The Need for a Common Fashion Language System

Upon completing the Sustainable Fashion Glossary workshop, MA Fashion Media Practice: Fashion Journalism student, Zoe Goetzmann writes about the need for a common fashion language system. 


In times when the fashion industry has become increasingly unregulated in its current business practices – the need for a common language system (such as a glossary) – represents a necessary ideal for industry players who wish to incite a more communicative, transparent landscape.

Fashion Language


In his work on The Fashion System, the 20th Century critic, Roland Barthes argued that fashion is an “abstract” language made up of signs. These signs are indicated through the following terms: “written clothing” (i.e. how fashion is described or written about) and “image-clothing” (i.e. how fashion appears in fashion media, ‘fashion magazines’ or in ‘fashion photography’). Such ideologies work together in order to transform fashion, grounding the abstract nature of this particular landscape to a more concrete reality.


Condé Nast: Sustainability and Media Workshop Reflections


Sustainable Fashion Glossary Workshop
Condé Nast Sustainability and Media Workshop, Instagram Mock-Up for Wired UK’s Instagram designed by MA Fashion Media (Creative Direction pathway) Programme students Kait Dawson and Ko Cheng


Last year, the MA Fashion Media Practice students at the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design were invited to participate in a focus group located at the Condé Nast Headquarters in London, United Kingdom. Students were asked to brainstorm short-form social media content for Condé Nast and its many publications, using the company’s proposed Sustainability Fashion Glossary as a guide.


Students Kait Dawson and Ko Cheng – who are both on the MA Fashion Media (Creative Direction pathway) Programme – created a social media mock-up for the publication, Wired UK and its Instagram platform. For their proposed idea, both students designed a ‘specialised’ clothing label which would contain a list of materials or rather ‘ingredients’ used to produce a specific item of clothing. With a quick scan of a ‘QR code’ embedded on the inside of an imaginary garment, any potential wearer or consumer could have access to an online version of Condé Nast’s proposed glossary. It is, without a doubt, that these two students took the phrase ‘you are what you wear’ – quite literally to heart. Thus, this specific project represents a prime example of how the fashion industry could benefit from a glossary (or a common language system), inciting new ideas which could change the future of fashion and fashion communication.

Common Fashion Language System


Roland Barthes: Understanding the ‘Who, What, When and Where’ of Fashion


“Language is an institution,” Barthes writes in his essay on written clothing, “a speech is a momentary part of the institution which the industry extracts and actualises for the purposes of communication.” 


Based on this statement, I urge the fashion industry to revisit the works of Barthes in order to understand the importance of language as it relates to the overall fashion system. Let us not repeat the mistakes which caused the tragic Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 when the fashion industry might have benefitted from a more useful system of communication.


“The woman who wears Fashion finds herself asked four questions: “who? what? when? where? Her (utopian) garment always answers at least one of these questions,” writes Barthes again in The Fashion System. Such a phrase encapsulates the fashion industry’s need for a common language system. In the absence, or perhaps, never-ending search for the ‘perfect,’ ‘utopian’ garment, the use of language grounds fashion in a real-world context – indicating how a piece of clothing is designed and produced in actuality. 


Works Cited: The Fashion System, Roland Barthes (Vintage Books, London, 2010)


By Zoë Goetzmann, MA Fashion Media Practice: Fashion Journalism