What Is Fashion?


Fashion is a system of signs and symbols that communicates a wide range of personal and social meanings. Clothing styles, colours and patterns can symbolise: personal identity, social status, cultural values, mood and emotion, historical and political context, gender roles, seasonal changes, group membership and even fantasy and imagination.

A fad, mode, style or vogue may be an accepted way of doing something at any particular time or place. A fashion victim is someone who slavishly follows current trends without regard to the suitability of the garments or behaviour for their own personalities, age, occupation, lifestyle, environment or culture.

In the past, discovery of new fabrics or finishing techniques could trigger a change in fashions. For example, the copper rivets on Levi jeans allowed them to withstand more wear and tear and thus extend their lifespan, making them popular with blue-collar workers.

People who are gatekeepers to fashion, such as designers or buyers, influence what is seen in a particular region or culture. In the modern sense of the word, a style can also be ‘fashionable’ by virtue of its being promoted or worn by well-known celebrities. This is known as the trickle-down theory. This is a form of social class theory that posits that individuals with higher socioeconomic status set the styles that other people then follow. These days, Instagram and other social media influencers can have a huge impact on what is seen as fashionable. Hence, the term fashionista.

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