A bit of etymology

Here at Melody Valerie Couture, it’s usually all about fabric! But, like everyone else, we spend a fair bit of time wrestling with words – writing ads, blog posts, and corresponding with customers all require sculpting English to communicate. (Never mind that for fun we sometimes look through the dictionary for archaic words with interesting meanings!)

Imagine my surprise, then, when one of my friends mentioned that the words text and textile come from the same root! Language and fabric – or at least, the words to describe them – have the same linguistic heritage, and that was enough excuse for me to hunt up a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and check for myself.

Texere is the Latin word for weaving. How we get textile – “a woven fabric…any kind of cloth” – from ‘to weave’ makes sense, at least on a semantic level, but where does the ‘text’ – “the wording of anything written or printed…the very words, phrases, and sentences as written” – come from?

The extended etymology of text hints at the answer, which apparently began in Latin itself. Textus meant the style or tissue of a literary work; literally, the way the words were woven together into a web or texture. Suddenly, poetry and fabric seemed to have a lot in common!

So, the next time you get a text message, read the news online, or pick up your favorite novel, think about textiles, and enjoy the way that words are woven together to shape the fabric of your existence!



All definitions and roots are from the Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Published 1989, Clarendon Press, Oxford.



It’s January. Around here, that means overcast skies, rain, and temperatures fluctuating around 40° (last week it went all the way down to 20°, but today was a balmy 50°).  I do love a good cold snap, but right about now, summer sunshine is a very happy and inspiring thought!

This photo from two years ago about sums it up. Everyone here is really excited by the thought of warm weather, bare feet, and dresses made from lightweight, airy fabric. Aah. And, of course, how can you not think of the warm, yellow sunlight of summer? January, we love you…but July will be great too!


Costumes in history

Whenever you’re researching costume history, you have to take the images you find with a grain of salt! Most of the time, the people in paintings, sculptures, and photographs are wearing period clothing. Sometimes, though, they’re wearing a costume! This provides interesting insights into how the period you’re researching viewed the past — and also gives amusing commentary on what the portraitees couldn’t bring themselves to give up about their normal clothing!

This lovely lady on the left was photographed in 1879, during the height of the bustle period. However, the clothes she’s wearing appears to be from the Cavalier period (early 17th century).

Her costume quotes elements from both mens and womens wear of the Cavalier era — her 3/4 length sleeves and bodice rosettes are very typical of Cavalier women, but her sleeves are ‘paned,’ which is usually found only in menswear of this time (women seemed to have preferred light colored, shiny fabrics with unslashed sleeves). Lace at the neckline and sleeve cuffs (left over from the Shakespearean ruff) was popular for both men and women.

However, she doesn’t quite have the high-waisted Cavalier silhouette and the low, square neckline Cavalier women preferred. Instead, she has a v-shaped neckline that’s filled in with lace, and her belt (another  non-Cavalier feature) is clearly at her natural waist.

Here’s a bodice from 1630-39, smack in the Cavalier period. (The back is on the left, the front on the right.) These bodices were worn with stomachers, triangle-shaped pieces of fabric that filled in the front of the bodice. Just imagine how square the neckline would be! Also note how full the sleeves are, compared to the 1879 interpretation (sleeves were very slim in the 1880s).

Hairstyles are apparently notoriously difficult for women to give up. I’m still looking for good images to share with you all, but just try watching any period movie that was made in the 40s! The costumes are often fabulous, but the hairstyles are a dead giveaway…  


images from the Victoria and Albert museum