Fashion is the style and way of dress at a particular time and place, but it can also be something much more, reflecting personal values, beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles. The term fashion is broadly used to refer to clothing, but it can also refer to footwear, accessories and even body posture and mannerisms. It is closely linked to popular culture and has been influenced by everything from the latest blockbuster film to the newest hit song.
The word fashion comes from the Latin “modus operandi” which means “the way one does things.” Fashion is an ever-changing phenomenon and its most visible manifestation is clothing. In modern times, the industry is global and the changes in styles are so fast that it can be hard to keep up.
In the past, clothing was made by hand and in small shops, but now it is designed on computers and produced in factories with thousands of workers. Garments are conceived, illustrated and laser-cut on the computer, and they are then quickly shipped to stores from around the world or sent directly to customers via the internet. The traditional dividing line between designer and mass-market production has become blurred, with magazine editors, stylists and celebrities going from wearing to designing their own lines of clothes and celebrity designers taking over department store space once held by haute couture houses.
While the rapid change in Western dress styles can be attributed to the introduction of ready-made garments by sewing machines in the nineteenth century, fashion as an established industry began to take shape only after that. It was at that point that local tailors and shopkeepers casually evolved into factories and wholesalers, while a group of women who worked in the garment business organized themselves into the International Ladies Garment Workers Union which later became UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees).
Trends are created when something new, such as a color, fabric, silhouette or pattern becomes popular, with people buying, imitating and replicating it. The popularity of a trend can be measured by how many people are wearing it, how often they wear it and how much they spend on it. It can also be judged by its longevity, as some trends go in and out of fashion more rapidly than others.
The terms style, mode and vogue mean the fashion currently in use: style implies a distinctive fashion adopted by those who wish to appear elegant and sophisticated; mode indicates the fashion in use among those anxious to conform to social expectations; vogue hints at the capriciousness with which a fashionable mode may be taken up and dropped. The term fashionista or fashion victim is sometimes used to describe someone who follows the current trends slavishly and without any consideration for individuality or personal expression. The ability to see and interpret the symbolic meaning of clothes is a major part of the fashionista’s or fashion victim’s self-expression. For example, a suit may symbolize power and authority while a ripped shirt and jeans can represent a relaxed and informal lifestyle.