Fashionista first appeared on page 100 of my 1993 book Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia. I created it because as I was writing about the fashion industry—and young model Gia Carangi’s immersion in it—there was no simple way to refer to all the people at a sitting for a magazine photo or print ad. I got tired of listing photographers, fashion editors, art directors, hairstylists, makeup artists, all their assistants, and models as the small army of people who descended on the scene. This was also the group that, according to one top fashion illustrator I interviewed, had collectively become “the famous non-famous people” at Studio 54.
Since I was re-reading a lot of the newspapers and magazines from the period of Gia’s supernova career in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and remembering a lot of coverage of Sandanistas (and a lot of “–ista” jokes among my mag writer friends), I just decided to try it.
The word only appeared four times in the book, and it did not immediately catch on. In fact, the first mention of it, in a May 2, 1993 review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, was a cranky one: The author, Carol Kramer, a magazine fashion editor herself, dissed my “vivid (if slightly unfair) indictment of what Mr. Fried … who tends toward hyperbole, calls the beauty-industrial complex.”
And then she bitch-slapped me for “fashionista,” saying “he makes up corny labels, too.”
Twenty years later, the word is everywhere—most recently and annoyingly in a bombardment of T.J. Maxx commercials. It sits happily in its place it the OED, which defines it as “a person employed in the creation or promotion of high fashion, such as a designer, photographer, model, fashion writer, etc. Also: a devotee of the fashion industry; a wearer of high-fashion clothing.”
Writer Stephen Fried, my former mentor, apologizes for inventing the word ‘fashionista’ 20 years ago. Also see how other now-common words got their start.