"I might be an introvert
to you, a shallow fashionista
deep as any paper plate
dressed just like the girl beside you."

Fash"ion"ist"a, noun [ fashion + Latin -ista] (plural fash·ion·is·tas)

1. a devotee of fashion

2. a person deeply involved with or employed by the fashion industry2

According to Michael Quinion 3 and other word nerds, the neologism fashionista dates back to 1993. Coined in a book by Stephen Fried about the supermodel Gia, fashionista is typically regarded as slightly derogatory or sarcastic in meaning. While that may often be the case, these days the term is just as commonly worn as a badge of indulgent honor.

Its dubious connotation aside, Fried says his intention "...was to solve a problem in [his] book of how to describe the army of people that descend on the set of a professional fashion shoot. [He] needed a word to describe... the models and all those random assistants. Now, they use it to refer to themselves."

In 1999, New York Times ran an article4 by Penelope Green. "MIRROR, MIRROR; How Stylish People Don't Describe Themselves" included quotes from an e-mail written by Eleanor Rand, an editor of the O.E.D.:

"The word fills a linguistic gap created by the rise of haute couture as a highly visible industry over the past couple of decades... Etymologically, the suffix '-ista' derives from Spanish and is cognate with the English suffix '-ist,' designating a devotee, adherent or practitioner of the noun to which it is affixed. The implication could be of religious devotion, in line with the increasing view of fashion and image (and shopping!) as a new world religion; alternatively, if the formation is influenced (as seems likely) by the names of Latin American political organizations -- Senderista, Sandinista, Peronista, etc. -- the word can be interpreted as marking out those involved with the fashion industry as a movement or army, united in their devotion to the cause of fashion."

Religion? Politics? War?! Are we so far-gone that the fashion industry has become the stuff of serious philosophy? But in an era of increasing consumerism and soullessness, is it really so difficult to believe?

Cosmo. Glamour. E! Television. Fashion Network. Dolce and Gabbana. Armani. Versace. Paris Hilton. Sarah Jessica Parker. We are quickly becoming a networked globe of followers--a mass of plastic, botoxed, label-driven, fashion-infected zombies, ravenous to suck the brains from the next big thing. The fashion industry has finally torn down the fourth wall and gotten in everyone's face.

Fashionistas, though, claim to find inspiration and real significance in their cause. The Devil Wears Prada5, by Lauren Weisberger, follows an aspiring journalist who takes a job at a fashion magazine when all she really wants to do is write "real news" at The New Yorker. Soon she is "transformed" by haute couture--her intellect rapidly dismissed--and finds herself flailing in the world of beautiful people. Did I mention it's based on Weisberger's experience working as an intern at Vogue?

The lesson our young heroine is supposed to learn is that real friends are more important than pretty ones, that you shouldn't sacrifice your integrity for anyone, and that love conquers all or some such nonsense. The real lesson is delivered in the form of a scathing monologue by her boss, who asserts that fashion is a public service that affects all of us in meaningful and long-lasting ways--despite some people's unwillingness to acknowledge it. But c'mon. Is there truly a deeper existence to be found in size 0 microminis and cashmere sweaters? Deeper than a paper plate, maybe.

liveforever says: Might want to make a note that in various massively multiplayer online games, with skinnable avatars that can be equipped with custom clothes, "fashionista" has taken on a life of its own. An example is 'There', an MMO where fashionistas are among the most influential players.

All hail Ms. Pierce! Oh, and 'cause references are the "in" thing around here:
1The Faint. "How Could I Forget." Wet from Birth. Saddle Creek, 2004
2Encarta Dictionary. http://www.encarta.com. Encarta. 8/03/06.
3Quinion, Michael. World Wide Words. http://www.worldwidewords.org. 8/03/06.
Fried, Stephen. Thing of Beauty: the Tragedy of Supermodel Gia. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
4Green, Penelope. "MIRROR, MIRROR; How Stylish People Don't Describe Themselves." The New York Times. July 4, 1999, Sunday, Late Edition: Section 9; Page 1.
5Weisberger, Lauren. The Devil Wears Prada: a Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2003.

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