The A to Z of Fashion

“A” is for Anna, as in Wintour, she of the ever-present shades and pageboy ‘do. Chief at industry bible Vogue for nearly three decades, her intense dedication (and unerring eye) to all things fashion has done more to inform the desires (and looks) of women than almost anyone alive.

“B” is for bias grain, that magical area in a piece of woven fabric. Located at 45 degrees to its warp and weft threads, woven fabric is more elastic and fluid in the bias direction. This allows fabric to drape softly, accentuating body lines and curves.

“C” is for couture, as in “haute couture,” which is French for high fashion. The creation of exclusive, custom-fitted clothing–built totally by hand. High-quality, expensive, and often unusual fabric sewn with extreme attention to detail.

“D” is for denim, that 1873 fabric of soft strength worn first by those working hard but eventually appropriated for youthful rebellion (thanks to Dean and Brando) in the 1950s-60s. Today, denim knows no gender, class, or age as it has become a truly universal–and enduring–fabric of the people.

“E” is for Edith Head, the most transformative costume designer in Hollywood history. Winner of eight Academy Awards (and nominated 35 times), she designed some of the most iconic styles in the history of film, from Sunset Boulevard to Vertigo to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She worked to the age of 83.

“F” is for fringe, the 60’s look popularized by Cher yet evocative of Native American style. Usually done in leather or suede, fringes paid testament not just to an entire culture but to a “use everything” imperative, as most fringes were made from the leftovers in the creation of various leather goods.

“G” is for go-go boots. White, low-heeled, and mid-calf in height, the boots were as wild as the 1960s itself. While the French word la gogue translates as “joy, happiness,” the term “go-go” likely came from the slang “go,” meaning “all the rage,” which go-go boots most certainly became.

“H” is for head louse, a parasitic organism said to precede the creation of clothing itself thousands of years ago. The story goes that as humans lost their natural body “hair” due to evolution, the itchy activities of the head louse remained, forcing the need for a new body covering, AKA clothes.

“I” is for Intellectual property, which in the world of fashion is the single most difficult area to police and protect. This is why knock-offs of top designers are as plentiful (and hard to tame) as weeds in a garden.

“J” is for jacquard, the process that brought weaving into the modern age. One of the most important inventions ever created, jacquard shedding made possible the automatic production of unlimited varieties of pattern weaving.

“K” is for Karl Lagerfeld, that most Teutonic of famous fashion names. Known as much for his shocking white hair, deep black sunglasses, and collars stitched a mile high, Karl remains head designer and creative director for Chanel, Fendi, and his own named label.

“L” is for Louis heel. Abandoned by men in the 1730s, high heels remained important in women’s fashion. During the reign of Louis XV, heels for women were curved through the waist and splayed at the base to increase stability. Though revived and revamped in the 1860s, the look remains to this day.

“M” is for models, those unique creatures tasked with being living, breathing mannequins upon which designers may showcase and (hopefully) sell their wares. It emerged as a profession in 1853 thanks to Charles Frederick Worth when he asked his wife Marie Vernet to model his work.

“N” is for New York City, the fashion capital of the world. The city’s rise began in the 20th century when it successfully developed sportswear as fashion. As its influence grew, more schools dedicated to fashion opened, creating a perfect storm of creative combustion.

“O” is for obi, a sash for a traditional Japanese kimono dress. A woman’s formal obi can be up to 12 inches wide and more than 13 feet long. With the fanciest and most colourful obi saved for young, unmarried women, it has become a very conspicuous accessory, often even more so than the kimono robe itself.

“P” is for pret-a-porter, French for “ready to wear.” It is the term for factory-made clothing sold in finished condition with common sizes to fit most people. Standard patterns, factory equipment, and faster construction techniques are used to keep costs low.

“Q” is for quilting, the process of sewing two or more layers of fabric together to make a thicker padded material. Popular in the 17th century, its roots trace back to the middle ages where it was used not just for bed covers but for clothing that needed to be insulated and lightweight–such as those worn under suits of armor.

“R” is for runway, the narrow, flat platform run through a crowd of privileged onlookers where designers parade their latest creations. First seen in the late 1800s, savvy businessmen utilized the promenades around racetracks, hiring models to strut their stuff between races in hopes they’d be noticed by media and onlookers alike.

“S” is for silk. Once considered ancient China’s most well-kept secret, the mystery is no more. A silkworm spins a cocoon, which is then steamed and rinsed to loosen the newly created fibers. Plied together, this creates silk thread. While modern mechanization means most silk is not nearly as valuable today, its reputation for beauty and luxury remain.

“T” is for trousers. Worn first by men, WW2 saw many women doing industrial labor in war service. Accordingly, they started wearing their husbands’ trousers out of practical convenience. Once the war ended, trouser use among women remained as they became casual wear for gardening, socializing, and other leisurely pursuits.

“U” is for utility dress. Created from a government-approved pattern, the CC41 utility dress was introduced in 1941 when rationing was mandated during the war. With less fabric available, clothes had to be simpler and plainer in design so the government provided patterns to tailors and factories that adhered to rules limiting the number of buttons, pleats, and pockets.

“V” is for Vogue, the bible of all things beauty and fashion, a collection of pages and pictures assembled exclusively in service to the culture of the visual and external. In print since 1892, its influence and sway show no signs of diminishing even 124 years along.

“W” is for Windsor knot, that timeless method of tying a necktie which produces a wide, symmetrical, triangular knot. Named after the Duke of Windsor (though likely invented by his father George V), the Windsor knot is especially suited to a spread or cutaway collar.

“X” is for X-ray fabric, that sheerest of fabrics, be it lace, mesh, or see-through anything. It first appeared in the 18th century, popularized by none other than Marie Antoinette. In 2008 it even became a “sheer fashion trend”–not bad for something designed to provide the illusion of visibility to the bits you want covered.

“Y” is for Yves St. Laurent, the most celebrated and influential fashion designer of the past 60 years. He was credited with reinvigorating fashion after the cultural swings of the 1960s and making ready-to-wear commercially reputable. His approach to fashion was that women be able to look comfortable yet elegant at the same time.

“Z” is for zipper. Physically created by Gideon Sundback in 1913, the unique system of fastening articles together actually received its memorable name thanks to the B.F. Goodrich Company in 1923 when they sought to market a new type of rubber boot. First used for clothing in 1925 by Schott NYC (on leather jackets), men’s trousers didn’t see the oh-so-efficient zipper added until 1937.

By Jarrod Thalheimer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *