The Real Difference Between Fashion and Style

Posted by Jill Chivers in Fashion, Style and Shopping

I’m prompted to write about the real difference between fashion and style after reading a piece in Melbourne’s Saturday Age newspaper entitled “Maybe it’s time for a change of gear in fashion’s fast lane” written by sociologist Dr Ruth Quibell.

Dr Quibell proposes that the pace of fashion is so fast now that keeping up is nigh on impossible (citing mega chains like Zara, whose stock turns over twice a week – throwing out the traditional “seasonal” change in store windows altogether).

Dr Quibell suggests that we may wish to

“… strengthen our social selves, our character, rather than simply letting our uniforms do the talking.  To do this, we might avoid fashion for a while – to experiment with style, rather than what’s “now”.”

I loved that, as it speaks to not only the connection between clothing and our sense of selves (something that seems beyond debate, as much as any topic ever becomes so) but that to ‘take a break from fashion’ is something that might be soothing, healing, helpful.  I also love that statement – “to experiment with style”.  Amen!

So what is the real difference between fashion and style?

Here’s my definition:

Fashion is the relationship to the external.

It is concerned with “what’s out there” (fashion items, in the stores).  It’s a matching process between what’s out there (fashion’s primary interest) to what I’m wearing.  Is what I’m wearing a ‘match’ for what’s ‘out there’, to what’s been deemed ‘in fashion’?

Style is the relationship to the internal.

It’s about “what’s in here” (my sense of self, my identity, my perception of who I am).  The matching process is between what’s in here and how that is reflected and expressed in what I’m wearing.  Does my clothing ‘match’ my sense of who I am, at least for today?

Fashion distracts, style connects

If we go with that definition, it’s easy to see that there’s a huge difference in the orientation of our focus if it’s on fashion vs. style.  Fashion takes our attention away from ourselves, style brings our attention directly to ourselves.

You, or the clothes?

This definition also recognises where the emphasis is placed.  With fashion, it’s on the clothing, the items deemed to be fashionable.  With style, it’s on the person.

Fashion can be away to distance yourself from yourself, which may be a desirable thing for some people at some points in time.

Style is a way to make closer your relationship to yourself, as its focus and orientation is on the self and how it’s informed and expressed by clothing choices.

Loving and honouring yourself

I asked what other people thought about the difference between fashion and style and this was my favourite response, from Mary Ellen, an alumni of the My Year Without Clothes Shopping program:

I think it’s all about truly, truly knowing yourself, loving yourself – not just modifying, covering flaws, etc. – but loving yourself exactly the way you are right now – and dressing to honor that.

Thank you Mary Ellen – I love that definition and how it orients our focus toward building our self-esteem and confidence.

I believe that fashion has the capacity to erode our self-esteem and confidence because by its very nature it assumes a gap between where you are and where you should be.


Fashion is always shifting – even if something you’re wearing is deemed in fashion today, it likely won’t be very soon, possibly as early as tomorrow (and if not then, then next week or next month – whenever it is, it’s soon).

Style has a dynamic nature, too, but its dynamism has to do with the expression of who you are and your sense of self.  It’s about honouring your uniqueness and having your outsides match your insides.

You can read Dr Quibell’s piece from the Melbourne Saturday Age in its entirety here.

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