What is F A S H I O N anyway?


What did you wear last week?  And what are you wearing today?  Did you see on television the costumes at this year’s Oscars or the carnivals in Venice and Rio de Janeiro?  Did you get a front seat to watch the Golden Globes, Grammys, or the Miss Universe Pageant?  What was the last movie you’ve seen?  Have you watched a fashion show lately on the internet or t-v?

When we talk of fashion in the broad sense, we include what people are wearing, their manner of behavior and their social attitudes.  For this article, I’m restricting myself to what we are wearing – costume!  In the past, there were two levels of fashion – what the members of the royal family and the nobility wore, and what everyone else wore.  Up until 1930, Milan, Venice, and Genoa, Italy were the centers of European fashion.  Then in the 1940s and 50s, high fashion moved to Paris, France and has since remained there, making the city the fashion capital of the world.

Undoubtedly, much has changed since the early decades of the 20th century. Today, when we talk of fashion, many images, and places (i.e.) boutiques, department stores, malls, designers, labels, licenses, Paris, Milan, New York, Miami, Rome, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Toronto, Buenos Aires come to mind.



The most important aspect of the fashion industry is style.  The pursuit of style is what makes people spend so much money on clothes, and makes fashion a multi-billion dollar industry.  But there’s no longer a need to go haywire about what’s in or what’s out anymore.  Despite what many people think, the 1990s was the decade of comfort and practically, where the only thing that was ‘in’ was what worked.  That trend wasn’t so much about what mixed and matched, but more about making your own personal statement and creating and projecting your image to the world. 

Your image is how you are perceived by others.  Your style often helps to shape your image. We have discovered that getting attention is more akin to seduction.  The very purpose of our individual images is to attract people’s attention to the statement we’re making about ourselves.  What we want our statement to say is that we’re comfortable, calm, cool, collected, and in control.

This transition from the eighties, nineties to the twenties, from the desperate cry for attention to the self-confidence attitude can be seen everywhere.  Comfort, the alluring attitude, practicality, and the common sense of control is what’s hot today.


The Designers

Fashions are crafted and established by a professional group called designers who use every type of fabric, from cotton, polyester, suede, wool to silk, to express their widest imaginations through clothing.  The great designers are the trend-setters whom the rest copy.  They have made themselves wealthy by choosing the best fabrics and by paying particular attention to detail.  Designers may make small or drastic changes to existing styles, or they may bring back styles from the past.  If many people begin to wear it, it becomes a new fashion. This creates another challenge; designers then have to differentiate themselves from the lot.

Fashions are also established by radical, non-conforming people who are dissatisfied with the status quo.  They seem to be indifferent to what other people think while they prance around in the “most outrageous” outfits anyone has ever seen.  Although these people may be an eye-sore to some people, they set trends even when they don’t intend to.  The last group of “designers” are the people who have a talent of creativity.  They can create a new style by directing a designer through a conceived idea and make it stick.  Once a style goes out of fashion, however, those who stick to it are labeled as “old fashioned.”  In Africa, they call it “colonialism” or “colo” for short - a reference to the time before independence.



When a new style or fashion is created, advertising and sales promotion are used to inform and entice the public to copy the trend.  This is the most powerful tool of the fashion industry.  If people weren’t informed, they wouldn’t be able to copy.  If people didn’t imitate the trends, the industry wouldn’t be so enormous. 



Fashion for the individual

The individual wants to display his/her figure in the most flattering, and yet comfortable, way.  This often proves to be tricky, however. There are some highly fashionable shoes that can deform the feet if they do not fit properly, and some that do not accommodate unevenly sized feet.  There are dresses that are so form fitting that they make something as simple as walking or even getting into a bus or car impossible.  Nonetheless, the individual wants to attract attention and to make a statement.  People develop that individual sense of fashion from the world around them.  The media, places, events, and peers all set examples by which to observe in order to derive our own sense of fashion identity.  There is a built-in desire in the individual to be independent in this way, to be different from the crowd.  At the same time, no one wants to rock the boat too much and end up “on the fringe.”  This means that fashion operates within certain environs.  On the whole, fashion operates in the moderate center so as not to offend the two extremes - radical and conservative.  Also, because the majority of people are in the center, they have the most power over the fashion industry.


Fashion for home

When you think about being home the last thing that concerns you is impressing people; which is why it is always an inevitable embarrassment when while wearing our pajamas we receive an unexpected visitor.  So, the pursuit of stylish comfort has now invaded our homes as well as our images.  While cotton terry velour is the fabric for any robe you’d want to wrap yourself in, cotton itself is the comfort classic, and hasn’t lost its place at your local Macy*s or Lord and Taylor.

While cotton innocence has shifted away from the ordinary to the more complicated, its simplicity is always in demand.  Lace is the must for the daringly erotic with its see-through allure.  A cat-suit wouldn’t be without it, and when it’s in black, it grabs more attention. Silk has become the predominant fabric for house-wear, in everything from sheets to boxer shorts.  Oversized, button-down nightshirts with low V-cuts are now designed in paisleys, animal prints, and insignia crests on the breast pockets, with unrestricted pants to create a richly dressed look.  While silk has always been the given for lingerie, never before has there been more justice done for the chemise, camisole, kimono wrap, and bra with bikini sets.  They’re exploding in nearly edible hues of deep purples, emerald greens, blood reds and mustard yellows. 


Fashion at school

Fashion at school can take a variety of forms, whether in uniforms or casual dress.  It takes on a life of its own as most students are unaware of their fashion sense, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that you have to leave it at home.

When the school system requires students to dress alike in uniforms, one need not forget an important factor about fashion – it isn’t so much what you wear, but how you wear it.  This is how some students stand out even when they’re wearing the same thing as everyone else!

In public schools, the policy usually requires students to dress casually but with nothing too outlandish.  The school is not a place to really start a trend or to attract attention, especially in light of the violent uprisings over clothes.  This is a place where your common sense must prevail over your trend-setting or attention-getting desires.  Conservative, classic, and simple styles help keep you dignified and comfortable.


Fashion for work and the interview.

Depending on which occupation you choose to pursue, and with which particular company, there’s going to be a certain code of dress, or a kind of ‘corporate culture’ that is going to require your attention.  If your career is going to demand your creativity skills, such as a fashion or interior design, or even as a disc jockey or a film director, then your dress should display your originality and yet reflect the climate of your career.  If, however, you’re going into a profession that doesn’t tolerate much nonconformity, like accounting, law, or sales, playing it safe with classic simplicity is the best route to success.

Conforming work places are not the ideal spots to start a trend.  The professional world only tolerates classic corporate dress, where ties and heels are mandatory.  The men are accustomed to wearing suits of dark colors, such as dark blue, black, dark brown or dark gray.  The suit has two parts, the jacket and the trousers (pants).  The jacket is fully lined, three button, single breasted with a vent-less back, while the matching trousers (pants) are double pleated and have straight legs.  The dress shirts that are worn underneath are predominantly white with an occasional stripe pattern or light design.  The ties that are worn are usually made by great designers such as Canali, Boss Hugo, Robert Talbort, Giorgio Armani, David Donahue, Ermenegildo Zegna, Versace or Ralph Lauren and have beautifully decorated designs.  These designers know how to choose good silk as the fabric for their ties.  The shoes the men wear are also usually from Dexter, Bostonian, Bass, Cole Haan, Ecco or Johnston & Murphy.  Those men with deep pockets wear Gucci, Berluti, Prada, Tom Ford, Brunelio Cucinelli or Salvatore Ferragamo.  They are always dark to match suit and are made of polished leather, either of a 5 eyelet wing-tip oxford or of a kiltie tassel wing-tip design.

While the women have more freedom in their choice of professional dress, it does not necessarily make their lives any easier.  She wears a shoulder-padded suit jacket of some type, since the specific kind, double-breasted or plaid, is irrelevant.  The skirt reaches the knees while trousers (pants) are naturally pleated.  The heels are preferably low-heeled at one-and-a-half inch heights. The overall look is classic, simple, serious, and very conforming. Other than these rules, the artistic touches are left to the woman’s own sense of style.

A creative job is much more relieving and forgiving when it comes to the style of dress code.  As an example, a young man I once knew wanted to find out more about the company where he was to be interviewed.  By mingling with the employees during their lunch break, he found out by word of mouth that his interviewer was a serious collector of the artist M.C. Escher’s work.  Learning this, he went out and bought a M.C. Escher decorated tie to wear to the interview and ended up landing the job the second he walked in the door.  The moral of this is that what you wear to work and to an interview is dictated by your employers and interviewers, whether or not M. C. Escher is in style or in your taste.


Fashion for recreational activities 

When it is time to relax at the beach, at the gym, or at your neighbor’s barbecue, it’s time for your style to take its stand.  Sweat-knit cottons have taken over the casual corners, with the way the poor-boy-rib designs have flooded the shelves advertising cheaper-than-ever price tags.  A ribbed cotton shirt is a must-have, no matter what the wardrobe, since they’re going with everything from jeans and shorts to suits and jackets, and they’re coming in more colors and designs than ever imagined.

Spandex and tights are on every sweating body in the gym, as any kind of athletic person will tell you.  Thongs over cropped tights, metallic short tanks, with a good pair of Reebok, Adidas, NIKE, Puma, New Balance or Under Armour sneakers are.  Their designs are wild, as are the colors that are being matched with them, so that the gym is the place to go nuts if you really want to show off your body and your sense of individuality.  A cool pair of pastel sweats has never lost its place, however, so that the less-than-perfect bodies can still take heart without losing face.

Sand-washed silks, used for sport jackets, shorts, sashes, tanks, and blouses, coming out in most exotic colors and feel wonderful on the body.  Silk’s popularity has made it easier to find bargains on this otherwise expensive material.  It can be worn just about anywhere.

Men can find casual clothing at stores like The Gap, Banana Republic or Armani Ex.  These stores also carry the latest styles for both sexes, and in colors that go with almost anything.  These stores and others like them, carry heavyweight cotton jerseys, long-sleeved polos and denim shirts and jeans. Keds, Bass, Dockers, Timberland, Dr. Martin’s, and Zodiac are just some of the popular brands for men’s casual hiking boots, leather wing-tips, oxfords, and moccasins.

When a woman thinks casual, she often enjoys the look that only tights and an oversized sweatshirt can create.  This outfit is a classic, and it’s displayed in just about every clothes catalog, no matter what the season.  Ribbed tights and hooded drawstring sweatshirts are also popular and go well with slip-on loafers.

As far as women’s summer shoes go, today’s trendiest are mules and slingbacks because of their simplicity and elegance.


Party Fashions

Whether it’s a high school party or some kind of crazy college week-end, you want to be prepared for the unexpected.  Bringing your huge purse or wearing your most expensive clothes to those kinds of gatherings is rarely a good idea,

and your night can often be measured by the stains on your clothing and the things that you’ve lost.  At the same time, however, these parties are places where you probably have the highest chance of meeting someone smart and intelligent with a great ambition, so you want to stand out from the crowd without looking like you just stepped out of “Revenge of the Nerds.”

Clothes that you can move in, that are comfortable enough to dance in, and yet don’t fall off your body entirely are the way to go.  The shoes have to be comfortable, which is why most people wear their coolest Nikes or Under Armours.  Just think about walking miles in those shoes you’re trying on, because chances are you just might have to if your ride ever abandons you somewhere. At the same time, looking “cool” is a always in, and black and/or white clothing is very popular.  While guys rely on their flashy shirts and Polo cologne, the girls get away with just about anything that’s provocatively revealing.  The hottest kind of girl’s shirt is largely ruffled at the V-neck and cuffs.  Belts with drop fronts go with minis and ripped jeans, as do cowboy boots.  Sport jackets and blazers also look good, even with the crummiest pair of jeans.

Baseball hats have made a come-back.  The entire 60’s style recently exploded in Paris, which probably is a reflection of the 2014’s attitude.  Although bell-buttoms are now creeping into stores like the Gap, many people are still sitting on the fence, waiting to see if they really come back in style.

If a purse must be brought, it should be small with a long strap to go across the shoulder.  Otherwise, pockets can never be deep or numerous enough. Necklaces shouldn’t be so light and long that they hit you in the face while you’re on the dance floor, nor should hooped earrings be so big that you could shoot baskets with them.  Wallets in your back pocket, sorry to say, may as well be tossed on the floor, since the front pockets hold things more securely.


Fashion for the high class/rich

In every modern society, the sophisticated and elegant often stand out from the crowd because of their expensive dress.  These people spend a fortune on their

wardrobe.  Considering the amount they invest, it isn’t any wonder they are always looking for a great party to go to!  At these parties, these men wear tuxedos while the women are able to be a bit more daring.  They have many

choices, so they wear everything imaginable, from one sleeve dresses, to see-through lace and bare shoulders.  Most of these socialites have impeccable taste and are accustomed to sumptuous fabrics like silks, cashmeres, suedes, and leathers.  They top it off with the most exquisite shoes, soft-touch bags, suede gloves and beautifully crafted jewelry.

All of the flashy glitz of ballroom gowns sequined dresses have disappeared. Simplicity, refinement, elegance, and flesh exposure are the fashion buzz words at these parties.



Body-clinging outfits and sheath dresses are in hot demand, as are gowns with bare backs, high slits, and sheer see-through panels.  No matter the length, be it very short or to the ankles, it’s form fittingly tight. The fabrics are inevitably soft, usually satin, silk, velvet, crepe de chine brocade, lame or chiffon.  The newest fabrics used in evening wear have been Lycra and gray flannel, which has actually surprised many designers.  There’s always a slit somewhere, which has been the trademark of the past ten to twenty years.  Slits are especially fashionable in the front or straight down the back or all the way up the thigh. The miniature Kelly bag has replaced the clutch bag, and sleek, strappy shoes have replaced 4-inch heels.

With the gown lengths getting longer, the coats had to change their style as well, which is why the short wool swing coats and jackets have suddenly exploded onto the scene.  Natural colors are in as well, with browns, beiges and tans being mixed with the brightness of sherbets and pinks.

These fashions have become accessible to all.  Anyone can buy something simple and slinky and still look like one of the stars.



Whenever we talk about fashion, teenagers are at the forefront of the industry. Although teens don’t have money to buy the most expensive clothes, we know how to dress to make us feel good inside and look good outside. We want to stand out and be noticed.  Thanks to the great designers of our time, the individual has a variety of styles to choose from in creating his or her own sense of fashion identity.  Today, we may want to look funny, cool, different, or glamorous. Tomorrow, we may want to make a bold statement of a different sort.

Remember that no matter how you dress, everything you wear says something about who you are.  Whether it’s tights, cat suit, mouse suit, cut off shorts, bareback, stir-up’s, swimsuit, shoes, hats, shades, coat, flowered tunic dress, midriff cutout, strappy shoes, swing jacket, your clothing helps to create your own image.