7 Fashion Buzzwords That Make You Overspend

For every fashion brand that meticulously documents its garments' provenance, there are just as many who either don't know — or, worse, are totally willing to play fast and loose with terminology to entice shoppers into spend more.

The truth is, plenty of things labeled "heritage" or "handmade" are anything but. Meanwhile, labels like "Made In Italy" give shoppers a frisson of old-world fanciness — but the reality is pretty much the exact opposite of what you're thinking.

Ahead, we take a look at seven buzzwords fashion brands love to use — and misuse — and how to make sure you're not duped into paying for an empty word.

Designed by Anna Sudit.
"Heritage"
Last year, Buzzfeed published a fascinating piece by Dan Nosowitz about how J.Crew bought the name of his family's defunct workwear business and turned it into the fashionable women's brand we now know as Madewell.

The practice isn't uncommon — given the mania for all things achingly authentic, giving a new brand an old-timey feel is good business sense. But it does dilute the point of heritage — does the term really have any meaning if it doesn't imply a tradition of craftsmanship? A little Google-fu will tell you whether a company's oh-so-rustic branding goes more than skin deep.
Designed by Anna Sudit.
"Cashmere"
We're all taught that a cashmere sweater is a staple no chic woman's wardrobe should be without — which is probably why, in recent years, fast fashion chains have cashed in on cashmania by offering stunningly lower-priced options. But not all cashmere is created equal — and it's certainly not all worth cashmere prices.

First, check the label to make sure it's says 100% cashmere and not a wool blend. Then, inspect for any signs of pilling — high-quality cashmere is made from the long fibers of a goat's underfleece. The longer the fibers used, the softer, stronger, and more pill-resistant the resulting garment will be.

Try gently rubbing two sides of the sweater together and see what happens. If it pills up, you're dealing with cheapie short fibers that are often taken from the goat's butt rather than belly (now you know). Don't buy it — or if you do, don't spend too much. It won't last like better cashmere.
Designed by Anna Sudit.
"Made In Italy"
Companies who claim their pieces are manufactured in Italy are telling a complicated truth. Yes, items are made in Italy, but not by the old-world craftspeople you're picturing. Just outside Florence, a town called Prato contains some 4,000 Chinese-run factories that churn out garments using cheap fabrics imported from China. A deadly factory fire in 2013 exposed unsafe working conditions and, in some factories, a staff largely made up of undocumented immigrants vulnerable to exploitation.

Those pieces aren't just sold to cheapie fast fashion chains — higher-priced contemporary brands carry them, too. It's something to think about the next time you see an Italian provenance and fantasize about a family-run textile shop where everyone takes gelato breaks in the afternoon.
Designed by Anna Sudit.
"Raw Denim"
Also known as "dry denim," raw denim has not been washed or distressed in any way after it's dyed in the factory. Jeans made with raw denim are often, but not always, also made from 100% cotton, and fairly heavy weight — which is why some manufacturers erroneously label any non-stretchy, heavy-duty denim "raw." But the unwashed part is the only true requirement, and the real kind is considered more desirable because it generally lasts longer, you can shrink 'em to fit your body, and they take less of a toll on the environment, too.
Designed by Anna Sudit.
"Selvage"
Another denim one to watch. Selvage (also known by its British spelling "selvedge"), refers to how denim is woven, and how its edges are finished — it's the reason denim heads inspect the inside cuff of jeans before they buy. Cheaper jeans are stitched like this, using modern equipment and a fairly lightweight thread that's prone to unraveling. Selvage denim looks like this — it's often made on older machines and results in a neat, flat, self-bound edge that lasts (a wonderfully detailed comparison can be found here).

Unfortunately, due to selvage denim's popularity, shady manufacturers use contrast-color stitching on cheaply-woven fabric — hoping the novice denim head will flip the hem, see red stitches and be fooled into paying more. Don't fall for it — learn to spot a fake here, and remember that color of the thread doesn't indicate real selvage.
Designed by Anna Sudit.
"Vintage"
You'd think this would be obvious, but the word "vintage" is still flagrantly misused in product descriptions for brand-new items to indicate a retro style.

The term also has a fuzzy meaning on Etsy. That site only allows the sale of vintage items if they're more than 20 years old, but unscrupulous sellers have been known to get around these rules by listing several seasons-old (or even brand-new, factory-made items) as "vintage."

Not cool, guys. Note to all marketing copywriters and Etsy sellers: If someone's mom didn't wear it first, it ain't vintage.
Designed by Anna Sudit.
"Handmade"
This is another one to watch out for on Etsy. The site has a 16-strong team of detectives to root out sellers who label factory-made items as handmade. The site bans sellers who violate the rules, but suspect items still abound. Ditto on eBay.

On either site, check a seller's other listings and history, and search for similar items before you buy. If a seller's sold thousands of the same "handmade" item, they might be lying, or just really, really enjoy knitting scarves 24 hours a day.