Fashion is the way that people present themselves to others. This includes clothing and accessories as well as hairstyles, makeup and body art. Fashion changes all the time. Some fashions take months or even years to reach popular awareness while others are adopted almost instantly.

Fashion trends are often established by the mass media, such as magazines, newspapers and television shows. Celebrities and political figures also play a role in setting fashion trends. For example, Hillary Clinton’s maternity dress made headlines in the press while the royal wedding dresses of Diana, Princess of Wales and Kate Middleton were the inspiration for many a bride-to-be.

A fashion trend may start as a style worn by members of a particular social class or subculture. This style is then copied by others who wish to be considered fashionable. Examples of this include the youth cult of the 1950s, which is often seen as a semiotic distinction based on a particular type of music or clothing.

Once a fashion trend is recognized it is often copied by other designers, and then mass-produced by larger companies. This is known as the fashion cycle. Once a new design enters the market it can take a decade or more before it reaches the end of its life cycle and is replaced by a new style.

New fabrics, fibres and manufacturing techniques can dramatically change the look of a garment. These innovations are often introduced to the haute couture world and then slowly filter into mainstream clothes. For instance, in the 1930s, rayon was introduced to the fashion industry as a fabric that could be woven into lightweight, elegant garments. The fabric was also able to be dyed in a wide range of colours, which allowed garments to be more colourful than before.

In addition to changing styles, fashion can influence the attitudes of people towards certain issues or topics. This is sometimes referred to as fashion activism. Some designers have used their brand to promote specific causes, such as the recent anti-bullying campaign “Start with Love”.

The origin of fashion is difficult to determine. Historians, including Fernand Braudel and James Laver, have estimated the beginning of continual and accelerating change in European clothes styles to be around the late 14th century.

The most important function of fashion is to serve as a form of semiotic distinction. When a person wears a particular style of clothing, footwear, makeup or jewellery, this makes it easy for other people to recognise them as belonging to a particular social group. This recognition is often a source of pride. However, there is always the risk that fashion can become so commonplace that it loses its function as a marker of distinction and becomes simply conspicuous consumption. In the past, it took between 10 and 15 years for a fashionable look to permeate country areas, but with the advent of rail travel, and later with the introduction of air and sea transport, this process has become much faster.