Fashion translation will detonate your thesaurus

November 17, 2023 by Alison Tunley

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After another immersion in the world of fashion translation, I have once again emerged in awe of the repetitive and often vacuous nature of fashion marketing texts. Sorry fashion people, but it’s true. Once you get past the basic fact that you are promoting a pair of trousers, a dress, or a shirt, there is not a whole lot more information you need to convey. Beyond a bit of detail about buttons, pockets and neckline, most of the text will be aspirational marketing spiel designed to make you want to buy the thing. Sometimes the translator simply needs to embrace the vacuous vibe and not worry too much about that fact that you are essentially repeating yourself!

Fashion translation will detonate your thesaurus

So, when a German text describes the same outfit in consecutive sentences as hauteng, körperbetonend/körperbetont, körpernah and eng anliegend, the English translator should have no qualms about the fact that figure-hugging, skin-tight and close-fitting are not exactly adding anything new to the consumer’s understanding of the garment.

Similarly, German fashion texts like to tell you in as many ways as possible that the clothing you are contemplating buying is comfortable. The marketeers throw in words like bequem, komfortabel, angenehmes Tragegefühl, and Tragekomfort. Here the English translator is at a definite disadvantage and clumsy attempts to describe a “pleasant wearing feeling” are not going to win you any translation plaudits. One garment in a recent project was described in a single sentence as both “bequem und komfortabel” and I’m not convinced a German speaker could tell you what specific additional information is being conveyed by having two adjectives rather than one.

While we are on the subject of comfort, when translating the German phrase “fühlt sich weich auf der Haut an”, it is usually sufficient in English to say that something “feels soft”. Adding “against the skin” is ridiculous; after all, where else would it feel soft? Maybe Germans can detect softness in some other way, but I doubt it. At any rate, if you see the phrase “feels soft against the skin” there is a good chance it has been translated from German.

Sometimes it feels as though the copywriter has been tasked with hitting a word count rather than capturing novel product characteristics. Repeated references to a garment being lässig, leger, relaxt, sportiv essentially just tell the reader this is something designed for relaxed or informal wear. And it’s worth noting again that garments described in German as sportiv often have absolutely nothing to do with athletic activity or technical sports gear.

And finally, a plea to English translators, the phrase “tone in tone” is worse than vacuous repetition; it is meaningless to an English-language consumer. The German “Ton in Ton” refers to a monochrome look, often playing with subtly different shades of the same colour. There is no direct equivalent phrase in English, so the way you convey the intended meaning will depend on context. Sometimes monochrome is a good choice, but if the emphasis is on contrasting shades within the same colour family, a longer description may be necessary.


Photo by Burgess Milner on Unsplash

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