“‘This… stuff’? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. When in fact you are wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room” – Meryl Streep The Devil Wears Prada

Fashion is all around us. It has been like this for decades. Even though trends come and go, fashion will always influence what we wear when we wear and how we wear. Whether we like to admit it or not. 


What is fashion?

Fashion comes from the Latin word ‘facere’ which means ‘to make’. It is the trend of design marked by rhythmic imitation and innovation. Fashion embodies the accepted style of the time. Once the style is copied, this is seen as a fashion trend. 

To put this in plain terms. Winter is upon us here in South Africa. Next time you are shopping see how a new style of a sweater will be in every shop. Just in slight variations. Then take a look at what was trending during winter in America or Europe – and you will be able to see how fashion copies and becomes a trend. 

In the old days, fashion was influenced by other countries only by the upper class who had access to travel. The lower class would then imitate their style and this is how trends spread. Today fashion is more fluent and spreads much faster. 

Principles of design

Fashion design is an art form. And in any art form, there are certain principles that guide the art form application.

What are the principles of clothing design: 


“In clothing, this refers to the visual balance of weight.”There are 3 major types of balance in fashion design. Formal balance, which refers to the upper and lower sections of a garment. They should be in harmony. One section should not appear heavier on the bottom or top. Informal balance; this is where the design has a haphazard design type. Radial balance occurs when major parts of the design radiate from the central part. 

2. Emphasis: 

Emphasis refers to drawing attention to one specific part of a design. With the other sections not taking away the attention from the intended section. In other design types, it is also known as the ‘focal point’ of a design. 

Different types of emphasis include; using contrast, leading lines, repairing detail and unusual shapes or textures. 


This unity is created when all the elements of a design work together to create a successful visual effect. When the right balance is not found people usually refer to this as being unharmonious. 


Scale refers to a basic shape within a design. This creates order within a design. Think for example how an oversized table can make a room look smaller. This is because it is not in proportion to the rest of the room. This same principle is used in fashion design. 

Design Themes Used In Clothing Design

Themes and time periods are used to guide a designer through their process. Many times these periods are used to elevate a simple design into something that can hold the title of designer clothing. The designer also follows a pattern of design to ultimately decide how a design will be executed. 

From themes to process in clothing designers: 


This is when a designer turns to a specific era for inspiration. For example when Victorian-era clothing elements are used (not replicated) to make a new design.

The Hollywood Pitch: 

When a designer turns to well-established media to guide them in a design. For example, using teen shows to create a line for children’s wear. Or for example, use children in a school uniform as inspiration. 

The Menu: 

After the designer has established what type of theme they will use they now create a menu of items that will guide the design process. These will form the building blocks of the design and include things like pattern, textures, colours, and decorations.


Now the scale can be decided. The designer uses the principles of design to decide which of the concepts work better. For example, if the theme is flowers they can try to use a flower as a central point on a garment or simply add flower patterns to one aspect of the piece.

Fashion terminology

Here are some interesting terminologies used in fashion design:


  1. According pleats: folds in clothing. 
  2. Achromatic colours: a non-colour like black or white. 
  3. African print: this one you should know. 
  4. Apparel industry: the enterprise which manufactures clothing.
  5. Art deco: the fine art movement of the 1920s. This is characterised by geometric patterns from yellow, green, gold, silver and black. 
  6. Asymmetry: where both sides of a garment look the same.
  7. Blousing: gathering a blouse or dress at the waist. 
  8. Border print: a design that runs along the hem.
  9. Chic: styling or sophisticated. 
  10. Classic: a style that is in trend for a long time. 
  11. Collection: a pre-seasoned showing of a designers line. 
  12. Contemporary: the in style of the day.
  13. Cosmetic colour: the colour that relates to that of makeup. 


Do you want to learn more about comprehensive clothing design? Why not try one of our more advanced classes and take your sewing skills to the next level.


The Fashion Design Reference & Specification Book: Everything Fashion – By By Jay Calderin, Laura Volpintesta

Elements of Fashion and Apparel Design – By G. J. Sumathi


One thought to “What Is Fashion Design/ Clothing Design”

  • Vincent

    Love your writing Carli. Especially this article. Very different from your other pieces. Whatever the change, we’re loving it. More of this type of writing please.


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