The Industry Dish: How to Avoid Fashion Copy Faux Pas

The persistence of outdated copy conventions in industries like legal and finance has prompted our war on the bland. But droll isn’t the only quality that drives copywriters—and readers—mad. The fashion industry dominates the opposite end of the spectrum, replite with all things “fresh,” “fab,” “in season,” “totally on-trend,” and enough “chics” to run a (stylish) country. Don’t get us wrong—fashion copy at its best can be colorful, unfettered, and fun. But greater creative license is a double edged sword, resulting in over-effusive and under-intelligent writing if wielded without care.

Copy crusaders that we are, we want to help brands avoid such faux pas, so we tapped into our sources. We spoke with writers and editors from big-time magazines, luxury fashion brands, and popular style sites. They’ve each shared their thoughts on the good, the bad, and the fugly of fashion writing. We’ve got the skinny, so all you style mavens can ditch last season’s clichés, avoid #fashionfails, and step out looking fresh! (Trans.: these valuable insights will help brands and writers avoid common traps and color their prose).

Our sources’ identities have been concealedfor propriety’s sake—we these smart women writers on fashion’s front lines! Heretoforth we’ll call them Vivienne, Valentina, and Vera, respectively (because, why not?). Here are some Do’s, Don’t, and Cliché Alerts culled from their expert advice:

DO You

Too often, brands confuse lifestyle (jet-setting, show-scoping, schmoozing) for what they’re actually about. Vivienne, a digital editor, rallies for the revival of a thoughtful “About Us” page. “I see a lot of copy bogged down by bullshit about traveling the world, as if that’s the only conceivable thing that could compel somebody to create something.” Brands today have the power to shape their own identities through digital content—so don’t blow it on bull. Instead, use this chance to showcase what makes your brand unique: “I want to know why the label was started, who’s behind it, and what inspires it,” says Vivienne. At the end of the day, readers appreciate a story they can relate to.

DO Your Homework

Fashion is more than fads—it’s a rich part of our culture. Copy that gets lost in sales-speak and trend-spotting lacks depth because it lacks meaningful context. Valentina, writer for a luxury brand, believes the mark of a good writer is a good reader. “It’s not enough to follow blogs, check up with influencers on Instagram, and assume you know what’s going on because you can spot what label a certain celebrity wore on-set at an editorial shoot,” she says. A bit of research demonstrates command of your subject, whether you’re writing about a particular design, a designer, or a current trend. “Read biographies, look through photo archives, watch documentaries,” she advises. “Have a natural sense of curiosity.” Even a little Googling can go a long way if you want to take your copy from filler to feature-worthy.

Vera, a former copywriter for a glossy fashion bible agrees: drawing connections in copy is key. But that doesn’t mean regurgitating trends and saying what the last writer said. She suggests keeping an index of runway shows in your back pocket for reference. Saying something like “reminiscent of the inaugural Alexander Wang Spring Summer 2007 penchant for monochrome,” for example, gives a “look” some context while elevating it in the reader’s mind.

DO Parler L’Anglais

Parlez-vous français? Save it for your next Paris jaunt. “Nobody needs ‘mais oui!’, ‘très’, ‘non’, etc. in their copy,” affirms Vivienne. “It comes across as too cutesy and actually suggests the polar opposite of sophistication.” Our sources concur: one of fashion’s biggest faux pas is its French-fetish—whether that means appropriating phrases to signal sophistication, or penning articles on “how to do XYZ like a French women” (a topic Valentina believes has been quiteexhausted). The “French thing” is based on a misguided cultural conception of Parisians of the progenitors of all things stylish, according to Vivienne. “Too many writers liken Paris to this mecca of chic, when, in reality, it’s a few arrondisements (neighborhoods—usage like that is OK!) and a very select group of women, many of whom probably work in fashion or the arts.”

DON’T Kill them With Clichés

In any industry, clichés are a sure way to blend in and bore your reader. Unfortunately, fashion is breeding ground for hackneyed phrases. Here are a few top contenders you could consider cutting out of your copy.

Chic – We know there are only so many synonyms for “stylish.” But use them. Often and in frequent rotation. Every bag is chic, “but what does that mean?” asks Valentina. “Is it because of a silhouette? Use of color and texture? Some type of new makeup pigment or application technique?” Don’t just say it, show!

Fresh – “Fresh” is on par with “chic”—a filler adjective for calling something new. But why does new matter? Think about the alternate denotations of the word: “new” as a departure from the old, something reconstituted and unique. Describe those elements instead.

Trend – “Trend” is a term that gets brought up too often as synonymous with “cool” or “desirable.”  Calling something a trend year after year (like the ever-fab floral) kind of negates its meaning, as Vera points out. Chances are, if something is trending, there’s an inherent aspect of the style that’s caught on. Find the catch and go with that instead.

Passion for Fashion – We love assonance, but this one borders on asinine. Once a saying like this goes viral, it loses any claim to authenticity. “Passion for fashion” is one of Valentina’s least favorite phrases. “Even if it’s just in your website bio or your social-media profile, avoid it,” she advises. “If you’re passionate about something, then show it, don’t say it.

Hyperfamiliarity – There are a slew of words and phrases most common to fashion bloggers and style mags that are just a little too cute for comfort. “LOL”, “BFF”, “OMG”, “totes,” and “bestie” are a few examples. “I personally get turned off by over-familiarity,” says Vivienne. “A writer does not need to come across as my know-it-all girlfriend in order for me to connect with or enjoy something.” Style is best communicated with a certain level of couth.

Our sources have given fashion brands and writers lots to look out for. The road to redemption is paved with attention to detail and care for fashion’s place in culture at large. “The element of artistry that goes into fashion and beauty is incredibly inspiring,” says Vivienne. “There’s always something new. Always something surprising.” Instead of falling into snares, dig for those gems that will imbue your writing with brilliance and value.

Janine’s passion for words is rooted in her lifelong study of literature. Following a stint in boutique publishing and a beloved job as a journalist, she discovered an aptitude for marketing that led to SEO work, marketing strategy, and copywriting for (then) startups like FAB.com and major brands like Aeropostale. When Janine found that she could expound on T.S. Eliot, pen a hard-hitting piece on vernal pools, and promote panties with equal éclat, she knew she’d found a calling.

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