Women’s apparel is the most conspicuous sector in the fashion business. Fashion designers working in this field may become famous, whether they are working in couture or ready-to-wear. Designers in the menswear or children's wear industries are generally less known. The apparel industries produce dresses, suits, coats, sportswear, and underwear as well as accessories such as shoes, jewelry, handbags, hosiery, gloves, and hats.
The great expansion of department, chain, and mail-order stores in the 20th century paralleled the development of the apparel industry. The retail business itself embraces the fields of marketing and merchandising. Fashion media, including magazines and broadcasting, require fashion editors, photographers, stylists, and many other professionals.
New York City has been the fashion capital of the United States throughout the nation's history, and Toronto and Montréal have vied for dominance in Canada’s fashion industry. For many years North American fashion was dependent on the creative leadership of Europe, especially Paris. Paris remained the international capital of women’s fashion from the 17th century until well into the 20th century. London was the capital of fine menswear from the 18th century until the 1950s. New York meanwhile became the capital of ready-to-wear men's clothing. Over the course of the 20th century, however, the fashion industries in the United States and Canada have moved beyond their dependence on Paris and London.
Today the fashion industries in North America are interconnected with the international fashion system. Textiles and apparel for the U.S. fashion industry are increasingly produced overseas where wages are lower than they are in the United States. The government has supported Canada’s fashion industry and apparel has become one of Canada’s most important industries and a major export. Alfred Sung is one of the Canadian designers who has gained an international reputation.
Most apparel manufacturers in the United States and Canada prepare for four selling seasons within the calendar year: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Efforts are usually concentrated on the spring and fall collections. Manufacturers show their new line to retailers six months before the garments appear in stores. For example, they generally introduce spring styles during September.
Because relatively few people can afford couture clothes, the couture houses make most of their profits by licensing their names. Many more people can buy a bottle of Chanel #5 perfume, for example, than can afford a custom-fitted Chanel suit. Many couturiers also produce ready-to-wear collections that are sold at fine department stores or at couture boutiques around the world.
The French ready-to-wear industry has thrived since the 1960s. Fashion designers of ready-to-wear, such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler, are known as créateurs (creators), as opposed to couturiers. They show their collections in March and October.
Italy is France's most serious rival in the field of high fashion. Italy has long had couture houses, mostly in Rome; these houses show their collections one week before the French shows. More important, however, is the trendsetting Italian ready-to-wear industry, which is based primarily in Milan. Top fashion designers who head their own firms include Armani and the Missoni family. They coordinate their ready-to-wear collections with the French shows.
London was for many years the world's center of high-quality menswear, although Italy has overshadowed it in recent years by producing more innovative menswear. London also has a small couture industry and a lively ready-to-wear industry. Vivienne Westwood is probably Britain's most important designer today, although she has often chosen to show her collections in Paris rather than in London.
Germany, Spain, and a few other European countries have small fashion industries. The German designer best known in North America is Margaretha Ley of the fashion house Escada. In South America, Brazil is a major producer of shoes. Asia also has a substantial fashion presence, and the United States imports more apparel from East Asia than from any other area in the world. Designers from around the world, including Pierre Cardin of France and Calvin Klein of the United States, have used Hong Kong’s manufacturing facilities. So far, however, only Japan has produced fashion designers with an international influence. They include Hanae Mori, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo. Although fashion trade shows are held in Tokyo, Japan, in January and July, some Japanese designers prefer to present their collections in Paris.
People all around the world like to follow fashion, although their styles are not always Western. They may combine elements of international fashion with elements of their own culture's traditional dress, or they may choose to wear primarily traditional dress. In India, for example, where many women wear the sari, fashion magazines carry pictures of international fashion and also interpret the sari in terms of fashion. In this system, the colors and patterns of the sari change according to the latest fashion, and fashion designers, photographers, editors, and models promote the season's fashionable saris.