Who Coined The Term “Fashionista”?

In a 2013 column for The Atlantic, Stephen Fried apologized for coining the term fashionista. The word, which Fried first used in 1993, started appearing in dictionaries just six years later. But what is it about the word that Fried now finds problematic?

What is a fashionista?

First, let’s look at fashionista. This word originally appeared in Fried’s biography of supermodel Gia Carangi, Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia. He invented it as a way to refer to the large entourage surrounding supermodels at a photo shoot. Eventually, the definition of fashionista expanded to include “a very fashionable person” or a “wearer of high-fashion clothing.”

The “fashion” portion of term is obvious. Less obvious is the “-ista” part. Fried said that he stumbled upon that particular suffix while researching his 1993 book. He had been reading a lot of late ’70s and early ’80s newspapers and magazines in order to write about the life of Carangi, and he kept seeing articles about Sandinistas, followers of the Nicaraguan political party.

The –ista suffix comes to English from Latin. The derived English variant of this suffix is –ist, used in words like machinist, apologist, Darwinist, and novelist. These types of words describe a person in relation to an activity, item, principle, or doctrine. The Spanish version of this suffix, –ista, became fashionable in English in the 1970s due to heavy news coverage of Latin-American revolutionary movements.

What’s the problem with a suffix like -ista?

Perhaps Fried gravitated to the –ista suffix to infuse his description of fashion professionals with a dose of exoticism. The high-fashion industry is an international one, and adding a suffix like –ista to the end of the word in favor of the typical English construction has the effect of elevating the term to a sophisticated foreign status.

Take the term barista, for example. It entered English in the 1980s at a time when the –ista suffix was becoming well-known to English speakers. Calling coffee-shop employees baristas certainly gives the job a certain artisanal flair.

But not everyone agrees that this is an acceptable way to invent new words. In his book When You Catch an Adjective Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse, English professor Ben Yagoda complained that “everybody seems to be going a bit nuts with noun creation,” and called out Fried as one example of the journalists who “seem to believe that a sign of being ironic and hip is to coin nouns with … suffixes” such as -ista. Fried’s own wife, an editor, apparently hated the word too and argued against its use.

Whatever Fried’s intentions were in coining fashionista, he has officially apologized for his “crime against nomenclature.”

Previous Lexical Investigations: Etymology Next Lexical Investigations: Hypochondriac