AP Fashion Writer, New York

Ever wonder the difference between a sheath dress and a shift? An A-line and a trapeze?

The fashion world uses insider lingo like, well, insiders. But fashion is more democratic than that.

We all have to get dressed and should know if we’re wearing a cowl neck or a halter.

Here are some ABCs of the style lexicon:


A-line: Skirt that is narrowest at the waist and then flares out along a straight line to the hem like a triangle–or an A.

Anorak: Hooded jacket first known to be worn by Eskimos of the Arctic. It’s often a pullover silhouette so it doesn’t leave potential for a draft along a zippered or buttoned closure.


Boatneck/Bateau: This neckline is named for its similarity in shape to a skimmer boat. It’s a narrow opening in its width but extends almost shoulder to shoulder.

Bias cut: Fabric cut on approximately a 45-degree angle to create a clingy, draped effect. Madeleine Vionnet was considered queen of the cut in the 1920s, and it’s still used today.



Cowl: Draped, loose neckline with a cascading effect. It’s possible to also have a cowl as the back of a dress _ a very sexy look.

Coco Chanel (1883-1971): One of the most famous names in modern fashion. Chanel’s skirt suits–with collarless jackets and braided chain hardware–are still instantly recognizable and often imitated.


Dolman sleeve: A sleeve that’s wide at the armhole and narrows as it moves toward the wrist. It often creates the effect of a dropped shoulder.

D’Orsay: Shoe style resembling pumps but with a high vamp on the front of the foot and cutout sides, exposing the arch of the foot.



Epaulet: Fabric tab that sits on the top of the shoulder; sometimes it’s functional and can hold a rolled-up sleeve. It’s a detail often found on military uniforms–and military-inspired fashion.

Empire waist: This "waistline" hits well above the natural waist, sometimes right under the bust, creating an ethereal silhouette. It’s popular for baby-doll tops, evening gowns and maternity clothes.


Flannel: Soft, brushed-finish fabric, typically made of cotton or wool. It can be as tailored and refined as it is relaxed and outdoorsy.

Fishnet: A fabric, often used in lingerie or hosiery, with an open-mesh weave that resembles a fishing net.


Madame Gres (1903-1993): The Parisian couturier considered the master of the bias cut is credited with adapting the modern goddess gown. Madame Gres was born Germaine Emilie Krebs but created her professional name based on an anagram of her artist husband’s first name, Serge. He signed his work Gres.

Gauchos: Mid-calf length pants with wide legs fashioned after the South American cowboys who were also called gauchos.


Haute couture: The French term for high fashion specifically refers to one-of-a-kind clothing produced by design houses that meet criteria established by the French Ministry of Industry. It’s a protected appellation, similar to Champagne. However, the term is used colloquially to mean fancy, expensive fashion.

Halter: Neckline to a sleeveless garment that leaves the shoulders–and often the upper back–exposed. There are different halter silhouettes but most either tie or have a strap that goes around the back of the neck.

Part 2 coming soon!

Photos courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.