Clothing is now an innate part of the human identity. Strictly from a functional sense, clothes aid us in temperature control and help us survive in harsh climates. However, clothing is also an art form and a method of expression.

This is what we commonly refer to as fashion. Skilled designers, manufacturers and creators have been taking clothing beyond pure functionality and into an integral part of our society.

What Is Fashion?

Before we get into fashion, it is important to understand the differences between fashion, trend and style.

Meghan Mundy, the founder of Rochester Fashion Week, said, “Fashion is an industry — it’s a form of expression and it’s an art.”

Mundy continued in saying that trends are the current things in style in the fashion industry. They tend to be cyclical as trends can repeat themselves over the years.

“Style, to me, is the way you portray yourself and present yourself to the world,” Mundy said. “It is the way you connect with certain things and the way you put yourself together.”

Style, trend and fashion cannot exist without each other as they are closely connected.

Leonard Urso, a professor in the College of Art and Design, spoke about the ever-changing world of fashion.

“[Fashion] continues to evolve,” Urso said. “It is a culture that is shaped by humans and it has taken on so many different meanings to different cultures.”

Urso would liken culture and identity closely to fashion as the two push and pull on each other. Culture shapes fashion and fashion helps to shape culture. We then use this to create and interpret our own identify and style.

Most of the times when we think about fashion, we imagine these gorgeous models walking the runway in crazy expensive and ornate garments. However, that is just one component of the fashion industry.

“The runway billboards the pinnacle of what a particular fashion statement is coming from a designer or a design house,” Urso said.

When you hit the department store level, both the comfort level and affordability of what the general population can accept comes into play.

Similar to style and trends, you cannot have clothing in retail stores without runway shows.

“You need to have the runway to keep the energy alive in the fashion world,” Urso said. “What inspires our eyes doesn’t necessarily inspire us once it is on our body in the same way.”

Fundamentals of Fashion

Now that we are on the same page as to what fashion is, how do we end up with super long jackets or puffy sleeved vests?

“It starts with an idea,” Munday said. “Then it gets put into a pattern and you decide what kind of fabric will marry well with that pattern.”

Similar to other art forms, it all begins with an idea. Once that idea is decided on, the process of creation starts. Fashion designers think about texture, shape, silhouette and construction. Knowing how different fabrics behave is key to creating certain looks and garments. Stiff fabrics may be able to hold a more dramatic shape while something that flows with the wind can be used to create a train effect.

Urso would consider fashion as a form of language. He emphasized the importance of knowing what it is you want to express through the choice of shape, texture and color.

“The symbolic value of this language is something that continues to be reshaped,” Urso said.

“The symbolic value of [fashion] is something that continues to be reshaped.”

Once the idea is solid and all the fabrics are chosen it is then time to construct and manufacture. Different art forms may call it 'creating the ideas' or 'making the idea' but in essence this is the stage when the idea is transformed from the meta-physical to the physical.

Fashion Through the Ages

Ideas can come to designers from a variety of sources, but it is common for a designer to pull from current events and what they are experiencing in the world.

“Each individual designer will interpret what they are seeing in the world, what they are pulling from the past and what they are seeing in the future,” Mundy said.

Sometimes these trends can become so iconic that they are remembered for decades after. Think about the '50s. We can easily imagine a time where poodle skirts were all the rage in high school and boys slathered their hair with grease.

It is common to see fashion trends start as a result of major events in the world. Urso and Mundy both mentioned how during times of war, you see fashion trend toward the militaristic side of things. Then once wars have ended and there is cause for celebration, colors and patterns can shift and change to reflect a lighter mood.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing a shift in the fashion industry.

“Lifestyle is very important,” Urso said. “One of the conversations with COVID is comforting clothing styles.”

This can be seen in the fabrics and style choices that are coming out of designers during the pandemic. With more people working from home and having less occasions to dress up for, the current shift in fashion is towards comfort and style.

One of the aspects of fashions that makes it so appealing is its ability to be shaped and created by the individual. Everyone can choose to wear what they want to wear, plain and simple. Whether you want to pull from the past to create a look or you just want to be comfortable in your own clothes, the fashion industry is a key to self-expression.

Mundy offered some advice to those trying to find their personal style in today’s world. She recommended a fashion magazine deep dive. Get your hands on current fashion magazines and pull out the pages that make you feel happy! Pull out the images you like and then recreate the looks within your budget.

“There is fashion for everybody,” Munday said.

“There is fashion for everybody.”