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.
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.
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…
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. 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.
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…
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