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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    7 Responses to “The Real Difference Between Fashion and Style”

    1. Julia says:

      I never really ‘got’ fashion. My style, or what I had of one, was limited by what was available to buy, but over the years I’ve figured out what works for me, and I’ve been known to try something near the beginning of a ‘season’ and buy another one (or more) in another color while the option is still available. (Hence a healthy supply of sleeveless bra tops from Victoria’s Secret, in 3 different cuts; I don’t need to seek anything more like that, or any undershirts for winter since they work well for that, anytime soon.)

      I do unorthodox things. Not many women are running around in Utilikilts, but I’m in one when I leave the house more often than not. I ended up with a pair of red Converse All Stars last year, wore them out, and got another 2 pair (with a coupon), so I’m set with those for awhile, and I’ve worn them with almost every sort of thing I own, including a little black dress. (My friend who follows fashion was appalled.) The last couple of years have been spent figuring out what, of the things I own, work for me, and what are reasonable additions to my wardrobe. (Answer: besides the Converse sneakers and a couple of Utilikilts and some new underwear, not much; the last dress I bought was under $20 in a consignment store, and I doubt I will see the need to buy much else besides socks, underwear and an occasional kilt.)

      • Jill Chivers says:

        hi Julia, thanks for your comments, always interesting to read. Your comments support the idea that personal style is about the relationship one has to oneself, and the use of clothing as a way to express and inform that sense of self. If it’s red Converse sneakers and Utilikilts (something I confess I have never heard of, and suspect I haven’t ever laid eyes on) for you, bravo.

        We all know women who don’t fit the media-inspired vision of what is beautiful and attractive (slim and young-looking, most often) and yet they are stunning, and attractive in the true sense of the word – we are attracted to them. If they aren’t wearing the latest on trend fashions, it begs the question: where does that attractiveness come from? Inside themselves, would be my answer.

    2. liv says:

      Style blurs the lines of the class system… it makes it harder for the rich and poor and middle class to know who is who… style is attitude and personality… Fashion on the other hand divides the classes and puts the rich above the everyday… it gives them an attitude of superiority…but having money doesn’t mean you have style and that is why style is so important… style can help make you successful… fashion can just keep you in the same place…

    3. elle says:

      Reading this reminds me of the scenario of Kate and Williams visit to Australia, and every outfit she appeared in sold out within hours in the stores as everyone was trying to look like Kate! I really relate to this and see something nice on someone – anyone, or especially someone I like and I want that piece too, because I think it will make me a better person. I am learning not to be a follower, but to be happy with who I am. ( I have to just see someone buying something in a boutique and I have to go to the counter and check out what they are buying to see if Id like it too) – its like – if its good enough for them it must be good for me too! Thanks Jill you are making me THINK!

      • Jill Chivers says:

        hi there Elle and thanks for reading! Yes, such a fascinating to see all these fashion followers when it comes to someone deemed a style icon like Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. One of the most interesting things about copying or emulating her style is that her LIFEstyle is so very different to almost every other woman’s on the planet – nobody lives a princess lifestyle, and her clothing has been very deliberately chosen for that lifestyle… so if you look at it a little beneath the surface, copying her clothing may be one way that some women try to get a feeling of a princess’ lifestyle. A much better choice is to choose clothing that suits your own lifestyle, and to get more deeply in touch with your life and love it more – not try to copy someone else’s, however glamourous it may seem from the outside!

        So glad you are reading and finding the articles worthwhile.

    4. Reza says:

      Hi jill,
      i wanted to thank you for this article, i strongly support it and recommend it to everyone bcuz i’v been living my whole life based on this idea with “style”.
      And as a college student, i was looking for an article in subject of fashion for my presentation in our class, but since fashion doesn’t interest me i couldn’t decide between them… then i crossed to your article and the moment i saw it i knew that this was what i looking for, so i used this article of yours at my presentation and i mentioned the source (your name as the writer, this website and ofc dr.quibell) and everyone liked it… so once again thank you very much for this and god bless you!

      • Jill Chivers says:

        hi Reza, you’re very welcome and I’m so glad you found this piece useful. I would have been interested in your class presentation!

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