From New World Encyclopedia

Fashion illustration by George Barbier of a gown by Jeanne Paquin, 1912, from La Gazette du bon ton, the most influential fashion magazine of its era.

In general, the term fashion refers to a prevailing mode of expression, whether it be custom, style of dress, speech, or other. Inherent in the term is the idea that the mode will change more quickly than the culture as a whole. More specifically, Fashion denotes a prevailing style of dress. Styles in clothing have been used throughout history to allow the wearers to express emotion or solidarity with other people. Fashion is seen as a display of individuality; a person's fashion gives the world around them an idea of who they are. Fashion has been used as an indicator of social class or social status, or as a gauge of how attuned they are to the popular trends of the time.

Fashions may vary significantly within a society according to age, social class, generation, occupation, and geography. If, for example, an older person dresses according to the fashion of young people, he or she may look ridiculous in the eyes of both young and older people. The terms "fashionista" or "fashion victim" refer to those who slavishly follow the current fashions.

The terms "fashionable" and "unfashionable" are employed to describe whether someone or something fits in with the current popular mode of expression. "Fashion" is frequently used in a positive sense, as a synonym for glamor and style. In this sense, fashions are a form of communal art, through which a culture examines its notions of beauty and goodness. "Fashion" can also be used in a negative sense, as a synonym for fads, trends, and materialism.

Modern Westerners have a wide array of choices available to them in the selection of their clothes and can choose to wear a style that reflects their personality. A fashion trend may start when people who have high social status or are popular with the public start to wear new or different clothes, and people who like or respect them start wearing clothes of a similar style.

The evolution of fashion has been a response to cultural changes, but the fashion industry also has initiated its own clothing trends. It has also been suggested that shifts in trends force consumers to constantly spend money on new clothing that they do not necessarily need. While the opportunity to express creativity both by designers and consumers is a positive aspect of changes in fashion, the tendency of business people to promote fashion trends for profit, exploiting and encouraging materialistic consumerism, can be detrimental to society.

History of Fashion

Albrecht Dürer's drawing contrasts a well turned out bourgeoise from Nuremberg (left) with her counterpart from Venice. The Venetian lady's high chopines (shoes) make her taller.

The term fashion is often used to denote a prevailing style of dress.[1]

It is evident that fashion in clothing and accessories dates back as far as the ancient Egyptians. Their wigs, hairpieces, make-up, and jewelry are evidence of an extensive fashion culture, and much of their art depicts the importance it held in their society. Ancient Greece and Rome also had their own fashion. Bright colors, the toga, and the Etruscan wardrobe are staples of ancient Greek and Roman fashion.[2]

The habit of continually changing the style of clothing is a distinctively Western one. This idea can be traced back to the middle of the fourteenth century.[3] [4] The most dramatic manifestation was a sudden drastic shortening and tightening of the male over-garment, from calf-length to barely covering the buttocks, sometimes accompanied with stuffing on the chest. This created the distinctive Western male outline of a tailored top worn over leggings or trousers which is still with us today.

The pace of change accelerated considerably in the following century. Women's fashion, especially in the dressing and adorning of the hair, became equally complex and changing. Initially, changes in fashion led to a fragmentation of what had previously been very similar styles of dressing across the upper classes of Europe. The development of distinctive national styles continued until a countermovement in the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries, which imposed similar styles once again, especially those from Ancient regime France.[4] Although fashion had always been led by the elitists, an increasing affluence of early modern Europe led the bourgeoisie and even the peasants to follow trends at a distance, sometimes uncomfortably close for the elites – a factor Braudel regards as one of the main motors driving rapidly changing fashion.[4]

The fashions of the West find no parallel in antiquity nor in the other great civilizations of the world. Early Western travelers, whether to Persia, Turkey, Japan, or China frequently remarked on the absence of changes in fashion there, and observers from these other cultures commented on the unseemly pace of Western fashion, which many felt suggested an instability and lack of order in Western culture. The Japanese Shogun's secretary boasted (though not completely accurately) to a Spanish visitor in 1609 that Japanese clothing had not changed in over a thousand years.[4]

Ten sixteenth-century portraits of German or Italian gentlemen may show ten entirely different hats. During this period, national differences were at their most pronounced, as Albrecht Dürer recorded in his contrast of Nuremberg and Venetian fashions at the close of the fifteenth century. The "Spanish style" at the end of the sixteenth century began the move back to synchronicity among upper-class Europeans, and after a struggle in the mid-seventeenth century, French styles decisively took leadership, a process completed in the eighteenth century.[4]

Though colors and patterns of textiles changed from year to year,[5] the cut of a gentleman's coat, the length of his waistcoat, and the pattern to which a lady's dress was cut changed more slowly. Men's fashions largely derived from military models. Changes in the European male silhouette were galvanized in theaters of European war, where gentleman officers had opportunities to make notes of foreign styles: an example is the “Steinkirk” cravat or necktie.

English caricature of Tippies of 1796

The pace of change picked up again in the 1780s with the increased publication of French engravings that showed the latest Parisian styles. By 1800, all Western Europeans were dressing alike (or thought they were): local variation became first a sign of provincial culture, and then a badge of the conservative peasant.[4][3]

Although tailors, dressmakers, and the textile industry were no doubt responsible for many innovations earlier, the history of fashion design is normally taken to date from 1858, when the English-born Charles Frederick Worth opened the first haute couture house in Paris. Since then, the professional designer has become a progressively more dominant figure.

The Evolution of Fashion

Fashion, by definition, changes constantly. Fashions are a social psychological phenomena common to many fields of human activity and thinking.[6] For some, modern fast-paced changes in fashion embody many of the negative aspects of capitalism: it results in waste and encourages people as consumers to buy things unnecessarily. Other people, especially young people, enjoy the diversity that changing fashion can provide, seeing the constant change as a way to satisfy their desire to experience new and interesting things. Note too that fashion can change to enforce uniformity, as in the case where so-called "Mao suits" became the national uniform of China.

At the same time there remains an equal or larger range of styles designated "out of fashion." These or similar fashions may cyclically come back "into fashion" in due course, and remain "in fashion" again for a while.

In the past, new discoveries of exotic, lesser-known parts of the world could provide an impetus to change fashions. Europe in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, for example, might favor things Turkish at one time, Chinese at another, and Japanese at yet another. In more recent times, Globalization has reduced the options of exotic novelty and has seen the introduction of non-Western wear into the Western world.

Fashion Evolution and Social Theory

Georg Simmel suggested that fashion is a method for the individual to assert him or herself. He suggested that society attempts to homogenize its inhabitants through the same daily interactions, but since life has become too fast paced to develop strong bonds with everyone in a community, fashion allows a person to declare who they are. Because people’s sense of self is fluid throughout their lifetime, people constantly change their fashions in order to display their individuality. At the same time, fashion can mark people as conformists: in the work place, especially associated with the division of labor, most workers wear similar styles of clothes, or very formal attire. This takes away individuality from workers and laborers, marking them as conformists to the work world.[7]

Fashion also has different meanings for different groups of people. For instance, many types of clothes are gendered. Certain styles of pants, shirts, shoes, and under garments are made explicitly for men or women and any deviation between the two clothing genders is called "cross-dressing" or "transgendered." The idea of a male dressing up in women clothing classifies him as attempting to be feminine, and a female dressing in men's clothing classifies her as overly masculine.

It is difficult to say that clothing style displays social class, but fashion can be a sign of social status. For example, doctors and lawyers are required to dress in certain attire for their occupations, showing people that their role is "doctor" or "lawyer." If a patient went to a doctor who was unkempt and not wearing the traditional white coat, that patient would think something was amiss.[8]

Identity is also important in discussing fashion. Different fashions cater to different personalities. Individuals may try to put their own identity and personality into what they wear in order to make who they are identifiable. Some reject mainstream fashion and create their own style through thrift stores or vintage and used clothing. Individuality is a reflection of larger social and cultural trends, and clothing is created in response to these trends. Sometimes a person's desire for what to wear and what they must wear for different roles conflict, and individual identity is stifled for a public persona. [9]

Fashion in the Media

An important part of fashion is fashion journalism. Editorial critique and commentary can be found in magazines, newspapers, on television, fashion websites, and on fashion blogs.

When fashion magazines began to include photographs in the early twentieth century, they became even more influential than in the past. In cities throughout the world, these magazines were greatly sought-after and had a profound effect on public taste. Talented illustrators drew exquisite fashion plates for the publications which covered the most recent developments in fashion and beauty. Perhaps the most famous of these magazines was La Gazette du bon ton, founded in 1912 by Lucien Vogel and regularly published until 1925 (with the exception of the war years).

Vogue, founded in the United States in 1902, has been the longest-lasting and most successful of the fashion magazines. The advent of cheap color printing in the 1960s, led to a huge boost in their sales as well as heavy coverage of fashion in all mainstream women's magazines – followed by men's magazines from the 1990s. Haute Couture designers followed the trend by starting the ready-to-wear and perfume lines, heavily advertised in the magazines, that now dwarf their original couture businesses. Television coverage began in the 1950s with small fashion features. In the 1960s and 1970s, fashion segments on various entertainment shows became more frequent, and by the 1980s, dedicated fashion shows started to appear. Despite increasing television and Internet coverage, press coverage remains the most important form of publicity in the eyes of the industry.

Fashion in Television, Movies, and Music

Popular television and movies are known for paying careful attention to the fashions that their actors wear. Most forms of media serve as a bridge to connect high fashion with the everyday consumer, dictating what is popular and what is unpopular. It is common for popular shows to start trends in clothing or accessories that become staples in popular culture. This in itself becomes fashion; modern television and movies must display fashion trends in order to remain relevant to the mainstream, while also introducing new fashions for the consumer. [10]

Fashion and Art

The link between art and fashion extends back before the Renaissance, and the history of this movement is seen in pictures and paintings, where artists attempted to detail the form and texture of fashions in their own art.[11] Fashion has been described as an art by many designers, critics, and consumers, as fashion is a sign of creative self expression, not just a series of garments or accessories haphazardly put together.[12] Fashion designers can be referred to as artists. The pieces they create complement each other and an entire outfit is composed of unique individual garments that come together to make something greater.

Each generation offers a different interpretation of where art and fashion intersect. Fashion designers often hire painters or sketch artists to draw up several ideas according to the designer’s qualifications. Occasionally, an artist will design something unique that the designer incorporates into their own products.

Different artistic cultural movements influence fashion as well. It is fairly evident that the Art Deco movement of the early twentieth century influenced what people wore; for example, felt hats and turbans replaced the popular styles of headwear at the time. Hints of impressionist art were also present in fashion at this time, as several designers used fluid lines and flimsy, diaphanous materials to create their fashions. Later, the art of Cubism was seen in different fashions. The sixties brought with it fashion inspired by psychedelia and pop art, art inspired by optical illusion.[13] Fashion often combines vintage and modern clothing, taking a page out of the bohemian movement of fashion.[14]

The Fashion Industry and Intellectual Property

Within the fashion industry, intellectual property (IP) enforcement operates quite differently than in other content industries. Whereas IP enforcement is often seen as a key issue within the film and music industries, many have suggested that lack of enforcement contributes positively to the fashion industry.[15] Copying and emulating previously existing fashions are not seen by some as detrimental to the industry, but rather as a force for continuous cultural evolution. [16] Copying fashions allows that fashion to have a wider audience. Rather than being limited to certain areas and only being available at high prices, certain fashions find new life through designers using the ideas of other designers. However, others have asserted that this can have a negative financial effect on smaller, boutique designers.[17] Small designers cannot afford to undercharge for their products, while large design companies can undercharge for the same product and make a profit. This has stifled independent creativity and forced many small designers out of business.

The Future of Fashion

Fashion is a staple of daily life: it is accentuated in media and celebrated as an art form. Celebrities may be paid to wear certain fashion brands, hoping to raise the popularity and status of that brand. Fashion relies on this popularity to sell and remain socially relevant. Fashion's social function is to express one's personality in a society with limited sometimes shallow interpersonal contact while it exudes creative artistic expression.

Fashion has reached a precarious point in its lifespan. In the twenty-first century, large investors began investing in small time fashion designers, which helped independently, designed fashion to develop. However, such investors tend to limit the creativity of their sponsored designers in order to make their products marketable. The danger of this development is a tendency to lead to a homogenization of fashion where little or no new ideas are born. The struggle for fashion through the twenty-first century is between independent creativity and marketable corporate investments.[18]


  1. "Fashion" Retrieved May 2007.
  2. Bronwyn Cosgrave, The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to Present Day (Checkmark Books, 2001).
  3. 3.0 3.1 James Laver, The Concise History of Costume and Fashion (Abrams, 1979), 62.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Centuries, Vol 1: The Structures of Everyday Life (London: William Collins & Sons, 1981, ISBN 0520081145).
  5. Peter Thornton, Baroque and Rococo Silks (London: Faber and Faber, 1965).
  6. Valerie Cumming, Understanding Fashion History (Costume & Fashion Press, 2004, ISBN 089676253X).
  7. Georg Simmel, The American Journal of Sociology. (1895, translated 1957). Retrieved May 2007.
  8. Fred Davis, Fashion, Culture, and Identity (University of Chicago Press, 1994, ISBN 0226138097).
  9. Elizabeth Wilson, "Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity (Rutgers University Press, 2003, ISBN 0813533333).
  10. Angela McRobbie, In the Culture Society: Art, Fashion, and Popular Music (Routledge, 2005, ISBN 0415137500).
  11. Alice Mackrell, Art and Fashion: The Impact of Art on Fashion and Fashion on Art (Batsford, 2005, ISBN 0713488735).
  12. Jennifer Craik, The Face of Fashion: Culture Studies in Fashion (Routledge, 1994, ISBN 0415052629).
  13. Sandra Barwick, A Century of Style (London: Allen and Unwin, 1984, ISBN 0043910092).
  14. Olivia Barker, "Everything is so Five Minutes Ago," USA Today (2003).
  15. Hal Varian, "Why That Hoodie Your Son Wears Isn't Trademarked," New York Times (April 5, 2007). Retrieved May 2007.
  16. Chris Sprigman and K. Raustiala, "The Piracy Paradox: Innovation and Intellectual Property in Fashion Design" (February 1, 2006). Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. Law and Technology Scholarship (Selected by the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology). Paper 18. Retrieved May 2007.
  17. Amy Kover, "That Looks Familiar. Didn't I Design That? New York Times (June 19, 2005). Retrieved May 2007.
  18. Kiburn Kim, "Where Some See Fashion, Others See Politics," New York Times, sec. 9 (February 11, 2007).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barwick, Sandra. A Century of Style. London: Allen and Unwin, 1984. ISBN 0043910092
  • Braudel, Fernand. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Centuries, Vol. 1: The Structures of Everyday Life. University of California Press, 1992. ISBN 0520081145
  • Breward, Christopher. Fashion. Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0192840301
  • Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume & Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Checkmark Books, 2001. ISBN 0816045747
  • Craik, Jennifer. The Face of Fashion: Culture Studies in Fashion. Routledge, 1994. ISBN 0415052629
  • Crane, Diane. Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. University of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 0226117995
  • Cumming, Valerie. Understanding Fashion History. Costume & Fashion Press, 2004. ISBN 089676253X
  • Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture, and Identity. University of Chicago Press, 1994. ISBN 0226138097
  • Laver, James. The Concise History of Costume and Fashion. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1980. ISBN 0684135221
  • Mackrell, Alice. Art and Fashion: The Impact of Art on Fashion and Fashion on Art. Batsford, 2005. ISBN 0713488735
  • McRobbie, Angela. In the Culture Society: Art, Fashion, and Popular Music. Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0415137500
  • Thornton, Peter. Baroque and Rococo Silks. Faber & Faber, 1965. ISBN 978-0571063154
  • Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Rutgers University Press, 2003. ISBN 0813533333


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