Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fleeting Fashions, Long-Lived Words

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fleeting Fashions, Long-Lived Words

Article excerpt

Fashion Week in New York -- the week when major designers show their clothes for the coming season -- has come to a close. As with every Fashion Week, it was all about the trends: new hemlines, sleeves, shoulders, heels, all with their own terms of art. Coverage included such terms as "boucl? parka lining," "nip-waist suit," and "Prince of Wales check" -- and get ready for lots of shiny patent leather, evidently the new rage for fall.

It's a truism that fashion is both always new and always recycling the old: There are only so many silhouettes and materials. That boucl? and that "Prince of Wales check" (supposedly designed for Edward VII, but popular with Edward VIII) are terms that date from the late 1800s and the 1930s, respectively. Though fashion words come and go, we keep some filed away, like sketches in a designer's archive, waiting for another turn on the runway.

Some of these words stay with us even though the styles they refer to will never be worn again. These words become fossils of fashion, in a way: ghostly skeletons embedded in the rock of the language. There's the tablier (a skirt front resembling an apron) or the false engageante undersleeves, both popular in the 1850s. Engageantes were sewn to the oversleeves, not the bodice -- think dickies for sleeves. (Dickies -- false shirt fronts, worn under sweaters or jackets -- are on their way out, if not already the stuff of historical costuming, but most fashion-conscious people still know the word.) We no longer put little boys in tight skeleton suits, their pants buttoned to their jackets under the armholes -- you can imagine the rips and popped buttons needing repair daily. And despite their usefulness to "those who are obliged to walk out in all weathers," as a 19th-century knitting book put it, very few people still wear gaiters -- leather or wool coverings for the lower legs.

Some styles endure, but acquire new names, leaving the language multiply enriched as a result. …

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