From Clothing to Fashion to Style
The fastest way I can explain the differences amongst these three words, or concepts, is that clothing is the most basic form and style is the most advanced.
Clothing in theory only existed when pieces of clothing were used strictly for the function of modesty or protection (depending on whether or not your viewpoint is religious). Today, since each piece of clothing is loaded with signifiers and connotations and meaning, no person uses “clothing.” For everyone dressing in today’s world, clothing is fashion, but there are those that have progressed to practicing style.
The largest percentage of style-practicing citizens are from the West (where exactly, that can be debated), but I would argue that China is perhaps at one of the lowest percentages in terms of population that practices style.
This is for a couple of reasons. One is because sartorial practices are based mainly on imitation of Western fashion. Imitation is certainly part of fashion, but individuality is key in practicing style. The organic growth of fashion into the mature form of style is hampered by large Western fashion brands, whose voyeuristic imagery have helped fuel the trend of imitation instead of individualization… although unattainable by many because of high prices, it still serves as a homogenizing form for China’s richest. And for the rest of the population, fashion arbitration and dissemination comes from a foreign source, meaning that China can only truly develop style once it adapts, as opposed to adopts, cultural materials like fashion.