One of my favorite ways to learn vocabulary is to sort my vocabulary words into various categories. Somehow, searching my mind for ways to group them together really helps them to stick with me in a way that flashcards and sentences sometimes don’t.
The GRE has done a good job, if you can believe it, at reducing the number of antiquated, profession-based words on the exam. But because those words get used often and have a pronounced place in literature, they probably won’t leave vocabulary tests completely any time soon.
In this article, we’ll review ten words related to clothing. It’s important to remember that most of these words, if they show up on your test, won’t be used in sentences about clothing. They are more likely to be used in a comparison to something similar, as part of a simile or metaphor.
(1) Mantle. A mantle is a loose, sleeveless cloak or covering, generally worn by a woman. It’s something that covers the whole body like a blanket. Because of that, it’s second meaning is that a mantle is some broad or important role that is passed down from one person to another. “Mantle” is also a verb, which means to cover completely or envelop.
I generally picture an important cloth robe, such as the robe of a shaman or town elder, which covers the person entirely and will be passed down from family member to family member. That image bundles together all the definitions of “mantle” for me and helps me keep them clear in my mind.
(2) Poncho. A poncho is a blanket-like shawl worn over the shoulders, sometimes made of plastic in order to keep away rain. Its key quality is that it covers something up, which is the quality that’s likely to be referenced in a metaphor.
(3) Raiment. “Raiment” is just another word for “clothing”. It is most likely to be used literally, but could also be used to describe the covering or costume on something in a metaphorical way. This is a good word to memorize because it is a tough one to “figure out” during the test – not a lot of roots or other similar words to tie it to.
(4) Unravel. To unravel something means to unwind it so that it comes apart, like you would do with a spool of thread or a piece of cloth. While “unravel” is often used literally, it’s perhaps more often used more metaphorically to mean “come undone” in the sense of a plan or someone’s mental health “coming apart at the seams”, to use another clothing-derived expression.
Annoyingly, the word “ravel” means “to unravel something”. Yikes. It also means to tangle, knot, or complicate it. As a noun, a “ravel” is a tangle or cluster.
(5) Sartorial. “Sartorial” is an adjective meaning having to do with tailoring, clothes, style or fashion. If someone has a sartorial flair, for example, he or she has a flair for style and clothing. I am a big fan of the website The Sartorialist, where a respected fashion photographer photographers people with unique style and tailoring the world over. Checking it out might help you remember what this word means!
(6) Millinery. Specifically, “millinery” means “women’s hats”, or the business of making or selling women’s hats. Talk about something we don’t need a word for. Not the world’s most common GRE word, but if it shows up, it’s fairly hard to guess or figure out that specific meaning if you don’t already know it.
(7) Pleat. A pleat is a fold stitched into cloth, such as you would have in a pleated skirt. The word “pleat” can be used metaphorically to mean fold or crease in something other than cloth. For example, mountain ridges could pleat the landscape.
(8) Plait. A plait is a braid. While you commonly see braids on cloth made of ribbon, cord, or string, you can braid everything from hair to bread dough. When you realize that to braid means to wind, weave, or tie together, you can see how this word is often used metaphorically: you can plait together ideas, concepts, or words, among other things.
(9) Sheathe. A sheath is the protective cover that holds a weapon such as a knife or sword, and to sheathe something is to put it in such a protective covering. The verb “sheathe” is often used metaphorically to mean put something “sharp” or dangerous in a covering so that it can’t do any damage or have any effect. For example, you might want to sheathe your razor-sharp wit when you are in court, or sheathe your sharp tongue when talking to your child’s vice principal.
(10) Ragamuffin. Growing up, I spent lots of time with my grandmother, who is turning 90 in two weeks, so I definitely know the definition of “ragamuffin”, because I was called one all the time. A ragamuffin is someone, usually a child, dressed in ragged or messy clothes. Someone who’s unkempt (which is another GRE word). A guttersnipe, if you want another weird word.
Picture the orphans from “Annie” or the street kids from “Oliver Twist” and you’ll have a good idea what a ragamuffin is. Or, in my grandmother’s world, anyone with holes in their jeans or wearing (gasp!) a sweatshirt.
Can you think of any other GRE words that have to do with clothing? Share them in the comments!