Little Red … Chavettes? Your 2005 Fashion Buzzword

They might have horrible teeth, and they might have sent us Graham Norton, but credit where credit is due: The Brits are still the world’s greatest wordsmiths. They have a special knack for naming trends and cults that effortlessly surpasses anything on this side of the Atlantic: mods, rockers, buffalo girls, punks, goths … the list is endless.

Their newest invention, as I discovered on my recent Christmas visit, is currently dominating the media of that tiny but still influential nation. This word identifies those gals who, either consciously or unconsciously, have adopted that tawdry Paris Hilton–Nicole Richie look. This word is both hilarious and incredibly useful and should be integrated into your vocabulary forthwith. O.K. Brace yourselves. Ready? So what do the Brits call a Louis Vuitton–totin’ lass in a Juicy Couture rah-rah skirt, a hot pink sleeveless down jacket, pointy stilettos, Dior bangles and Von Dutch baseball cap?

They call her a chavette.

The chavette (pronounced as in “cha cha”) favors Britneyesque T-shirts which say things like “I did Justin Timberlake three times.” The chavette is never seen in public without a fake tan and a cell phone dangling round her neck. The chavette’s hair is bleached to buggery, à la Paris, and is, more often than not, scraped back into a style known as the Croydon face-lift. Croydon is a gritty chavette-infested London suburb (Kate Moss was born there) where the local girls are known for dragging their hair back into face-yankingly tight ponytails.

Every chavette has a chav. He’s the Kevin Federline type in the prison-white Reeboks and Burberry baseball cap who wears as much jewelry as his chavette.

Both chavs and chavettes are denounced by the media as designer-label-obsessed losers with criminal tendencies who name their dogs and/or their children either Tyson or Keanu. For this reason, the middle and upper classes believe that chavs and chavettes represent nothing less than the end of civilization.

Here in the U.S., “chavette” is a much-needed addition to your personal fashion dictionary. Unencumbered by the complexities of the British class system, you Yankettes can simply use “chavette” as stylistic shorthand to describe merchandise or individuals which are common and tarty in that Paris and Nicky kind of way. “Shall I buy this hot pink Marc Jacobs bag, or is it too chavette?” “Cameron Diaz is amusing, but haute chavette, non?” “Spring’s new espadrilles: chic or chavette?”

A debate is currently raging in England about the origins of the word “chavette.” Some say it comes from the old Romany word chavi, meaning “child.” How quaint. My preferred theory (see Neil Tweedie in The Daily Telegraph) gives full credit to the snooty girls of the famous Cheltenham Ladies College. The upper-class pupils had recently fallen into the habit of referring to the ineligible glue-sniffing local lads as “Cheltenham average,” hence “chav.”

Now that the Brits have given us “chavette,” maybe we can return the favor by coming up with a word to describe the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson look. I am assuming you are familiar with their insane new bag-lady refugee style. This anti-chavette look-extra-long scarves, frowsy fur coats, layered granny sweaters-is a growing Los Angeles phenomenon in desperate need of a moniker. How about lavette, as in “Los Angeles average”? Hosnian , as in “Hollywood goes Bosnia”? You can do better, I’m sure. E-mail your suggestions to editorial@observer.com.

Re chavs: To learn more, log onto one of the many new chav Web sites or treat yourself to a copy of CHAV! A User’s Guide to Britain’s New Ruling Class. (Bantam, £6.99 on Amazon.co.uk.)

Have a chav-tastic week!

PS: The Scots call chavs neds: It’s an acronym for “non-educated delinquents.” Little Red … Chavettes? Your 2005 Fashion Buzzword