The Two Eras of Fashion
For most of human history, fashion was largely a local affair, usually the domain of women responding to the demands of climate and culture. Even where raw materials like cotton or wool were plentiful, clothing designers rarely had a broad range of materials to choose from. The same thing applied to dyes and fixatives like alum, and to the materials used to provide functional and decorative accessories like buttons and beads.
What women in the first age of fashion may have lacked in terms of materials, they more than made up for with technical innovation and ingenious approaches to design that built sophisticated fashion vernaculars out of relatively few components. Those techniques and designs inform fashion to this day, but on a commercial scale they do so at a remove, as inspirations from a past era.
The Industrial Revolution had the same impact on fashion that it did on many other industries. New means of transportation brought raw materials from around the world to factories where garments were produced in mass quantities. The tradition of handcrafted clothing persisted for some time, but even then, dressmakers and tailors were usually working with mechanically produced fabrics.
In the 20th century, widespread globalization produced the fashion industry we know today. Design has been largely divorced from production: fashion designers work with textile firms to select distinctive woven materials or to produce unique ones; their designs, however carefully developed in the studio, are produced in factories, often in problematic conditions.