What Is the Difference between Fashion and Style?

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Coco Chanel quote

“Fashion changes, but style endures.” - Coco Chanel

Fashion and style are two terms so often conflated as to be practically interchangeable, but they are distinctly different terms that are used to apply to a subject and then to its personal application, respectively. What that means is that fashion refers to product while style refers to how you apply fashion in what you choose to wear. Unfortunately, fashion is a fickle beast, which changes every season and experiences micro changes between seasons.

The great fashion philosopher, Lars Svendsen, defines fashion as the search for the new, and it is a fashion designer’s job to provide new fashion in order to continue to evolve the body of fashion (essentially, this is the definition of what it means to be “fashion-forward” with one’s designs). It sounds complicated only because it has to do with semantics, but when you think of fashion as something external and style as something internal, the difference comes sharply into focus.

Until fashion is worn, it is an impersonal (external) entity that gains personality (style) when selected and worn by the consumer.

Fashion is the product that appears on the runway, and later on, in stores, which is presented as the new thing to buy and wear. Until fashion is worn, it is an impersonal (external) entity that gains personality (style) when selected and worn by the consumer. Not all fashion is wearable however, especially extremely avant-garde forms that designers like Iris Van Herpen and Hussein Chalayan create. To this end, we understand that fashion is both a practical utility and an “idea” that can drive fashion forward.

Style is broader and has more freedom when applied. Style can take “the new” and blend it together with the old for a completely unique look. Style resides at the intersection of taste and habit, and can either embrace a designer’s fashion vision or eschew it completely. Essentially, you don’t have to wear head-to-toe labels from the latest collections to look stylish. Better yet, you can mix-and-match literally any fashion item under the sun to complete your look. For instance, you can pair the latest Peter Pilotto sweater with a vintage leather skirt and a pair of earrings your mother gave you on your birthday and end up with a smashing outfit that is really stylish, but only contains one “new” item. Style also serves as a nonverbal cue, that can transmit a message about someone’s culture, religion, gender, and other social and personal identifiers. Coco Chanel was right when she said, “Fashion changes, but style endures.” What is today’s latest trend might be tomorrow’s faux pas, but when you’re confident in your personal style, there is nothing you can’t try.

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