Without them, we’d all be cold and naked and far less stylish.
And we humans have come a long way since we started wearing random fur, leaves and grass as clothing.
In fact, clothes are such a big part of our lives that there are many different types of clothes and many different ways we wear them.
So today, let’s take a look at clothes in English, words for the different parts of clothes and some phrases we use when we talk about clothes.
Clothes for the head
OK. Let’s start from the top. And what’s more top than our head?
Types of hats
There are many types of hats out there. Wikipedia lists over 130 of them.
But here are some of the most common ones:
Cap – Sometimes known as a baseball cap
Beanie – Warm, casual knitted hat without a brim
Stetson – For times when you don’t feel enough like a cowboy; also known as a cowboy hat
Bowler hat – Hard felt hat with a small brim, traditionally worn by Englishmen with their umbrellas next to red phone boxes in the fog in London. But not anymore … just in out-of-date English course books and Tintin books.
Panama – Wide-brimmed hat traditionally made of straw, usually white. They make me think of one of the bad guys in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Great film.
Flat cap – Soft hat with a small brim in front. I always associate these hats with early-twentieth-century intellectuals.
A headscarf is simply any scarf worn on the head.
People wear them for religious, cultural or sometimes just practical reasons (to protect themselves from the weather, for example). Or sometimes just to look stylish.
Remember the ‘90s when everyone was wearing bandanas?
Good times … good times …
Here’s Tupac (wearing a bandana):
If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of masks!
But with coronavirus, we’ve all become familiar with wearing masks on a daily basis.
And these sorts of masks can fall under two general categories:
Surgical mask – Often worn by dentists and doctors during medical procedures, typically light blue or green and single-use
Face covering – This can apply to anything you’re using to cover your face — it could be any type of mask, a scarf … or even a T-shirt pulled up onto your face like I saw a guy do in the shopping mall the other day. I’m not sure I’d count that, though.
It’s cold outside!
Wear a scarf!
I remember back in 2017, we were getting the coldest winter Bulgaria had seen for a long time. It was reaching -18°C out there.
I was walking home from the pub one evening, and I’d left my scarf behind. I thought I’d be fine — it was just a 10-minute walk, after all.
I wasn’t fine.
But I survived.
It’s still cold!
So instead of a scarf, why not wear a balaclava instead?
It covers more of your face and has the added bonus of being very handy if you feel like robbing a bank.
Clothes for the upper body
I love hoodies!
They’re so warm and comfortable.
So what are they?
A hoodie is basically any sort of jumper (or sometimes long-sleeved T-shirt) that has a hood.
But what’s a hood?
It’s the part of a hoodie that you put over your head: thus hood-ie. Very useful if you don’t have an umbrella … or if you just want to look cool.
Also known as a pullover or a sweater, this is perfect for when it’s too warm for a jacket but too cold for a T-shirt.
A jumper with buttons, like some sort of weird jumper-shirt, is called a cardigan.
Here’s a fun song about jumpers.
OK — we all know this one, right?
I mean, “T-shirt” is the same word in so many languages.
I’m a huge fan of T-shirts and have quite a big collection.
The problem is that the shops near where I live don’t sell T-shirts in the winter.
I guess they’re thinking, “It’s winter. Nobody wears T-shirts in the winter.”
But they do.
Parts of a T-shirt
It’s the part where you put your neck. So we also call it the neck.
“So the parts where you put your arms? Are those called the arms?”
Those are the sleeves.
Types of T-shirts
Short-sleeved – When the sleeves are short
Long-sleeved – When the sleeves are long
Sleeveless – When the sleeves have crocodiles on them. No — sorry. Not that. When there are no sleeves.
Things you can do with a T-shirt
Tuck your shirt in / have it tucked in
With T-shirts, you have a choice:
Have the bottom of the T-shirt hanging outside your trousers or skirt or shorts (or whatever you’re wearing on your lower body).
Or you can tuck it into your trousers or skirt or shorts or whatever.
When you do this, you have your shirt tucked in.
The opposite of “tuck in” is “untuck.”
So you can untuck your T-shirt or have it untucked.
Let’s move on.
There are two main types of vests — ones that people wear for sport (also great for showing off your muscles).
And the ones you wear under your shirt in the colder months.
They’re a bit different from sleeveless T-shirts because the neck is lower.
In the US, they actually call this an undershirt.
That’s because they use the word “vest” for …
So, as mentioned above, this is called a vest in America but a waistcoat in the UK.
What is it?
Well, it’s like a tiny little jacket without sleeves that you usually wear between a shirt and a jacket.
When you put one on, you automatically look 5-8 times smarter.
Parts of a shirt
Collar – The folded over bit at the top of the shirt. Collars were long and pointy in the ’70s.
Sleeves – Where the arms go
Buttons – The other parts that make a shirt not a T-shirt. They also keep the two sides together.
Buttonholes – The holes that you put the buttons in. You know it makes sense!
Cuffs – The part at the end of the shirt sleeve that you connect using buttons or …
Cufflinks – Decorative little things used instead of buttons to close the cuffs. They can make people believe you have a lot more money than you really do.
Pockets – Small “bags” in your clothes that let you carry things. Most shirts have pockets for pens and notepads and possibly boiled sweets.
Things you can do with a shirt
Just like with a T-shirt, you can tuck in and untuck your shirt.
You’re free! You can do anything you want!
Unlike a T-shirt, you can use the buttons on a shirt and do up or button up your shirt.
Or, if you want to add to that ‘90s look, you can undo or unbutton your shirt. Just leave it open. Remember: you’re free!
Bow tie and tie
Things you can do with a tie / bow tie
You can tie your tie.
And you can undo your tie.
And if you like, why not use it as a bandana?
On second thoughts … don’t.
Types of jackets
There are soooo many types of jackets out there.
Here are some of the most common:
Made of … leather! Or fake leather.
Very popular with bikers and some people who have rediscovered the ‘80s in a big way.
Made of denim — the same material that jeans are made of.
Again, you’ll find a lot of bikers in denim jackets.
Smart jacket / suit jacket
A major part of a smart suit is the jacket, of course!
This one isn’t for the bikers.
Parts of a jacket
Zip – Some jackets close using a zip (or “zipper” in the US).
Buttons – And some use buttons.
Pockets – But almost all jackets have pockets to put things in, like pens, notepads and boiled sweets.
Things you can do with a jacket
You can do up or undo your jacket, just like your shirt.
If you have a zip on yours, then you can also zip it up and unzip it.
Sometimes, when you’re wearing a suit, and you want to be extra smart and classy, you can put a flower in your buttonhole.
Things you can do with a coat
If it’s got buttons or a zip, then you can do it up or undo it. You may have noticed that these verbs are quite common, and we’ll see them again, I’m sure!
The nice thing about coats (and some jackets) is that, when it gets cold and windy and harsh, you can pull your collar up.
Not only does it help protect you against all that nasty weather, but you get to look kind of mysterious, too.
Gloves / mittens
Things you wear on your hands on cold days … a bit like socks.
What? You want socks for your feet AND your hands?
OK. But we cannot ever, ever, ever call them hand socks, OK?
Let’s call them gloves if they separate the fingers and mittens if they don’t.
Clothes for the lower body
Or “pants” if you’re American or like speaking American English. Although “pants” can cause confusion (see below).
And where would we be without trousers?
Did you know that trousers are pretty old? I would’ve guessed they were only a few hundred years old, but, according to Wikipedia, they go back at least as far as the 13th century BC — over 3,000 years!
I love trousers.
Let’s look at some.
Types of trousers
Probably the most common type of trousers you see on the streets these days.
At some point in the late twentieth century, we all decided that we should all just wear jeans and T-shirts all the time.
And now the most common attire (combination of clothes) we see out there is the humble “jeans and T-shirt.”
Can’t we go back to the days when everyone wore suits and hats? I liked that.
Basically any type of trousers you might wear with your suit — to look smart.
They’re pretty boring, but the ones with the lines on them are called pinstripe trousers, and they look pretty neat.
It’s short for “camouflage,” and people in the army wear them.
Actually, lots of people who aren’t in the army and who’ve never seen a gun in their life wear them too, sometimes.
Interestingly enough, chinos used to be military trousers in mid-nineteenth-century UK.
But they’re much more commonly seen on people who like strong but relatively smart-looking trousers.
Parts of trousers
Unimaginatively, we call the part where we put our legs the trouser legs.
Fly / flies
This is the zip (or sometimes buttons) on the front of the trousers.
Most trousers have pockets.
There are front pockets at the front.
And back pockets at the back.
And sometimes, on women’s trousers, there are no pockets at all.
I’ve never understood this. I’m pretty sure women need pockets just as much as men do.
So why don’t they get to have pockets?
And another thing, while we’re on the topic: why are women’s jackets always left-handed?
Things you can do with trousers
You can use them as a kind of flag!
But that wouldn’t be very productive.
Sometimes, after putting on your trousers, you might forget to do up your flies.
If you don’t notice your mistake, you might need a friend to tell you that your flies are undone.
Or, if they’re the kind of friend who enjoys using idioms, they might say, “You’re flying low.”
Many years ago, I had a colleague from Canada who made the worst jokes ever.
One of his favourites, which he loved trying out on new people, was this.
First he’d say, “What were you doing under there?”
After a little thought and confusion, you’d say, “Under where?”
Then he’d laugh — in fact, he’d find this hilarious.
Because he made you say the word “underwear.”
I have no idea why this is funny.
Anyway, underwear is the stuff you wear under your clothes.
Types of underwear
There are basically two types of underwear for men: the type that looks like shorts and the type that’s smaller.
Underwear that looks like shorts.
They’re also known as boxer shorts.
These are actually a type of briefs (see below), but they have the Y-shaped part at the front.
Think of Homer Simpson running around in his underwear.
On second thoughts … don’t.
These are your typical women’s underwear, also known as undies and, in the US, panties.
For some people, knickers still cover too much.
So, that’s when a G-string comes in handy.
It’s also known as a thong in the UK and the US, but not in Australia, where thongs are shoes you wear at the beach.
Underwear for everyone
These are your standard, close-fitting underwear.
This is just the general word for underwear that you wear under your trousers, skirt or whatever — in the crotch area.
It also has a fun other meaning in the UK: when you say that something’s pants, you’re saying that it’s terrible.
So you could have a conversation like this:
Alec: Hey, Dina! How was the film?
Dina: Pants. It was pants.
But be careful here!
In the US, “pants” actually means “trousers.”
So, if an American tells a Brit that they like their pants, the Brit gets very embarrassed and possibly runs away quickly.
As a result, the phrase, “the film was pants” doesn’t really work in the US.
But say it anyway — it’s fun to watch the confusion pass over their faces!
Shorts actually used to be called short trousers, until someone realised that was a ridiculous idea and that we needed a newer, more dynamic, more creative word.
So now they’re called shorts.
OK. So I know that the whole dress/skirt thing can get a bit confusing.
In short, the skirt is just for the lower body, and the dress is for the whole body (see below).
Good? OK. Let’s look at some types of skirts.
Types of skirts
It’s the sixties, and miniskirts are all the craze!
But what are they?
Well — they’re short skirts, of course.
Or miniskirts, if you prefer.
A pleated skirt is a skirt with lots of folds in it.
They’re very common in school uniforms and popular with tennis players in the ‘80s.
When I was about eight, I had to play Theseus in our class theatre performance of Theseus and the Minotaur.
In order to look like I was an ancient Greek, I wore my teacher’s tennis skirt, which was pleated.
OK. We all know about shoes, right?
The things we put on our feet to protect us from cold and mud and broken glass and chewing gum.
Also useful for throwing at people in protest.
Types of shoes
Shoes … but tall.
Maybe they only go up to your ankle (ankle boots) or maybe they go all the way up to your knees (knee-high boots).
… or “sneakers” in American English.
Sometimes also just known as sports shoes, too.
These are very popular and are part of that common “jeans and T-shirt” modern uniform we seem to have now.
Like with trousers, you can differentiate your normal, everyday shoes from the ones you wear with your suit by just calling them your smart shoes.
These are also known as slip-on shoes.
They’re shoes that you don’t have to do up — no laces or buckles or anything.
Just stick your foot in, and you’re ready to go!
Brogues are smart shoes that have a decorative pattern made of little holes. I know, I know — these aren’t very common.
But I love them so much.
Let’s marvel at them:
Sometimes, normal boots are just too hot and sweaty.
But trainers are too weak and flimsy.
If you’re planning on doing some walking, then maybe it’s best to get some hiking shoes (or hiking boots).
If you read my blog post on body parts, you’ll already be familiar with the heel.
It’s basically the back part of the bottom of the foot.
So high heels, or high-heeled shoes, are shoes, usually for women (although that didn’t use to be the case), that have heels of at least 3 cm or so.
When the heels are very pointy (think Jessica Rabbit from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”), they’re called stilettos.
Parts of a shoe
Laces – The strings that you use to keep the two halves of your shoes together
Sole – The bottom part of the shoe
Heel – The back part of the bottom of the shoe
Things you can do with your shoes
When your shoes are done up, then you’ve tied your shoelaces. Well done!
If not, then they’re untied or undone. Better do something about that — and quick! The bus is coming!
Sometimes shoes (or boots) don’t have laces, but instead they have a buckle — the same kind of thing you get at the front of a belt.
So you can buckle your shoes or unbuckle them — especially if you’re wearing sandals.
Like gloves for the feet.
Need I say more?
Stockings / tights
This can get a bit confusing, and here’s why.
If they cover your whole lower body, then they’re tights in the UK and stockings or pantyhose in the US.
If they only go up to above the knee, then they’re stockings in the UK and hold-ups or thigh highs in the US.
Not confusing at all, right?
Clothes for the whole body
Some clothes just don’t fit into any of the neat categories above because they cover both the upper and lower body.
And what better way to start than the ultimate full-body item of clothing …
Also known as a jumpsuit, the onesie is one item of clothing that deals with the lower body, the upper body and even the head. (They often have hoods.)
They used to be for hanging out at home or even sleeping (and of course, they’ve always been for babies), but these days they’re getting more fashionable as stuff you might wear in the street.
And why not?
Who needs shirts? Trousers? Vests?
What a waste of time!
Bring me my onesie!
(Just for the record, I do NOT own a onesie. Thank you.)
Going in the complete opposite direction of the super-casual onesie, we’ve also got the super-smart suit: a smart jacket with matching trousers.
It’s a classic, right?
Types of suits
This is more styles of suit, but here we go:
A pinstripe suit is probably my favourite.
You know the one — it’s the suit with these very subtle vertical lines running down the trousers and the jacket.
There are also two types of suits.
Look at the jacket …
Does it have two vertical rows of buttons or just one?
If it’s two, then it’s a double-breasted suit.
If it’s just one, then it’s single-breasted.
OK. Before we start, I just want to clear one thing up.
This word “dress” can mean just one of two things.
The verb “dress” means “to wear clothes.”
So you might say something like, “He dresses really well!”
You can also say “get dressed” to mean “put clothes on.”
An example of this could be “It takes me ages to get dressed in the morning.”
Now, finally, “dress” doesn’t mean “clothes.” So you probably wouldn’t say, “My brother Sebastian wore his best dress at the wedding.”
It only refers to a skirt with a top attached to it.
Here’s Bjork’s dress:
Also known as coveralls, this is very much like a onesie, except that while a onesie is for hanging out and being cool, a boiler suit is used by workers — to do work!
They’re usually used by plumbers and mechanics, and are largely there to protect their clothes from getting oily, greasy and generally yucky.
Also known as overalls, dungarees are a bit like boiler suits, but instead of just stepping into them, you also have to buckle them up.
They were very popular in the ‘80s and somehow always remind me of my childhood.
But enough about me! Let’s talk about …
It seems to me that tracksuits are starting to replace the whole jeans and T-shirt and trainers uniform I was talking about earlier.
Or maybe it’s just where I live.
Either way, it seems that tracksuits are much more popular than they used to be.
And why not? They’re pretty comfortable and can look really neat.
Unimaginatively, the top part of a tracksuit is called a tracksuit top, and the bottom half is called tracksuit bottoms, or if you’re up for some Australian English, trackie dacks.
OK. There we have it!
A million (or 30) items of clothing in English.
Now I’m sure I’ve missed some out — there really are so many clothes out there.
I’ve also not included some of the more interesting local clothes that you find all over the world.
So this is where I want to pass things over to you.
Can you tell us about any clothes that are specific to where you’re from?
Perhaps they’re traditional items of clothing, or maybe they’re something that’s recent but hasn’t caught on outside where you live.
I’d love to hear about them, so answer in the comments!