Fashion is the way in which people dress and accessorize themselves. It is also a way in which the clothing industry sells products to consumers. The fashion industry is a multibillion dollar business that encompasses the design, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and retailing of men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel. Its broadest definition includes the creation and sale of fashion designs, which can range from haute couture (“high fashion”) to casual streetwear.
People have always worn clothes to protect themselves from weather and other environmental hazards, but the fashion of their clothing has changed with time and culture. Early civilizations adorned themselves with animal skins and leaves, but as people developed agriculture and settled into towns, they began to weave cloth from plant fibers. The fashions of these cloths were influenced by the seasons, cultural events, and religious beliefs. They were often designed to be comfortable and attractive.
When the first explorers came to America, they brought their own fashions with them and helped shape what is now known as the American style of dress. This was an era when many styles of clothing were being created and changed rapidly, especially in Europe.
The earliest changes in the fashion of European clothes can be fairly reliably dated to late medieval times. The most dramatic change was a sudden and drastic shortening and tightening of the male over-garment to nearly cover the buttocks. This is a change that can be traced through illuminated manuscripts of the period.
Fashions in clothing continue to evolve and change, sometimes radically. The appearance of new textiles and materials may influence a fashion, but usually it is the wearer who chooses the style of clothing to suit his or her individual tastes.
While it is generally believed that changes in fashion reflect societal changes and that the financial interests of the fashion industry drive them, recent research suggests that there are internal mechanisms that initiate and sustain fashions. The most important of these are the evolution of ideas about beauty and the role of the individual in society, which influence both the creation and consumption of fashions.
Clothes are used to express personality and character, and as ways of differentiating oneself from others. In high schools, for example, students can be identified by their clothes: goths wear black, skaters use punk gear, and preps have a specific style that distinguishes them from other groups. Fashions can also create a sense of unity in a group by promoting shared beliefs and values.
It is possible to confuse the terms fashion and trend, as both denote a changing style. But, while fashion usually implies difference, a trend denotes the sameness of that change over an extended period of time. This is why the term “fashion” can refer to the latest trend, as well as to a uniform style in a previous era. For instance, the fashion of a certain era in the 1940s may reappear because of its popularity and comfort.