube and attaching it to the edge of a piece of fabric. It can also include cord to give it extra body. Piping is often used to define or reinforce the style lines of a garment.


Pleats are a fold or doubling of fabric that is pressed, ironed or creased into place. (Pleats that are sewn into place are called tucks). There are many varieties, but the side and box pleat are the most common, although they can be accordion, cartridge, circular, curtain, draped, fluted, Fortuny or French. They can be inserte, as well as inverted. Pleats add an even greater fullness to a shape (particularly the skirt). Think Marilyn Monroe over the air vent in ‘The 7 Year Itch’.


Plissé originally referred to fabric that had been woven or gathered into pleats and has also been known as crinkle crêpe. It takes its name from the French word for fold. Today, it is a lightweight fabric with a crinkled, puckered surface, formed in ridges or stripes. Plissé can also describe a chemical finishing technique, where plisse fabrics are used for underwear.


Portiere is a curtain that hangs over a door or covers a door-less entrance to a room and comes from the French word porte, meaning door. From “Gone with the Wind,” where Scarlett O’Hara makes a dress from green velvet window curtains, to Mr. Dior (who Chanel said draped rather than dressed) and the drape of fabric at the top of a runway, it is certainly a curtain with possibilities.

Power Dressing

Power dressing was a phrase originally coined in 1970s America and by the 1980s, everyone was wearing this smart style of dress. Tailored jackets, shoulder pads, dresses whipped in at the waist and a skirt that stopped on the knee. Think Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl,” aspiring to be Coco Chanel.

Princess Line

Princess Line is not so much a “Once Upon a Time,” but the feminine silhouette of a woman’s fitted dress popularly associated with Charles Frederick Worth who introduced the silhouette in 1870s. He named it after the elegant Princess Alexandra of Denmark. A princess line is cut in long panels, without a horizontal joining seam or any separation at the waist. Instead, it uses darts and long seams to shape the body. In 1951 Christian Dior presented a collection, called the Line Longue, based on the princess-line.


Puckered is when something tightly gathers into wrinkles or small folds — it can be a face or fabric. A wrinkled, tightly stitched piece of cloth may be a deliberate design feature, but more than not it is something to be smoothed out, much like the facial expression.

Puffed Sleeves

Puffed sleeves (and later puff-ball skirts) are — as the name implies — a decadent ‘puff’ of fabric. Think of Renaissance Kings and Queens with their big sleeves, or Lacroix’s skirts from the 1980s. The shape for a sleeve is gathered at the top and bottom, but full in between, allowing it to puff up and create fullness.


Quilting is a technique where two or more layers of fabric, usually with light padding in between, are sewn together with lines of stitching. The stitches are often worked in parallel lines, forming squares or diamonds in a geometric pattern. The fabric created appears padded in appearance and is popular for jackets, coats and footwear, as well as the classic patchwork quilt.

Raglan Sleeve

Raglan Sleeve is a sleeve that extends not only to the shoulder, but all the way to the neckline, creating a long, diagonal seam that runs from armpit to neck. Its name comes from the First Baron Raglan, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, commander-in-chief, who lost his arm during the Crimean war. Think ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ mixed with sportswear.


Revers are found on the neckline. They’re when a wide lapel is turned back to reveal the reverse or underside of fabric. A revere collar, however, is a flat v-shaped collar, often found on blouses.


Rickrack is a popular zigzag braid that can be woven in various widths, colours or fabric types to edge clothes and curtains. Think Little House on the Prairie for this style of waved braid.


Ruching is a gathered overlay of fabric strips that are pleated, fluted, or gathered together to create a ripple-like effect. The frill or pleat of the fabric, often lace, chiffon or muslin, has evolved from the 16th century ruff.


Ruffle is a decorative frill of lace or gathered ornamentation of fabric, often used to trim or embellish the wrist or neck. A strip of fabric, when gathered or pleated, will create a frill that adds a ruffled line to a garment’s straight edge. Think of the lace ruffles worn by Henry VIII or the Victorians. Today, you’ll find them in high fashion and haute couture.


Sartorial, as an adjective, relates to a tailor or to tailoring. But the term can also be used to describe, clothing, manners or a style of dress. The word comes from Sartorius, which is the Latin name of the long leg muscle used when legs are crossed, like a tailor’s often are.

Scalloped Technique

Scalloped technique is a series of convex curves, commonly at the edge of a piece of fabric fabric, that look the edge of a scallop shell when repeated. As a motif, scalloping is particularly popular in haute couture, on collars, hems and necklines.


Seersucker is recognisable by the alternating stripes of puckered and smooth fabric. The plain weave is made in various fabrics, from synthetic to silk. The term ‘seersucker’ is taken from the Persian phrase ‘shir o shakka’, meaning milk and sugar.

Sheath Line

Sheath Line, or a sheath dress, is designed to fit closely to the body. Unlike other cocktail dresses, it also stops at the knee — or just below. Think Jackie Kennedy Onassis or Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffanys.” This style is demure, often created in a block colour and unadorned — the perfect ingredients for a classic Little Black Dress.

Shell Hems

Shell Hems are a dainty finishing option to edge hems, tucks or trims. This technique is essentially hemming an edge in an evenly spaced and decorative manner. It should not be confused with Shell suits, however; the casual, front-zipped tracksuits made from nylon or polyester ‘shell’ that were popular in the late 1980s.

Stiletto Heels

Stiletto heels are high and slender, tapering to a sharp point on women’s shoes and boots. Their creation was tied to the advent of technology that allowed designers to use metal-reinforced shafts that would support a thinner heel. The phrase was first associated with shoes in the 1930s (they were named after the stiletto dagger), and conjures up an image of the femme fatale, a cocktail of fetish and feminine.

Sweetheart Necklines

Sweetheart necklines follow their namesake in shape, with a curved bottom edge, usually double scalloped, that resembled the top half of a heart. Despite their demure name, however, sweetheart necklines actually accentuate the bosom, with their concave bottom edge drawing the eye downwards.


Tailoring’s definition could fill a whole dictionary by itself. A tailor is the artisan who fits and measures a customer (think Savile Row) For a garment to be tailor-made is to be cut, it has to be constructed and made-to-measure for the individual. Tailored is also a way to describe a garment that is more structured and precisely fitted; in haute couture you have tailleur (tailored, fitted) and flou (the more fluid, evening wear and drape).


Tapered, for edges, hems, heels or seams, is when the shape diminishes or reduces in thickness at one end, tapering to a point.

Trapeze Line

Trapeze Lines were popularised by Christian Dior’s successor, Yves Saint Laurent in spring 1958, with his Trapeze Line collection that featured dresses that flared from the fitted shoulder line. The trapeze line reinvented the A-Line, what had bee “most wanted silhouette in Paris,” with the same swing as its circus counterpart.

Trompe L’Oeil

Trompe l’oeil is an art technique that has been borrowed by fashion, where a designer creates an optical illusion, through a change in perspective, dimension, or placement. From haute couture to the high street’s illusion dresses, this method is a popular way of changing shape or adding layers, belts and collars. It was first popularised by the designer Elsa Schiaparelli in 1927, when she wove a collar into a sweater.


Turtle-neck is the American name given to a polo neck, but in England, where there are both polo and turtle necks, it has a dual meaning. For the English, this neckline is tubular, although not as high or folded down as a polo neck often is. It gets its named for resembling a turtle’s neck coming in and out of its shell.


Uniforms are worn at school, by the army or different tribes of fashion followers, who choose to all wear the same style, label and colours. They are distinctive sets of clothing, worn by members of the same organisation so that all are ‘uniform’; identical in all but shape, size and face.

Unpressed Pleats

Unpressed pleats are softer, as you’d expect, than their pressed counterparts and have a more rounded edge. Unpressed pleats are also usually wider, creating a more delicate silhouette than cartridge, pressed or decorative pleats.


Valance is a short piece of drapery, often hung to conceal structural fixtures. Most commonly used to edge tables, beds or shelves, this form of ruffle also has a place in high fashion.


Vent does not here refer to an explosion of hot air or emotions. In garment terms, a vent serves a similar purpose to a slit. They are often in the back seam of a jacket, where they have been inserted to let the shape ‘breathe’.

Wedge Heels

Wedge Heels are one of the most comfortable and flattering options for anyone whose height needs a boost. The heel sits on triangular, unbroken ‘slice’, which runs solidly to the middle or front of foot. Popular since the 1930s, they are often made of cork, wood or rubber and are sometimes finished in cloth or leather. Wedge heels were a forerunner and more feminine alternative to the platform sole.

Welt Pockets

Welt pockets are either found on the front of a man’s tailored jacket, with a handkerchief tucked in to them, or on the reverse of a pair of jeans. They are bound, flat pockets that have finished with a welt or reinforced border along the edge of a piece of fabric.

Wife Beater

Wife beater here does not mean anything violent. Instead, it is the slang phrase for a vest or tank top, typically white in colour. The term came about due to the item’s association with the stereotype of abusive men, but feminists adopted have since adopted the garment as their own — to hell with the man.

Wing Collars

Wing Collars are most often found on a man’s dress collar or black tie attire. They are starched collars, that stand up stiffly, with their points folded down to resemble little peak wings —much like a paper aeroplane.


X-lines celebrate the female figure — a small waist, emphasis on shoulders and a full hem follows in the shape of the letter ‘X’. An hourglass X-line is created using belted or fitted waists, padded shoulders and full skirts and is a popular style for coats.


Yoke is the frame or bar, fitted to a person, or animal, that helps to spread and carry weight evenly. They can also be a frame or pattern that is fitted at the shoulders or the waist, to emphasise the structure of a garmet. Bodice yokes were first seen in the 1880s, with the yoke skirt in 1898, but they can now be found stitched-in, overlaid (as decorative or transparent yokes), scalloped, scrolled or even as plastrons — yokes worn on the outside of a garment, that have been tied around the waist with a sash.


Zippers are hookless fasteners. They have two rows of ‘teeth’ that slide together to bind and fasten openings on bags, skirts or trousers. Zips can be inserted into a slash or seam with a closed end. Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the first designers credited with turning zippers into a fashion statement back in the 1930s.


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