Glossary: UK and American English fashion terminology explained

You say tomAYto, we say tomAHto… readers, let’s just call the whole thing off, OK?

OK, so maybe not. There are so many differences between UK and American English when it comes to fashion, though, that it can get mighty confusing sometimes, so we’ve rounded up some of the most commonly confused terms below, to try and shed some light on things. Of course, just to make things even MORE confusing than they already were, there are regional differences in terminology in both countries, and the word you use for a certain item can depend, not only on what part of the world you’re from, but where exactly you live, what kind of upbringing you had, and what your family and friends call it. Oh, and some terms can make their way across the Atlantic in either direction, too:  we can think of quite a few US phrases which have become reasonably common here in the UK, probably because we’re so used to hearing them on American TV shows.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, then (and we haven’t even started on the differences in terminology in other parts of the world) so feel free to drop us a comment with any words we’ve missed, and we’ll add them to the list!

UK: Jumper
US: Sweater

UK: Pinafore
US: Jumper

UK: Trousers
US: Pants

UK: Pants
US: Panties/underwear

UK: Tights
US: pantyhose/hose/stockings (although opaque tights are still referred to as “tights”)

UK: Trainers
US: Sneakers

UK: Court shoes
US: Pumps

UK: Waistcoat
US: Vest

UK: Vest
US: Tank top

UK: Wellington boots/wellies
US: Rain boots

UK: Braces
US: Suspenders

UK: Suspenders
US: garters/garter belt

UK: Tracksuit bottoms
US: Sweatpants

UK: Shirt (a garment with a collar that buttons up the front)
US: Shirt (can refer to any item worn on the top of the body)

UK: Bag
US: Purse/Bag (in the UK a “purse” is used to keep coins and other currency in, and is never used to refer to a larger bag)

And, just to completely lower the tone:

UK: Bum bag
US: Fanny pack

Any you’d like to add?

50 Comments

  • October 11, 2010

    Selina

    In New Zealand wellingtons are “gumboots”, jumpers are “jersies”, pants (underwear) are “knickers”, flip flops are “jandals”, vests are “singlets” and if anybody talks about fanny packs we’ll fall about laughing because to us fanny means … *ahem* … front bottom!

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    • August 9, 2011

      Kebbaby

      In South Africa we have man of the same ones, but we also refer to trainers, plimsoles, sneakers, whatever as “takkies”.

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  • October 11, 2010

    Mise

    I’m in Ireland, and like Selina in New Zealand ‘fanny’ means front bottom here too!

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  • October 11, 2010

    Cosmo

    In Australia, flip flops are ‘thongs’. This can lead to lots of hilarity not to mention bad jokes.

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  • October 11, 2010

    Vivi

    I guess sizing is one of the things that are most confusing. I once read in a book that a girl was shocked to be in a size 10- and I thought, what? But then I realized that she was saying a size 14- not that anyone should be conscious about their dress size. The other thing is size 0- is there such thing as a UK size 0? Or is it just referred to as a size 4? Confused :S

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    • October 11, 2010

      drea

      brits say size 0 because it’s more dramtic than size 4, size 4 you would imagine to have something, we think a size 0 to be skelitol

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    • October 11, 2010

      The Fashion Police

      There isn’t really a direct equivalent to size 0 in the UK. Our smallest size is a size 4 (although very, very few stores actually make or sell size 4), but I’ve always found a US 0 to be roughly equivalent to a UK 6 (and in some stores, a ‘0’ is bigger than a UK 6). It actually really annoys me when the British media insits on using the term “size 0”, because as Drea points out, it creates the impression that there’s a size which is a couple of sizes smaller even than a 4, which would just be ridiculous. I guess saying “size 6” doesn’t make for nearly as good a headline, though.

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  • October 11, 2010

    Jaynie

    In some parts (though not all) of Canada we call them gumboots, but the Rain Boot reigns supreme. We used to call flip-flops thongs, too, but I guess we collectively got tired of the bad jokes (er, at least we did in Alberta). Also in Saskatchewan they call hoodies “bunnyhugs” (er, the sweaters, not the delinquent youth, although that would be hilarious), but nobody worries too much about what Saskatchewan does! 😉

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    • October 12, 2010

      Megan

      I’m from Saskatoon, so a “hoodie” always be a “bunnyhug” to me.

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    • October 12, 2010

      Riali

      Heya, Alberta! When I was a kid there we used to call hoodies “kangaroo jackets”, but it seems to have fallen out of use.

      Also, I think that gumboots or rubber boots are both used more that rain boots.

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      • October 12, 2010

        Jaynie

        Fair enough. I’ve since moved to Vancouver Island, where both rain boots and rain are more common, but I can recall the term rubber boots being used now that I think about it. I think I might have had a teacher once who called a hoodie a kangaroo jacket, but it does seem to have fallen into disuse with my generation. 🙂

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  • October 12, 2010

    Nikki G

    Hmmm. Let’s see. Where I’m from in the US, we call rain boots “galoshes”. All athletic shoes are called “tennis shoes,” regardless of what sport they may be used for. We generally use the term “jogging pants” instead of sweat pants. Most women use the term “pocketbook” instead of purse or handbag. Some people also use the term “britches” instead or pants or trousers.

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    • October 12, 2010

      Karen

      Where are you from in the US?! I’m from New York, and I make fun of my Ohio boyfriend for saying “tennis shoes”. I rarely hear people say “jogging pants”, more often it’s sweatpants or yoga pants. Only old ladies (in NY) use the term “pocketbook” rather than purse, and I’ve never heard anyone say “britches” in a serious manner- perhaps joking around, as in “you’ve gotten too big for your britches”!

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      • October 12, 2010

        Nikki G

        I’m from the South. 🙂

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        • October 14, 2010

          Rebecca

          Same, and I use tennis shoes for sneakers, and everything else you just said. 😀

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      • October 12, 2010

        Karen

        In Boston/New England, I don’t think sweatpants are the same as yoga pants at all.

        Sweatpants are heavy cotton, not usually stretchy, and often elasticized at the ankle (but not always). Yoga pants are thinner, usually stretchier or more form-fitting, and always straight-leg or boot-cut. Yoga pants can be full-length or capri-length, but are NEVER elasticized at the ankle.

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        • October 12, 2010

          The Fashion Police

          Yeah, we would make the same distinction in the UK – and oddly, we would also call them “yoga pants” rather than “yoga trousers” (although that may just be me: I tend to say “pants” anyway, much to the amusement of my friends and family, who always think I’m talking about underwear…)

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        • October 13, 2010

          Nikki G

          Yes, we call the thicker cotton elasticized pants jogging pants and the thinner ones yoga pants.

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    • October 28, 2010

      Jenni

      I’m from Scotland and we call trousers ‘trous’ a lot of the time, especially when we’re talking about my Grandpa’s tartan trous.

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  • October 12, 2010

    SJ

    I don’t know where Nikki is from, but we don’t do any of that stuff where I’m from in the US, unless you’re over 40, in which case you might say “galoshes” or “pocketbook.”

    Rain boots = rain boots, athletic shoes can be called sneakers or tennis shoes, sweat pants = sweat pants, purse can be purse or bag. No one ever says britches, unless you’re joking. Fanny means back bum, and it’s a term old ladies use (I know never to use it overseas).

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    • October 12, 2010

      Nikki G

      Deep south. Young people use these archaic terms as well.

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  • October 12, 2010

    Carissa

    US: handkercheif
    Deep South US: crying rag
    US:swimsuit, swimwear
    Deep South: bathing suit, swimming suit

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    • October 12, 2010

      Karen

      In Boston/New England, we call say bathing suit too.

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      • November 16, 2011

        lauraboots

        Love this article! What about these:
        tank top UK = a knitted sleeveless top worn over a shirt
        jumper UK = longsleeve knit (US jersey?)

        Some of the American terms are infiltrating though, I hear pumps used all the time!

        View Comment
  • October 12, 2010

    Grace

    Interesting…that does clear a few things up! I’ve noticed that a lot of these terms are actually used interchangeably in Australia, for example trainers/sneakers, trousers/pants, and sometimes vest/waistcoat. The UK vest would here either be a tank top or a singlet. But if we are going to get out the Aussie slang…

    Track pants = Trackies, or trackie-dacks
    Underwear bottoms = Undies
    Speedo style mens swimmers = budgie smugglers
    Shirt made from flannelette = flanno
    Wife beater = mens singlet
    g-string = g-banger
    mens underwear = jocks
    swim suit = bathers, or a cozzie
    Wellington boots = either wellies, gumboots or gummies

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    • October 12, 2010

      Megan

      I laughed at Budgie smugglers. I always think of Speedos as Banana Hammocks since the episode of “Friends” when Pheobe changed her name to Princess Consuela Banana Hammock.

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      • October 12, 2010

        Shoes not blues

        I remember that to, and Joey (or was it Chandler?) tried to explain to her why that wasn’t such a great name. Grace that g-banger just cracks me up. Seriously, people actually say that? Like “you need to wear a g-banger with those trousers to avoid VPL”?

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        • October 13, 2010

          melanie

          Yup. An aussie girl would still refer to them as “g-strings” say, if she was speaking to a shop assistant whilst shopping in a smart lingerie store, but if she was just chatting casually with her girlfriends, then she might refer to them as “g-bangers”. My husband calls them g-bangers when he spots a girl wearing low cut trousers with obvious underwear visable ie. “check out the g-banger on her!”

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          • October 13, 2010

            Grace

            Haha yes, remember some of these are slang though. There would be the ‘normal’ name (speedo, g-string, etc) and then the more casual slang terms that are usually to be taken with a crass sense of humour(budgie-smugglers, g-banger, etc). It’s almost like we’re bi-lingual sometimes.

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    • October 13, 2010

      Rachel

      I’m from Aus too, and Grace is totally correct about the slang. You forgot togs = swimwear though.
      Shirt usually = t-shirts
      Blouse usually = button up top (though it can just mean any fancy upper-body clothing)
      Top = any upper-body clothing that isn’t a blouse or shirt.
      Slacks/Daks = any long style lower-body clothing except jeans and trousers.
      Trousers = formalish lower body clothes
      Stubbies = mens shorts. Usually with elastic waist.
      Sandshoes = joggers/sneakers.
      Iron Undies = figure controlling body-wear.

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  • October 12, 2010

    Alison

    Damn, all this time I’ve though the UK word “jumper” was a term for overalls. Don’t know how I got that in my head.

    I’m from Canada but I use all the terms they use in the US. To be honest that’s what most of Canada does-what they do in the US. Even though Canadians always tell ya otherwise. 😉

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    • October 12, 2010

      Karen

      I know… I’m from the US, but have lived in Canada for the past year and a half. The biggest difference I’ve seen is that Canadians spend a lot of time talking about how miniscule differences in Candian culture make them so much better than Americans, while Americans don’t talk/think about Canadians at all!

      That said, I’m no Canada-hater. Long live the Mounties!

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      • October 12, 2010

        Jaynie

        I think we have a slight identity crisis going in in general in Canada, if it makes you feel better. Most of the time I find that people harp on about the differences between Canada and the States because they know they don’t want to be American, but aren’t quite sure what it is that makes them specifically Canadian. 🙂

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      • October 12, 2010

        The Fashion Police

        You’ve just pretty much described the situation between Scotland and England, too 🙂

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        • November 27, 2011

          Len

          I notice more differences between regions of Canada than Canada v. the States. I don’t think it’s nessa copying the States so much as the big picture is similar. I live in the Maritimes, and I would have probably have much less culture shock in New England than B.C.

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  • October 12, 2010

    Riali

    Tracksuit (US, Canada) = Shell suit (UK)
    toque (Canada) = beanie (US) = (I believe, might be wrong) bobble hat (UK)
    Bathrobe, housecoat (US, Canada) = Dressing Gown (UK)

    Also, we use the term trousers in North America too, but it means dressy pants, the sort that could be part of a suit, and not jeans or khakis or sweats.

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    • October 12, 2010

      bobbie

      MMMmmm wouldn’t totally agree on the shell suit thing…if its made out of horrid lined mylon then it would be called a shell suit, if it is thick jersey material then you would call it a tracksuit.
      Also a bobble hat in the uk means a beanie with a pom pom on top? I would have always have heard the plain knitted ones refered to as Beanies over here…

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      • October 12, 2010

        Riali

        Hmmm, we call both kinds, the nylon and the jersey stuff tracksuits, but I think of the nylon kind first.

        I’m not 100% sure about the winter hat terminology, it’s certainly a toque in Canada with or with out a pompom, and I’m leaning towards it being a beanie in the states also with or without, but maybe they differentiate too.

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  • October 12, 2010

    Lexa

    Let’s find things that are universal to all the English countries!

    Skirt?
    Socks?
    Jeans?
    Tunic (a long shirt/short dress usually worn over leggings)
    Bra?

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  • October 13, 2010

    Lauren

    In Illinois, “sneakers” are called “gym shoes.” I’m not sure if people in other states say that (is is possibly a Midwestern US thing?), or if it’s a very specific regionalism, but no one here would say “sneakers” ever. That sound so foreign to me that it’d might as well be on the “British” list.

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  • October 13, 2010

    LS

    I know here in BC sneakers/trainers are generally referred to as runners. Though I have heard sneakers on occasion, possibly because Vancouver is close to Washington. For the longest time I could not figure out what a touque was called in other countries, I just thought a touque is a touque! 😛 A beanie to me is one of those little hats with the propeller on top. haha.

    I also call pantyhose etc tights, pretty much all the time. I have heard the other terms at times though.

    I love learning the different terms for things across cultures.

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  • October 15, 2010

    gumbies gumboots

    gumboots must originate from the fact that rubber used to be a formulation of tree sap or gum… then again maybe not!

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  • October 16, 2010

    ClassyConversation

    I can think of one!
    UK: Broughs
    US: Oxfords

    This was such a pain when I was trying to find a good pair!

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  • October 19, 2010

    miranda

    i’m from the south too and of course have heard “britches” but only old people say that or people who live in the woods. a lot of people say tennis shoes around here too.

    i don’t know if this is a regional thing but knit hats are called toboggans by some people.

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    • October 26, 2010

      Maria

      When I moved from Philly to North Carolina, the term “toboggan” was so confusing to me – all my students kept mentioning the toboggans they’d gotten for Christmas (which, to a Northerner refers to the awesome sled)and I kept saying to them, “But…it doesn’t really SNOW here…”

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  • October 20, 2010

    Yusra

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned pumps, which Americans call ballet flats. This was very confusing when searched for some on the net a while back.

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    • October 20, 2010

      The Fashion Police

      We would actually say “ballet flats” or just “flats” in the UK, too. “Pump” isn’t really a term that’s used here…

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      • October 28, 2010

        Jen

        actually, I’ve called them Dolly shoes, or even dollies, before

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  • October 26, 2011

    Ren

    I’m English but two of my best friends are American so being ‘clothing bilingual’ has become second nature to me. Here are some things I can think of that aren’t on the list:

    UK: Fancy dress (a costume worn at Halloween for example)
    US: Fancy dress (smart clothes e.g suit or a cocktail dress)

    ((I run a Harry Potter RPG and we were once writing a story about a ‘fancy dress’ party. The vast majority of our members are American so imagine how confused my Welsh friend and I were when they started turning up in ball gowns! Lol.))

    UK: Swimming costume
    US: Swimsuit/Bathing suit

    UK: Hair bobble
    US: Hair tie

    UK: Hair band (alternatively ‘Alice band’ but usually that’s used for the thinner hair bands like Alice wear’s in Lewis Carroll’s book)
    US: Head band

    And that’s all I can think of for now. : )

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  • September 14, 2012

    mark

    Correct translation
    UK: knickers
    US: panties/underwear

    Incorrect translation
    UK: pants
    US: panties/underwear

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