When I first began studying fashion both formally and on my own, I was a bit puzzled when it came to some of the terminology.  I have compiled a list of common fashion words and phrases for you to peruse.

1. Haute Couture

Haute Couture

The term haute couture is French for ‘high sewing’ or ‘high dressmaking’.  It can also mean ‘high fashion’.  It is the creation of exclusive custom-fitted high-end fashion design that is constructed by hand from start-to-finish.

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Paris became the center of a growing industry that focused on making designs from high quality, expensive, sometimes unusual fabric and sewn with utmost attention to detail.  The design is finished by the most experienced and capable of tailors, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.

2. Ready-to-wear (RTW)


Ready-to-wear (or prêt-à-porter translated in French) is the term for ready-made garments, sold in finished condition in standard sizes, which differs from made-to-measure or bespoke clothing tailored to a particular person’s frame. In the fashion industry, designers produce ready-to-wear clothing, intended to be worn without significant alteration because clothing made to standard sizes fits most people.

Interest in ready-to-wear was hastened by Yves Saint Laurent, who was the first designer to launch a ready-to-wear collection.  In 1966, he opened Rive Gauche, his first ready-to-wear boutique.

3. Capsule collection

Capsule Collection

Capsule Collections were originally made popular by Donna Karan in the 1980s.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 which transcends seasons and trends by being functional.

4. Resort wear

Resort Wear

Sometimes referred to as cruise wear, resort wear consists of casual looking apparel appropriate for a cruise or tropical vacation. Hawaiian shirts, maxi dresses, slip-on sandals and other relaxing apparel falls into this style category.

5. Collection vs. Line

Collection v Line

A collection is a set of pieces of clothing and/or accessories that have a relationship with each other. This relationship is usually centered on the chosen theme, which, in turn, is related to the consumer’s style and the image of a particular brand.  A collection is defined by the items that a designer assembles for each season.

Lines are subsidiaries of collections and usually do not stand alone.  Lines can be part of collections, but never vice versa.  One example is a line of sportswear in the designer’s newest collection.

6. Diffusion lines

Diffusion Line

A diffusion line is the subsidiary of a high end fashion designer.  For example, it’s the Simply Vera to Vera Wang, the McQ to Alexander McQueen, and the See by Chloe to Chloe.

7.  Fashion Shows / Fashion Weeks

Fashion Shows

A fashion show is an event organized by a fashion designer to showcase his/her upcoming collection during the fashion weeks. Fashion shows debut every season, particularly the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons.  Many fashion-forward trends are introduced during these major fashion weeks.  The four major fashion weeks in the world, collectively known as the “Big 4”, are those in Paris, London, Milan, and New York.

8. Show notes

Show Notes

Often written by the designer, the show notes are given to the attendees at fashion shows.  Generally, they contain an introduction to the collection, an explanation of the theme, and the inspiration behind the designs.

9. Streetwear


Streetwear is a style of casual clothing which became global in the 1990s. It stemmed from New York hip hop fashion and Californian surf culture to encompass elements of sportswear, punk, skateboarding and Japanese street fashion. It commonly centers around casual and comfortable pieces such as jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, and sneakers.  These pieces are made exclusive through intentional product scarcity. Enthusiasts follow particular brands and try to obtain limited edition releases.

Early streetwear in the 1970s and 1980s took inspiration from the do-it-yourself aesthetic of punk, Japanese street fashion, new wave, heavy metal, and established legacy sportswear and workwear fashion brands such as Schott NYC, Dr. Martens, Kangol, Fila and Adidas.

10. Street Style

Street Style

The “street” approach to style and fashion is often based on individualism, rather than focusing solely on current fashion trends. Using street style methods, individuals demonstrate different identities while using subcultural and intersecting styles or trends. This is quite a performance, as it creates a space where identities can be explored through the act of dress.  Street style is an incredibly viral, instant, addictive facet of fashion that has changed many of the ways in which fashion is made and consumed.

The late Bill Cunningham, who published his work for The New York Times, pointed street style out as a keen catalogue of ordinary people’s clothing. Also, he mentioned that streets tell a great deal about fashion and people, if you listen. According to him the best fashion show is coming to life every day on the streets.

11.  Label v. Brand

Label v Brand

The term fashion label refers to upcoming designers who make ready-to-wear outfits in limited numbers. These outfits are very stylish and are often more expensive than regular store garments but lesser than established designer wear. The difference between a label and a brand is that the latter has been in business for longer and is already a known name.

12.  Silhouette


In fashion, a silhouette is essentially the basic shape or outline of an outfit. Some common silhouettes include A-line, straight, flared, asymmetrical, and so on. Wearing the right silhouette according to your body type can work wonders for your frame.

13.  Off-the-Rack


There are designer and custom-made clothes, and then there are off-the-rack outfits that refer to clothing that is made in large quantities and is readily available in stores. Off-the-rack also means readymade garments that made in standard sizes.

14.  Fashion-Forward

Fashion Forward

There are styles that are not currently on trend but are so good that will become fashionable sooner rather than later.  Fashion-forward also refers to people who have their fashion game right and know what will become a trend in the near future.

15.  Ensemble


The French word, ensemble, has been often used by fashion designers. In fashion terms, ensemble is usually referred to an outfit complete with accessories, jewelry, and shoes. The whole look is called an ensemble.

16.  Atelier


The French word atelier is used to describe the workshop, studio, or other physical locations where designers create their concepts and bring them to life. Designers work in ateliers along with their assistants and other employees or contractors.