Fashionable Jargon

I recently noticed that the people who keep close watch on the various trends in clothing design tend to use a very specific vocabulary, one which often lies outside the areas of specialization of technical translators. Also, many fashion-related elements—from garments to fabric patterns and prints—are referred to by their English, French, or Italian names across several languages. For example, the English term “animal print,” is in fact the term used in many Spanish-speaking countries to refer to those printed patterns that mimic an animal’s skin, such as a leopard’s, a tiger’s or a zebra’s stripes on a handbag. Similarly, there are garments or kinds of garments that are known mostly by their foreign names. In some Spanish-speaking countries, the term “Montgomery” (a duffle coat in North America) is used to refer to a specific type of coat, and denim pants are most commonly known as “jeans,” even if there are Spanish terms (vaqueros; tejanos) for them.

But beyond these fairly common terms, there’s also the less common jargon of the textile industry, which deals with things like types of weave, different tie cuts or shoe manufacturing techniques. I was quite surprised when I discovered that my own knowledge of the topic was derived almost exclusively from English—rather than from my native Spanish. This meant that I had to do some research to confirm that pata de gallo (rooster’s foot) was in fact the Spanish translation of a design pattern which I had always known as “houndstooth.” Through my research I also learned that in other countries the houndstooth pattern is known by its French name, pied-de-poule, and, if Wikipedia is right, the Czechs call it Pepito (whose origins I would love to know).

The flipside of this linguistic situation is that, in turn, most English-speaking fashionistas will often resort to French terms and speak of prêt-à-porter fashion (ready-to-wear clothes) and haute couture (exclusive, trend-setting fashion) or use Spanish terms such as sombrero (a high-crowned, wide-brimmed hat worn in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico) and matador jackets (inspired by the short jackets worn by bullfighters).

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