Fashion 101, Part 1

This is the first in a triptych of posts that will form a basic fashion glossary for those of us who don’t know our arses from our elbows, or, rather, our velvets from our viscose. Having grown up with a mother that sews and shops in equal parts, I do happen to know my batwings from my boleros and my puff balls from my pinafores. I have this weird talent that enables me to describe an item of clothing in such detail that someone will imagine it in its entirety without ever having seen it. It is a trivial but cool skill that has helped to secure dresses and the like when the person whose name was on the credit card expressed reluctance. I have thus assembled a debutante lexicon for those who wish to know what it’s called when the neckline dips between the breasts (a Sweetheart) and why Lurex is best left for Abba reunion parties (just because).


A dress or skirt silhouette that is narrower at the top, flaring gently wider toward the bottom. The shape is thus named for its resemblance to the letter A. Good on most figures and especially on those who are slightly more bottom-heavy.

Basque waist

A basque waist has a low U or V silhouette and provides the illusion of length. Think Jasmine’s harem pants in Aladdin and many, many, many 80’s wedding dresses. This shape has made a recent revival in the form of ditsy print day dresses. Not a huge fan.

Batwing sleeve

My mother’s worst nightmare – she never tires of telling me that I am too ‘buxom’ for them. The batwing has a long, broad sleeve shape that creates a kind of ‘wing’ between the wrist and waist. Admittedly very 80’s and not wildly flattering.


A cropped, structured jacket, not to be confused with the shrug, which made a pointless comeback in the early 2000’s.

Bateau neckline

The bateau or boat neckline was first popularised in the 30’s. Cut in a shallow curve from shoulder to shoulder, it is often seen paired with a Breton stripe.

Breton stripe

Current flavour of the week, the Breton stripe is characterised by widely-spaced thin stripes in navy and white. Always a classic, and a favourite of greats like Brigette Bardot and Audrey Hepburn.

Broderie Anglaise

A whitework needlework technique incorporating embroidery, cutwork and needle lace that originated in England in the 19th century. Characterised by patterns composed of small holes or eyelets bound with overcast or buttonhole stitches, Broderie Anglaise has made a comeback over the last few years, in cotton day dresses and skirts.

Cigarette pants

Cigarette pants are very narrow fitting trousers that taper towards the ankle, accentuating the leg and creating length. These are the stylish, structured trousers that Audrey Hepburn made popular in her day.


Cloche, the French word for “bell” refers to a women’s hat of the 1920’s that was fitted to the head and worn pulled down over the forehead just above the eyes, with a short, bell-shaped brim. Often made from felt, the cloche is still a firm favourite. I have the most beautiful raspberry ruffle of a vintage cloche with a floral detail on the side.

Crew neck

A crew neck is the round, high, close fitted neckline found on most sweaters and t-shirts. Usually round necked with ribbing.

Cuban heel

The Cuban heel is the thick, stacked heel that was seen on many ankle boots this winter and in particular on the feet of many a hip Capetonian man-band. I have a pair from Country Road that I love to death.

Dropped waist

A type of dress or skirt featuring a waistline with a seam that falls a few (3 to 5) inches below the natural waist. A dropped waist serves to elongates the torso, which is all good and well, provided you don’t have noticeably short legs. Because then you will most certainly begin to look oompah loompah-esque. Sorry. You can’t fight the laws of proportion (just ask Tom Cruise).

Devore Velvet

Also known as cut velvet or burn out velvet, devore velvet is when the lushness of the velvet is cut away to reveal a pattern with a backing of chiffon. Somewhat ou doos, but being a velvet / vintage fan, I must say that I have seen some beauties in my life. Note how I say ‘in my life’ – they are few and far between.

Envelope Neck

This is that sweet little neckline usually reserved for babygro’s and the occasional cool ¾ length t-shirt, where the fabric overlaps at each shoulder.


An epaulet is the ornamental strip of fabric used on the shoulder of a garment. They can be anything from simple buttoned tabs to fully fringed military affairs. Epaulet detailing was big this Winter and came in the form of everything from studs to chains and feathers.


Espadrilles are casual flat or high-heel shoes originating from the Pyrenees. They usually have a canvas or cotton fabric upper and a flexible sole made of rope or rubber moulded to look like rope. While I don’t mind the espadrilles pictured above (surprise surprise, they’re Hermes), or selected others, such as the Louboutin wedge or bootie espadrille, I must say that I find the original shapeless and feeble. It reminds me of a Shetland pony hoof and I think they look decidely unmasculine and naff on men. They belong with white linen pants and gaudy polo shirts, which just about sums it up for me. Finished en klaar.


5 responses to “Fashion 101, Part 1

  1. Awesome post! Cant wait for the next 2.

  2. GREAT POST! I’ve always wondered what that lacy-doily material was called and now I have the power of the ‘lingo’ and am going to whip out a Broderie Anglaise mention at every opportunity!

    Can’t wait for Post 2 and 3 🙂


  3. Fuck! You are SO good at this 🙂

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