The language of fashion is often as creative and diverse as the garments it describes. However, there are a number of English idioms that pop up again and again when talking about clothing and trends. The following list entails 32 of them:
1. au courant
The term au courant refers to ❛something that is up-to-date and/or reflects the latest styles and trends❜.
Example: Fashion magazines are full of glamorous pictures of au courant clothing and accessories.
When something is avant-garde, it is ❛very modern and revolutionary❜.
Example: What one person might describe as avant-garde, another might find over-the-top and silly.
3. blast from the past
The English idiom a blast from the past refers to ❛something that makes you think of the past❜.
Example: These polyester jumpsuits are a real blast from the past. My mother wore similar ones in the 1970s.
4. can’t hold a candle to someone/something
When something can’t hold a candle to someone or something, he, she or it is ❛not as good❜ in comparison.
Example: This season’s fashion show can’t hold a candle to those from last year. It was phenomenal.
5. to blaze a trail /to be a trailblazer
Someone who blazes a trail, i.e. a trailblazer, is ❛a leader or revolutionary in a certain field❜ .
Example: Is Lady Gaga a fashion trailblazer?
6. cheap and cheerful
Clothing that ❛does not cost much but is attractive❜ can be described as cheap and cheerful.
Example: If you like cheap and cheerful fashion, this clothing line is the right one for you.
7. Clothes make the man.
This English idiom implies that ❛people will judge you by your clothes❜, i.e. good clothes will make people respect you more.
Example: Why did Sam go to the job interview looking like that? Doesn’t he know that clothes make the man?
8. fashion victim
A fashion victim is ❛someone who wears fashionable clothes even when they do not look good on him❜.
Example: Those capri pants might be in style, but they don’t look good on you, Louise. Don’t be a fashion victim!
9. free and easy
The term free and easy refers to something that is ❛unconstrained and informal❜, i.e. the opposite of stiff and formal.
Example: This summer’s designs are free and easy.
10. fashion faux pas
A fashion faux pas is ❛a fashion mistake❜.
Example: Wearing green and yellow tennis shoes to the wedding was a fashion faux pas that Bernice will never forget.
11. to be a cut above
Something that is a cut above is ❛superior❜ or ❛better❜ than something else.
Example: The workmanship of this dress is a cut above.
12. to be a slave to fashion
Someone who is a slave to fashion is ❛someone who wears clothes and accessories solely because they are in style❜.
Example: Too many people are slaves to fashion. Forget about trends - wear what looks good on you!
13. to be all the rage
Something that is all the rage is something that is ❛in❜ or ❛currently fashionable❜.
Example: Floor-length dresses are the latest rage.
14. to be dressed to the nines
When you are dressed to the nines, you are ❛wearing fashionable, fancy or attractive clothes that make you look very good❜.
Example: Did you see Beverly at last night’s reception? She was dressed to the nines.
15. to be in (style)
When something is in or is in style, it is ❛fashionable at the moment❜.
Example: I didn’t know that harem pants were in last year.
16. to be striking / stunning
When something is striking or is stunning, it ❛attracts attention because it is exceptionally beautiful, different or unusual❜.
Example: The blouse’s asymmetrical neckline is stunning.
17. to be out (of style)
When something is out or is out of style, it is ❛no longer fashionable❜.
Example: I didn’t know that harem pants are out this year.
18. to catch on
The English idiom to catch on means ❛to become popular or fashionable❜.
Example: A-line skirts have really caught on, although I, personally, prefer pencil skirts.
19. to catch someone’s eye / to be eye-catching
If something catches your eye or is eye-catching, it is ❛exceptionally attractive or noticeable❜.
Example: This year’s bright colors are very eye-catching.
20. to come into fashion
If something comes into fashion, ❛it becomes fashionable❜.
Example: He wondered whether leather hats will come into fashion again.
21. to cut a fine figure
If you cut a fine figure,you ❛look good and cause others to admire your appearance❜.
Example: Bruce cut a fine figure in his new black suit.
22. to dance to someone else’s tune
Someone who dance’s to someone else’s tune ❛does what he is told or in the same way that others have done before him❜.
Example: A revolutionary designer does not dance to anyone else’s tune. He dances to his own tune.
23. to each his / her own
The idiom to each his own means that ❛people have different tastes❜.
Example: In my opinion, the colors were not complementary. To each his own, I guess.
24. to fit like a glove
When something ❛fits very well❜ or ❛ fits perfectly❜, it fits like a glove.
Example: Her wedding dress fit like a glove 3 months before the wedding, but it needed to be let out just before the ceremony.
25. to go out of fashion
When a style our item of clothing goes out of fashion, it is ❛no longer fashionable❜.
Example: Shoulder pads went out of fashion in the late 1980s.
26. to go overboard (on something)
The expression to go overboard (on something) means ❛to use or do too much of something❜.
Example: I love, glamor and shine, but it is not a good idea to go overboard on the glitter.
27. to have had its day
When something has had its day, it is ❛old, no longer useful, no longer successful or outdated❜. In the world of fashion, this expression could apply to a piece of clothing, a trend or a person working in the industry.
Example: I think that Dad’s checkered suit has had its day. It’s time to buy a new one.
28. to have had one’s fill of something
If you have had your fill of something, you ❛have had too much of it and don’t like it anymore❜.
Example: I have had my fill of pastel colors. From now on, I only want to wear black.
29. to make a fashion statement
If you make a fashion statement, you ❛wear something that expresses your personal taste and/or is attention-grabbing❜.
Example: Michael’s pink plaid pants made a fashion statement at work last week.
30. to turn heads / to be head-turning
When something or someone turns heads or is head-turning, it ❛gets people’s attention❜.
Example: The designer’s polka-dot patterns and bright colors were head-turning.
31. to work wonders
The English idiom to work wonders means ❛to improve something a lot❜.
Example: That style works wonders for your figure. You look fabulous!
32. yesterday’s news
The expression yesterday’s news refers to ❛something that everyone already knows❜ or ❛something that no one is interested in anymore❜.
Example: These bold patterns are yesterday’s news. Today, people are wearing solids in subtle colors.
Recently, upon working on a German-English translation, I realized that the language of art is not that simple. The artists among us probably wonder how I could possibly think that discussing art could be simple, right? My only answer to that question is that, in the past, I had mostly translated business texts which I had falsely perceived as somehow being more challenging. Besides that, I had always loved art and, at times, thought that I was good at it. An art translation was going to be a piece of cake, I thought. My false illusions quickly disappeared when I had to translate German words like ❛Grundklang❜ and ❛Klang❜ into English, for which there are, quite interestingly, no direct English translations within the context of visual art in the dictionary (any suggestions from German native speakers?). I soon realized that talking about art, although very interesting, was not going to be as easy as I had thought. And how about trying to do it in a foreign language? Since a picture is worth a thousand words, would it not be nice to have the vocabulary to express what you want to say? The following is a short list of 16 English idioms that could all be used to discuss art:
1. Well begun is half done.
Do you think that there is a reason why I put this English proverb at the top of my list of art idioms? Well begun is half done means that ❛when you begin a project or task properly, it will be easier to successfully complete the rest.❜
Example: The art teacher reminded his students of how important it is to plan a composition. He told them that well begun is half done.
2. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
This English proverb means that ❛every person has a different idea of what beauty is and whether something is beautiful or not depends on who is looking, i.e. who the beholder is❜.
Example: No one could understand why Carmen loved Eduardo’s boring abstract compositions. Beauty, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.
This expression refers to ❛tasteless creations that are not worthy of being called art❜. The following example will help clarify what kitsch is.
Example: My mother-in-law gave us a picture as a gift. It was a portrait of Elvis on a hot pink velvet background. Needless to say, I refused to hang it on the wall because I felt that it was kitsch.
4. to be striking
A work of art that is striking is one that is very ❛noticeable❜ or ❛outstanding❜.
Example: Rich in contrast and color, Picasso’s ❛Weeping Woman❜ is striking.
5. to bear fruit
Something that bears fruit ❛produces positive or successful results❜.
Example: After spending months in his studio, Pierre’s hard work finally bore fruit.
6. to break with convention
An artist who breaks with convention ❛is one who does not do things in the traditional or expected way❜.
Example: The avant-garde artists of the time broke with convention.
7. to bring something to life
When an artists brings something to life, he makes his subject ❛come to life❜.
Example: Through his realistic and very detailed sculptures, the artist brought local historical figures to life.
8. to each his / her own
The idiom to each his own means that ❛people have different tastes❜.
Example: The artist chose very dark colors for his composition. To each his own, I guess.
9. to be eye-catching
When a work of art is eye-catching, ❛it attracts your interest or attention❜.
Example: Van Gogh’s use of bright colors makes his sunflower pictures very eye-catching.
10. to grab someone
If a work of art grabs you, ❛it captures your attention❜ or ❛appeals to you very much❜.
Example: Caspar David Friedrich’s ❛Moonrise by the Sea❜ really grabs me.
11. to move someone
When a work of art moves you, ❛it makes you react emotionally❜.
Example: The artist’s mother-daughter portraits really moved the young mother and she began to cry.
12. to put the finishing touches on something
If you put the finishing touches on a work of art, you are ❛adding the final improvements to make it complete❜.
Example: She needed another hour to put the final touches on her mural.
13. to resonate with someone
When a work of art resonates with its audience, ❛it causes them experience a feeling of shared emotion or belief❜.
Example: The Fukushima photographer’s compositions really resonated with the audience, most of whom were tsunami survivors.
14. to speak to someone / so something
If a work of art speaks to you or to your heart, ❛it is something that you can relate to and something that appeals to you❜.
Example: The Iranian film ❛A Separation❜ really spoke to the audience.
15. to stand the test of time
If a work of art can stand the test of time, ❛it will regarded as good for a long time❜.
Example: It is fair to say that the work of Leonardo da Vinci has stood the test of time.
16. to strike a chord
When a work of art strikes a chord, ❛it causes an emotional reaction or response❜.
Example: The student’s black and white photographs struck a chord with her fellow students.
Do you have some more suggestions for this list?