by Liz Walter
Over the last year or so, two women have probably generated more column inches than any others on the subject of their clothes, and they could hardly be more different in style. On the one hand, we have Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, wife of Prince William, who, depending on your viewpoint, is either wonderfully elegant and demure, or dull and too traditional in her mix of designer labels and high street dresses. On the other is Lady Gaga, to whom the words demure or traditional could never be applied.
But what about the rest of us? Where has fashion taken us recently, and – more importantly for this blog – what new words has it given us? One definite trend has been for shorts, no longer reserved for the beach, but worn all year round in various forms. City shorts are smart and tailored, while cocktail shorts are glamorous enough to replace the little black dress at evening parties. Skorts can be worn for fun or for sport, and comprise a short skirt with an integral pair of shorts. For the young, Daisy Dukes and batty riders are extremely short shorts which allow the bottom curve of the buttocks to be seen, and girlfriend shorts have the inside of their back pockets hanging down below the hem.
Dresses, of course, come in ever changing styles. The bandage dress, a very tight-fitting dress made from overlapping strips of material, epitomizes the body con fashion (previously simply known as ‘figure hugging’). A cocoon dress is narrow at the top and bottom but loose in between, while a bandeau dress has an elasticated top and can be worn as a dress or pulled down to make a skirt. Suddenly, though, the dress to be seen in on the red carpet is the mullet dress, wonderfully named after the 1970s haircut – short at the front and long at the back.
More than perhaps any other area of language, fashion is a great generator of ‘portmanteau’ words, or words that are formed when the beginning of one word is joined to the end of another. Who, having seen the photos, could forget the UK cookery writer and presenter Nigella Lawson frolicking in the sea in her burkini (or burqini)? This item of swimwear, a combination of burqa and bikini, covers all parts of the body except the face, hands and feet, and was designed to allow Muslim women to preserve their modesty while swimming. For women with less than perfect bodies for whom the burkini is a step too far, the Daily Mail reported last year that sales of grankinis (bikinis designed for the mature woman) were soaring.
Leggings have also had their portmanteau variations: treggings are trousers that are almost as narrow as leggings, jeggings are stretchy and made to look like jeans, and meggings are designed for men. Likewise knitwear. If you thought your friend was just wearing a thick cardigan, think again. Actually, it’s a coatigan or a jacardigan, specially made to be worn instead of a coat or jacket.
Even colours have their fashions. Instead of beige, we now have nude, instead of pastel colours we have ice-cream colours, instead of dark red, rouge-noir. With a nod towards environmental awareness, several catalogues are also promoting clothes in eco-white, that special shade of whiteness that does not require bleach.
As for Kate and Lady Gaga, the Global Language Monitor reports that although ‘Lady Gaga’ was the top fashion buzzword of 2011, this year’s winner is ‘The Duchess Effect‘ – the immediate sell-out of any high street item worn by Kate. It seems that, for the moment at least, upper-class decorum is proving more popular than dresses made from meat.