Style Vocab: Shift vs. Sheath -- And More
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Every industry has jargon, but fashion truly speaks a language all its own. Skirts are bubbles, funnels or tulips. Cuts range from A-line to zigzag. A cotton dress can be ruched, pleated and pin-tucked, all at the same time. And that's not even considering really opaque terms such as "directional." (The word has nothing to do with turn signals or being lost: It refers to a particularly important design that might alter the trendscape -- indeed, the "direction" of fashion -- in months to come.)
Even if you try to learn the lingo, it's not easy. Many industry terms get bandied about incorrectly by glassy-eyed celebs or professional talking heads whose list of qualifications could fit inside a fortune cookie. I take particular issue with words that get appropriated into glossy marketing spiel. Would you be more likely to buy a $100 dress if you knew it was crafted from "couture satin"? You shouldn't. (More on that in a moment.)
Here's a brief lesson in style vocab. These terms are good to know if you want to talk the talk the next time you watch "Project Runway" -- or just impress the heck out of that saleswoman at Saks.
"Couture" gets slapped on anything from tank tops to tiaras, but the word doesn't just mean "really fancy." It refers to a tradition of custom-made clothing that originated in France. Far pricier than even designer clothing, couture is for women who think nothing of paying $100,000 for a gown made of ostrich plumes. The evening-wear section of your local department store may stock chiffon frocks, beaded capelets and other dressy dazzlers, but if you buy a piece on sight and carry it out of the store, that isn't couture. It's ready-to-wear, even if you have it altered. As for Juicy Couture . . . don't get me started.
A diffusion line is a collection of clothing that aims to offer a designer's aesthetic to the masses. Marc by Marc Jacobs, See by Chloe and Kors Michael Kors are good examples: Each delivers a soupcon of its namesake designer's look in simpler, more accessible forms. What also gets "diffused," happily, is the price; expect to see one or more zeros lopped off the end.
The notion of a resort or cruise collection tends to make people think of halter tops and midnight buffets. Indeed, these lines were once just mini-collections of lavish vacation wear. They hit stores in late fall or early winter, perfect for women en route to St. Barts. But in recent years, resort has become a big business -- and, as such, an object worthy of designers' attention. Expect slacks, jackets and other structured pieces as appropriate for a Friday meeting as they are for a Fun Ship.
A sample sale has little to do with runway samples. After all, if only 0.02 percent of the population is slim enough to shimmy into your stuff, what's the point of a sale? The term instead has come to refer to a sale of anything and everything, which is good and bad. Usually you'll find deeply discounted stock from previous seasons, but not always. I've seen sample sales that offered new, full-price clothing, vintage jewelry and beauty products.
A shift is commonly confused with a sheath, and the two words have more in common than the way they sound. Both refer to uncomplicated-looking dresses that end somewhere around the knee. The difference is that a shift tends to be less fitted around the waist and hips. Its straight lines are sweet and waifish in a way that the sheath, with all of its body-clinging tenacity, never will be. (Don't feel sorry for the sheath, though: It's shaping up to be one of fall's hot items.)
Trunk shows happen when a designer comes to town to showcase his or her latest collection to the ladies who lunch (though in the case of a major brand such as Marni, you may meet a store manager or label rep rather than Consuelo Castiglioni herself). Any plain Jane who wants to offer her oohs and ahhs is welcome, because these shows are free and usually take place at public venues such as swish boutiques and department stores. Consider them a great opportunity to people-watch, gawk at clothes you can't afford and quaff complimentary champagne. Gawking and quaffing: Next to ladies who lunch, they're two of my favorite things.