“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” —Coco Chanel
Humans have produced clothing for as far back as archeologists can trace, but the modern fashion industry, with its labels, magazines, and the imperative of style, emerged in the late 18th century, primarily as haute couture (“high fashion”). In the 20th century, enabled by the rise of consumer culture and technologies of mass production like the sewing machine, factory-made prêt-à-porter (“ready to wear”) brought fashion into everyday life. Due to the reliance of fashion on commerce and its predominant association with women, its status as an art form worthy of serious scholarly attention has long been debated by art historians. Clothing designers have used fashion to creatively push the boundaries of issues from beauty to gender roles—in the avant-garde designs of Alexander McQueen, or the provocative garments of Jean Paul Gaultier, for example. Many visual artists create wearable art, often to engage audiences in novel ways: see Nick Cave’s soundsuits, Atsuko Tanaka’s Electric Dress (1956), or Zhang Huan’s performance My New York (2002), in which the artist navigated Manhattan dressed in a suit of meat.