Different communities often use their own particular vocabulary, and it’s no different with fans of fashion. The language used to describe garments and jewels can be as colourful as the clothes and accessories themselves. So stop confusing avant garde with au courant, and get up to speed with some of the most common fashion phrases in the English language.

Even if fashion isn’t your bag, just checking out some new vocabulary will do nothing but help you on your path towards fluency in English. You can never know enough new words and phrases. Erin O’Neill, writer for The Language Gallery, a London English language school, shares some commonly used fashion phrases.

Fashion victim

A term used to describe someone who blindly follows trends and will wear fashionable clothes, even when they do not look good in them. Said to have been coined by late designer, Oscar de la Renta.

Example: Tom spends all of his money on the latest trends; he really is a fashion victim.


Used within the context of fashion, avant-garde indicates the most cutting-edge and experimental fashions of the moment. Avant-gardefashions are often too extravagant to be worn in day-to-day life. Their styles are usually toned down to create more wearable garments that can be sold in high-street stores.

Example: The runway show displayed all of the latest avant-garde fashions.

Au courant

Derived from the French (which literally means ‘in the current’), in the fashion world, an au courant outfit is deemed to be stylish and modern. If a person is described as au courant, then they are up to date with the latest fashions.

Example: I try to stay au courant with the latest developments in the industry.

Dressed to the nines

To be dressed to the nines means that someone is wearing a fashionable or formal outfit, usually for a special occasion. There are a few theories about where this phrase first originated; many believe it comes from the fact that tailors once used nine yards of material to make a suit.

Example: Lisa hit the town dressed to the nines.

Dressed to kill

If someone is dressed to kill, they are wearing stylish clothes, often with the intention of making people notice them. People that are dressed to kill are looking to impress others with their choice of outfit.

Example: Everyone at the party was dressed to kill.


People, clothes and other items can all be considered trendy. If someone is described as trendy, then they are thought to be very fashionable and are usually interested in things that are currently popular.

Example: Bonnie is so trendy, she always wears fashionable outfits.


In the context of fashion, an item of clothing that is described as timeless transcends fads and trends. Timeless garments have a strong appeal that continues over long periods of time.

Example: The little black dress will always be timeless.


Vintage clothing is between 20 and 100 years old, and is supposed to clearly represent the era from which it was produced. Every decade brings forth new items that can be described as vintage. Clothing over 100 years old then becomes classified as antique.

Example: Regina’s vintage skirt was the talk of the school. 

À la mode

One of the first French phrases to be adopted into English vernacular, à la mode translates literally to in the current fashion. If you call something à la mode, you are saying it is fashionable and up-to-date.

Example: Ask your parents to buy you a dress a little more à la mode.

Smart casual

Many occasions might call for a smart casual dress code; a lot of people find this particular style hard to define. Generally, to be dressed in a smart casual fashion means to be well-dressed but in a casual style. This might include wearing a shirt and business shoes, but dressing it down with jeans rather than a skirt or trousers.

Example: The dress code in the office was smart casual.

London College of Contemporary Arts (LCCA) offers fashion management and marketing course and a bachelor hons fashion design. Visit the LCCA website to find out about our fashion design courses.