This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Fashion. A term which admits as little of an exact definition as of being referred to as an intelligent principle. The French term it la mode. In every age and in every country there has been a recognized costume or general style of male and female attire, along with certain niceties in the color, shape and texture of dress, which, fluctuating according to taste or caprice, are known as Fashion. This whimsicality constantly begins and ends in two things it most abhors - singularity and vulgarity. It is the perpetual setting up of a certain standard of taste and elegance, formed by the prevailing distraction of the moment, and then disowning it; which was yesterday ridiculous from its being new, and to-day essentially proper, will to-morrow become odious from its being too common. To quote the words of the English moralist, Hazlett, "It cannot be lasting, as it depends on contrast, change and shifting; it cannot be sterling, for if it were, it would not depend on the breath of caprice; it must be superficial to produce its immediate effect on the gaping crowd; and frivolous to admit of its being assumed at pleasure by those who affect it in order to be distinguished from the rest of the world. It is not anything in itself nor the sign of anything except perhaps the sheer vanity of those people whose very existence depends upon what others may think of them. It takes the firmest hold of weak, flimsy, and narrow minds; of those whose emptiness conceives of nothing excellent except it be regarded in a like manner by others. Fashion is the abortive offspring of vain ostentation and exclusive egotism; it is haughty, trifling, affected, servile, despotic, mean and ambitious, precise and fantastical all in a breath, tied to no rule and bound to conform to every rule of the minute." Fashion is the arbitress of weaver and dyer, and the terror of wholesale and retail buyers, and yet their main dependence for profits. If stamped out of existence in a night, the next morning's sun would shine down on a million work-people who depend upon her for a livelihood. Fashion, however, throughout all its vagaries, has this one principle of, humanity in it, that it is almost always designed to help those who want help, to cover up deficiencies of nature, to conceal the havoc wrought by time of face or form, and to make those look their best to whom no special charms have been given. [See Dress, Clothes]