A fashion is a prevailing style of dress or other manner of expression in a culture. To be considered fashionable, a certain amount of consumer acceptance must exist; this is often defined as a majority of individuals wearing a particular look in public. This can be applied to clothing, accessories, or even hairstyles. Fashion can also reflect cultural norms and values, as well as provide a medium for challenging them.
In semiotics, fashion is viewed as a system of signs that communicate specific messages. For example, a tailored suit may convey power and formality, while ripped jeans and a t-shirt might suggest casualness and youth. Fashions are not permanent; they come and go. This constant change is reflected in the term “fashion cycle,” which describes the process by which new styles are introduced and eventually adopted by consumers.
Individuals who create or promote new styles are called fashion innovators, and those who follow their lead are referred to as early adopters. After a fashion is embraced by these individuals, it may be promoted further by what are known as gatekeepers. These individuals may be fashion designers, retailers, or other influential people in the industry.
For example, during World War II, when Paris was occupied by the Nazis, American designers began to gain attention for their work. One of the first was Claire McCardell, who designed a line of clothes that were comfortable, practical, and affordable, which became known as the “American look.” The popularity of her designs helped to counteract the image of fashion as being exclusively high-end, expensive, and overly decorative.