When one considers “fashion,” as distinct from “clothing,” “costume,” or “dress,” it is as a socially shared concept of what is to be worn at a particular point in time rather than an esoteric, ritualistic, or utilitarian cover or decoration of the body. The concept of fashion’s point of origin in the mid-nineteenth century is contemporary with a fundamental change in the market for works of art. This was not accidental, since the institution of fashion, as clothing that adheres to particular modes of production, representation, and consumption, was connected to the emergence of similar structures in the creation and dissemination of works of art.
Fashion came into being with the advent of the couture industry in Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century, when a bourgeois audience began to demand constant change as an intellectual, aesthetic, and, above all, economic stimulus for modern times. This is not to say that the notion of fashion did not exist previously. The timing qualifies the term as denoting clothing that is produced according to a certain seasonal rhythm, in quantities large enough to have an effect on sartorial appearances within a society, that can be exported as a “style,” and that is consumed according to a prescribed agenda.
Correspondingly, art as an autonomous production of subjective expression not bound directly to ecclesiastical or monarchist decrees emerged through the foundation of a bourgeois culture after the European revolutions between 1830 and 1848, when artistic education, independent structures of display, and expanded commercial possibilities allowed for a new creation and distribution of art. Thus, there exists a shared point of origin due to socioeconomic foundations in western Europe. Although fashion was produced elsewhere, too, it was this “Western” concept that eventually determined its global idiom and reception.