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Leggings, jeggings, and meggings (oh my!)

Fashion catwalk

Fashion has always inspired innovation—on the runway and in the dictionary. With the autumn 2011 collections likely to be wowing the fashionistas this month during New York’s and London’s Fashion Weeks (good fashion is, after all, ahead of its time), here are the top twenty most outrageously stylish English words.

As Mark Twain once said, ‘Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.’ Throughout history, one reliable constant has been the need for individuals to express themselves through dress; one reliable inconstancy has been the clothing itself. Styles have covered all or bared nearly all, promoted political beliefs or albums, been made of heavy petticoats or bubbles (or, speaking of the reigning queen of fashion insanity, Kermit the Frog or meat). This variety has introduced a similarly wide array of inspired words and phrases, some of which have entered the daily lexicon and some of which fell faster than Naomi Campbell on the runway. Below is an unscientific list of the top twenty greatest fashion words, with example sentences from OUP’s language databases or, where named sources are provided, the Oxford English Dictionary.

body-con
relating to or denoting a very tight-fitting style of clothing:
Fab though the body-con trend is, I can’t give up on smocks just yet.

bumsters
trousers that are cut very low on the hips:
Your key allies in the war against bumsters are Kath and Kim.

chapeau-bras
a man’s three-cornered flat silk hat, typically carried under the arm:
A crescent-shaped chapeau-bras, known as an opera-hat, developed in the 1760s-70s from the three-cornered hat.

fichu
a small triangular shawl, worn around a woman’s shoulders and neck:
Originally the neckline had shown her chest, but now a thin fichu tried its best to cover the raw marks on her delicate skin.

frou-frou
a rustling noise made by someone walking in a dress:
The Princess fretted for some little frou-frou of the world to break its solemn silence. (Wanda, by Ouida, Marie Louise de la Ramée, 1883)

guimpe
a high-necked blouse or undergarment worn showing beneath a low-necked dress:
Some of the high sorselet bodices permit of nothing more than a small guimpe with sleeves. (Westminster Gazette, 1909)

hobble skirt
a style of skirt so narrow at the hem as to impede walking, popular in the 1910s:
This sexy hobble skirt has an organza overskirt edged with satin bias binding, giving a floating effect.

hot pants
tight, brief women’s shorts, worn as a fashion garment:
So when Destra showed up onstage in the shortest black hot pants, much of her buttocks in full view, it was no surprise everyone rushed to the front of the stage.

jerkin
a sleeveless jacket; a man’s close-fitting jacket, typically made of leather:
The leather jerkin beneath her robe offered Kel a sense of security as she thought of those dangers.

leg-of-mutton sleeve
a sleeve that is full and loose on the upper arm but close-fitting on the forearm and wrist:
I want my leg-of-mutton sleeves, and in addition to those I want my cutie chamois booties with the leopard-skin bows.

middy
a woman’s or child’s loose blouse with a collar that is cut deep and square at the back and tapering to the front, resembling that worn by a sailor:
An image of my middy blouse hanging alone on the clotheslines outside our kitchen window, buffeted by the wind, came to mind.

monokini
a woman’s one-piece beach garment equivalent to the lower half of a bikini:
Thongs, monokinis, bikinis, trikinis, pubikinis, tankinis are the revealing “ins” for the first summer of the millennium.

Oxford bags
wide baggy trousers:
In their dress men and girls follow European fashions—Oxford bags, berets, sandal shoes.

Puffa
a type of thick padded jacket:
I’m all for fresh air and I think the combination of double glazing and radiators can be stifling, but you have to maintain a degree of comfort and sitting watching TV in a Puffa jacket and three pashminas isn’t it.

pussycat bow
a large, soft, floppy bow at the neck of a woman’s blouse:
This cool and refreshing piece updates your appearance and with its cute pussycat bow on the neckline, is something very rare I must say.

ragamuffin
an exponent or follower of ragga, typically one dressing in ragged clothes:
In addition to the chic sounds of Paris which Solaar himself is most closely aligned to, there are groups like IAM which lead Marseille in its edgier, more recognizably ragamuffin style.

reefer jacket
a thick, close-fitting, double-breasted jacket:
Standish had brought them to a stop outside a dimly lit café that appeared to be closed, except that a burly drunk in a dark reefer jacket had just wandered in unopposed.

salopettes
a one-piece garment similar to overalls, with a front flap and should straps or a full sleeveless top, worn for skiing, sailing, etc. :
Neither of the fundraisers have even put on a pair of skis or salopettes, but they intend to glide down the slopes with ease in the 26 mile event.

waspie
a woman’s corset or belt designed to accentuate a slender waist:
Yes, the Freudian unconscious was filled with girls in waspies and stockings doing wicked things!

winkle-picker
a shoe with a long pointed toe, popular in the 1950s:
Like many young people I ignored advice not to wear winkle-pickers, stilettos and high platforms, and boy am I paying for it.

Finally, an honorary mention goes to –eggings as a suffix, which has opened the doors for the creative wearing of tight pants around the world. Jeggings is a new addition to the dictionary; meggings may be next, if Conan O’Brien has anything to do with it.