This is a gently sarcastic term for a person who is an enthusiast for fashion. It covers not only the dedicated followers of fashion who wear the clothes, but also those who write about them. And it can refer to those who design, make, model and publicise clothes, and the fashion buyers whose decisions determine the success of a collection.
I’m told by researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary that it goes back to 1993, to a book by Stephen Fried entitled Thing of Beauty: the Tragedy of Supermodel Gia. The word began to become more widely popular from about 1998 onwards, has just started to appear in dictionaries, and looks set to become a permanent part of the language.
It’s formed from fashion by adding the suffix -ista from Spanish, equivalent to our -ist ending. English has only comparatively recently borrowed this from familiar Spanish-language terms such as Sandinista and Peronista. Such words have often had negative associations in English and new words using the suffix are usually derogatory, like Blairista for a supporter of the British prime minister, Tony Blair. Fashionista was one of this type, and it has not yet entirely lost its disparaging associations with triviality.
Last week I finally realized that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be a true fashionista — one of those guys and gals who can stumble out of a swamp covered with leeches and still look like a million bucks.
Denver Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 1999
As founder and editorial director of Wallpaper magazine, the style and design bible for the fashionista, he is a man on first-name terms with good taste.
Daily Telegraph, Feb. 2000