Fashion and Words

I often think about how we communicate with and understand the world around us – the way we talk, write, our phrases and our physical sensory experiences.

Fashion may be what we first associate with the physical and sensory experience, but also the vocabulary of fashion, dress and textiles slips into usage for how we describe the words we use when talking or on the page (typography), our relationships to ourselves and others, as a medium between our interior (intangible) and external (tangible) selves. I am continually rediscovering and relearning the English language with these thoughts in mind, and here are some of the synesthetic ways that fashion seeps into our words when we think we aren’t talking about fashion at all.

From rags to rags

Recently it came to my knowledge that the end margins of a paragraph (when writing from left to right, with a fixed left-hand margin) on a page are described as ‘rags’ by typographers. The irregular and uneven ‘rag’ that occurs resists the neat line-end and invokes the textile affected by wear and tear, or the tattered rags which one could be dressed in. But also ‘rag’ references the destruction of paper: torn paper results in ragged edges, it references a worn cloth one might use to clean with, rag dance parties, and multiple other ideas (and phrases such as ‘being on the rag’, which was first used to describe menstruating women in the 70s). If our typed words can prove rag-like in their paragraph structure, needing to be ‘fixed’ or ‘mended’ by typographers, then we ought to spend more time in reflection on this – how our words are like a material prone to wear and tear through the tactile experience of typography, or how regardless of the quality of writing a paragraph will be considered by ‘good’ typography, less ragged and more in adherence to a vertical margin shape – a shape that words, and the way we write doesn’t ‘naturally’ fit to. Perhaps with this idea of rags in the paragraph we can consider what the body is, or whose body it is that the rags cover?

N.B Rag is ‘le chiffon’ in French, and in English a ‘chiffon’ is a sheer silky fabric.

Îles of texts and textiles

We cannot ignore the etymological link of text and textile – there has been so much interplay with these interwoven ideas over time in the art and literary worlds (a recent example being the 2016 exhibition ‘Textile Subtexts’ at Marabouparken Museum). These two words have the same root from the latin ‘texĕre’ of ‘to weave’. The spatiality of the woven fabric in textile drew me to take a closer look at the woven words that make up ‘textile’: ‘text’-‘ile’. The English word for ‘island’, and French ‘île’ comes from the Old Frisian ‘isles’. We think about weaving words together to form a narrative and the texture of a written text, or the texts within a textile in how it ‘speaks’ to us and contains a narrative. The subsequent synaesthesia between the written word and a woven fabric due to their etymological ties proposes questions around the materiality of a text and textile and their spatial and communicative aspects.

Tissus and fabrics

The word ‘tissu’ in French means ‘fabric’ or ‘material’, which reminds me of the connective tissues of communication between mediums in Laura U. Marks’ book Touch: Sensuous Theory and Intersensory Media. ‘Tissue’ in English has two meanings: it is a woven cloth and the substance of which animals and organisms are made from.  This other interplay between the materials we clothe our bodies in that covers our bodies – fabric of which we are made conveys the slippery binaries between our interior and exterior selves and skins.

Below I have listed some other ways in which the vocabulary of fashion pours out into our mouths when we aren’t talking about fashion at all:

 Phrases

A blanket expression

Wear your heart on your sleeve

To keep someone in your pocket

Terms

Address – a dress

Fray – fray

Sew – so

Wear – wearing – worn out

Fabricate – fabric

Lace – to lace with

Clasp – to clasp

 

By Evie Ward