The beginning in Europe of continual and increasingly-rapid change in clothing styles canbefairlyreliablydated to late medieval times. Historians, including James Laver and Fernand Braudel, date the start of Western fashion in clothing to the middle of the 14th century
The most dramatic early change in fashion was a sudden drastic shortening and tightening of the male over-garment from calf-length to barely covering the buttocks, sometimes accompanied by stuffing in the chest to make it look bigger. This created the distinctive Western outline of a tailored top worn over leggings or trousers. The pace of change accelerated considerably in the following century, and women’s and men’s fashion, especially in the dressing and adorning of hair, became equally complex.
Art historians are, therefore, able to use fashion with confidence and precision to date images, often to within five years, particularly in the case of images from the 15th century. Initially, changes in fashion led to a fragmentation across the upper classes of Europe of what had previously been a very similar style of dressing and the subsequent development of distinctive national styles. These national styles remained very different until a counter-movement in the 17th to 18th centuries imposed similar styles once again, mostly originating from Ancien Régime France. Though the rich usually led fashion, the increasing affluence of early modern Europe led to the bourgeoisie and even peasants following trends at a distance.
In the 16th century, national differences were at their most pronounced. Ten 16th-century portraits of German or Italian gentlemen may show ten entirely different hats. Albrecht Dürer illustrated the differences in his actual (or composite) contrast of Nuremberg and Venetian fashions at the close of the 15th century (illustration, right). The “Spanish style” of the late 16th century began to move back to synchronicity among upper-class Europeans, and after a struggle in the mid-17th century, French styles decisively took over leadership, a process completed in the 18th century.
Though different textile colors and patterns changed from year to year, the cut of a gentleman’s-coat and the length of his waistcoat, or the pattern to which a lady’s dress was cut, changed more slowly. Men’s fashions were primarily derived from military models, and changes in a European male silhouette were galvanized in theaters of European war where gentleman officers had opportunities to make notes of different styles such as the “Steinkirk” cravat or necktie. Both parties wore shirts under their clothing, the cut and style of which had little cause to change over a number of centuries.
The four major current fashion capitals are acknowledged to be New York City, Paris, Milan, and London, which are all headquarters of the most significant fashion companies and are renowned for their major influence on global fashion. In the early 2000s, Asian fashion influences became increasingly significant in local and global markets. Countries such as China, Japan, India, and Pakistan have traditionally had large textile industries.