What is Fashion Accessory? A Complete Guide

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What is a Fashion Accessory?

With roots in the Latin ‘accessorius,’ meaning approach, fashion accessories are objects worn on clothes or the body to augment garment functionality or to enhance one’s look.

Accessories fall into a broad category, from jewelry, scarves, and hats to handbags, shoes, and eyewear, and the process of matching garments with accessories is called accessorizing.

Origin and Evolution

The use of accessories dates back to ancient civilizations – depicted in the hieroglyphs and paintings of past cultures as people wearing collars, rings, and body ornaments.

ancient egyiptian necklace and earrings.
Ancient accessories – Egyptian necklace and earrings set.

Over centuries, accessories have evolved alongside shifts in clothing styles, social norms, and technologies, culminating in digital accessories that transcend fashion.

Types of Accessories

Fashion accessories can categorized into two types:

  • Soft Accessories – Textile-based accessories such as scarves, shawls, ties, and hosiery.
  • Hard Accessories – Non-textile items like jewelry, watches, handbags, eyewear, and belts.
Hard and soft accessories.
Hard vs. Soft accessories.

The Role of Fashion Accessories

The smart usage of accessories can transition an outfit from a day look to an evening look with minimal effort.

the Role of Accessories in Fashion

Accessories can accentuate and draw attention toward a unique outfit feature or contrast with the primary color and style to create a distinct look.

In addition to aesthetic appeal, accessories like belts, handbags, and glasses serve practical functions.

Aside from personal style or cultural identity, accessories signify social status. For example, a Rolex watch means affluence, while a string of pearls might suggest sophistication.

Examples of Fashion Accessories

  • Belts – A Herm├Ęs “H” belt serves the practical function of holding up trousers and the aesthetic purpose of signaling luxury and attention to detail.
  • Eyewear – Oliver Peoples’ spectacles are not only for vision correction but have become a style statement worn even without prescription lenses.
  • Hats – While offering sun protection, a Borsalino Fedora can transform one’s look to convey elegance or mystery.
  • Gloves – A pair of Gucci leather gloves serves the dual function of keeping the hands warm and adding a touch of luxurious sophistication.
  • Shawls – An Alexander McQueen shawl made of luxurious materials like cashmere or silk augments an outfit’s look while providing warmth.

Accessory vs. Apparel vs. Wearables

In fashion, the terms accessories, apparel, and wearables are often used interchangeably.

However, despite having the same function of adorning one’s look, the functional part is where these terms differ.

While apparel forms the foundation of a clothing ensemble, accessories serve as the finishing touches, lending character and personal style to the outfit.

On the other hand, while wearables offer function and form, they mainly focus on the former.


Accessories aren't necessary for decency or protection, but they add style and function to an outfit.
Accessories aren’t necessary for decency or protection, but they add style and function to an outfit.

Not required for basic decency or protection from elements but used to enhance aesthetic appeal, accessories are supplementary items that provide a certain level of functionality while augmenting a dressing ensemble.


Apparel, derived from Old French 'apareil,' encompasses clothing, shoes, accessories, and more for the human body.
Apparel, derived from the Old French ‘apareil,’ encompasses clothing, shoes, accessories, and more for the human body.

With origins in the Old French word ‘apareil,’ meaning ‘fitting’ or ‘suit,’ apparel is an umbrella term for everything that can be worn on a human body, such as clothes, shoes, accessories, and gadgets.


Wearable devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers focus on functionality, not fashion.
Wearable devices like smartwatches, fitness trackers, and smart rings focus on functionality, not fashion.

Technology-enabled devices worn on the body – such as smartwatches or fitness trackers – are designed to serve specific functional needs rather than prioritizing improving the wearer’s look.

Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with the latest in fashion, beauty and style!

After years of managing hundreds of fashion brands from London's office of a global retailer, Mandy has ventured into freelancing. Connected with several fashion retailers and media platforms in the US, Australia, and the UK, Mandy uses her expertise to consult for emerging fashion brands create top-notch content as an editorial strategist for several online publications.

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