When I was in school I was taught that only if you are an approved couturier are your dresses couture, and anything that was not approved by the french government but applied couture techniques should be refereed to as "couture style" or something that made it clear that you are not an approved couturier. No wonder I am so annoyed when people throw it around.
I just looked up the definition of couture and I actually am more understanding of how it could be misused. The web definitions are very vague, running the gammot from simply "High fashion" to "all fashionable dresses" (WHAT?!? that is just inaccurate) To the definition that I was taught which is available on wikipedia .
(Couture Christian Dior Spring '07...which I believe was still John Galliano)
There are many lovely items on etsy that I totally take no offense to being tagged as couture, but I expect a few things of the items tagged as such.
1-I am very disappointed when something tagged as "couture" is not made out of very fine materials (you know, it shouldn't be made out of $1 a yard poly)
2-If something is a mass produced item with embellishments i do not think it should be tagged couture, especially if those embellishments are made with a bead dazzler or an embroidery machine.
3-I expect to see hand sewn details...beading, draping, pleating...something
These are Totally Acceptably Tagged as couture, and are really stunning pieces!
This is from Toolgrrl
Those are gloves. amazing!
This is from atilladesign
The had detail at the hem is lovely!
So I guess here are a few hints, if it can be easily mass produced, you can charge less than $200 for it(and pay yourself for your time- once I made a dress that would have cost about $2000 if I were paying myself for my time but I only charged $200 for the dress) , or it is made with cheap materials... it is NOT couture.