The Historical Fashion and Textile Encyclopedia

This page is a work-in-progress.  Its aim is to provide a brief definition of vintage and historical fashion and textile terms, with links to articles which explore and illustrate the history of the term in more depth.

The dates at the end of each definition are the dates in which the term was most commonly used.

Have a term you think needs to be included?  Or a better definition, or more information?  Please leave a comment!

The Historical Fashion & Textile Encyclopedia at thedreamstress.com

______________________________________________________________

Acetate – a manufactured natural fibre of the rayon family, made from cellulose dissolved in an acetate solution.  Variants of acetate are Triacetate and Diacetate.  1900s-present.  See also rayon.

Aerophane – a fine, slightly crisp, silk gauze, sometimes with a slightly crinkled, crepe appearance, possibly from a silk worm that is now extinct OR a type of ribbon embroidery, where wide, crisp silk strips (originally probably of aerophane) are used to create three dimensional ornamentation, OR any fine, light gauzy fabric.  1830s-50s (fabric),

Alamode – a thin, plain tabby weave, lustred silk, usually black.  Used mainly for morning attire, cloaks, and linings.  Also spelled allamode, elamond, ali-mod, olamod, alemod, arlimode, and ellimod, and sometimes called mode.  1670s-1800

Agnello di Persia – the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  It can also refer to the fleece of fetal or newborn lambs from other species, or a knitted or woven fabric that imitates the distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with its slight sheen.  See also astrakhan.

Aniline dye – the first mass-produced chemical dye, based on an aniline extract of coal tar.  1859 onwards.  See also Mauvine

Antimacassar – a small, usually decorative, piece of fabric placed over the back of chairs, or on the arms, to keep it from soiling.  1800 onwards

Apron dress – the name usually applied to a simple rectangular over-dress, the most common known garment worn by women in Northern Europe during the Migration period and Early Middle Ages.  Also called “hängerock”or “pinafore.”  Some scholars believe the name used by the wearers was “smokkr”. 600-1,200 CE

Art silk  – the generic (and slightly euphemistic) name for rayons: fabrics made from processed cellulose.  Short for artificial silk.  See also rayon, viscose, acetate, nitro silk and cuprammonium.  1880s – present

Astrachan – alternative spelling for astrakhan.  the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  It can also refer to the fleece of fetal or newborn lambs from other species, or a knitted or woven fabric that imitates the distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with its slight sheen.

Astrakhan – the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  It can also refer to the fleece of fetal or newborn lambs from other species, or a knitted or woven fabric that imitates the distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with its slight sheen.

Baby Louis heels – The lowest version of a Louis heel: a heel curves in at the midpoint of the heel, and flares out again at the heel tip.  The sole of a Louis/Pompadour heeled shoe extends down the front breast of the heel, rather than stopping where the heel meets the sole, as in other heel styles.  See also French heelLouis/LouisXV heel, and Baby Louis heel. Style seen 1720-1790, 1860-1930, term used 1950s-present

Bagheera – fine, uncut pile velvet with a rough ‘crepe’ pile.  It was originally made of silk, but after the introduction of cellulose fabrics it could be made of rayon. 1930s-40s.

Balmacaan – A single-breasted, unstructured calf-length overcoat with raglan sleeves and a Prussian collar, usually made of tweed or gabardine.  Originally menswear, by the early 19th century they were popular for women, particularly as motoring coats.  Mid-19th century – present

Balmoral petticoat – a coloured petticoat, frequently decorated with stripes and sometimes with a built in hoops or crinoline, that was intended to show at the hem of a drawn-up skirt for walking and sportswear in the 1860s and 1870s.

Bamboo fabric, or bamboo linen – fabrics made from mechanically processed bamboo, having a stiff, coarse, linen-like feel.  Quite rare, and not to be confused with bamboo rayon.  Late 20th century – present.

Bamboo rayon – viscose or other manufactured naturals made with bamboo as their cellulose base.  Looks and acts like the same type of rayon made with other cellulose fibres.  Late 20th century – present.

Batiste – A fine, soft, opaque plain tabby-weave fabric.  Similar to organza, but without the acid finish.  These days, it can be made in cotton, wool, polyester or a blend.

Bemberg or bemberg silk – a manufactured natural fibre of the rayon family, made from cellulose dissolved in an cuprammonium solution.  Also known as cuprammoniumcupro, and cupra.  1900s – present.  See also rayon.

Bengaline silk – Bengaline is sometimes considered to be a silk blend, but can be of pure silk.  It has a crosswise ribbed effect.  Particularly common at the turn of the 19th century.

Bergére – low crowned, wide-brimmed hat, usually of straw, but sometimes made of other materials covered in silk.  1730s-1800, with a revival in the 1860s.  See also marmottes, pastoralism, Gainsborough hats & picture hats.

Bizarre silks – European woven silks featuring large, asymmetrical, fantastical floral designs which were Oriental in inspiration, vivid colours, and an emphasis on the diagonal ‘serpentine line.’  mid 1690s to the 1720s

Blonde lace – Originally a specific style of continuous bobbin lace made in France from natural, undyed (blonde) silk thread imported from China, later lace of any colour made in that style. Early 18th century – 1940s

Bodice – Originally a boned, stiffed garment for the upper body, without sleeves (1530 -1700), then a boned, stiffened garment for the upper body with sleeves (to differentiate it from stays) (1660-1810), finally either the upper part of a dress, or a separate bodice worn with a matching skirt to give the effect of a continuous dress (1820-1900).  See also Pair of Bodies and Robe de Cour.

Bodkin, also known as a lacing or threading needle (and occasionally a ballpoint needle), is a large needle with a very large eye, and a very blunt end, used for lacing corsets, threading ribbon through lace beading, and cord through casings.  Used from at least the 14th century to the present.

Bolton thumb glove – a glove with the glove thumb piece and its quirk are cut in one.

Bosom friend – a shaped tippet of wool, flannel, or fur, and later a knitted scarf, which kept the chest warm and served as a bust enhancer for less well endowed women.  1780s-1830s

Botany wool – an early name for merino wool produced in the Southern Hemisphere. 1870s-1950s

Boutonniére – French for buttonhole.  A flower worn in a man’s jacket buttonhole, or pinned to his lapel.  American and French usage.  1880s – present. See also corsage and buttonhole.

Breitschwanz – the German name for the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb, and occasionally that of lambs of other varieties.  It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with its slight sheen.  See also astrakhan.

Broadtail – the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  It can also refer to the fleece of fetal or newborn lambs from other species.  See also astrakhan.

Brocade: non-reversible fabrics with supplementary threads which form  elaborate embossed or embroidered surface effects, usually with different ground and pattern weaves.  The name comes from the Italian brocatto, meaning ‘embossed cloth’.

 Continuous brocades have the weft threads left loose and floating on the back.  Some continuous brocades have the back threads cut away, though the short cut ends are still visible. 

Discontinuous brocade is one where additional yarns are only woven into the patterned areas, resulting in a smoother back.

Brocading: brocade or other jacquard weaves with the inclusion of gold or silver coloured threads.  It is also called Imperial Brocade.

Brocade velvet: a patterned velvet with a raised pile and a woven ground.

Brocatelle:  Similar to brocade, but the patterned areas are more distinct and raised, and the fabric is heavier.

‘Brown’ linen – unbleached linen.  Linen was sold unbleached, and higher quality linen would be bleached, which cheaper, coarser linen would be left ‘brown’ and used for undergarments and summer clothes by the poor.  1720s-1900  See also osnaburg

Brummell Bodice– men’s stays worn by fashionable dandies to achieve a nipped waist.  After George ‘Beau’ Brummell.  1810-1830

Buffon – a large, sheer neckerchief worn to cover the bust and fill in the neck, often starched to further exaggerate their fullness, and to assist in creating the desired pigeon breast effect, and very occasionally wired into position. In France the buffon was called a fichu menteur.  1780s-90s.  See also fichuhandkerchiefneckerchief.

Burnous – (also burnoose and bournouse)  a full, hooded cloak, often decorated with embroidery and tassels and inspired by the burnous worn as part of the uniform of the Spahi.  1850s-1930s, with periodic returns to fashion since then.

Buttonhole – a flower worn in a man’s jacket buttonhole, or pinned to his lapel.  British usage.  1820s – present See also corsage and boutonniére.

Cabbage (or Carbage, or occasionally Garbage) – the name given to the bits of fabric left over from cutting out an item, or small scraps of fabric used as padding in clothes.  Accusations that tailors kept too much of the cabbage also gave it a usage as small private theft, or bits skimmed off the top.  Late 16th-present

Calamanco – a thin fabric of worsted wool yarn which could come in a number of weaves: plain, satin, damasked, and was even brocaded in floral, striped and checked designs.  The surface was glazed or calendered (pressed through hot rollers).  Also spelled callimanco, calimanco, and kalamink.   1680s-1800.

Calendering – the process of pressing fabric with hot rollers to give it a shiny, glazed finish.  18th century-present.  See also calamancociré, and polished cotton.

Calico  – The name comes from Calicut, the European name for the Indian city of Kozhikode.  In modern use it is a simple, cheap equal weft and warp plain weave fabric in white, cream or unbleached cotton (UK, NZ, AU) or a plain tabby-weave cotton fabric with a small, all-over floral print (North America).  17th century onwards.

Caracul lamb – an alternative spelling for karakul: the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  See also astrakhan.

Carding – the process of brushing the wool for woolen fabric in two directions before weaving.  See woolen.

Chesterfield coat – an overcoat with simple vertical seams, no side-back piece, and a velvet collar, usually in grey with black.  Before 1890 a Chesterfield coat was exclusively a male garment, but in the 20th century women’s coats and jackets have also been done with Chesterfield styling.  1840-present.

China grass – the Boehmeria nivea plant, a member of the nettle family, the bast fibres of which are used to make ramie & china grass cloth.  China grass is also known as white ramie and is generally considered to be of better quality than green ramie.  Prehistory-present (in Asian textiles), 1870s-present (in Western textiles).  See also rhea, nettle cloth.  

China grass cloth – a fabric made from woven, un-gummed strips of white ramie/china grass in Asia.  As the fabric was worn and washed, the gum would gradually wash away, and the fabric would become softer and whiter.  Prehistory-early 20th century.  See also rheanettle cloth, and ramie

Chinchilla – a pale grey (when undyed) and extremely soft and plush fur from the chinchilla rodent of South America.  Also applied to the fur of the ‘chinchilla rabbit’, which was bred to imitate real chinchilla fur in softness.  Chinchillas are now endangered, and hunting them is illegal.  Introduced to European fashion in the 17th century, and particularly popular from 1860-1910.  Uncommon since the 1930s.

Chine & Chiné a la branche – fabric woven from yarns which have been pre-printed with the intended pattern, producing a characteristic soft, blurred pattern once the yarns are woven into a cloth.  Chiné a la branche is the 18th century term, and almost exclusively referred to a silk fabric. 1740s – present.  See also Ikat.

Chintz The name comes from the Hindi “chint or “chitta” meaning “spotted”, referring to the speckled backgrounds on 17th and 18th century Indian equal weft and warp plain tabby weave cotton fabric block-printed in multicoloured floral designs.  The term now usually refers to floral designs, rather than to the fabric itself.

Ciré – a highly glazed wax finish applied to fabric through a process of heat and pressure, known as calendering, which gives it a wet or polished look.  1910s-present.  See also polished cotton.

Cloche – a tight fitting hat which comes low over the forehead and at the nape of the neck.  It can have a brim or be brimless. 1882-present.

Cloque – a fabric similar to matelasse, in aesthetic, in that it imitate quilting, looking like a fine brocade with three dimensional padded areas, but with a slightly different weave.  1800s-present.  See also Marseille’s clothpique de Marseilleswoven quilting and marcella.

Cloth – woolen fabric.  18th-late 19th centuries.  See also woolen.

Colonial shoe – an 18th century inspired heeled shoe with a tongued vamp and an ornamental metal buckle on the front of the shoe.  See also Cromwell shoes and Moliére shoes.  1860s-1930s

Corsage – The bodice of a garment, usually, but not exclusively, tight fitting, and usually, but not exclusively, applied to women’s bodices.  The modern term corsage for a small cluster of flowers is taken from this, as a shortening of ‘corsage bouquet’ (a bouquet to be worn on a corsage).  1800s-1940s, with corsage being used equally for bodice and flowers from the 1890s onward.  See also buttonhole and boutonniéres

Corselet – a garment with waist-emphasising midriff section.  Used almost interchangeably with ‘swiss waist’ or ‘swiss belt’ to describe a fitted, shaped belt or sash at the end of the 19th century, and in the 20th century described pointed waistbands or midriffs.  1890s-1940s.  See also swiss waistunderbust corsetswiss belt,  and waist cincher.

Corset – Originally an unboned, quilted, front-lacing under- bodice worn informally (1770-1820), any boned, stiffened, waist compessing undergarment (1820-present).  See also stays & jumps

Cromwell buckle or Cromwell shoe – a shoe with a medium to high heel, usually with some 18th century influence, with an ornamental metal buckle on the front of the shoe (the buckle being the Cromwell buckle).  See also Moliére shoes and Colonial shoes.  1860s-1930s

Cuprammonium, cupro or cupra – a manufactured natural fibre of the rayon family, made from cellulose dissolved in an cuprammonium solution.  Also known as, bemberg, and bemberg silk.  1900s – present.  See also rayon.

Damask:  Patterned fabrics with a ground of one weave (usually plain, twill or sateen) and designs in other weaves (particularly satin and twill variants), so that the patterned areas have sheen and reflect light, Damasks are always reversible, with the pattern weaves becoming the ground weaves on the reverse (so on a fabric with a plain ground and satin pattern front, the ground would be satin and the pattern plain on the reverse).  There are tone-on-tone damasks, with different weaves within the damask creating elaborate floral or geometric patterns, and multicoloured damasks, where the background colours and the pattern colours reverse from front to back.

Dazzle Camouflage (also Razzle-Dazzle, or simply Dazzle)- a type of camouflage used in WWI, and to a lesser extent in WWII, with the intent to confuse the shape of an item (usually a warship) rather than hide it.  Dazzle camouflage consisted of patterns of broken stripes and spots, and influenced fashion through the use of black and white, abstract patterning, and broken lines.  See also Jazz Stripes. 1916-mid 1940s

Dobby weaves – simple patterned weaves such as birds eye, dotted swiss, honeycomb weaves and elaborate twills, created with the 40 possible thread frames of the dobby loom.  More elaborate patterns are created on a jacquard loom.  1843-present.

Doily (also doilie,doyley, doiley, d’oyley and d’oilie) an ornamental mat usually of crocheted or knitted lace.

Étui – small, decorated carrying cases which could contain bodkins, needles, and other mixed sewing equipment.  Sometimes used as part of a chatelaine. 18th & 19th century

Fichu – broadly speaking, the French term for a neckerchief, scarf or wrap.  The term appears in French from at least as early as the mid-18th century, and was adopted for English use as a more elegant alternative to neckerchief in the early 19th century.  See also buffonshandkerchiefneckerchief.  Mid-18th century- 1930s (French), Early 19th century -1930s (English)

Fichu-robings – robing-style trimmings that cover the shoulders of the bodice, and extend down into the bodice point.  1820s-40s.  See also robings.

Flame – Louis XIV favourite colour, a brilliant orange- red.  1640-1715

Forchette – A forked strip of material forming the sides of two adjacent fingers of a glove.  Also called a fork or forge.

French heels – The 1860s term for a Louis heel: a moderately high heel that curves in at the midpoint of the heel, and flares out again at the heel tip.  The sole of a Louis/Pompadour/French heeled shoe extends down the front breast of the heel, rather than stopping where the heel meets the sole, as in other heel styles.  Style seen from the 1720s onward, name used from the 1860s onward.  See also Pompadour heelLouis/LouisXV heel, and Baby Louis heel. Most fashionable 1720-1790, 1860-1930, 1950s-present

Froufrou – the characteristic rustling sound of silk.  See also scroop.

Fulling – the process of cleaning and pounding woolen fabrics to achieve a felted surface.  Also known as waulking and tucking.

Garaköli bagana – the Central Asian term for the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen.  See also astrakhan.

Gauze – lightweight, sheer fabric, usually in plain very open tabby-weave.

Grand Habit or Grand Habit de Cour – the formal court wear across most of Europe in the 18th century, consisting of a stiff, boned bodice which laces up the back, a skirt, a separate train worn either at the waist or falling from the shoulders, and detachable lace sleeves.  1680s-1790s  See also Robe de Cour and Stiff Bodies Gown.

Granny Squares – crocheted blocks, usually worked in bits of leftover yarn, that can be joined together to form throws or clothes.  1890s-present

Green ramie – A fabric, usually resembling linen, made from the bast fibre of a plant in the nettle family with smaller leaves than white ramie, and which grows better in subtropical climates.  Green ramie is also known as rhea and is generally considered to be of poorer quality than white ramie.  Prehistory-present (in Asian textiles), 1870s-present (in Western textiles).  See also ramienettle cloth, and china grass.  

Grosgrain – a fabric with a distinctive rib, now used almost exclusively for ribbons, and men’s formalwear lapels.  1860s-present.

Guimpe – A short blouse to be worn under a jumper, or a fill for a low cut dress.  Similar to a dickey or chemisette.  1810-1920

Handkerchief
18th century:
 a large square of fabric folded into a triangle, or cut and sewn as a triangle, worn around the neck.
19th century: a square of fabric worn around the neck or used as a pocket handkerchief.
See also: buffons, fichu, pocket handkerchief, neckerchief.

Holland –  Plain tabby weave, fine yarn, linen fabric. Very similar to lawn, but always made of linen. Like lawn it can be treated with a glazed finished, which is referred to as a ‘holland’ finish. Historically holland referred to lawn from continental Europe, and was sometimes called ‘holland lawn’. Modern holland is not as fine as lawn.

Ikat – fabric woven from yarns which have been pre-dyed (using a resist method) producing a characteristic soft, blurred pattern once the yarns are woven into a cloth.  Sometimes also refers to fabrics which have been pre-printed to produce the same effect.  See also chiné, chiné a la branche, and warp-printing.  20th century onwards (as an English language term).

Imperial Brocade: brocade or other jacquard weaves with the inclusion of gold or silver coloured threads.  It is also called brocading.

Indienne ordinaireChintz/18th century calico fabric patterned in orange-red, black and cream.  This was the cheapest and most common type of chintz/calico, and gives its name to the coloration on calico cats.

Indispensable – alternative name for a reticule, a small drawstring purse carried by women.  Late 18th-early 19th century.

Jacquard weaves – elaborate weaves such as brocade, damask, matelasse etc. achieved using a series of programme cards. Since the mid 19th century jacquard weaves have been created with a jacquard head attachment fitted to a dobby loom, rather than with a dedicated jacquard loom. 1800 onwards.

Jazz Stripes (also Jazz Colours) – The use of bold stripes, clashing colours, and broken lines in 1920s fashion to create a disjointed, purposely outrageous effect.  Inspired by WWI Dazzle camouflage.   See also Jazz Stripes. 1919-1925

Jumps –  softer, significantly less boned (and sometimes completely unboned) front lacing bodices or soft stays which still provided some bust support.  1700-1820.  See also corsets & stays.

Karakul lambskin – the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen.  See also astrakhan.

Karakulcha – the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen.  See also astrakhan.

Krimmer – the Russian term for the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen.  See also astrakhan.

Lawn – a lightweight, slightly sheer, tightly woven, plain tabby weave fabric, with fine, glossy threads and no surface texture.

Louis heels or Louis XV heels – a moderately high heel that curves in at the midpoint of the heel, and flares out again at the heel tip.  The sole of a Louis heeled shoe extends down the front breast of the heel, rather than stopping where the heel meets the sole, as in other heel styles.  The style has been seen from the 1720s onward, but the name Louis XV heel was not used until they returned to fashion in the 1860s, and this was not shortened to Louis heel until the 1880s.  See also French heel, Pompadour heel, and Baby Louis heel.  Most fashionable 1720-1790, 1860-1930, 1950s-present

Lyocell (trade name Tencel) – a soft, absorbent, wrinkle resistant manufactured cellulose based fabric of the rayon family, which can be processed in a relatively environmentally friendly fashion.  Difficult to dye, and prone to pilling if not processed properly.  1980s-present.  See also rayon.

Marcella – a weave specifically designed to imitate quilting, looking like a fine brocade with three dimensional padded areas.  1740s-present.  See also Marseille’s clothcloquepique de Marseilleswoven quilting and matelasse.

Marmotte – a kerchief tied under the chin in the style of the Savoy peasants.  1740s-1900.  See also Savoyarde style, pastoralism, and bergére.

Marquisette – sheer, lightweight mesh or net fabric with a leno weave, made from almost any fibre: silk, cotton, wool, rayon, nylon, polyester or a blend of any of the above. 1907-1950s

Marseille’s cloth – a weave specifically designed to imitate quilting, looking like a fine brocade with three dimensional padded areas.  1740s-present.  See also Matelassecloquepique de Marseilleswoven quilting and marcella.

Matelasse – a weave specifically designed to imitate quilting, looking like a fine brocade with three dimensional padded areas.  1740s-present.  See also Marseille’s cloth, cloque, pique de Marseilles, woven quilting and marcella.

Mauvine – the first mass-produced chemical dye, based on an aniline extract of coal tar.  1859 onwards.  See also Aniline Dye

Modal – a soft, absorbent, wrinkle resistant manufactured cellulose based fabric of the rayon family, similar to lyocell.  1980s-present See also rayon.

Moliére shoes –  an 18th century inspired shoe with a small heel and an ornamental metal buckle on the front of the shoe.  See also Cromwell shoes and Colonial shoes.  1860s-1930s

Mother-in-law silk – slightly derogatory nickname for nitro silk.  1880-1915.  See also rayon.

Muslin – lightweight, slightly sheer plain tabby weave fabric, with a balanced, slightly open weave (except in NA, where it is called muslin-gauze, or gauze, and muslin means a cheap plain weave cotton fabric).

Nainsook – a lightweight, slightly sheer, tightly woven, plain tabby weave fabric with fine glossy threads and no surface texture, similar to lawn, but made with combed (prepared with a comb) yarns rather than carded (prepared with a brush). This gives it a slightly more lustrous finish.

Neckerchief – larger, fuller versions of handkerchiefs worn round the neck.  18th & 19th century.  See also buffonsfichupocket handkerchiefhandkerchief.

Net: Refer to soft fabrics with mesh patterns, irregardless of their fibre makeup. Sometimes used to refer to fabric very similar to voile, but only in white and cream colours. Soft tulles are a kind of net (so all soft tulle is a net, but not all net is tulle).

Nettle cloth – Fabric made from bast fibres from plants in the nettle family.  Similar to linen.   Bronze age-present.  See also ramie, Scots clothchina grassrheawhite ramie, and green ramie.  

Nitro silk, or nitrocellulose.  One of the oldest manufactured naturals cellulose based fabrics of the rayon family, made by dissolving nitrocellulose in a solution.  Prone to crumpling and extremely flammable, the fabric was soon eclipsed by other, more successful, members of the rayon family.  Also known as mother-in-law-silk.  1880s-1915 See also rayon.

Organdy/Organza – Extremely sheer and crisp plain tabby weave fabrics made with fine, even yarns. These yarns have been combed rather than carded (like nainsook) and are treated with acid in a process that adds to the sheerness and crispness of the finished project.  Organdy is made of cotton, organza is made of silk or other filament yarns.

Osnaburg –  a heavy, coarse, unbleached plain-weave fabric having approximately 20-36 threads per inch, originally of unbleached linen, and then of unbleached or dyed cotton once cotton became a cheaper fibre than linen in the early 19th century.  Widely used for heavy work clothing, and particularly slaves clothing.  1720s-present.  See also ‘brown’ linen.

Pair of Bodies – Sleeveless boned, stiffened bodice worn with attachable sleeves as outerwear, or as underwear (stays).  The predecessor of the boned, stiffened bodices of robe de cour, and of stays.  1530-1600

Pardessus – a woman’s overcoat or mantle.  1820s-1900.

Pastoralism – fashions inspired by the dress of peasants and a romanticised view of rural life, particularly associated with the mid-late 18th century.  See also marmotte, Savoyarde style and bergére

Persian lamb – the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb.  Characterised by a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen.  See also astrakhan.

Peu de soie – used interchangeably with duchesse satin in modern terminology, but may have describes a slightly softer, lighter fabric with a rib at the end of the 19th century.

Picot – a decorative or function loop of thread or yarn  on knitting, crocheting, or lace.

Picot edge – a series of looped threads along the edge of knitting, crocheting or ribbon, which can be used for functional or decorative purposes.  A ‘picot’ is a single one of these loops.

Picot hem –  a rolled hem or edging with a zig zag stitch sewn over the hem to hold it.  It is usually worked on very fine, lightweight fabrics such as chiffon. 1910-1940s

Picture hat – Large, broad brimmed hat.  1887-1930s

Pierrot jacket – A jacket with a ruffled ‘tail’ in back.  1770s-1790s

Pique de Marseilles – a weave specifically designed to imitate quilting, looking like a fine brocade with three dimensional padded areas.  1740s-present.  See also Marseille’s clothcloquematelassewoven quilting and marcella.

Pocket handkerchief – smaller squares of fabric carried in the pockets.  Handkerchiefs were worn round the neck unless explicitly called pocket handkerchiefs.  18th century.  See also buffonsfichuhandkerchiefneckerchief.

Points – the seam lines across the back of gloves

Polished cotton – a highly glazed wax finish applied to fabric through a process of heat and pressure, known as calendering, which gives it a wet or polished look.  1910s-present.  See also ciré and calimanco.

Pompadour fabrics or Pompadour taffeta – a term describing fabrics inspired by the aesthetic of Madame de Pompadour.  Pompadour taffeta may have meant chiné a la branche, but sometimes referred to other fabrics (1760s-1800).  Pompadour fabrics usually referred to fabrics that combined stripes and florals (19th century).  See also chine & warp-printed fabric.

Pompadour heels – a moderately high heel that curves in at the midpoint of the heel, and flares out again at the heel tip.  The sole of a Louis/Pompadour heeled shoe extends down the front breast of the heel, rather than stopping where the heel meets the sole, as in other heel styles.  Style seen from the 1720s onward, name used from the 1860s onward.  See also French heelLouis/LouisXV heel, and Baby Louis heel. Most fashionable 1720-1790, 1860-1930, 1950s-present

Poult, or poult de soie – a silk taffeta with heavy ribs.  Today it is sometimes called faille taffeta.  Historically it may have had finer ribs.  1870s-present

Quirk – an extra little V gusset at the bottom of a gloves fourchette, to better allow the fingers to move.  17th c or earlier to the present.

Radzimir – A silk fabric with a fine rib, softer than taffeta, but still sculptable.  At different times radzimir has been used to describe fabric with lengthwise, crosswise, or broken twill ribs.  It was particularly common in black as a mourning fabric, but was seen for evening and formal wear.  19th century-present

Ramie – A fabric, usually resembling linen, made from the bast fibre of the Boehmeria nivea plant, a member of the nettle family.  Ramie is sometimes used as a generic term for fabric made from any member of the nettle family.  Frequently blended with other fibres.  Prehistory-present (in Asian textiles), 1870s-present (in Western textiles).  See also nettle cloth, china grass, rhea, Scots clothwhite ramie, and green ramie.  

Rayon – the generic name for a whole family of fabrics made by dissolving cellulose fibres in chemicals and extruding the resulting solution as filament fibres.  See also viscose, art-silk, nitro silk, acetate, cuprammonium, modal, lyocell, sniafil etc. 1890s-present

Reticule – A small drawstring woman’s purse, and then as a generic term for any sort of small purse carried by a woman.  Lampooned as a Ridicule.  late 18th & early 19th century.  See also Indispensable.

Rhea – A fabric, usually resembling linen, made from the bast fibre of a plant in the nettle family with smaller leaves than white ramie, and which grows better in subtropical climates.  Rhea is also known as green ramie and is generally considered to be of poorer quality than white ramie.  Prehistory-present (in Asian textiles), 1870s-present (in Western textiles).  See also ramienettle cloth, Scots cloth, and china grass.  

Robe de Cour or Robe de Corpse – the formal court wear across most of Europe in the 18th century, consisting of a stiff, boned bodice which laces up the back, a skirt, a separate train worn either at the waist or falling from the shoulders, and detachable lace sleeves.  1680s-1790s  See also Grand Habit de Cour and Stiff Bodies Gown.

Robings – Flat trimmings around the neck and and down the front of the bodice (and sometimes to the hem) of gowns.  18th & early 19th century.  See also fichu-robings.

Roshanara –  the trade name for a silk or silk-worsted wool blend fabric with a rough crepe texture.  1920s-30s

Sabot sleeve/sabot cuff
18th century:  a tight, usually 3/4 length sleeve with a curve at the elbow to allow movement, often with ruched cuffs (sabot cuffs) 1700-1770 or, ruched or puffed sleeves.  1770-1800
19th century:  a sleeve with one or two puffs above the elbow, or to the puffs themselves.  1820-1840

Savoyard style – fashions inspired by the peasants of Savoy, who came to Paris as street entertainers.  1740s-1900.  See also marmotte & pastoralism.

Scroop – the characteristic rustling sound that taffeta and other stiff silks or imitation silks make, created with a special acid treatment, which hardens the fibres of the fabric, making them rustle more.  See also froufrou.  1890s – present

Scots cloth – An English colloquialism for nettle cloth fabric made from bast fibres from plants in the nettle family.  Scots cloth is similar to linen.   Nettle cloth has been used in Europe since the Bronze Ages, but the term Scots cloth was only used in the 17th & 18th centuries (and nettle cloth was still the more commonly used term).  See also ramiechina grassrheawhite ramie, and green ramie.  

Semi-worsted – wool fabric woven with threads that are spun tightly, but not combed.  It is a significantly cheaper fabric than worsted fabric, and is usually done with poorer quality wools.

Sniafil – an experimental fibre of the manufactured natural, cellulose based rayon family, meant to imitate wool rather than silk.  The fibre received poor industry reviews and does not appear to have ever gone into production.  1925-7.  See also rayon.

Slink – the glossy, tightly curled fleece of a fetal or newborn lamb, usually one that has died of natural causes (rather than being harvested for its skin).  See also astrakhan.

Stays – stiffly boned undergarments closed by lacing (1600-1820), a synonym for corsets (1820-present), also the individual bones that stiffen stays or a corset.  See also corset, and jumps.

Stiff Bodied Gown – the English name for the formal court wear across most of Europe in the 18th century, consisting of a stiff, boned bodice which laces up the back, a skirt, a separate train worn either at the waist or falling from the shoulders, and detachable lace sleeves.  1680s-1790s  See also Grand Habit de Cour and Robe de Cour.

Stuff – woven fabric of worsted wool or of other materials, never woolen.  18th & 19th century

Swakara – the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb, specifically one from South West Africa.  Characterised by a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen.  See also astrakhan.

Swiss belt – an almost interchangeable term for a swiss waist, though a a swiss waist was higher and more corset-y, and a Swiss belt was shorter and might have attached streamers and bows that imitated a sash.  Also a garment with a pointed belt/midriff effect, even if the garment is loose fitting (20th century)  1850s-1920s.  See also corseletunderbust corsetswiss waist,  and waist cincher.

Swiss waist – a boned, pointed underbust garment  worn over skirts and blouses or dresses.  Swiss waists could have shoulder straps (particularly in the 1860s) and were sometimes beaded or otherwise decorated (particularly in the 1890s)  Swiss waists differ from corsets in that they have hand-worked eyelets, no emphasis on the boning, and never have metal busks to fasten at front.  1850s-1900.  See also corseletunderbust corset, swiss belt,  and waist cincher.

Symmetricals – knit tights worn primarily by actors and chorus girls with padding on the calves and thighs to create a voluptuous figure.  1880s-1920

Tapestry:  In modern terminology ‘tapestry’ just means a fabric woven on a jacquard loom that imitates historical tapestries.   It’s a very imprecise term, but it describes a heavy fabric with an elaborate, multicolour weave, usually with the colours reversing on the back of the fabric (for example, a fabric with green leaves on a red ground would have red leaves on a green ground on the reverse), but is thicker, stiffer, and heavier than damask, the reverse may not be as neat and tidy, and is usually woven with thicker yarns than damask or brocade.

Tea Gown – An elegant but informal garment worn around the house and to receive close friends.  Described as “a cross between a wrapper (robe) and a ball gown” tea gowns often have elements of exoticism and/or historicism, and were frequently worn without corsets.  Popular from the 1870s-1930s, when they were replaced by house gowns.

Terry Velvet – velvet where the pile threads are left as loops (like toweling and terrycloth) rather than being trimmed into discreet strands.  Usually called uncut velvet.

Trank – the main piece of a glove, with the back and front of the glove and the tops and bottoms of the fingers all cut in one, with only one side seam.  See also fourchettes, quirks

Uncut Velvet – velvet where the pile threads are left as loops (like toweling and terrycloth) rather than being trimmed into discreet strands.  Sometimes called terry velvet.

Underbust corset – a boned undergarment ending under the bust, sometimes pointed at top and bottom.  Unlike a swiss waist, underbust corsets sometimes had metal front busks, metal eyelets, and visible boning channels.  1850-1910.  See also corseletswiss waist, and waist cincher.

Viscose – a specific type of rayon, made by dissolving cellulose in a chemical and extruding the resulting viscous (hence viscose) solution.  Used as the generic name for members of the rayon family before a 1925 ruling restricted its name only to those rayons produced using the patented viscose process in the US.  It continued to be the generic name for rayons in the UK, and thus viscose and rayon are used as the primary names for the generic manufactured natural fabric in the UK, and US, respectively.  1900s-present.  See also rayon.

Voile – A lightweight fabric with a soft drapey hand, with some surface texture and a weave that is neither particularly fine or loose.  Plain tabby weave, may have woven-in stripes or texture.

Waist cincher – a modern term for a corselet, underbust corset, or other short garment that emphasises the waist.  Not used historically (pre-1950).

Warp printed fabric – fabric woven from yarns which have had the warp yarns pre-printed with the intended pattern, producing a characteristic soft, blurred pattern once the yarns are woven into a cloth.  See also chiné & chiné a la branche, and ikat.

Witches britches – tight mid-thigh knit knickers with lace trimmed hems worn under short skirts.  The term is probably exclusively an Antipodean one.  mid 1960s.

White ramie – A fabric, usually resembling linen, made from the bast fibre of the Boehmeria nivea plant, a member of the nettle family.  White ramie is considered to be better quality than green ramie.  Prehistory-present (in Asian textiles), 1870s-present (in Western textiles).  See also nettle clothchina grassrhea, ramie, and green ramie.  

Woolen fabric – fabric made from shorter  sheep’s wool, which is carded before spinning, scoured, and sometimes fulled after weaving.  Woolen fabric is softer, fluffier, and hairier than worsted fabric.  Historically described as cloth.

Worsted fabric – fabric made from long-staple sheep’s wool with little crimp which is gilled and combed before spinning, resulting in a fabric with a smooth, slick, hard finish.  Historically described as stuff.

Woven quilting – a weave specifically designed to imitate quilting, looking like a fine brocade with three dimensional padded areas.  1740s-present.  See also Marseille’s clothcloquepique de Marseillesmatelasse and marcella.

20 Comments

  1. Depending on the historical range you want to cover here (*cough*Early16thCGermany?*cough*) I could point you to the research that Katherine Barich has done on historical clothing and textile terms from that era/region (which I don’t recall her having webbed anywhere other than on the GermanRenCostume list and little backwaters like my own blog).

    Thoughts?

      • Carol Stewart says

        I would like to have a definition of the fabric ‘shot cloth’. This fabric is manufactured by Rowan for designer Kaffe Fassett. I only had the term ‘chambrey’ but the warp thread is black on shot cloth from India instead of white on chambrey.

  2. Willow Hope says

    Love this – not only helpful in itself but very useful when reading old novels.

    By the way, ‘antimacassars’ were invented to defend furniture against Rowland’s Macassar Oil, one of the first commercial men’s hair products, introduced about 1793.

  3. Pingback: mantis irreligiosa - I'm prickly, but I care. » Blog Archive » Sewing milestones 2014

  4. It would be nice with some medieval terms, such as cotte, surcotte/surcoat, gardecorps, liripipe hood, pattens, bliaut, aumoniere, cotehardie, etc. Or ancient terms surch as peplos, chiton, toga, tunica, stola etc. My need for 19th century clothing, which seems to dominate the list, is very slim.

    Also, a small correction: apron dresses were not used after the end of the 11th century.

    /Eva, trying hard to insert terms for clothes that I actually need 😉

    • I’m working on those, but I don’t want to define words that I’m not entirely familiar with and comfortable with! I did do the worsted/woolen definition specifically so people doing earlier periods would have scope for that, because almost all of the medieval garments you named would be made from one or the other :-). If you want to write a guest post defining one I’d be thrilled!

      You’ll have to talk to Cathy about the dating on the apron dresses!

      • I wish I had the time to do guest posts. Or energy, rather; after all I have the energy to sew, but writing about historical clothing in English is too much like my work to be any kind of relaxation. I just couldn’t do that after a whole day of deciphering the gothic hand writing 17th century probate inventories to find the clothing.

        Since cloth was used from at least the 13th century, when the Flemish woollen industries started you could also extend the dating on that term.

  5. Pingback: HSF Challenge 16, Terminology | Adventuring Through Time

  6. Pingback: Terminology Stays | Fashion through History

  7. Susan Dunham says

    trying to identify fabric and fabric content.
    black shiny ,woven with a tightly twisted thread in random whorls (warp or woof) and the other thread in the weave is floss like and hardly twisted.
    the burn test was inconclusive.
    The nature of the fabric in both weave and dye is to imitate seal- I think or so the owner said her mother and grandmother just called it “seal”
    it nearly looks like karakul at just the right catch light. the weave is flat but the twisted thread is ever so slightly more obvious. can you solve this mystery? susan dunham

    • Unfortunately not. It’s just so hard to identify a fabric without being able to handle it. And the thing about fabric is that between weave, fibre (and blends thereof), and variations in yarn there are literally an infinite number of possibilities as to what fabrics can be made. Sounds fascinating though!

  8. Michaela says

    I was thinking: a good thing to add to this page would be a list of obscure historic color names.

    • That would take a while! There are thousands! I’ve got one already (flame) but may add more. Thanks so much for the suggestion!

  9. rinna says

    Fantastic work!!! You have put an incredible amount of research and effort in providing us with this most informative information. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! XO Best of Wishes to You for your future endevours :-).

  10. I read a lot of 19th century “chick lit”,
    And there are many references to
    “alpaca” gowns. The only alpaca stuff I’m
    Familiar with is the thick, furry kind
    That is now used for coat linings and some outerwear. Can anyone tell me
    What I should be picturing in my
    Mind as I read?
    Thanks… Love this website!

Leave a Reply to The Dreamstress Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *