The Most Overused Word In The Fashion World

Photographed by Ryan Koopmans.
By Sonia Evers

I was scrolling through Instagram over the weekend, perusing the various vintage stores I follow to see if there was anything worth commenting on to purchase (did you know you can do that with a lot of shops now?), when I came upon a grey mid-length dress with a white collar and cuffs. The dress wasn’t me at all, but I could see someone like Alexa Chung wearing it with a red lip and flats. Just as my thumb brushed the screen upward to continue my scroll, I saw the caption: “Puritan Chic.”

Stop. Had I just read that correctly? Puritan Chic? But, it was all there, displayed in a smooth sans serif calling to those with a desire to add some stylistic flair to English Protestant wear. Feel free to read that sentence over again.

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Chic. I don’t think there is a more overused word in the fashion world. We see it tethered to nouns when a writer just can’t find a better adjective. I have fallen victim to the word on an embarrassing number of occasions and I resent myself for it. Yet, I continue to use it, because it gets the point across when so many other adjectives do not.

“Puritan Savvy” just sounds like a historian with a substantial knowledge of Puritanism. “Puritan Elegant” doesn’t even make sense. “Puritan Sleek” is confusing since their looks are already streamlined and tailored. “Chic,” on the other hand, tied to something so distant from the fashion world, works. In fact, “Puritan Chic” makes me think of Alexa Chung. Immediately, I envision a Peter Pan collar on a buttoned up dress or blouse paired with tights and flats. The only elements missing from making it entirely Puritanical are the apron and bonnet.

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Therein lies the point. Adding chic to a noun makes the unfashionable fashionable. But, it also abuses the word entirely. By definition, chic means elegantly and stylishly fashionable. Also by definition is toilet paper: paper in sheets or on a roll for wiping oneself clean after urination or defecation (source), which is arguably impossible to be thought of as elegant and stylish. And yet, I wouldn’t put it past myself or someone else to describe a billowing white dress as “Toilet Paper Chic."

So we’re stuck in a colloquial conundrum. The word isn’t going anywhere, I know that. Even if I wanted it to go away, which I do, I know I’d still use it. Because maybe there isn’t a better way to describe a white dress covered in swathes of Charmin-sized fabric squares than “Toilet Paper Chic.” And, maybe when Rihanna shows the upper crack of her derrière, it's better to call it “Plumber’s Crack Chic” than try to find some other salacious adjective. Perhaps the look I’m wearing today — a black turtleneck with wide-leg jeans and ankle boots — is best described as “Soccer Mom Chic” because I don’t drive a minivan and I didn’t pack anyone’s lunch today, even if my pants say otherwise.