Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000


Copyright © 2000 by the author(s).


The concepts of "tradition" and "fashion" both center on the idea of change. Fashion implies change, while tradition implies a lack of change. Many scholars have attempted to draw a line between the two, often with contradictory results. In a 1981 article titled, "Awareness: Requisite to Fashion," Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins argued that,

If people in a society are generally not aware of change in form of dress during their lifetimes, fashion does not exist in that society. Awareness of change is a necessary condition for fashion to exist; the retrospective view of the historian does not produce fashion.1

Although she praised an earlier scholar, Herbert Blumer, for promoting the serious study offashion2, their conceptualizations of the line between tradition and fashion differed. Taking a view of fashion as a phenomenon occurring in nearly all areas of human behavior and thought, Blumer wrote that in some areas,

... fashion occurs almost always without awareness on the part of those who are caught in its operation. What may be primarily response to fashion is seen and interpreted in other ways-chiefly as doing what is believed to be superior practIce.3

This paper does not attempt to resolve the contradictions between these points of view, but makes another claim that they exist because there is no clear line between tradition and fashion to uncover. Instead there are many shades of gray between the black and white concepts of tradition and fashion.