I saw somewhere this quote from Wodehouse's Meet Mr. Mulliner (1927):

"Statistics show that the two classes of the community which least often marry are milkmen and fashionable photographers – milkmen because they see women too easily in the morning and fashionable photographers because their days are spent in an atmosphere of feminine loveliness so monotonous that they become surfeited and morose. I know of none of the world's workers whom I pity more sincerely than the fashionable photographer; and yet […] it is the ambition of every youngster who enters the profession some day to become one."

From context, "fashionable photographer" doesn't mean a well-dressed photographer, but probably what we would now call a "fashion photographer". Searching on Google Books found a lot of results for "fashionable photographer". Searching on Google Ngram Viewer showed that "fashionable photographer" used to be more popular until it was decisively overtaken by "fashion photographer" some time in the 1950s:

Fashion photographer, fashionable photographer

To focus on 1865–1965:

Fashion photographer, fashionable photographer

To modern ears (at least one pair of them), "fashionable photographer" sounds odd: it's not the photographer who is fashionable, after all. My question:

  • Why did the switch from "fashionable photographer" to "fashion photographer" happen? (Is this a special case of some more general pattern: are there other similar phrases in which "⟨adjective⟩ ⟨noun⟩" changed to "⟨noun adjunct⟩ ⟨noun⟩", say?)

  • Is there also a change in the meaning? Does "fashionable photographer" mean something different from what "fashionable photographer" does? (I guess the steep rise after 1960 in the above graph corresponds to a rise of the fashion industry, but I don't know anything about the history of the fashion industry… perhaps a "fashionable photographer" was something else.)

  • 1
    I suspect this always meant that the photographer was "stylish" (due to taking shots of the fashions of the day), and that "fashion photographer" simply took over because it was simpler.
    – Robusto
    Sep 11, 2011 at 15:16
  • Why the downvote? Nov 2, 2012 at 6:53

1 Answer 1


I don't think fashionable photographer necessarily means fashion photographer.

Fashionable photographer meant one that was popular and famous in-society and mostly took portrait photographs of people in-society. It was fashionable to have your photograph taken by people such as Cecil Beaton so they were themselves fashionable. In the same way you would have a fashionable painter, or fashionable playright.

In the 60s the fashions (ie the clothes) became more important so fashion photographers were taking photographs of the clothes,worn by an anonymous model. It was the name of the clothes' designer that was fashionable - although pretty soon the name of the photographers and the models became more famous, and fashionable

  • Thanks, this is helpful information. Do you have any further references / stuff your answer is based on? (So does "it is the ambition of every young photographer to become a fashionable photographer" (paraphrasing) mean that the photographer wants to become himself fashionable?) Sep 11, 2011 at 17:14
  • Yes the photographer wants to become fashionable - in the same way a film star wants to become fashionable = rich and famous, while it would be better to be quietly and happily married. Remember it's P.G. Wodehouse, so he is being sarcastic.
    – mgb
    Sep 11, 2011 at 20:50
  • Thanks again -- do you have any references / sources for further reading? Sep 19, 2011 at 12:21

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