Today I want to start talking about some of the vocabulary surrounding clothes. Though we have all probably learnt the names for trousers (die Hose), jacket (die Jacke) and shoes (die Schuhe) in German class at school, I am aware that there are a few words and expressions in this category that can be confusing to a learner of German. Hopefully the next couple of posts I write will clear up any confusion!
So let’s get started with the German word for clothes.
There are actually several German words for clothes:
die Kleidung (also sometimes die Bekleidung).
What is the difference between these words? First of all, they all mean ‘clothes’ in one way or another. So despite the fact that I’ve written an entire post on them, don’t stress too much about which one to use! But, for the purposes of learning, I will try to explain the differences between them now.
Die Kleidung (also die Bekleidung) is the most general word for ‘clothes’. Unlike English, where you say ‘My clothes are comfortable’, in German you say ‘My clothes is comfortable’ (‘Meine Kleidung ist bequem’). There is a similar word, die Kleider, which also means ‘clothes’. But the word Kleider is also the plural of das Kleid – a dress. So be aware of the context when hearing or reading the word Kleider – are they talking about dresses specifically, or clothes in general?
Die Anziehsachen is the most literal of the bunch, with a translation of ‘the things to put on/wear’. It comes from the words anziehen – to put on/wear, and die Sachen – things. This word has a very functional, no-frills feel to it. You might use it when saying what you’ve packed in an overnight bag, for example.
I would say you use Die Klamotten to talk about clothes in a less formal, sometimes pejorative way – like when there’s a dirty pile of clothes you want someone to put in the washing basket. It is never used in a formal way – it is more colloquial. Some say it’s the German equivalent of calling clothes ‘clobber’, ‘gear’ or ‘scrubs’. But it can also be used as a general term for clothes, – again, context is important. However, I’d say if you wanted to talk about clothes in a negative way, this word is your best bet!
Finally, Das Gewand is one I am very familiar with, though it might not be immediately obvious. Das Gewand is simply another word for Kleidung, predominantly used in southern Germany & Austria. Sometimes it gets translated as ‘garment’. So if you see the word Gewand anywhere, just know it’s another German word for clothes. 🙂
So, to summarise:
die (Be)Kleidung – Clothes/clothing/outfit/attire
(die Kleider – The plural of das Kleid (dress), and another, less common word for clothes)
die Anziehsachen – Simple, ‘functional’ term for clothes
die Klamotten – More colloquial term for clothes; sometimes also used pejoratively
das Gewand – Regional term for clothes (southern Germany, Austria)
Finally, just like in English, when clothes go into the washing basket, come out of the washing machine, or hang on a washing line, they transform from Kleidung/Anziehsachen/Klamotten/Gewand into die Wäsche – the washing/laundry. 🙂
Stay tuned for a second post on clothing vocabulary!