Journal of Global History


Was fashion a European invention?*

Carlo Marco Belfantia1

a1 Department of Social Sciences, University of Brescia, Via S. Faustino 74B, 25122 Brescia, Italy E-mail: [email protected]


Fashion was arguably a social phenomenon that emerged in Europe during early modern times, and this paper seeks to determine whether it was unknown in the refined civilizations of the East. The conclusion is that fashion was not a European invention. The analysis of the evolution of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese clothing systems underlines how these societies underwent phases in which, thanks to propitious economic conditions, the accentuated propensity towards consumption stimulated behaviour that challenged the traditional hierarchies of appearance, usually regulated by canons of a prescriptive nature. Fashion was not, therefore, a European invention, but it only fully developed as a social institution in Europe, while in India, China, and Japan it only evolved partially, without being able to obtain full social recognition.

Carlo Marco Belfanti is Professor of Economic History at the University of Brescia, Italy


* The author would like to thank the referees and editors for their comments and suggestions.