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June 27, 1999 - Fashion Terms - 2002-02-01

INTRO: This week VOA's Wordmasters Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti look at a fashion wave that has altered the fabric of American English.

MUSIC -- "California Girls"/Beach Boys

RS: Those California girls who inspired that classic Beach Boys song from the '60s had sleek tan bodies, blond hair and lived in the sun, surf and sand of the Pacific Ocean. Today the California lifestyle continues to Make waves in the world of fashion.

AA: Valerie Steele is a historian at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She says the idealized California way of life has given us words that resonate far beyond America's West Coast.


"A lot of these terms are used even internationally. I am sitting here with copies of 'Italian Vogue' (magazine) and the cover of 'Men's Italian Vogue' has the English word, 'surfing' in English on the front. You've got a sense of the surfing feeling, sort of impregnating modern fashion, a sense of freedom, youth and new techno (high tech) materials."

RS: In the language of fashion the style of dressing is called California casual. So, let's get practical. What if you're invited to a party and asked to come dressed "California causal."


Valerie Steele: "you might wear, flip-flops, for example."

AA: "Which are?"

Valerie Steele: "which are those thong sandals with a little piece between your two first toes. And those would imply a beach casual lifestyle. I remember ten years ago being appalled seeing people wearing them on the street in New York. But, now of course that is perfectly acceptable because this California casual has spread. And, you might wear a little slip dress or a pair of long baggy shorts whether you are male or female. Pastel colors, florals, things that are generally light and happy."

RS: Casual fashion has also made its way into the workplace, along with the language associated with it. Many office workers have what's called "casual" or "dress-down Friday" at the end of the work week when employees and their supervisors are free to dress more informally.

AA: Valerie Steele says the style got its start in California, not on the beach, but in the high-tech world of the Silicon Valley.


"It seems to have spread from there to a variety of American businesses, partly because it seems to fit in with a democratic ethos in America. You can sort of pretend on Fridays that the CEO (chief executive officer) isn't making 200 times the salary that you are. It hasn't really spread that far in Europe, but it has definitely become entrenched in America and is spreading out from Friday to all of the work days."

RS: Turning from the causal to the more traditional office wear, Valerie Steele says she's beginning to hear the term "suits" used as a derogotary remark to describe the people who wear them.


"It is strange because a suit is something that has been the paramount prestige uniform for men, and for executive men and gradually also for executive women. And yet there is also a certain ambivalence people feel towards executives, bosses, those who are perceived of as wearing the suits. Also, there has been a sense that the guys in the suits maybe they are not as hip, as sexy and desirable in some way as other more working class or casual guys. So there has been a sense that the 'suits' were stiff, old fashioned like the man in the gray flannel suit."

AA: Valerie Steele at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Whatever your style, we'd love to hear from you, and Make your comments a part of our broaDCast. Address your questions about American English to VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20547 USA, or send e-mail to

RS: Surf's up and we're out of here! with Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

Music -- "Surfing USA"/Beach Boys