The language of fashion

Linguistic, cognitive, and cultural insights

by Annalisa Baicchi (Volume editor) Stefania Biscetti (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 192 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 293


The specialised language of fashion draws the research interest of linguists and semioticians as well as communication experts and fashion historians. This volume contributes to advancing the knowledge of crucial aspects in the language of fashion that still need deep investigation. It brings together contributions that shed light on the morphological, lexical, pragmatic, and cultural aspects of the language of fashion, without ignoring cognitive and semiotic phenomena. The diversity of topics and perspectives of the chapters presented here testifies to the variety and vitality of scientific research in the complex and multifaceted language of fashion.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Insights into the Language of Fashion. By Way of Introduction (Annalisa Baicchi / Stefania Biscetti)
  • The Lexicalization of the Idea of Fashion in Later Medieval Britain (Louise Sylvester)
  • Nominal Constructs in Fashion and Costume: Names and Nouns as Modifiers (Silvia Cacchiani)
  • ‘Fashion’-based (pseudo-)Anglicisms in Spanish Women’s Fashion Magazines (Isabel Balteiro)
  • Underwear as overwear: Spatial Particles in English Fashion Compounds (Elisa Mattiello)
  • The Political Language of Fashion (Anna Romagnuolo)
  • “It’s never ‘just a trouser!’”: Bipartire Garment Nouns as Singulars in the Language of Fashion (Stefania Biscetti)
  • Clothes We Dress In. The Conceptualisation of Fashion Terms (annalisa baicchi)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series Index

←6 | 7→
Annalisa Baicchi/Stefania Biscetti

Insights into the Language of Fashion. By Way of Introduction

Fashion is a complex phenomenon that lends itself to a variety of approaches. It merges many aspects of society and human life, and as such it is the object of study in many fields of investigation, such as sociology, semiotics, and linguistics, to name a few. It has lately received an increasing amount of attention from cultural historians interested in the evolution of costume, at least judging from the number of books on the history of fashion and clothing published over the last seven years (Thompson Ford 2022; Thanhauser 2022; Cumming 2021; Tiramani et al. 2021; Edwards 2017; Rissman 2015; Cole and Deihl 2015).

Fashion constantly introduces innovation and changes our way of communicating our beliefs through apparel, and with its creativity it affects not only the clothes we wear, but also the terminology we use to talk about them. As a matter of fact, since change, innovation and mutability are key features of «the real vestimentary code», they are doomed to affect «the written vestimentary code or the terminological system» (Barthes 1983: 36).

Barthes’s association of the verbal code with its lexical component is telling of the centrality that vocabulary has in linguistic research on fashion language. Neologisms, linguistic borrowing, false anglicisms (Gottlieb and Furiassi 2015; Lopriore and Furiassi 2015; Görlach (2001, 2002a, 2002b); Fischer and Pulaczewska 2008; Campos and Balteiro 2020) have been extensively investigated, possibly to the risk of overshadowing other phenomena pertaining to this type of specialised language.

This volume broadens its perspective to include contributions on the syntactic and morphological aspects of fashion language and accounts for the growing interest that the language of fashion has exerted on scholars from different scientific fields and theoretical persuasion.

←7 | 8→It opens with Louise Sylvester’s chapter titled “The lexicalization of the idea of fashion in later medieval Britain”. The author investigates the lexicalization of the notion of fashion in Britain in the later medieval period, and she examines the vocabulary relating to dress and textiles retrieved from three lexicographical resources: the database of the Lexis of Cloth and Clothing project; the Bilingual Thesaurus of Everyday Life in Medieval England (collected under the occupational domain of Domestic activities); and the Historical Thesaurus of English. The chapter takes three main features as diagnostics for the idea of fashion: (1) the number of lexical items within the subcategories of terms for garments and accessories, noting Wotherspoon’s (1969) suggestion that if there is a high degree of semantic continuity in certain fields (i.e., a concentration of a large number of minutely distinguished words and even of synonyms) these fields may be cultural themes, and the recent innovations of lexicalization sparklines tool in the online Historical Thesaurus which allows users to see how categories grow and wane over time; (2) the frequency with which terms undergo shifts in sense; and (3) the rates at which terms became obsolete or were replaced, in particular by items borrowed from French. Through the accurate analysis of the resulting data, elements of dress that were particularly susceptible to changes in fashion have been isolated and compared to the garments and ways of wearing them that were discussed in contemporary discourses about clothing, including diatribes against fashion, which can be found in the histories, sermons, conduct literature, satirical verses, romances, and sumptuary laws, collected in Sylvester et al (2014).

In the chapter “Nominal constructs in fashion and costume: Names and Nouns as modifiers”, Silvia Cacchiani concentrates on English terms and, more specifically, on nominal constructs (Booij 2010) with Noun or Name as modifiers, in the changing history of fashion and costume. Starting on the assumption that proper Names and appellative Nouns form prototypical categories with fuzzy boundaries (van Langendonck 2007; Van Langendonck and van de Velde 2016), she provides a qualitative investigation of a representative selection of terms manually gathered from encyclopaedic dictionaries, visual dictionaries, and landmark publications on the history of fashion. With great clarity the analysis shows that conceptual metonymy is a major ←8 | 9→determinant of the shift from the identifying and individualizing function of prototypical place and personal names to classifying uses as appellative nouns, also in reductions to simplexes (e.g. Ascot tie/Ascot). Additionally, considering the linking rule R in the composite structure, Cacchiani suggests that, firstly, the COMMEMORATIVE function (cf., e.g., Schlücker 2016) underlies CLASSIFY (Jackendoff 2010) in non-descriptive specifications, and, secondly, the shift to EPITHET (Breban 2018) and the TYPIFY function (Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2013) can be motivated metonymically whenever associative/emotive meanings and complex descriptions enter the picture, as in Kelly bag/Hermès Kelly/Kelly. Another observation concerns the potential for certain constructs and iconic products to retain their ability to convey complex descriptions, which is ultimately a matter of cultural and encyclopaedic knowledge (knowledge of brand, brand products, and style icons).

Dedicated to “Fashion-based (pseudo-)Anglicisms in Spanish women’s fashion magazines”, Isabel Balteiro considers the rapid advances and modernization of fashion, which sometimes make languages unable to cope with the rapid pace with which extralinguistic realities change, and English global recognition, prestige and appeal that lead other world languages to borrow and use English words, be these necessary or not. In particular, Spanish has been increasingly incorporating Anglicisms but also creating false or pseudo-Anglicisms which are equally loved and hated by language users and scholars, depending on their descriptive or prescriptive-purist approach to the language. These foreign English terms are most visible in the language of fashion, where they are highly appreciated and associated to prestige and “coolness”. Based on a sample of over ten million words from internationally-recognized specialized fashion magazines, Balteiro focuses on the use of the English term ‘fashion’ itself in its nominal and non-nominal uses in Spanish, with the aim of identifying and describing the nominal and adjectival uses of fashion, which may be either directly taken from English in phrases or compounds.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (November)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 192 pp., 6 tables.

Biographical notes

Annalisa Baicchi (Volume editor) Stefania Biscetti (Volume editor)

Annalisa Baicchi is Chair of English Linguistics at the University of Genova, Italy. Her research interests include cognitive linguistics, construction grammar, inferential pragmatics, contrastive linguistics, and acquisitional linguistics, investigated from the perspective of complexity theories. Stefania Biscetti is Assistant Professor of English Linguistics at the University of L’Aquila, Italy. Her research activity is mainly aimed at identifying the impact of culture and cognition on language use. Her research interests include linguistic pragmatics and semantics, cognitive linguistics, contrastive linguistics, approached both synchronically and diachronically.


Title: The language of fashion
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194 pages