Couch clothing, spliced and Y2K: 23 style terms to help you speak fashion

If your ticket to the Met Gala got lost in the post, don’t have a style meltdown. Stay ‘authentic’ as you ‘forecast’ the red carpet arrivals with our guide to the freshest fashion industry speak

Fashion moves faster than a Nissan Patrol down the E11, and so do all the things in the industry’s orbit, including the words and phrases used to show you’re "on trend". Which, by the way, no one says any more, sorry.

While some fashion phrases have made a comeback this year – looking at you, “arm candy” – there are plenty of newcomers created owing to the times we live in, such as “couch clothing”. Elsewhere, other words such as “authentic” and “pop” no longer mean what you think they do.

Confused? Don’t be.

As stars get set to walk the red carpet at the Met Gala on Tuesday, dressed for this year's theme of In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, here are 23 fashion terms that will be bandied about all evening that you too can master at home …


A trend that ebbs and flows but never fully goes away, androgyny has been a fashion favourite since the 1930s. This year, the gender-ambiguous style has been expressed in boyfriend blazers, boxers and chunky loafers, as well as lashings of unisex clothes and tailoring (see also: kilts).


One of the biggest fashion crimes you can commit isn’t wearing tie-dye (which is very much in these days, thanks to Gen Z “discovering” it), but rather that of inauthenticity. For an authentic take on fashion, one must be able to show one’s fashion chops by knowing the origins and evolution of things such as this season’s headscarf or tractor boots. It's important to note that you don't actually have to own a tractor to wear them.


"Wait a second," you ask, "didn’t the term 'arm candy' die out in the mid-'90s?" Why, yes, it did. But what with fashion being cyclical, and with everything 1990s being back (see also: Y2K), designating something “-candy” is fashionably acceptable once more. Arm candy, leg candy, ear candy, elbow candy (probably).


The concept of owning just a few pieces of clothing that work with everything else in your wardrobe comes back every season. Popularised by American designer Donna Karan, thanks to her seven-piece 1985 collection, the term serves only to sneer at your overflowing closet and make you wonder why you have the shopping habits of a child on a sugar rush.


Because saying “co-ordinated” takes too long.

Couch clothing

Thanks to the past 18 months of predominantly working from home, this term requires little explanation. It should be noted, however, that couch clothing has come off the sofa and slouched into public. But because fashion people can’t bear to utter words such as “sweatpants” or “elasticated waistband”, they invented "couch clothing" which is essentially sweatpants and elasticated waists, but paired with heels this time.


Not the ones that make you jump, jump, but rather a new way to button your clothes. Presumably because traditional buttoning is now utterly inauthentic, the crisscross is an overlapping waistband designed to create an asymmetric look.


A term that is no longer applied solely to museums, curated is a fashion term that lingers. Instantly elevate anything you do by claiming you curated it as opposed to just put it on that morning.


The weather? Nope! New trends? Yep! Forecasting is about checking out street stylers (see: street styler) on Instagram and TikTok, to predict what we’ll all be wearing next season.


As ubiquitous as “arm candy”, go-to remains a staple (see: staples) of fashion dialect. Describing an item of clothing or accessory you wear time and time again (go-to bag, go-to jacket, etc), if you swing by Starbucks for a coffee during Fashion Week, you can even get your go-to to-go, which is super-meta.


Hacks have been all over the internet for the past few years promising, and only occasionally delivering, ways to make day-to-day life a little easier. A fashion hack, however, means completely destroying your existing clothes in order to create something that, because it isn't hemmed or professionally done, will last about a day.


The YouTube videos in which people showed off the fruits of their latest shopping trip enjoyed their heyday between 2008-2016, peaking in 2010. Back then, millions would watch their favourite influencers to find out what they’d be trying on for the camera before returning it for store credit later that day. Hauls have since switched to TikTok and mostly feature only one store: Chinese fashion behemoth Shein.


Older fashionistas (a word no one says anymore, gosh, how embarrassing!) will remember Jean Paul Gaultier’s kilts from the early '90s. It's an influence American designer Thom Browne has updated by roping in Stranger Things’s David Harbour to model his latest range. Influential fashion index Lyst noted that Browne’s pleated skirt was number 10 in the most-searched clothing items for men in the second quarter of this year.


A chicer way of referencing unisex or androgyny. Just as it’s cool for girls to steal their man’s boxers and blazers, it’s also now acceptable for guys to rifle through their partner’s wardrobe, thanks to Thom Browne’s pleated skirts for men (see: kilts).


The stylish term for a thing, a happening, a fashion moment … you know, a trend. Movement sounds a bit more au courant than trend, though, so here we are.


This is another word that floats around the fashion ether adopting different guises as styles dictate. Over the years, we’ve had phrases such as “pop of colour”, “make your look pop” and “pop goes the weasel” (one of these is not fashion-related.) This year, the word has evolved into “pop colour checks”, which is a new trend or movement, if you will.

Put together

One of the biggest compliments a fashion person can give is that “your look is so put together". Unless, of course, you're overly put together, in which case leave town immediately.


It’s been a while since we’ve had a new style portmanteau to play with. We’ve had jeggings (jeans-leggings), skorts (skirt-shorts) and greige (grey-beige). Hair has the lob (long bob) and celebrity has Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez 2.0). Now it’s the turn of the shacket, the shirt-jacket hybrid mostly found in brushed plaid for that I-wasn’t-born-when-grunge-was-a-thing vibe.


A term used to describe two styles or colours that are spliced together, seen in dresses, knits and the two-tone denim that’s popular in street style right now. Spliced shoes are also a fashion favourite, making it look as if you accidentally wore two different shoes to work.


Things every person should apparently have in their wardrobe. Staples change from year to year and season to season, so by this point, literally everything you own is now a staple.

Street styler

As fashion constantly strives to capture the cool of street style – trends that develop at the grass roots level as opposed to on a designer’s sketchpad – it makes sense that a person wearing street style has been dubbed a street styler.


Fans of Apple TV+’s Emmy-winning hit Ted Lasso will be familiar with the “ussie”, the term for when you’re taking a selfie but there’s more than only you in the frame.


Von Dutch trucker caps, boot-cut jeans, oversized belts worn low on the hips, pointless scarves, miniskirts and boots, Ed Hardy, platform flip flops … No, this is not a fashion nightmare. Gen Z has discovered the 1990s and repackaged it as Y2K with Bella Hadid as their high-fashion priestess.

Updated: September 12th 2021, 11:09 AM