Women's Clothing Glossary
by Stephanie Petersen
Published April 28, 2010 | Updated December 10, 2014
When you're online shopping for women's clothing, you may come across some terminology that you're not familiar with. If you're not sure what something in the description means, you may be hesitant to buy clothes online. This glossary is here to help you figure out all of the descriptions, so you'll know how to buy women's clothes that are right for you.
Women's Fashion Terms to Know:
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Acrylic is a synthetic fiber that is lightweight, soft, and wrinkle-resistant. Often used in sweaters as an alternative to wool, acrylic is less expensive than but usually not as warm as wool.
An A-line silhouette mimics the letter "A" and has a narrow top and a flare. You can find the A-line shape on dresses, skirts, and women's coats.
Any needlework design or pattern applied to the surface of clothing is an appliqué.
A babydoll is a dress or blouse that is modeled on the popular nightgown style with the same name. It is fitted at the bust and falls in a full style.
- Balloon or bubble hem:
A skirt or dress with a balloon or bubble hem has a full, rounded, puffed look that gathers in at the bottom.
- Banded sleeve:
A banded sleeve has a finished edge that makes the edge of the sleeve fit a bit closer.
From the French word for "band," a bandeau features a snug band of fabric around the chest. A bandeau top can have various straps: It can be strapless, have one diagonal strap, a halter-style strap, or spaghetti straps.
- Barrel-line cut:
Like its namesake, a barrel-line cut gives an elongated, rounded shape to dresses or skirts.
- Bateau or boat neckline:
This wide neckline mimics the shape of a canoe. It's also known as a slash-neck. (Bateau is French for "boat.")
- Bell sleeve:
A bell sleeve is a long sleeve that is fitted at the shoulder and flared at the wrist. Some bell sleeves have a banded edge.
- Bias cut:
Bias-cut clothes have been cut out of fabric diagonally to the fabric's weave. A bias cut gives clothing a flowing feeling.
The bodice is the section of a dress or shirt that fits over the bust and the torso.
From the Italian word for "embossed cloth," brocade is a fabric with designs woven into it.
- Cap sleeve:
A cap sleeve is a very short sleeve that just covers the shoulder and the top of the upper arm.
A smooth, lightweight fabric that can be woven from silk or synthetic fibers, charmeuse is like satin but has a lighter weight.
A woven fabric with a crepe texture, chiffon is sheer and airy and is usually woven from silk or synthetic fibers.
- Color blocking:
Color blocking is a technique where blocks of various fabrics are sewn together to create clothing with a few different solid colors.
- Contrast piping or contrast stitching:
These are names for edging or stitching on an item of clothing that is a different color than the fabric, often white or black against a brighter color. Women's jeans often feature contrast stitching around the back pockets.
This well-known natural fiber can be woven into a wide variety of fabrics. Some of the many fabrics woven from cotton are broadcloth, oxford, chino cloth, denim, corduroy, chambray, terrycloth, and seersucker.
A lightweight woven fabric with a crimped texture, crêpe is often made of silk or rayon. Thin crêpe is known as crêpe de Chine.
A low neckline that exposes cleavage is known as a décolleté.
- Dolman sleeve:
A dolman sleeve is wide at the shoulder and narrow at the wrist; these sleeves are also known as bat-wing sleeves.
- Duchesse satin:
A heavyweight satin, duchesse satin is usually used for formal dresses or lingerie and can be made of silk or synthetic fibers.
- Empire waist:
An empire silhouette features a high waist, usually just under the bust, and a flowing, loose bodice. You may see an empire waist on dresses or shirts.
Inspired by military uniforms, epaulettes are ornamental shoulder pieces. Epaulettes can be showy, with fringe or other details, or they can be subtle, like the shoulder strap found on trench coats.
From the French word for "fake," faux is used to describe synthetic items, like faux fur, or it indicates that something only appears a certain way, such as a faux wrap dress.
A woven fabric that is napped (brushed to give a soft feel) on one or both sides, flannel can be very casual, like with plaid flannel shirts, or more formal, like with flannel suits.
A flounce is a wide ruffle.
- Flutter sleeve:
A flutter sleeve is a short sleeve that falls loosely over the upper arm.
- French cuff:
Usually only found on button-down shirts, a French cuff is a double cuff that folds over and is fastened with cuff links or silk knots.
A tightly woven, tough fabric, gabardine can be made from wool, cotton, or synthetics.
A godet is a panel of fabric inserted into a skirt or dress to create a flare.
A gusset is a piece of fabric that is inserted into a seam to give more room and/or to reduce stress on the seam.
Habotai is a soft silk, also known as "China silk."
A halter neckline features a strap that goes around the neck, usually leaving the upper back exposed. A halter neck can be found on dresses, tank tops, and swimwear.
A hemline is the lower edge of any clothing item.
An inseam is the place where the fabric is sewn together on inner side of the legs on a pair of pants.
Jersey is a type of knitted fabric that can be made from wool, cotton, or silk.
- Juliet sleeve:
Inspired by Renaissance styles, a Juliet sleeve is fitted over the forearm and puffed at the top.
Found on dresses, shirts, and swimwear, a keyhole is a teardrop-shaped cutout.
- Kimono sleeve:
Cut as part of the bodice of women's blouses, a kimono sleeve has a wide, sloping shape.
Knits include any fabric that is formed with a path of loops; this pattern is very visible in sweaters but not as much in T-shirts, which are also knits. Knits have a bit of stretch and vary greatly in thickness.
Tanned animal skins come in a few different forms:
Types of Leather
Full-grain leather or top-grain leather is made from the upper section of the hide and has not been sanded or buffed.
Corrected-grain leather is top-grain leather which has been sanded or buffed to remove imperfections.
Split leather is made from the part of the hide that is left after the other types of leather have been removed. Suede is a type of split leather.
Made from the fibers of the flax plant, linen is a fabric that is a favorite for summer clothing because of its light weight.
Microfiber is made of a blend of synthetic fibers to make a very soft fabric.
Nylon is a synthetic fiber.
From a French term for "shaded," ombre is a color effect where the color gradually changes from light to dark over the item of clothing.
When an item of clothing is described as "one size fits all," it is usually about a size medium and designed with a stretchy fabric to accommodate many different sizes.
- Pencil skirt:
A pencil skirt is knee-length and fitted from the waist to the hemline. Pencil skirts usually have a slit in the back or front to allow movement.
A peplum is a band of fabric at the hem of dresses, blouses, or jackets; the bottom part can be ruffled or pleated to create a flare.
Picot is a series of loops that creates an ornamental trim, usually seen on lingerie.
Pleats are decorative folds in fabric, often used to add fullness to skirts.
Polyester is a synthetic fabric that can be used in woven or knitted fabrics and can be lightweight or heavy.
A finely ribbed fabric made from silk, wool, cotton, or synthetics.
- Raglan sleeve:
A raglan sleeve extends from the neckline and has an angled seam from the neck to the underarm.
The rise is the measurement from the crotch to the waistband of a pair of women's pants.
Ruching is pleated or gathered fabric.
Satin is a woven fabric with a glossy finish and a lustrous texture that can be made of silk or synthetics.
Scallops are decorative borders of semi-circular shapes.
Seersucker is a lightweight cotton, linen, or rayon fabric with puckers and, usually, stripes.
- Self-belt or self-tie:
A self-belt or self-tie is made of the same fabric as the rest of the shirt or dress.
Shantung is a woven fabric with a slightly nubby, uneven texture made from cotton, silk, or synthetics. Often used for dressier clothing, shantung requires dry cleaning but is fairly stain-resistant.
A sheath is a short, slim-fitting dress that is cut to cinch in at the waist without a belt or waistband.
- Shift dress:
A shift dress has a loose fit and lacks a defined waistline. It is usually a short dress.
Shirring is a decorative detail featuring rows of gathered fabric.
A luxurious natural fiber obtained from the cocoons of certain types of worms, silk can be found in a wide variety of clothes. Silk is often blended with linen, wool, or synthetics for easier care and lower cost.
- Slip dress:
Resembling the undergarment, a slip dress fits close to the body, is usually made of smooth fabrics and has lace trim.
Smocking is a technique where fabric has been gathered over an area to make it stretchy. Smocked clothing items (usually dresses or blouses) use smocking as a decorative detail.
- Spaghetti strap:
Found on dresses and tank tops, a spaghetti strap is a narrow strip of fabric that serves as a shoulder strap.
A name for elastic fabrics made of polyurethane, spandex is often used in fabric blends to provide a stretchy, forgiving fit such as in fitness clothing. Lycra is a copyrighted trade name for spandex manufactured by the Invista Company, formerly Dupont.
A surplice neckline has two pieces of fabric that cross over each other diagonally, creating a V-neck. (Surplice is also the name of the long, white garment worn by priests in some religions, but the similarities end at the name.)
A smooth woven fabric, taffeta is usually made from silk or synthetic fibers. Taffeta is used most often for special occasion dresses due to its luster and crisp feel.
A trapeze dress or blouse is shaped like a trapezoid (and not like a swing in the circus).
- Trumpet skirt:
A trumpet skirt has a slim fit through the hips and flares at the hem.
- Tulip skirt:
Like an inverted tulip, a tulip skirt has more fabric around the waistline and a close-fitting hemline.
Although "tunic" has been used to describe many items of clothing throughout history, the term often refers to a shirt that is longer than average, usually about hip-length or a little longer.
Twill is a type of fabric weave which features small diagonal parallel ribs, such as denim.
A vent is the split in the lower back of jackets and blazers.
These natural fibers come from a variety of animals, including alpacas, Angora rabbits (angora), camels, Kashmir sheep (cashmere), Tibetan goats (pashmina), and Angora goats (mohair). Wool is often blended with other fibers. It may be described in other ways as well:
Types of Wool
Virgin wool comes straight from the animal to the mill without any previous processing.
Super 100 (or 120, 140, 150, 180) refers to the length (in centimeters) one woolen yarn can be stretched; the longer the pull, the smoother the fabric.
Tropical wool is sturdy but lightweight and airy, making it perfect for summer clothing.
Worsted wool consists of any combed wool fibers spun from long fibers which are woven tightly, giving it a smooth surface.
Any fabrics formed by weaving, woven fabrics only have a little bit of stretch in one direction.
- Wrap dress:
A wrap dress fits by wrapping around the body and crossing in front to close. The wrap dress is often secured with ties and features a deep V neckline.
- Wrap shirt:
Like a wrap dress, a wrap shirt fits by wrapping around the body and crossing in front to close.
The yoke is the fabric across the back shoulders of a shirt or dress that connects the collar, sleeves, front pieces and back pieces together. There may also be a yoke on a skirt, where it would cross just below the waist.