The Science of Fashion

*This article is a little bit different than what I normally do, but I found this topic interesting and hope you do too.

We humans pride ourselves on being able to express our thoughts in ways that other species can’t. We used to think that we humans mastered numerous unique forms of self-expression such as drawing and complex speech, when in reality, the “uncivilized animals” we try to separate ourselves from are doing the exact same things. However, fashion, specifically through clothing and accessories, is one of the only things that no other species does. So, if it so special, we need to ask the question:

what is fashion?

“Fashion is a form of self-expression, at a particular period and place and in a specific context.”

It is the thing that separates us and also bring us together. People have held debates on the colors of a dress and whether sandals with socks should ever see the light of day. However, we also find ourselves complementing someone’s shoes or having a laugh because you’re wearing the exact same shirt as someone else by pure chance. It is the basis of a billion dollar industry and a major pillar of our culture. Simply put, the arrangement of various colors, textures, and patterns on the body is one of the greatest displays of humanity. We’re often thinking about it way too much or not at all, but we don’t usually find ourselves thinking:

when and how did it start?

The concept of “fashion” has been around since the time of the Roman Empire. From around 500 BCE to 1900 CE, clothing was mostly used to differentiate social and financial classes. Usually, the aristocrats and “noble-folk” wore clothing that was different than other people, whether that be in length, color, garment type, etc.

Charles Fredrick Worth

However, fashion took a hard turn in the late 1800s when Charles Fredrick Worth became the first people so put a brand label on an item of clothing and in turn became known as the first official fashion designer. His brand, Worth, exploded all over Europe (mainly in France) and unknown seamstresses and tailors were quickly taken over by big brands and designers. Pre-World-War-One clothing was very extravagant, especially for women with layers upon layers of clothing and intricate corsets and dresses. Within that same small era, women’s fashion evolved into the flapper style with the uprise of women empowerment and such. Also, in 1910, the first fashion show was produced by Jeanne Paquin who was also known as the first female courtier.

When WWI hit, fashion for both men and women was forced to be more conservative of superfluous materials. Fashion overall became darker and more monochromatic and less extravagant clothing was worn due to the lack of parties. This lack of color and fabrics then influenced future styles in the 1920s and 1930s.

Throughout the rest of the 1900s, fashion went through many changes corresponding with different movements, celebrities, musicians, and other various inspirations. During this time, many famous designers emerged such as Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent. Fashion was also influenced by the many countries designers came from such as France, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

Some of the sketches from the French designer Yves Saint Laurent

Although, from the late 1900s to the early 2000s, fashion has diversified to encompass many groups of people and inspirations. Styles such as punk, athletic wear, and the beginnings of streetwear came to the forefront. In the present day, some popular styles have been athleisure, streetwear, loungewear, and clothing of bright colors and patterns (this includes things like tie dye, neon, animal prints, etc.)

Fashion has followed us through major event, social movement, and trend in other forms of art. The history of fashion is, in essence, the history of humans. It seems pretty straightforward,

so then why is fashion a science?

There are countless reasons why fashion is a science such as how dyes are made and how they work or the science of textiles (which is actually a surprisingly big topic), but the biggest and simplest reason why fashion is a science has to do with human biology.

Well, human biology is quite a broad term, but it has a lot to do with fashion. The first topic of human biology in fashion is psychology, specifically the science of trends. Trends are an enormous part of fashion and are basically what dictate where it is now and where it is going. It’s the reason why legwarmers were popular in the 1980s, but not as much any more and why certain colors appear in clothing out of nowhere. Most of fashion is dictated by a small handful of people. For example, the company Pantone chooses colors every year (and more for every season) that they declare as “colors of the year.” So designers then create clothing lines around these colors. A great example of this appears in the movie The Devil Wears Prada. Cerulean was the Pantone color of the year in 2000 and eventually made its way down the fashion pyramid.

This doesn’t just apply for colors, it also applies for fabrics, items of clothing, shoes, accessories, etc. Each new trend is dictated by a small group of people and then makes its way down to the general public. Although, how does this happen? Well, as much as we like to say it isn’t true, us humans like to be part of the crowd. We want to be accepted into a common culture and if that means wearing the same colored pants or the same shirt as other people, then so be it. That’s how big trends spread. A person/group of people does something unique. Then, people begin to catch on, integrating it into their own lives. Soon enough, a large enough group of people or even a celebrity all start doing the same thing and next thing you know it everyone has or is wearing the same thing, all because we have a psychological need to be accepted. However, that is not the only scientific thing about fashion.

A big part of fashion, subjectively the biggest part of fashion is human anatomy and what is appealing to the brain. One of the largest parts of fashion is how different styles of clothes fit different types of bodies. As you’ve most likely experienced, different cuts of clothing flatter a person’s body more than others. They just all interact with our bodies differently. However, a big part of clothes being “flattering” is how we perceive them on people’s bodies. That is the reason why people have different opinions about clothes. This is why under the huge umbrella of fashion trends, the are subgroups that have different styles and opinions within the trends. It also has to do with how the brain perceives patterns and shapes. This is why horizontal stripes make a person look wider and vertical stripes make them look taller. It is also why some women’s clothing has that inward curve pattern near the waits that accentuates the hourglass figure. Perception is one of the most important parts of all fashion. Fashion is also dictated by the shape of people’s bodies and what makes them look the best because, obviously, people want to buy what makes them look good. Perception is also a key element in colors in regards to fashion. It decides what colors go together and what colors clash. (Less so now, but) there’s a reason why you don’t see people where green and purple or blue and brown. It is because we decide that we like or don’t like the combination of certain colors.

Overall, fashion is a science that affects so many people and all different kinds of people. All over the world, people have their own things that they call fashion. Its foundation is based on all different kinds of psychology and physiology, our different mentalities and what we think looks good. However, with all of these fast paced trends and fads,

many clothes go to waste.

The average American throws away an estimated 82 lbs of clothing per year. Globally, about 203 billion pounds per year and by 2030, this is expected to reach 295 billion pounds. That’s a lot of clothing. And you might be thinking, “but there’s a lot of recycled clothing nowadays,” but in reality, on 12% of clothes are actually recycled. Most of the rest of the clothing ends up in landfills and can take more than 200 years to decompose and create greenhouse gases while doing so. With fashion constantly changing, clothing waste is becoming and bigger and bigger detriment to our environment. In fact, our current fashion is known as fast fashion because of the rate at which it’s changing.

There are small things that you can do to minimize your clothing waste as well :

  1. Prolong the lifespan of your clothes — Caring for your clothes how the care labels instruct can increase how long your clothes last.
  2. Repair not replace — If a button comes loose on your shirt or the sole on your shoe is getting a little too worn, try to get it sewn or get your shoe resoled instead of just throwing them out and getting a new one (shoe glue is another cheap way of fixing shoes)
  3. Donate them — If you have clothes that you know that you’re not going to wear and are going to throw out, consider donating them or holding a clothing swap with friends. Even if you don’t want something, chances are that someone else does.
  4. Reevaluate your choices before you buy — Another way to reduce the amount of clothes you are throwing away is simply just buying less of them. Whenever presented with a situation to buy new clothes, first ask yourself, “do I really need this?” If the answer is yes, then yes, buy it, but if not, you’d be saving yourself the hassle of having a plethora of excess clothing.

There are many other tips for reducing clothing, some of which can be found here. We can sometimes forget that many of the things that we do and interact with on a daily basis can have a negative impact on our environment.

So, in the future,

fashion could go in two different directions. It could into futuristic technology and/or, more importantly, it could take a sustainability route.

Recently, AI fashion has come into the light with custom fitted and styled clothing. Also, companies have been using AI to design their clothing and predict trends. With all of this fast fashion that has been happening, companies such as Stitch Fix or Miu Miu have been using AI to predict the rise and fall of trends. This allows them to take advantage of the consumer base and play the market to sell the most merchandise.

However, fashion could also turn to sustainability. More and more companies are starting sustainability and no-waste initiatives. Not only are many items of clothing discarded, but many clothing companies discard a lot of damaged clothing and excess fabrics. So, companies are finding ways to use those scraps and extra merchandise to make more clothing. Companies such as these are finding more and more ways to lessen their load on the environment and the more companies that start these initiatives, the bigger the change will be.

So overall,

Fashion is a vast industry that is founded on science and is one of the things that make us human. However, that exact thing could be the catalyst of environmental failure. So, while it might not seem that important, be mindful of your clothing choices.

Thanks for taking the time to read my article. I hope you enjoyed it!

I am a 15 year old in high school with a passion for brain computer interfaces. In the future, I hope to write more about my adventures learning about this emerging technology.

Make sure to reach out to me with any comment, questions, or concerns at caitlinkim2024@gmail.com.

You can also find me on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Have a great day! :)

A freshman in high school. Student of the sciences. Student of the world. Student of life. Fueled by passion and curiosity.

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