Early Western travelers, whether to Persia, Turkey, India, or China frequently remark on the absence of changes in fashion there, and observers from these other cultures comment on the unseemly pace of Western fashion, which many felt suggested an instability and lack of order in Western culture.
The Japanese Shogun's secretary boasted (not completely accurately) to a Spanish visitor in 1609 that Japanese clothing had not changed in over a thousand years. However in Ming China, for example, there is considerable evidence for rapidly changing fashions in Chinese clothing. Changes in costume often took place at times of economic or social change (such as in ancient Rome and the medieval Caliphate), but then a long period without major changes followed. This occurred in Moorish Spain from the 8th century, when the famous musician Ziryab introduced sophisticated clothing-styles based on seasonal and daily fashion from his native Baghdad and his own inspiration to Cordoba in Al-Andalus. Similar changes in fashion occurred in the Middle East from the 11th century, following the arrival of the Turks, who introduced clothing styles from Central Asia and the Far East The fashion industry is a product of the modern age. Prior to the mid-19th century, most clothing was custom made. It was handmade for individuals, either as home production or on order from dressmakers and tailors. By the beginning of the 20th century—with the rise of new technologies such as the sewing machine, the rise of global capitalism and the development of the factory system of production, and the proliferation of retail outlets such as dep
stores—clothing had increasingly come to be mass-produced in standard sizes and sold at fixed prices. Although the fashion industry developed first in Europe and America, today it is an international and highly globalized industry, with clothing often designed in one country, manufactured in another, and sold world-wide. For example, an American fashion company might source fabric in China and have the clothes manufactured in Vietnam, finished in Italy, and shipped to a warehouse in the United States for distribution to retail outlets internationally. The fashion industry has long been one of the largest employers in the United States, and it remains so in the 21st century. However, employment declined considerably as production increasingly moved overseas, especially to China. Because data on the fashion industry typically are reported for national economies and expressed in terms of the industry’s many separate sectors, aggregate figures for world production of textiles and clothing are difficult to obtain. However, by any measure, the industry accounts for a significant share of world economic output. The fashion industry consists of four levels: the production of raw materials, principally fibres and textiles but also leather and fur; the production of fashion goods by designers, manufacturers, contractors, and others; retail sales; and various forms of advertising and promotion.
These levels consist of many separate but interdependent sectors, all of which are devoted to the goal of satisfying consumer demand for apparel under conditions that enable participants in the industry to operate at a profit.