Fashion Dissemination in Modern Society

In a new blog post on the CommsWomen platform, Olivia Taylor, a student at the University of Alabama, College of Communication and Information Sciences, analyses an article on fashion dissemination by Phyllis Tortora published by Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion.

In a 2014 article published in the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, author Phyllis Tortora writes about the history of fashion, from its thirteenth-century origins to today’s modern styles. Of particular interest, though, is Tortora’s commentary on the spread of fashion inspiration. She cites the “trickle-down” theory, discussed in some of the “earliest writings about the consumption of fashion,” (Tortora, 2014) and the contradicting “bubble up” theory, both of which seek to explain the dissemination of fashion. Each of these theories can be used to evaluate the current state of the fashion industry and provide an interesting look into how this ever-changing industry functions in a society dominated by constant connectedness.

The more well-known of the two theories, the trickle-down theory, discusses how “fashion change occurs…[and] how fashion markets are created” (Tortora, 2014). In short, fashion starts among society’s elite, slowly being copied by people of lower social stratas until it becomes widely accessible through mass production. It is this cycle that allows for fashion to change, and even more aptly evolve. Today, this can be seen just about anywhere. Consider social media, for instance. Celebrities and influencers share their lives with the world, inundating their followers with the latest styles. As these images are spread, more people see the styles worn by their role models and seek to imitate them. The more people consider something trend-worthy, the more likely companies will mass produce them, with some brands “knocking off” designs from luxury brands or small businesses to sell for a few dollars. This has led to a rise in fast-fashion retailers like Shein, encouraging the raging cycle of consumerism.

The bubble up theory, on the other hand, argues that fashion trends are not just emulated after the elite, but “originate with small groups that are not part of mainstream culture” (Tortora, 2014). Though described by some as the “death of fashion” (Tortora, 2014), fashion designers and manufacturers seek inspiration from “the dress of a subculture” Tortora, 2014). This practice has existed in fashion since (at least) the 1970s, bringing concert graphic tees, “jeans first worn by anti–Vietnam War student protesters, or shoes worn with laces untied that originated with inner-city African American youth” (Tortora, 2014) into mainstream markets. This trend has resulted in an entirely new culture around fashion consumerism. Unlike previous centuries, our fashion today is segmented, reflecting what is accepted within the particular reference groups we find ourselves in. Fashion is disseminated from the bottom up, eventually crawling its way to mainstream (and occasionally luxury) success.

I do believe, though, that it is important to note that both theories are valid. While they may hold opposing views on fashion dissemination, neither is more accurate than the other. Fashion can begin from the closets of the elite and from the trends of niche interest groups. Both theories allow for fashion to operate in modern society, as we are not reliant on one source of inspiration. If anything, fashion dissemination is open-ended. Trends can begin from a viral TikTok or through years of subculture cultivation. Inspiration and fashion are synonymous, allowing for our modern society to redefine the meaning of fashion, one style at a time.

The full article can be read using this link.


Tortora, Phyllis G. “History and Development of Fashion.” Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, vol. Volume 10: Global Perspectives, 2014, pp. 159-170,

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