The term "high fashion" is typically used as a way of describing fashions that are trend-setting, unique, and exclusive. While mass market clothing is, er, mass-produced and easily accessed (and typically made with cheaper materials), high fashion products are defined in part by their quality materials and high cost. So in other words, when you see five people at the mall wearing the same taupe pea coat as you (isn’t that the worst?), it was probably made very quickly in a factory, and thus, doesn’t fall under the high fashion umbrella. On the other hand, if you get a custom wedding dress made by Vera Wang, or fill your closet with vintage finds, or spend (too much) money at small, one-of-a-kind boutiques, those things would generally be considered high fashion.
There is an increased interest, however, in blurring these lines. Every day it seems another well-known designer is getting a line at Target, and each is selling the same idea: This pink feathered skirt is exclusive to you, even though there are fifteen more on the rack.
Here’s where the plot thickens! On ANTM Tyra Banks says “high fashion” doesn’t have to refer what the model is wearing. While your instinct might be to smile and stand up straight for a photo, Tyra’s mission is to show these models that kicking one leg in the air while looking forlorn can be far more eye-catching (well, duh) and editorial. In the same way, if she uses the word “commercial” dismissively, she’s calling out something that’s safe or familiar. Sometimes in this big ol’ fashion world, low and high are just synonyms for easy and difficult.
We’d also argue that high fashion often has much more to do with environment than expense or quality. We once saw a 60-something woman in the street sporting pink hair, an exposed turquoise bra, black combat boots, and a full wedding dress. While a captivating sight in front of the Duane Reade, most passersby looked at her outfit like it was less a conscious choice and more the result of missing meds. But given the right setting — a couture bridal magazine, an art gallery cocktail party, a Bryant Park tent in the fall — this woman would be considered a renegade, pushing fashion in the only direction it goes — forward — and winning admiring stares as she posed for photos with her retired astronaut husband-to-be (dressed in a full astronaut suit, natch).