Understanding Fashion

Fashion is basically a kind of self-expression, autonomy and individuality in a certain time and context and at a certain context. It can mean the same with respect to a particular culture or society while applying it to other people in different situations. The word in its modern usage suggests a style defined by the fashion business as what is trendy at that moment. The modern trends in fashion are very fluid, unpredictable and often evolve and change with times and circumstances. In this world of constant flux, fashion is more than just a trend.

Let’s start with the basics: what is fashion? It is the analysis of a current situation based on the selection of clothes, accessories and footwear and the evaluation of how each item contributes to defining the overall style and attitude of the people at the given time. So what kinds of things are included in this broad concept of fashion? Fashion can be restricted simply to what is considered ‘trendy’ or popular, which changes frequently and which we interpret literally into our own wardrobe, but which may not be in fact socially desirable. Some other kinds of aspects that go into defining the parameters of fashion are the following: the quest for novelty, a reaction against the known or the conventional, identification with a particular culture or society, an attempt to escape from the limitations of time and/or tradition, appreciation of beauty, and an attitude towards material and immaterial wealth.

Let’s now return to the original question posed in the opening paragraph: what is fashion? To answer this question we need to look deeper into what exactly fashion is, what it isn’t and why some fashions are considered fashionable while others aren’t. Fashions are normally defined as collections of objects designed for a specific purpose, either to suggest an image or to provide a style. A famous quote by Sir Bernard Shaw defined fashion as, ‘the conscious association with a collection of patterns that, though not always conforming to conventional standard, are suited to the present situation.’

In the modern era the term ‘fashion’ has a broader meaning than Shaw suggested, as it has come to refer to a whole array of activities related to the design, manufacture and advertising of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing and accessories. In other words, fashion is not so much a matter of the generation, as it is more a matter of attitudes and choices. A particular style may be considered to be fashionable if people who are associated with that style tend to wear clothing and accessories associated with that style, both in the shops and on the street. People may decide not to wear a particular style, but still be considered to be in ‘the know’ by others who like or favour that style. In short, fashion trends are a complex phenomenon, not easily explained by a generation or a single person.

A further complication in the study of fashion trends is the existence within the industry of what is known as boutique fashion. This term refers loosely to specialized shops, boutiques, workshops and showrooms where one can buy unique, limited edition and hard to find clothes. Some years ago this type of shop was a distinct requirement for anyone wishing to wear haute couture, as only a small number of places offered such exclusive items. Todayadays however, with the increasing popularity of online shopping and the Internet, boutique fashion has become much less important. Stores selling only custom made clothes are becoming increasingly popular, though they do not carry the exclusivity of a boutique.

Another complication within the study of fashion is the emergence of new design movements and styles. A few decades ago the designs most people were attracted to were those related to hip hop and rap, and at the turn of the millennium this had largely died out. Nowadays fashion moves towards the more relaxed, fashionable areas of the market, and one of the areas in which there has been a major change is the area of gender relations. Women are now more willing to wear traditionally ‘manly’ clothing than in the past, and this is having an ever-growing influence on the way in which fashion is designed and worn. As the world becomes more open and women have more opportunities it will no doubt be interesting to see the future of fashion.