by Gabrielle Smith
April 2010

“The fashion flock’s native habitat may be city streets, but this season, designers have gone mad for plaid and discovered a need for tweed.” This is how describes its new fall trend, “Country Life.” Doesn’t “mad for plaid” and “need for tweed” just make you want to run to the nearest mall and pick
up a plaid skirt or a tweed jacket? Fashion writers are constantly coming up with witty phrases that rhyme, are visual, and subtly tell you what you need to buy and spend money on in order to be “in” fashion.

Phrases in fashion writing are a “must have” and without them you have nothing. How else can you correctly pronounce how magnificent a new clothing line is
without some catchy clichéd phrase? You cannot even mention the color of a garment without a flattering overly used adjective in front of it. As a matter of fact do not even say the color! You never write that a piece of clothing is just blue; it’s teal, cerulean, azure, cobalt, sky, or deep sea. A garment is never brown; it’s camel, beige, rust, tan, or chocolate. Knowing the difference in how to phrase words is a unique skill that must be mastered by every top fashion writer in order to compete in the industry.

Having the ability to twist, throw, tease, tweak, and turn these words into powerful messages that can impact the way people look and think around you is a vital tool for fashion writers. Just think! The power of how people view something is completely in your hands as a fashion writer. Before your “Grinch grin” goes from ear to ear there are a few more rules you must understand.

One of the most used phrases in fashion is “chic,” which has become a timeless word that can be a person, place, thing, or emotion. Yes, fashion lovers; you can actually feel “chic,” which is even better than wearing something chic on. On October 7, 1877, The New York Times defined chic in an article titled “What is Chic?” stating, “Chic can not be common. You cannot put on another person’s chic, as you may her boots or her hat. You cannot copy it.” Chic is for the individual; it is not for the masses. Only a select few know how to master this classic staple. Chic personifies the person that always looks well-groomed, is never over-dressed, and contains the rare ability to know the difference between what is fashionable and what is chic. What is fashionable is not always chic, but what is chic is always fashionable.

Unfortunately, some of the newer fashion writers have not read the bylaws on how to use “chic.” Fashion writers, beware of proclaiming something hideous to be “chic.” If you can’t find another word to use, do not say the garment is “chic.” Say the garment is interesting, unique, or just be bluntly honest. If it doesn’t get you points with the designer, the critical fashion world will love your honesty as long as you don’t unleash it on them. This is how fashion writer for the Washington Post, Robin Givhans, got known; she tells it how it is.

I have also found in my research of fashion lingo, that any “must have” popular item is considered “it.” Not like the person everyone ran away from
when you played the game of tag as a kid. To be “it” or to have an “it” item in fashion is the ultimate compliment for any designer or consumer. If a designer has an “it” bag for the season, that bag will sell off the shelf simply because it is “it.” Any article of clothing, accessory, or product that is “it” is the epitome of all that is cool, up-to-the-minute, or trendy and is greatly desired by all.

And yet, one has to wonder who chooses who or what is “it”? Fashion writers do! Yes, they usually find an “it” girl who is often seen wearing an
“it” designer, and they see what new bags she chooses after fashion week; then close your eyes and pick one and THAT’S “IT!”

Perhaps the most “it” phrase in fashion, which is consistently reapplied in every season, is “(insert any color) is the new black.” Any color that is popular during any season is instantly crowned “the new black.” The only exception to this concrete rule is that the color black can never be called “the new black”; black is black all in itself. This fashion-writing rule comes without reason or explanation, but remains constant. Perhaps this phrase is not meant to be understood, but to be utilized to place specific emphasis on the color of the moment. Regardless of the deeper meaning of the phrase, any color that is “the new black” will be seen on everyone and in everything for that season. Fashion royalty will embrace this color and it will be present at top fashion shows in fashion capitols all over the world. It is almost like in The Wiz movie where every five minutes the Wiz changes his mind and all of Emerald City changes colors. Top fashion editors and designers are the “Oz” of the industry and the little citizens of the world make up the controllable citizens of Emerald City who happily dance and change at the drop of a new fashion color proclamation.

Like every other career, fashion has its own jargon. While fashion writing is not an easy industry, knowing the unspoken rules of fashion writing would have helped a naïve girl like Anne Hathaway’s “Andy Sachs” character in “The Devil Wears Prada.” It takes a lot more that you think to be a “clacker!” Fashion writers have to be able to perfect the rules of the great quote in order to make it to the top.

I am committed to making it to the top by mastering the art of the language of fashion. Having a vibrant, multi-colored vocabulary is the “black” of fashion writing, and it never goes out of style. Thus, as an aspiring fashion writer, I must wrap my articles in the correct jargon, even if the jargon sometimes seems hackneyed and trite and even if it can only be learned on the pages of glossy fashion magazines with tons of pictures and few words.

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