Fashion is a popular aesthetic expression at a particular period and place and in a specific context, especially in clothing, footwear, lifestyle, accessories, makeup, hairstyle, and body proportions. Whereas a trend often connotes a peculiar aesthetic expression and often lasting shorter than a season, fashion is a distinctive and industry-supported expression traditionally tied to the fashion season and collections. Style is an expression that lasts over many seasons and is often connected to cultural movements and social markers, symbols, class, and culture (ex. Baroque, Rococo, etc.). According to sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, fashion connotes “the latest fashion, the latest difference.”
Even though they are often used together, the term fashion differs from clothes and costumes, where the first describes the material and technical garment, whereas the second has been relegated to special senses like fancy-dress or masquerade wear. Fashion instead describes the social and temporal system that “activates” dress as a social signifier in a certain time and context. Philosopher Giorgio Agamben connects fashion to the current intensity of the qualitative moment, to the temporal aspect the Greek called kairos, whereas clothes belong to the quantitative, to what the Greek called Chronos.
Exclusive brands aspire for the label haute couture, but the term is technically limited to members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris. It is more aspirational and inspired by art, culture and movement. It is extremely exclusive in nature.
Early Western travelers, traveling to India, Persia, Turkey, or China, would frequently remark on the absence of change in fashion in those countries. The Japanese shōgun‘s secretary bragged (not completely accurately) to a Spanish visitor in 1609 that Japanese clothing had not changed in over a thousand years. However, there is considerable evidence in Ming China of rapidly changing fashions in Chinese clothing. Changes in costume often took place at times of economic or social change, as occurred in ancient Rome and the medieval Caliphate, followed by a long period without significant changes. In 8th-century Moorish Spain, the musician Ziryab introduced to Córdoba[unreliable source] sophisticated clothing-styles based on seasonal and daily fashions from his native Baghdad, modified by his inspiration. Similar changes in fashion occurred in the 11th century in the Middle East following the arrival of the Turks, who introduced clothing styles from Central Asia and the Far East.
Additionally, there is a long history of fashion in West Africa. The Cloth was used as a form of currency in trade with the Portuguese and Dutch as early as the 16th Century. Locally produced cloth and cheaper European imports were assembled into new styles to accommodate the growing elite class of West Africans and resident gold and slave traders. There was an exceptionally strong tradition of cloth-weaving in Oyo and the areas inhabited by the Igbo people.
The beginning in Europe of continual and increasingly rapid change in clothing styles can be fairly reliably dated. Historians, including James Laver and Fernand Braudel, date the start of Western fashion in clothing to the middle of the 14th century, though they tend to rely heavily on contemporary imagery and illuminated manuscripts were not common before the fourteenth century. The most dramatic early change in fashion was a sudden drastic shortening and tightening of the male over-garment from calf-length to barely covering the buttocks, sometimes accompanied with stuffing in the chest to make it look bigger. This created the distinctive Western outline of a tailored top worn over leggings or trousers.
The pace of change accelerated considerably in the following century, and women’s and men’s fashion, especially in the dressing and adorning of the hair, became equally complex. Art historians are, therefore, able to use fashion with confidence and precision to date images, often to within five years, particularly in the case of images from the 15th century. Initially, changes in fashion led to a fragmentation across the upper classes of Europe of what had previously been a very similar style of dressing and the subsequent development of distinctive national styles. These national styles remained very different until a counter-movement in the 17th to 18th centuries imposed similar styles once again, mostly originating from Ancien Régime France. Though the rich usually led fashion, the increasing affluence of early modern Europe led to the bourgeoisie and even peasants following trends at a distance, but still uncomfortably close for the elites – a factor that Fernand Braudel regards as one of the main motors of changing fashion.