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Word of the Week: ‘vogue’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ’vogue’.


The fashion world has gone crazy. No, we’re not referring to last week’s reflection on Gucci’s questionable taste in jumpers. Karl Lagerfeld, the iconic Chanel fashion designer – and champion of the sleek ponytail and tinted shades combo – has died at 85 in the midst of London Fashion Week.

Lagerfeld was the genius creative director of Chanel and Fendi but was, and will continue to be, firmly recognised as an influential cultural icon in his own right. As model, Claudia Schiffer summed it up: “What Warhol was to art, he was to fashion”.

As social media is awash with tributes to the man many are calling the fashion ‘King’, it is worth taking a look at one word – currently seeing a spike in searches and mentions on Twitter – deeply connected to dear Karl and the fashion world at large: ‘vogue’. 

You hear ‘vogue’, and you think: the magazine, Anna Wintour, glossy pages, top models and cut-throat glamour. Founded in 1892, the magazine – which is now more of an institution than a mere publication – has rendered the word ‘vogue’ a widespread, revered and frequently uttered household term.

 It’s vogue to analyse words, darling

The word ‘vogue’, as most of us know it, is defined as “the prevailing fashion or style at a particular time”. The adjective, at its simplest, means popular or fashionable. 

It does however, surprisingly stem from the 16th century French ‘voguer’, which means: “to row, sway or set sail”. 

This meaning in turn derives from the Old Low German ‘wogon’: to “float, fluctuate and balance oneself”. How did we get from there, to the current use of the word in reference to all things stylish? 

Obviously, as one interpretation suggests, because we are: “being borne along the waves of fashion”.

It’s true that fashion does tend to carry people along with it. In an uncontrollable, imposing caught-in-a-riptide kind of way. If Anna Wintour were to say that Trumpetto heels are in, they’re in. And then, we are destined to wear Trump’s pouting face on our feet forevermore.

Well, not really. As the original definition of “float and fluctuate” above suggests, fashion is ephemeral, transitory and changes with the seasons. 

Indeed, ‘borne’ sounds quite pleasant, graceful even. For anyone who’s seen The Devil Wears Prada, a word akin to drowning might seem better suited to describe one of the most intense, harsh, cut-throat industries in the world.  

Madonna’s interpretation of the word in her 90s hit “Vogue” is in line with the original meaning.

Her lyrical references to “going with the flow” and escapism evoke similar images of the open water, and, if we’re feeling fruity, darling, link nicely to the idea of fashion granting us the freedom to curate our own identity.

The title of the song was most directly influenced by ‘vogue’ dancers. 

‘Vogue’ or ‘voguing’, was inspired by the angular, linear poses of top models in Vogue magazine, and, after featuring in Madonna’s video – evolved from the 60s LGBT House Ball Harlem scene into an intricate and acrobatic dance form. 

The original flowing, fluctuating meaning of the word carries over into the dance form. Vogue dancers move their bodies in such agile, fluid and energetic ways, it appears as if their legs seem to want to escape their owners. 

So what can we garner from all of this?

With all this talk of floating, flowing and rowing, the next big thing in ‘vogue’, we predict, is the lifejacket.