What is Fashion Style – Definitive Guide

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What is a Fashion Style?

A fashion style is a combination of clothes, footwear, and accessories depicting patterns, motifs, colors, shapes, and fabrics belonging to specific cultures, subcultures, or social movements, adapted to or mixed with the latest fashion trends.

Despite being used interchangeably in fashion parlance, fashion styles are not fashion trends or aesthetics but unique ways of dressing.

Goth, streetwear and preppy fashion style.
Goth, streetwear, and preppy fashion styles.

Garments, footwear, and accessories with similar aesthetic roots – shapes, silhouettes, patterns, motifs, symbols, colors, and materials – can be grouped into stylistically similar outfits and described as fashion styles.

Fashion styles are adopted and reshaped by groups, communities, and subcultures as visual ways of showcasing their values, beliefs, group belonging, social status, and lifestyle.

Fashion Style Definition
Fashion Styles and their origin.

For an outfit to be cataloged as belonging to or representing a particular fashion style, the composing clothes, footwear, and accessories must share aesthetics and motifs representative of the subculture it attempts to portray.

That being said, someone’s look or way of dressing could blend different fashion styles, not belonging to any particular subculture, colloquially called their “personal style.”




The Origin of Style

Originating from the Latin’ stilus,’ an instrument for writing or a form of expression, the term ‘style’ was initially used to describe – according to Hegel’s Philosophy of History – architecture, art performances, fashion creations, and later as visual expressions of a subculture.

A style is a distinctive way of performing an act or designing an object recognizable through its descriptive and normative usages, aesthetic patterns, motifs, materials, and colors, and present in various applications such as the rock style of music, the French style of cooking, the Gothic style of dresses, or the Victorian style of architecture.

Style, rooted in 'stilus,' encompasses distinctive expressions in various fields like music, cooking, fashion, and architecture.
Style, rooted in ‘stilus,’ encompasses distinctive expressions in various fields like music, cooking, fashion, and architecture.

The concept of style was first used in architecture to describe design ways, such as the Ciceronian, Baroque, or Romanesque styles, eventually expanding to describing forms of art and fashion.

Style, initially in architecture, later encompassed art and fashion.
Style, initially in architecture, later encompassed art and fashion.

As such, one’s choice for a specific fashion style expresses an intention of depicting a particular character or social role at a given occasion.

According to the book Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations Through Eight Centuries, the ‘Gothic’ style originated from the idea that the destroyers of the Roman Empire looked and behaved in barbaric ways.

According to Otto Kurz, the ‘Baroque’ style, meaning ‘bizarre’ or ‘absurd,’ resulted in a conflation of miscellaneous expressions.

‘Rococo’ was coined as a term of derision in 1797 by Jacques-Louis David’s pupils for the meretricious taste of the age of Pompadour.

‘Romanesque’ emerged around 1819 as a term denoting “the corruption of the Roman style and mannerism showcased by its impact on the ‘purity’ of the Renaissance.

The first usage of style as an expression of a collective spirit and subcultures’ visuals can be traced back to early 1800 romantic philosophy, notably Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of History lectures at the University of Berlin:

“A nation’s art, no less than its philosophy, religion, law, mores, science, and technology, will always reflect the stage in the evolution of the spirit, and each of these facets will thus point to the one common center, the essence of the age.”‘

The Origin of Fashion Styles

Fashion styles emerge as groups of people and communities wear garments, footwear, and accessories depicting aesthetic patterns, motifs, materials, colors, cuts, sewing, and drawings belonging to, or depicting past subcultures.

In that sense, all recorded fashion styles

For example, whether the Gothic clothing style uses patterns from medieval feudalist architecture is not questioned, but if historians can find and record these connective unitary aesthetics.

Similarities between gothic fashion style and gothinc arthitecture.
Similarities between Gothic fashion style and Gothic architecture.

What distinguishes all styles from casual connections is the always present a priori character and, as Adolf Loos, an Austrian pioneer of modern architecture, puts it:

‘”If nothing were left of an extinct race but a single button, I would be able to infer, from the shape of that button, how these people dressed, built their houses, religion, art, and mentality.”

In fashion design, the most common way of depicting a style is through the artistic mix of clothing and accessories depicting patterns, motifs, shapes, cuts, and colors belonging to a subculture or more into outfits.

French philosopher and semiotician Roland Barthes states:

“fashion style is a form of aesthetic language and a mode of communicating statements using the grammar of fashion.”




Fashion Style vs. Personal Style

Fashion style is not the same as your personal style.

The fashion world has recorded and recognized around 50 fashion styles, cataloged by the decade of appearance, aesthetic roots, subcultural origins, and composing clothes, accessories, and footwear.

Preppy Style Example
The Preppy fashion style emerges from the Ivy League academic subculture, drawing its aesthetic roots from British culture, characterized by tailored Navy blazers, plaid skirts, and argyle sweaters, reflecting a blend of academia with aristocratic refinement.

While each fashion style has unique aesthetic roots and origins, societal changes, emerging trends, and subcultures’ adoption of fashion styles lead to the creation of stylistic variations over time.

Subcultures create these fashion styles by adopting, using, and blending aesthetics, patterns, and motifs from previous subcultures into clothes and accessories (outfits) as forms of visual identity.

Goth fashion style example
The Goth fashion style depicts mystery and non-conformity through dark colors, lace, silver jewelry, and skull and cross motifs characteristic of the Goth subculture.

These fashion styles are well-established and resurface yearly, either as perfect interpretations of the past, re-imagined in modern variants, or as part of fashion trends and fads.

Y2K fashion style example
Y2K fashion style, named after the year 2000 and characterized by computer-era aesthetics and patterns like metallic fabrics, holographic prints, and cyber motifs reflecting the millennium fascination with technology.

On the other hand, your personal style is how you combine and like to wear your clothes, whether unbuttoned shirts or shoes without laces.

Nevertheless, the clothes and accessories that form your outfit will always comprise aesthetic elements (patterns, motifs, colors, materials) representative of a subculture and, thus, their fashion style.

Style vs Aesthetic




Historical Overview of Fashion Styles

From ancient Rome to the medieval Caliphate and the Industrial Revolution, most ways of dressing emerged out of necessity.

However, intentionally dressing in specific styles started in the Victorian era.

Historical Overview of Fashion Styles
Fashion from the Victorian era to Y2K.

From the ‘Roaring Twenties,’ new fashion styles emerged in waves matching economic changes or social unrest.

From the Victorian era to the 2020s, each decade is represented by the five most representative fashion styles and their aesthetic roots (patterns, motifs, symbols, materials, colors).

Victorian Era (1837-1901)

Victorian Style – a dressing style influenced by the British monarchy and comprised of bustle gowns, high collars, lace, and velvet;

Victorian Style outfits.
Victorian Style

Art Nouveau Style – loose-fitting artisanal dresses with sinuous lines and floral motifs inspired by nature and art, floral motifs.

Art Nouveau Style
Art Nouveau Style

Sportswear Apparel – clothing with functional cuts inspired by emerging sports activities such as tennis and golf.

Sportswear Apparel
Sportswear Apparel

Day and Evening Looks – separate outfits for day/night with corresponding materials like cotton for day and silk for evening.

Day and Evening Looks
Day and Evening Looks

Mourning Attire – black dresses, veils, and accessories in dark tones reflecting the social importance of mourning.

Mourning Attire
Mourning Attire




Edwardian Era (1901 – 1914)

Edwardian Style – high collars, s-shaped corsets, elaborate hats, intricate lace, and embroidery with aesthetic roots in the British nobility and King Edward VII’s attire.

Edwardian Style
Edwardian Style

Oriental Style – kimono-like dresses with oriental motifs from exotic materials and luxurious fabrics inspired by the growing fascination with Far East cultures.

Oriental Style
Oriental Style

La Belle Epoque Style – flowing dresses with floral motifs and natural forms still influenced by the art nouveau movement.

La Belle Epoque Style
La Belle Epoque Style

Tailored Style – tailored suits and jackets inspired by World War I military uniforms made from expensive fabrics.

Tailored Style
Tailored Style

Art Deco Artisanal Style – handmade garments with artisanal embroidery in geometric shapes and decadent colors, signaling the approach of the Roaring Twenties.

Art Deco Artisanal Style
Art Deco Artisanal Style




1920s

Flapper Style – short dresses with geometric patterns reflecting the Jazz Age, freedom, and emancipation.

Flapper Style
Flapper Style

Art Deco Style – clothes with zigzag patterns, sunbursts, and metallic motifs reflecting urbanization and modernity.

Art Deco Style
Art Deco Style

Coco Chanel Style – jersey dresses in monochromatic hues assorted with quilted bags showcasing practical elegance.

Coco Chanel Style
Coco Chanel Style

Formalwear Style – pinstriped tailored suits assorted with fedoras influenced by the growing Italian and Irish gangster look.

Formalwear Style
Formalwear Style

Hollywood Glamour Style – Bias-cut gowns from silk and satin assorted with fur.

Hollywood Glamour Style
Hollywood Glamour Style




1930s

Hollywood Glamour Continued – elegant gowns in draped silk reflecting the stars of the cinema.

Hollywood Glamour Continued
Hollywood Glamour Continued

Menswear for Women Style – tailored suits from tweed and wool – see Katherine Hepburn’s fashion influence.

Menswear for Women Style
Menswear for Women Style

Escapist Style – beach pajamas in exotic prints and tropical motifs as a way to minimize the Great Depression.

Escapist Style
Escapist Style

Utilitarian Style – functional garments from sturdy fabrics reflecting the global economic hardship.

Utilitarian Style
Utilitarian Style

Surrealist Style – clothes with abstract motifs and mind-bending prints and colors representative of Salvador Dalí.

Surrealist Style
Surrealist Style




1940s

Wartime Style – utilitarian clothes in simple cuts from rationed fabrics and militaristic colors, influenced by World War II.

Wartime Style
Wartime Style

Pin-Up Style – high-waisted trousers and pencil skirts with polka dot patterns inspired by pin-up models.

Pin-Up Style
Pin-Up Style

Movie Style – glamorous evening wear from satin and silk reflecting the growing influence of Hollywood stars.

Movie Style
Movie Style

The New Look by Dior – full skirts with cinched waists in floral prints reflecting the post-war optimism.

The New Look by Dior
The New Look by Dior

Zoot Suit Style – oversized jackets and wide-legged trousers with stripe motifs showcasing the rebellious youth.

Zoot Suit Style
Zoot Suit Style




1950s

Mid-Century Modernism Style – tailored outfits in abstract patterns showcasing a growing architectural influence among fashion designers.

Mid-Century Modernism Style
Mid-Century Modernism Style

Rockabilly Style – high-waisted jeans and leather jackets pointing to the emerging rock ‘n’ roll subculture.

Rockabilly Style
Rockabilly Style

Elegant Style – feminine skirts in pastel colors and fitted bodices – see Grace Kelly’s influence.

Elegant Style
Elegant Style

Beatnik Style – black turtlenecks assorted with monochrome berets pointing to the emergence of a literary subculture.

Beatnik Style
Beatnik Style

Preppy Style – Ivy League chinos, navy jackets, loafers, and sweaters with tartan and argyle patterns showcasing British aesthetic roots.

Preppy Style
Preppy Style




1960s

Mod Fashion Style – mini skirts, jackets with bold geometric patterns, and go-go boots as signs of growing feelings of rebellion against the status quo.

Mod Fashion Style
Mod Fashion Style

Hippie Style – tie-dye t-shirts, flared jeans, and accessories with floral and peace motifs showcasing a growing anti-war sentiment.

Hippie Style
Hippie Style

Space Age Chic Style – futuristic designs; metallics, vinyl; space exploration fascination.

Space Age Chic Style
Space Age Chic Style

Carnaby Street Style – unisex clothes in outrageous colors and pop-art prints depicting London’s artists and creatives.

Carnaby Street Style
Carnaby Street Style

Black Panther Style – all-black uniforms with berets and leather jackets as forms of political statement.

Black Panther Style
Black Panther Style




1970s

Disco Glamour Style – sequin dresses, platform shoes, and tops in shimmering fabrics reflecting the growing disco subculture.

Disco Glamour Style
Disco Glamour Style

Punk Rock Style – ripped tees, jeans, leather jackets with anarchistic symbols, chains, and safety pins showcasing the subculture’s rebellious nature.

Punk Rock Style
Punk Rock Style

Bohemian Style – maxi dresses in earth tones and shirts with ethnic prints depicting the movement’s ‘free of societal boundaries’ ethos.

Bohemian Style
Bohemian Style

Goth Style – black clothing with spiderweb and skull motifs and silver accessories inspired by Gothic rock musicians of those times.

Goth Style
Goth Style

Leisure Style – Leisure suits from polyester and shirts with wide collars for women and men, challenging the times’ gender norms.

Leisure Style
Leisure Style




1980s

Power Dressing Style – suits with oversized shoulder pads and shirts in herringbone patterns, showcasing women’s movement up the career ladder.

Power Dressing Style
Power Dressing Style

New Romanticism Style – ruffled shirts, velvet pants, and jackets with gothic motifs showcasing the nightclub culture.

New Romanticism Style
New Romanticism Style

Streetwear Style – tracksuits and baseball caps with graffiti prints pointing to the emergence of the hip-hop subculture.

Streetwear Style
Streetwear Style

Safari Style – khaki jackets and cargo pants with multiple pockets in African patterns.

Safari Style
Safari Style

Neo Preppy Style – colorful short chinos, polo shirts in pastel colors, sleeveless sweaters in argyle patterns.

preppy style
preppy style




1990s

MTV Generation Style – colorful vinyl jackets and pants, tees with slogan prints, rubber accessories, and lots of music video influence.

MTV Generation Style
MTV Generation Style

Grunge Style – flannel shirts, ripped jeans, tops in plaid patterns, and Converse shoes.

Grunge Style
Grunge Style

Hip-Hop Style – baggy jeans, baseball caps, loud logo t-shirts, and heavy golden chains reflecting the urban subculture.

Hip-Hop Style
Hip-Hop Style

Heroin Chic Style – outfits designed to create skinny silhouettes in dark or monochrome shades, depicting the emergence of edgy, alternative fashion.

Heroin Chic Style
Heroin Chic Style

Y2K Style – mini dresses, tess with kaleidoscopic prints and binary code patterns, jackets in metallic fabrics, and platform shoes depicting the millennial tech optimism – see the influence of Spice Girls.

Y2K Style
Y2K Style




2000s

Boho-Chic Style – layered dresses and skirts in paisley patterns, traditional Indian aesthetics, and ethnic jewelry – see Sienna Miller’s influence.

Boho-Chic Style
Boho-Chic Style

Emo Style – skinny jeans with studded belts and dark tops showcasing an emotive alternative to the punk subculture.

Emo Style
Emo Style

Designer Mania Style – outfits with oversized designer logos and flashy accessories at the top of conspicuous consumption.

Designer Mania Style
Designer Mania Style

Hipster Style – vintage tees with retro prints, shirts with ethnic patterns, oversized relaxed pants, and thick glasses depicting the subculture’s ironic vibe.

Hipster Style
Hipster Style

Athleisure Style – yoga pants, tees with sporty motifs, and comfortable sneakers depicting a growing fitness culture.

Athleisure Style
Athleisure Style




2010s

Normcore Style – normative dressing with unbranded clothes as an anti-fashion statement.

Normcore Style
Normcore Style

VSCO Girl – named after the photo editing app VSCO, combines preppy fashion style patterns and motifs with beach-inspired aesthetics.

VSCO Girl
VSCO Girl

Dark Academia – combines clothes with preppy aesthetics but is somehow distressed in reminiscence to Bohoemian’s values but in darker colors as influenced by the Goth aesthetic.

Dark Academia
Dark Academia

Boyfriend Style – consists of outfits for women that resemble corresponding men’s clothes but in looser or boxier cuts, giving an oversized appearance. Most popular boyfriend outfits adopt aesthetics from two other fashion styles, namely preppy and hip-hop.

Boyfriend Style
Boyfriend Style

E-girl – combines aesthetics from Lolita, Emo, and Mall Goth fashion styles with patterns and motifs from Anime, Cosplay, K-pop, and Kawaii fashion styles.

E-girl
E-girl style




2020s

Cottagecore – flowy dresses from natural materials with pastoral aesthetics, floral motifs, and lace, romanticizing rural living.

Cottagecore
Cottagecore

Techwear – functional garments from smart materials and with cyber patterns in reminiscence of Y2K and Cyber styles showcasing technology integration.

Techwear style
Techwear style

Health-Conscious Style – Protective outfits and masks reflecting global health concerns.

Health-Conscious Style
Health-Conscious Style

Fairy Grunge – mixes patterns and aesthetic elements from Fairycore, a fantasy world of fairies and elves, and the “dirty vibe” of Grunge fashion style. The style’s patterns and motifs are distressed, depicting dark rocks, forests, deep greens, autumn colors, and mythical creatures inhabiting these imaginary lands.

Fairy Grunge
Fairy Grunge

Virtual Fashion Style – digital clothing made to be worn in augmented, virtual, and mixed-reality environments – at least for now.

Virtual Fashion Style
Virtual Fashion Style

References

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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