Where did the Word ‘Blouse’ Go?

I’m sitting here listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time” (check out the nice black and white video full of beautiful people). The chorus goes:

All the women tear their blouses off
and the men they dance on the polka-dots
and it’s partner found and it’s partner lost
and it’s hell to pay when the fiddler stops
It’s closing time

Just yesterday, I used the word ‘blouse’ and felt awkward about it. In recent years, the word seems to have disappeared from our popular language. Female friends have kind of smirked at me when I’ve used in it conversation.

The word seems to now belong only to my mother and my grandmother’s generations. What words do we now use to describe women’s shirts? Besides the word ‘shirt’, that is. ‘Top’, I guess. What else?

On a related note, I feel like I’m the only Canadian under 40 who uses the word ‘trousers’. I learned to eschew ‘pants’ while living in Ireland, and have never really gone back. There’s similar scoffing when I say ‘trousers’. Undeserved, I think.

26 comments

  1. Serviette.

    I think we are simply getting lazy and moving to fewer-syllable worlds.

    Couch vs Ches-ter-field
    Nap-kin vs Ser-vi-ette
    Shirt vs Blouse..

    Oh. hmm. maybe fewer-syllable and faster to say? (yes I’m stretching, you just wrecked my little theory).

  2. Blouse sounds normal to me, though I do associate it with a more dressed up and probably older style. Then again, I never was hip with fashion or knowledgeable of the clothes industry in general.

    Never heard of a Chesterfield, must belong to the same set of words as Hoover.

    And did you puroposefully use “eschew” in this post, that seems like rather erudite vocabulary (and I had to look up erudite to make sure I was using it right).

  3. Andy: Chesterfield is specifically Canadian, if I recall correctly.

    No particular reason to use ‘eschew’, beyond the fact that I think it’s the right word. I didn’t think twice about it.

    I just checked the definition: “deliberately avoid using; abstain from”.

    I guess the alternative would have been “I learned not to say ‘pants’”, but ‘eschew’ seems more specific.

  4. funny timing, i was just thinking of this because my mom used the word blouse in a conversation recently. i use the word blouse but like andy only when i’m thinking of something that is dressy and maybe a bit matronly.

  5. Trousers is a pretty bad word. I was going to use it to demonstrate what an outdated word blouse was, but it would appear that I have no effective example now.

  6. I work in retail fashion, and not for old farts, and I can safely say that the word blouse is not passe. Trouser is not common but we do use it at work though.

  7. The use of blouse to describe an item of clothing is on the decline in Ireland, but it is used to cajole someone; “You big girl’s blouse!”, or “Ya blouse”, roughly translates to coward but in a jovial sense.

    My brother and I often refer to ‘trouers’ (just pronounce trousers with out the z sound in the middle).

  8. Like you, I have only heard my mother use the word “blouse”. I guess the male equivalent must be “jersey” I only heat that used occasionally, and usually in reference to shirts for my old rugby team. All these words are mostly British English.

  9. To me the word blouse must rhyme with house as when Eartha Kitt sings It’s So Nice to Have a Man Around the House – so he can buy you ” … a full-length mink to cover last year’s blouse…”

  10. Johnny: Indeed, I learned that phrase in Ireland, and still use it occasionally. It’s very handy.

  11. Andy: Chesterfield is specifically Canadian, if I recall correctly.

    British, actually. For a type of couch named after the Earl of Chesterfield.

    There’s similar scoffing when I say ‘trousers’. Undeserved, I think.

    I know what you mean. After three decades of saying “toe-MAH-toe” and being mocked for it, I’ve switched to “toe-MAY-toe”.

    However, I still refuse to pronounce “mirror” in a way that rhymes with “beer”. And the occasional “gah-ray-je” slips out instead of “gah-RAH-je”.

  12. I’m pretty sure my favourite clothing store uses “blouse,” but then it also refers to the often frumpier dress shirts. But not necessarily I guess. The fanciest ones are “tops” and the rest are “t-shirts” for some reason.

    My sister says “trousers” but only because she’s married to a Brit. She said something recently that sounded completely off and it was just a British pronounciation I’d never heard of.

    Garage has too many permutations and the more I watch HGTV shows with British hosts, the more inclined I am to adopt a bit. I recently said “py-jahh-mahs” instead of “py-jaa-mas.” Twice!

  13. I think soccer moms and Martha Stewart ruined “blouse” with their ‘men’s shirt with khakis for women’.

    We used to make fun of my dad for saying “trousers” so I say it in jest regarding certain pants now and then. Hehe… “trousers”….

  14. Trouser (as in “trouser role”) … an opera term where a male character is traditionally played/sung by a woman.

    So, yeah: I use the word “trouser”.

    Chesterfield? That’s an old brand of cigarettes.

    And as for Leonard Cohen … he’s on tour (I have my ticket). When he won the Juno (1992?) he said “Only in Canada could someone with a voice like mine win the best male vocal award.”

  15. Oddly, as much of the discussion revolves around fashion words, it’s hard to tell what’s out of use/fashion and what’s going to be the next retro-trend. In other words, blouse and trouser may just as well be revived when the current style and words associated with it are deemed too old. The trick is you never know when–or at least I never do.

    Thanks for the wordie website. While I wouldn’t necessarily make lists of words on a website, I have made mental lists in the past and enjoyed reading what’s there. For example, back when I worked at the Best Western (motel chain) reservation center, I remember dreaming of places called Kamloops and Nanaimo, proving the appeal of the foreign.

  16. Oh, and I forgot one point in my last comment: I used the example of “eschew” to demonstrate that perhaps Darren uses a larger vocabulary than most people, which would partly explain the use of blouse as well.

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