The Definition of High Fashion

The term “fashion” means the totality of the social conventions regulating access to fashion and identifying the parameters by which it is defined and evaluated. Fashion is essentially a set of attitudes about the value of style, beauty, status, and habit that are shared by members of a community or society. Fashion may be a generic word, but it has significant cultural and sociological meaning that is understood and presented in many different ways. For example, “fashions” is used to refer to a range of styles, fashions, and patterns of dress that vary from season to season.


In the broadest sense, fashion relates to the changes in designs, patterns, and materials of everyday clothes over time. Fashion can also refer to the manner in which clothes are worn, for example, the way they are put on, how they are cleaned, or their maintenance. Fashion can refer to the visual elements of clothing such as dress and appearance. Fashion can also be used in much narrower contexts, such as to describe the process by which clothes are produced, or the methods of buying and selling fashionable clothing. By considering these various dimensions of fashion, we can begin to understand how it is different from, and important in, nineteenth century British Fashion.

In nineteenth century Britain, fashionable fashions were associated with the ascendancy of the industrial revolution and the rise of the middle class. Fashionable fashions became synonymous with affluence and opulence. A new public realm emerged through the public exhibition and shopping tours organized by midwives, tailors, dressmakers, and jewelry makers. Tourists traveled from town to town looking at new styles and asking merchants for their advice on which fashions were fashionable or whose were the most fashionable. As a result, high fashion emerged in the late nineteenth century, giving rise to a term that has come to define the fashion industry in the twentieth century. Today the term high fashion is commonly used to refer to the art, crafts, and designs of clothing created by popular, adventurous, pioneering women.