The dress and more specifically its synonym costume (both words deriving from the latin consuetudo, meaning custom) depicts the external appearance of an individual related to both a custom, connected with a local society in a certain period of time[2], as well as to the then available materials (silk, wool, linen, etc and people’s skills (weavers, needlewomen, embroiderers)[3]. This specific society is formed according to the existing social, political, economic, historical and ideological factors. Within its social function, the costume appears as a means of communication, providing information codes among individuals.

“Dress” is a generalized term for clothing connected to identity or activity. “Costume” is a narrower meaning of “dress” to a particular style establishing specific features of social status, occupation or ethnicity. “Dress” would be related to anthropology or sociology and “costume” – to ethnology or media and art history.

In the 16th century and possibly later, “dress” was the main indicator of social class and/or ethnic group. The certain clothes were worn according to the wearer’s status and according to traditions of various communities, necessary to observe by wearer. The recognizable elements of such styles of dress could be related to the term of “costume”. “Dress” is the appropriate term to classify the “dress codes” as part of protocols determined by specific geographic, cultural or contextual requirements. “Costume” can also be understood as the use of specific cuts, shapes and fabrics for identification feature of the wearer.

Therefore, the term “dress” can be described as the act of putting on and wearing a certain garment and anybody can wear a fashionable item or a “costume”. 

All human societies practice some form of body cover and decor, driven by need, creativity, or symbolism. “Dress” can occupy either of these aspects, especially analyzing them from a panoramic perspective. “Costume” is related to creativity or symbolism, however, according to its context, if it is used from the past, it could mean a past utilitarian connection. “Fashion” acts firstly on a symbolic level, although it not completely erases the utility of certain garments, where the main aesthetic credit belongs to the designer. However, the wearer or fashion consumer can show some decision by combining individual pieces from choices limited by financial means. Moreover, while communication through dress and especially through costume can generate coherent messages that are immediately decipherable by those, who are familiar with its symbols, the articulation of fashion is inherently complex and ever-changing.

Another important difference between fashion and other clothing terms is its inextricable connection with consumerism. Although some cities have received the title of "fashion capitals, "dress" and "costume" cannot claim such titles.


  1. Andraș, S. D. Fashion, Dress, Costume: A Proposed Terminological Clarification in the Historical Research of Women’s Clothing. Anuarul Institutului de Cercetări Socio-Umane “Gheorghe Şincai” al Academiei Române, 24, pp. 194-212.