Know ruffles from ruching? Here's an A to Z guide to the most commonly used fashion terms

If you've ever wanted to know a bugle bead from a brocade, then this article is for you

A leg o' mutton sleeve from Alexander McQueen, left, and tweed from Chanel. Courtesy Alexander McQueen, Chanel
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Every month is busy in the fashion universe, as there is always something going on in the industry that never seems to sleep.

Amid the blizzard of online shows, collaborative drops and ever-shifting sartorial shapes, it can get confusing with all the specialist talk of appliques and yokes. To help you stay ahead of the curve, here is a handy guide to the most commonly used descriptions, to help you know your boucle from your storm vents.


For spring haute couture 2020, Elie Saab created a dress using applique, with lace panels added on to to a sheer background. Courtesy Elie Saab

Applique: A surface decoration made by sewing one piece of fabric on top of another.

Asymmetric: Where opposing sides of a garment are different to one another.


A spring 2020 haute couture look by Zuhair Murad, covered in dense beadwork. Courtesy Zuhair Murad

Balloon cut: Also known as the puffball, this involves a shape that, like a balloon, billows out before coming back in again. It is seen in dresses, skirts and, occasionally, jackets.

Bardot top: Also called off-the-shoulder, this is in homage to the style of top made famous by the French actress Brigitte Bardot.

Beading: Beads sewn on to a garment for decoration. It includes different styles – such as bugle, crystals and metallic.

Bias cut: Fabric that is cut on the diagonal to give a sensual fit. Made famous in the 1930s, it requires great skill to handle properly.

Boxy: A square cut to a garment, giving it a box-like shape.

Boucle: A type of tweed that is used extensively by Chanel.

Bracelet sleeve: A slightly shorter sleeve, cut to show off a bracelet. It is a cut favoured by designer Giorgio Armani.


Calf-length: A garment that stops at the calf.

Cap sleeve: A small sleeve that is in between sleeveless and short.

Cape: A circular cut of cloth that is open-fronted and hangs from the shoulders.

Cashmere: A very soft wool made from the fleece of Kashmir and Pashmina goats.

Chiffon: A sheer, lightweight fabric used in dressmaking.

Cigarette pants: Straight leg trousers.


A suit made from damask fabric for Dolce & Gabbana autumn / winter 2018. Courtesy Dolce & Gabbana

Damask: A dense fabric with a pattern woven into it, originally from Damascus, Syria.

Drop shoulder sleeve: Where the sleeve seam is dropped below the natural shoulder line.

Duchesse satin: A heavy, lustrous fabric used in evening and wedding gowns.


Embroidery: Decorative stitching on the surface of clothing.

Epaulettes: A decorative element on the shoulder, often seen in military clothing.


The Caro bag by Dior closes with a flap pocket. Courtesy Dior 

Flap pocket: A pocket that has a flap of fabric over the top, to close. The term also refers to upscale bags such as the Dior Caro bag and the Chanel 2.55.


Gaiter: A protective layer worn over the shoe and ankle. Originally used in outdoor wear, but has now been adopted as a boot shape.

Gewgaw: A shiny, showy bauble or trinket.

Georgette: A type of sheer crepe, normally in silk, with a typically matte surface.


Valentino spring 2021 haute couture. Courtesy Valentino

Haute couture: The very highest level of clothes-making. With pieces made almost entirely by hand, it uses skills and techniques that take years to master and can be only done by specialists. La Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode is the only organisation legally capable of bestowing the moniker to a brand.

High-low top / skirt / hemline: A garment that is shorter at the front than it is at the back.


Inseam pocket: A pocket that is hidden in the seam of clothing, usually seen on dresses.


Kick flare trousers at Gucci, spring 2021. Courtesy Gucci

Kangaroo pocket: Usually seen on hoodies, this is a large, double-ended pouch pocket.

Kick flare: Trousers or skirts that flare at the bottom, and are cropped to the ankle.

Kimono sleeve: The large, rectangular sleeves found on a traditional Japanese kimono.

Knife pleat: A small, precise fold in the fabric.


A leg o' mutton sleeve at Alexander McQueen, spring / summer 2021. Courtesy McQueen

Leg o' mutton sleeve: A large, voluminous sleeve that tapers to fit snugly around the wrist. Originally an Edwardian style, the name is taken from the distinctive shape, said to resemble the leg of a sheep.


Mandarin collar: A short, stand-up collar on a shirt or top. It is also called a Mao collar.

Mock pocket: A pocket intentionally sewn shut. It is used to give visual interest, but without disrupting how the garment will hang.


Notched collar: A formal collar used on jackets and coats, where the collar meets the lapel, with a "notch" missing.


An oversized coat at Balenciaga, autumn / winter 2021. Courtesy Balenciaga

Ombre: Dyed colour that gradually shifts from dark to light, also called degrade.

Oversized: A garment deliberately made to be several sizes too big for the wearer.

Oxford bags: Very wide-cut trousers, worn by Oxford undergraduates between 1920 and 1950.


A patchwork suit by Dolce & Gabbana for spring / summer 2021. Courtesy Dolce & Gabbana

Palazzo: Lightweight, very loose-cut women's trousers.

Patch pockets: Where the pocket sits entirely on the surface of the garment.

Patchwork: A cloth made by piecing together many different types of fabric.

Paperbag waist: A loosely gathered waistline, similar in look to a paper bag that has been scrunched at the top. This is often used on loose cut trousers.

Peter Pan collar: A flat collar with rounded corners that sits on the collarbone. It takes its name from the costume worn by the actress Maude Adams who played Peter Pan in a Broadway production 1905.

Princess line: A dress cut with no waist seam. Instead, the dress is created from long vertical panels from bust to ankle that are sewn together.


Giambattista Valli gown covered in ruffles for spring 2021 haute couture. Courtesy Giambattista Valli

Raglan sleeve: A sleeve that runs from wrist to neck, with the seam not on the shoulder, but instead as a diagonal under the arm. Often used on sports tops, hoodies and athleisure wear, it takes its name from Lord Raglan, who had a coat cut to this style after losing an arm at the battle of Waterloo.

Ruch or ruching: A light gathering of fabric to create a rippled surface effect.

Ruffles: Fabric gathered into rippling shapes, used to adorn neck and hemlines.


A woven tweed suit by Chanel. The wool fibres are deliberately irregular in thickness, giving a slightly bumpy surface texture. Autumn 2020 haute couture. Courtesy Chanel

Shrug: A loose, buttonless lightweight jacket with no fastenings that sits on the shoulders.

Skater skirt: A short, full skirt cut almost as a full circle. It has lots of movement.

Slash pockets: Pockets that slant backwards, most commonly found on trousers.

Slub: The uneven thickness of fibres when woven. Traditionally a sign that fibres were hand-spun, this creates small bumps in the surface of the fabric. It is usually seen in wool and silk.

Slip dress: A dress cut to resemble lingerie. Often in silk and usually cut on the bias, it will skim the body and is invariably trimmed with lace.

Spaghetti straps: Thin straps on a garment, said to resemble the pasta, spaghetti.

Stovepipe pants: Very straight, narrow-fit trousers.


A tiered skirt from the Louis Vuitton autumn / winter 2020 collection. Courtesy Louis Vuitton

Tiers: Layers of different length cloth that create horizontal levels. These are often seen on dresses and skirts.

Toile or toile de Jouy: Fine linen printed with pastoral scenes, usually in blue or black. It's a style that dates back to 1700s France.

Trompe l'oeil: An art term meaning to create realistic imagery that tricks the eye into seeing a 3D image.

Tweed: A woven cloth, usually made from wool. It is very hardwearing and warm, and often used for coats and jackets. Different patterns include Prince of Wales, herringbone, houndstooth and boucle.

Two-piece suit: A suit of matching jacket and trousers. A three-piece has an additional waistcoat.

Tuxedo: A formal evening suit for men, usually characterised by satin lapels.


Velvet: A soft, very luxurious fabric, with a dense pile. Originally made from silk, the fibres are knotted and cut to create a smooth nap. It is used for dresses, skirts and suits.

Vent: A split in the back of jackets and coats to allow movement. Originally it was used to allow the wearer to ride a horse comfortably (now called a storm vent). Vents are today used most commonly as a single or double split at the back of jackets.


Welt pockets: A pocket set into the cloth, so just a slit is left visible.


Yoke: The part of a garment around the neck, front and back.


Prada's autumn / winter 2013 interpretation of traditional zori shoes from Japan. Courtesy Prada

Zori: Traditional Japanese split toe footwear. Originally worn with split toe button-up tabi socks, this is the inspiration behind flip-flops.


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Haute couture spring / summer 2021: The best looks from Dior, Chanel, Valentino, Viktor & Rolf and Schiaparelli