7 facts about where clothing names come from
Lots of clothing, it turns out, wears its origins on its sleeves. The names of lots of common clothing items and materials actually come from their place (or person) of origin.
The hard-wearing cotton twill fabric, usually blue and often used for jeans, is pretty straightforward about its origins; denim comes from Nîmes, France, or ‘de Nîmes’. More fully, the fabric was known as ‘serge de Nîmes’, serge referring to a durable twilled woollen or worsted fabric.
The word jean has been around a lot longer than you might think. It first appeared as an adjective in the late 15th century, originally coming from the Latin Janua ‘Genoa’, as in Genoa, Italy, where the cloth was first produced. The noun sense comes from jean fustian, which literally means ‘fustian from Genoa’, a phrase used in the 16th century to refer to a heavy twilled cotton cloth. Nowadays, denim and jean are often used to refer to the same type of cloth.
The name for this lightweight cotton cloth of a plain weave comes from the Italian word mussolina, which itself comes from Mussolo, or Mosul, the city in Iraq where this type of cloth was first manufactured.
The term tweed, referring to ‘a rough-surfaced woollen cloth, typically of mixed flecked colors’, emerged thanks to an accidental misreading. Although the circumstances are not clear, the term tweed seems to have come about from an accidental misreading of tweel, a Scots form of twill, or a misunderstanding of an abbreviated tweeled. The adoption of the term was probably helped by association with the River Tweed in the United Kingdom.
This specific style of dinner jacket first appeared in the late 19th century, in the small village of Tuxedo Park, New York, located just outside New York City.
The balaclava, a ‘woollen covering for the head and neck worn especially by soldiers on active service’, was named after the Crimean village of Balaclava near Sebastopol, the site of the Crimean War battle commonly known as the Battle of Balaclava.
Clothing history gets crazy here. History buffs and poetry fans may recognize the Battle of Balaclava as the setting for the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized in poem form by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The man leading that charge was James Thomas Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan. You read that right: the same man who helped popularize cardigans, ‘a knitted sweater fastening down the front’, also led the Light Brigade in the Battle of Balaclava.