Translating Transatlantic Trends

I teach fashion in a New York art college and in teaching others, I have taught myself. I speak the language like a native. I say pants when I mean trousers, sweater when I mean jumper, vest when I mean waistcoat, tank when I mean vest. I now reference the tradition of great American sportswear without thinking of athletics championships.

An old assistant once told me she learnt what a “jumper” was from reading Harry Potter. JK, your legacy is daily and far-reaching.

Harry and Ron in their personalized jumpers knitted my Mrs Weasley

Ron and Harry in their personalized jumpers knitted my Mrs Weasley

There was a period recently when all-in-ones were fashionable, what Americans call jumpers, and I found myself grappling about before settling for the annoying term “onesie”. Thank goodness that trend has been and gone. Weirdly enough my husband, who usually smiles benevolently at the odd customs I have lugged across the pond and littered about our Manhattan apartment and is not involved in the fashion industry in any way, recently cornered me (a pop quiz?) on the difference between dungarees and overalls. After extensive debate, I told him with authority: For dungarees, think Dexy’s Midnight Runners. For overalls, think Meineke.

I think I convinced him I knew what I was talking about. After all, I’m the teacher. Luckily, I have had little professional dealings with menswear. I used to become quite ferklempt when he suggested wearing his sport coat to a formal dinner.


Dungarees for everyone!

But every so often, however, a condition I call “Trousers Tourettes” comes over me and all the young impressionable heads in my classroom jerk upwards, wearing confused expressions. For example, I have learned to do a last-minute mental double check on suspenders versus braces before giving final clearance…

One keeps your trousers on...

One keeps your trousers…er… pants on…

...the other makes them come clean off

…the other makes them come clean off

Seeing as we’ve gone in that direction, knickers is common terminology for women’s underpants in the UK. I must admit I miss saying that word with its blended connotations of granny panties, saucy romps and seaside humour. (Yes I did just put a u in that humour. And what of it?)


Speaking of which panties will always sounds pornographic to me. And don’t get me started on pantyhose. Can hardly keep from tittering.

But knickers do not translate well stateside. ย I find myself in a whole different department three floors down: golf wear. I can categorically say I should never find myself in golf wear.

How did I get from here...

How did I get from here… here?!

…to here?!












So I end up using the all-encompassing “underwear” and feel as prim as Mary Poppins. You might as well say “unmentionables”. Hmm, actually that’s kind of cute. Maybe I’ll try that for a while.

And how about these homely clothing-related phrases that die a death in these exotic climes?:

That’s a pile of pants =That’s crap.

He’s a big girl’s blouse = Dismissive comment on the uselessness of a man.

Aren’t they expressive? Can’t we adopt them into our American lexicon?

Now that we’re comfortable–more tea?–you know what really gets my knickers in a knot? Spelling and punctuation; our two great nations divided by a common language. What’s that? Oh yes, look at the time, you’re right, maybe that’s for another post. And I too must get on. I have to bring my unmentionables in off the line before the neighbours get up and they’re on view for the entire street…

Check out my first novel!ย You canย buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.


  1. It’s sunday, It’s 27 October..It’s BLOG PARTY TIME! So I am here..a little worst for wear now..with knickers on you’ll be pleased to my Ozzie Clark number elegantly (I think) wafting through your posts! Mines a G & T! xxxxx

  2. Denise Brooke

    Don’t get me started on the word fanny, I almost took a heart attack the first time I heard someone nonchalantly commenting on a lady’s fanny.

  3. Just make sure you don’t ask your partner on the tennis court if they fancy a quick knock up before the game… BTW it’s easy, overalls have sleeves, what your garage mechanic wears and what we used to call a boiler suit. As for dungarees, it’s either a toddler romping around their playpen or some weed smoking hippy caught in a time warp from the early seventies.

  4. What about coveralls? As in overalls worn by the military. That should really confuse him.

  5. And I’m meant to be proof-reading, not talking about bloody boiler suits!

  6. Good lord, I feel as if I have just been taken on a fast jog through the lexicon of fashion with an English lesson thrown in for the same price – yes, there must always be a “U”. Not many articles can take the place of the regular workout. Oh, and I now feel somewhat smarter, thanks to Dexy’s Midnight Runners I know a little more about fashion ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Then my work here is done. You’re the first to claim a raise in IQ after reading one of my posts so let’s celebrate! Turn on Come On Eileen, tie a bandanna around your head and see if you can do the Dungaree Dance! Come on (Eileen), I’ll show you…it’s easy..get up off the couch..! And we’re away…

  7. I often bring a translator when I go to parties with my American friends, though it is hard to find someone with the requisite skills. They need be tri-lingual (English, American and Australian).
    Isn’t a ‘sweater’ that greasy guy at a party who is trying to hard to get into your pants/knickers/trousers/undies/jocks?

    • And don’t the ‘jocks’ usually become the sweaters at the parties with a case of too much grog. Struth, this English, it’s like Chinese whispers! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • As an Australian who lives in England most of the year and has US / Canadian friends I find myself spending a lot of time at parties talking to the pot plant in order to avoid linguistic faux pas. I once had a romance abruptly end due to my calling a duvet a “doona” which is a perfectly reasonable Australian term for the same. My English girlfriend thought it was unacceptable adulteration of English. Now I find it easier just to write what I think :). Abuse from readers is much easier to take.


      • I have Aussie friends who talk of their doona. You may enjoy talking to house plants and thats entirely your prerogative but I will not choke on my beer if i meet you at a party and you bring up your doona. Just don’t bring the doona to the party. That would be a deal breaker…

  8. jocks are Scotsmen, just to introduce another language to the mix

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