Fashion Theories

Fashion Theories Assignment

The purpose of this assignment is to:

  • Summarize the basic tenets of fashion theories and how the theories help explain dress and appearance practices.
  • Recognize and differentiate how marginalized communities in the U.S. use dress and appearance practices to express their identities.
  • Recognize and differentiate how dress and appearance practices of marginalized communities in the U.S. are represented in the fashion system (e.g. advertisements or retailers)
  • Understand and evaluate social justice issues related to dress and appearance practices of marginalized communities in the U.S.


  • Use this document, and save it as “Fashion Theories Assignment your first and last name”
  • Answer the case study questions beneath each question below (meaning keep the question in your assignment sheet).
  • Answer the questions using the case study reading that are partially based on the chapter Fashion as a Dynamic Process (2012) in The Meanings of Dress. Be sure to cite the reading when paraphrasing or using a direct quote. Do not use or reference other sources that refer to similar topics when completing this assignment.
  • Keep answers typed, single spaced, 12-point font, no cover page, use Microsoft word, full sentences, 1” document borders, keep all of the assignment instructions and questions in your document

Case study reading:

What is fashion?

Fashion refers to the idea of what is popular or what is on trend. Another way of thinking about fashion is the idea of what is “in flux” in a particular time and place. It can be extremely difficult to trace the origins of a particular fashion trend such as a motif, design, or silhouette (Reilly, 2012). Because multiple cultures and communities are co-existing across the world and even in regional locations, it can be almost impossible to be certain that a style came from a specific time and place or to define a fashion trend’s true origin.

The mini skirt is an example of a fashion trend that is thought to have developed in one place and time, yet conflicting evidence is provided by various scholars as to some of the origin claims. Mary Quant is a British fashion designer who is often cited as the person who introduced the mini skirt into fashion in London in the 1960s during the “youthquake” movement. However, according to Ford (2015), the mini skirt is credited with developing out of Tanzania. Haya Rinoth, a South African fashion designer, argued in Drum magazine that history was incorrectly written and this new style developed out of Africa, not the United Kingdom. This example highlights some of the social justice issues or the power imbalance in history where often times European history is prioritized, a term frequently referred to as Eurocentric.

What is fashion diffusion?

As new fashions are introduced to different cultures or communities, they go in and out of style. This diffusion of fashion usually results in a bell-shaped curve. In this bell curve, in the early innovation stage, the fashion innovators create new styles. Fashion leaders then pick up the styles after they are introduced and are often seen as influencers. Today, Instagram hosts a number of fashion influencers that make a tremendous impact on the industry promoting various styles. After the leaders begin wearing the style, typically the style is worn by what is referred to as early adopters, then late adopters. Late adopters do not necessarily feel comfortable wearing new or innovative styles until they are viewed as on trend. Finally, fashion followers adopt a style when it is near obsolescence or when it is phasing out or seen as an old trend (Reilly, 2012).

Fashion items that are not trends:

Fads and classics describe concepts, styles, or ideas that are different from fashion trends. Classics are items that have prolonged lives and that do not necessarily go out of fashion. Examples of classics include: the little black dress, Converse sneakers, denim jeans, black suit jackets, a shift dress, a white button-down shirt, or a trench coat (Reilly, 2012). Some brands such as The Gap are famous for selling classics in addition to more fashionable items. Items that are fads quickly go in and out of fashion. Fads are in contrast to classics. Examples of fads could be glitter eyeshadow in the 1990s. Another example is the Google Glass eyewear. It was quite popular when it came out in the 2000s, but it did not last very long at all.

Who determines what is fashionable?

Gatekeepers are individuals who influence what is fashionable at a particular time. Examples of gatekeepers include people in marketing, designers, buyers, or others in the fashion industry to make fashions available. In particular, the fashion industry has great control over what is available on the market and thus is considered a major gatekeeper in aesthetics, styles, and fashions that we see in communities and cultures (Reilly, 2012)

Fashion theories:

A theory is used to explain phenomena. Therefore, fashion theories are used to explain how and why styles and fashions diffuse across time and across cultures.

Trickle-down is one example of a fashion theory (Simmel, 1904). This theory is based on ideas related to social class. In this theory, the explanation is that individuals of higher socio-economic status set the trends and then those in the lower socio-economic statuses follow these trends. For example, someone such as Lady Gaga, who is a very wealthy artist and musician and fashion icon would set the trend and then others would follow. A second theory is trick-across theory (King, 1963). In this theory, fashion trends or styles can appear and spread across any social class. A third theory is trickle-up theory (Hedbidge, 1979). In this theory, trends begin in lower classes and are copied by higher classes. For example, Lolita styles that emerged in Japan in the 1990s began on the streets of Japan and then trickled up into haute couture or high-fashions.

Overall, there are many theories can help explain how and why styles or trends move or change, but these three theories are some of the basics. It should be noted though that they explain fashion at the broader societal level. There are theories that help explain theory on a more individual level.


Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The meaning of style. London: Methuen.

King, C. W. (1963). Fashion adoption: A rebuttal to the “trickle-down” theory. In S A. Greyser (Ed.), Towards Scientific Marketing (pp. 108-125). Chicago: American Marketing Association.

Reilly, A. (2012). Fashion as a dynamic process. In S. A. Miller-Spillman, A. Reilly, & P. Hunt-Hurst (Eds.), The meanings of dress (pp. 43-51). London: Bloomsbury.

Simmel, G. (1904). Fashion. International Quarterly, 10, 130-155.


Before doing the case study questions:

Watch the film Fresh Dressed, which can be streamed from the course reserve website through ISU’s library. Then, answer the questions below.

Case Study Questions

  1. Which theory of fashion change best describes the evolution of hip hop fashion? Explain why.


  1. Were any fashion leaders described in the film? If yes, describe one person and why they are considered a fashion leader.


  1. Review the case study reading and on page 44 of the reading Fashion as a Dynamic Process (2012) in The Meanings of Dress, the figure of The Fashion Cycle. Review the definition of the last stage: obsolescence. Then, on page 45 of Fashion as a Dynamic Process and in the case study readings, review the definition of classic. From your own perspective, do you think that any of the early hip-hop clothing items or styles you viewed in the film are now viewed as classics or as obsolete? Explain why or why not and be specific. (e.g. high-top sneakers, or velour jumpsuits)


  1. In the film, the former vice president of Karl Kani, Jeff Tweedy said, “these stores didn’t want these customers in their stores?” Here, he is referring to mainstream department stores not wanting Black or people of color as customers. Now, revisit the Ornstein (2017) reading from the Social Justice module and review number 3 on page 546. Does Tweedy’s statement reflect a just society according to #3 of the reading? Why or why not?


  1. In the film, there is a discussion of floor space in department stores where these new hip hop fashion brands were not able to obtain space in mainstream department stores. Now, review the “white privilege” reading from the Social Justice unit. While both the white-owned brands and the Black owned brands worked very hard, how does this scenario reflect white privilege?



100 points total

Meets or exceeds expectations

All parts of questions are answered.

Questions are answered correctly and in accordance with the information presented in the reading.

Answers contain at least two full sentences, contain explanations and examples where appropriate and show synthesis of information in reading when appropriate.


Some parts of the questions are answered.

Questions are mostly answered correctly in accordance with some information presented in the reading.

Answer contains less than two full sentences, contains brief explanation or example and shows little synthesis of information from reading when appropriate.

Needs development

No or few parts of question answered.

Questions are not answered correctly or in accordance with information presented in the reading.

Answer is short phrases or not complete sentences, contain no explanation or examples and show no or little evidence of information from reading when appropriate.

Question 1 is complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points 9-14 points 0-8 points
Question 2 is complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points 9-14 points 0-8 points
Question 3 is complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points 9-14 points 0-8 points
Question 4 is complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points 9-14 points 0-8 points
Question 5 is complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points 9-14 points 0-8 points


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Dress, Appearance, and Diversity in Society by Kelly Reddy-Best is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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