What Is Fashion?


Fashion is an industry and a way of dressing that evolves as a response to cultural changes. Clothing serves not only as protection from the elements, but also as a mark of social status, and for some, a statement of individuality. Fashion trends may be initiated by high-profile celebrities, musicians, politicians, or royalty, and then popularized through magazines, movies, television, and music. Some fashions may be short-lived, while others, such as Christian Louboutin’s red sole shoes, become classics that transcend time.

The word fashion is related to the Latin verb fash, meaning “to shape, form, or mold.” It can be used as a noun to refer to a particular type of dress, but it is more often used as a verb to describe how something is made or what it looks like. Fashion can be applied to fabrics, designs, and other parts of a garment, but it can also apply to styles in hair, makeup, and accessories. The fashion industry consists of designers, manufacturers, retailers, and others that create and promote clothing styles.

In addition to being a mode of dressing, fashion can influence behavior and attitudes. A person who tries to keep up with the latest fashions can be said to be in fashion. The terms fashionista and fashion victim are synonymous with people who try to imitate or adapt the latest styles without consideration for personal taste or practicality.

Historically, fashion has been influenced by cultural, religious, and geographic factors. People in different parts of the world favored certain clothing items over others, and these styles could be passed on to other parts through trade. As world travel became more common, many cultures began to fuse together and produce hybrid styles of clothing.

New materials may also inspire fashions. For example, silk was an expensive fabric that could only be afforded by the upper classes in the 1800s, but it eventually became a popular material for dresses and blouses because of innovations in weaving technology.

Changes in climate can also affect fashions, as in the case of a woollen coat that becomes too warm for wearing in summer and too cold in winter. In addition, political events, wars, and social attitudes may impact fashions.

The term fashion has also been referred to as style, mode, vogue, and rage or craze. Style is the most general of these terms, implying that a specific fashion is widely accepted; vogue stresses its popularity at a given time; and rage or craze suggests intense enthusiasm for an unfamiliar or unfashionable style. These words are also related to the noun fad, which means a sudden and short-lived interest in a particular thing or activity. The Oxford English Dictionary lists thirteen meanings for fad, six of which are obsolete. The earliest evidence of the use of the word fashion dates to the Middle English period (1150–1500). The OED notes that the noun and verb forms have been used interchangeably since the late 16th century.