Fashion, whether rooted in social status or culture, has always been a determinant of a person’s presence and influence. People can tell your propensities just by looking at how you dress or what you wear.
For decades, fashion has been going through and beyond means to parallel evolution, from designer qualities to fast fashion trends. In today’s social media culture of self-advertisement, we witness how fashion brands take steps in capitalizing on cyber traffic (and tragically sacrificing brand values in the process).
But how did clothes and dressing up transform into how we know of it today? We’ll start from when couture planted its place in the consumer industry to the insurgence of mass production while tracing significant turning points in the history of fashion.
Couture: The Beginnings
The word couture, short for haute couture, is a French word that means “fashionable dressmaking” and is directly translated as “dressmaking” or “sewing.”
It started in 1858 when English fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth pioneered fashion houses in Paris and revolutionized the art form as a profitable business.
Worth designed dresses and compiled them as “collections” for his clientele to see. He spearheaded the system of creating sketches to be replicated in the French houses and distributed to the rest of the world. Ultimately, this made him become the first globally renowned figure of fashion.
By 1868, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) was founded to regulate the haute couture standards in France, protect couture houses and designers, and promote fashion culture by administering Fashion Weeks, one of the most grandiose events endorsing notable fashion designers and houses that meet their criteria of quality craftsmanship and the epitome of haute couture.
The annually observed Fashion Week has since become one of the world’s most celebrated and anticipated events with its spectacular visuals and prestigious entourages of renowned individuals and fashion icons.
This high fashion gathering, like the rest of the industries, was not spared from the disastrous effects of the 2020 pandemic. To keep the industry alive and adaptive, designers came together and brought the tradition to cyberspace. So, after 152 years of annual glamour on the streets and halls of Paris, Fashion Week transcended to social media for digital consumption, opening it to all levels of consumers and breaking barriers of exclusivity.
There are only less than 30 designers and fashion houses recognized by FHCM as haute couture as of the recent decade. Some of these are based in Paris, including names such as Chanel, Christian Dior, and Schiaparelli. Others are foreign members such as Versace, Valentino, Fendi Couture, and Elie Saab to name a few. These grand fashion houses must showcase at least 25 looks twice a year: for the Spring/Summer Collection every January, and the Autumn/Winter Collection every July.
The Emergence of Fast Fashion
Fast Fashion is the term for the quick turnaround time of styles and garments. It has garnered massive popularity among the average consumers who are not willing to pay the high price points of couture yet still wanting to flaunt the latest fashion trends. The designs from this industry replicate those from notable high fashion brands for a cheaper price. Criticisms towards fast fashion had been anchored on its use of substandard materials and alleged exploitation of overseas labor for cheaper price tags.
This trend unsurprisingly gained traction during the late 90s and early 2000s as it gave the general public access to don couture designs.
Years before the turn of the millennium, clothes were usually made to order. From silk to fabric to thread, customers used to bring their materials to dressmaking shops for tailor-fitted clothes. Nowadays, fashion has become more generalized that consumers no longer need to wait for their clothes. They just have to go to shops, fit, and pay for their picks.
Global brand names such as Zara, H&M, and Topshop dominate the fast fashion market.
Couture vs. Fast Fashion: Which stays?
Whereas couture had proven itself to stand against time (seeing through war times, recessions, and even pandemics), fast fashion rummages the fashion scene like a flood rapidly rising above levels in terms of global sales. But which factors affect these fashion disciplines to last consumers a lifetime? Let’s break down fashion strategies to determine which lasts for another hundred years:
There is no denying that fashion designers are the chief drivers of trends. They come up with original concepts and fresh in-season designs that almost immediately influence the fashion climate. However, the emergence of fast fashion and the shift to digital influencers challenged couture to keep coming up with new ideas as fast fashion becomes increasingly consumer-friendly. External cultural factors affect where fashion is moving towards, especially with the rise of different socio-cultural movements including feminism, cultural appropriation, and the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Manufacturing Costs
One known fact about couture is its splendor. Couture is nothing without its luxurious fabrics and embellishments and the number of hours invested in each handmade craft. Each piece takes lots of hours and details to perfect which makes couture pieces not made for instant gratification. Not to mention wages of artisans and trademark expenses, couture indeed merits its exorbitance.
On the contrary, fast fashion became consumable as its flexibility in coping up with the highs and lows of the market and its sizable use of disposable fabrics and cheap labor for cutting costs make it more accessible to the average consumer. But with cheap production also comes issues regarding the environment, labor exploitation, counterfeiting, and many others.
Controversies plague both couture and fast fashion—couture with its ridiculous prices and exclusivity, and fast fashion with its cheap production and excess waste. If you have to choose which of them accounts for sustainability, couture has proven time and again that it lasts you a couple of wears, even to a lifetime.
Fast Fashion bears in its name the longevity of the clothes in this category, but its inexpensiveness also contributes to its survivability. Also worth noting is that the more people switch stocks of their fash fashion finds, the amount of waste coming from this industry also increases.
Both also do not shy away from the controversy surrounding environmentalism. The world has seen protests of animal cruelty and climate change due to industrialism. Designers are now more environmentally conscious with their production. Some are slowly shifting to upcycling materials as well as using eco-friendly fabrics. Fast fashion on the other hand is yet to take steps to address the issue of waste production.
Notwithstanding these considerations, at the end of the day, the choice comes down to the depth and willingness of our pockets.
Shopping is undeniably euphoric and fashion is visually appetizing for both the daily wage earner and the affluent. Whether or not you’re a devoted patron of couture or a fast fashion addict, factors affecting their presence in the market are changing unceasingly. If one is stubborn enough to stay relevant, they also have to keep up with the fast-paced society brought about by the digital age while also acknowledging the cultural shift to environmental consciousness.
The point for all of this is for us to distinguish the key elements that make couture and fast fashion carry on. There is nothing wrong with shopping for the latest trends, hunting for vintage and thrift finds, or going through the same set of wardrobes for a couple more years—responsible consumerism is still the deciding factor. Choose which form of consumption can last you for a lifetime, or risk going naked with regret.
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