What Exactly Is Ready-To-Wear? Consider This Your Guide

Bella Hadid walking the finale at Stella McCartney ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2023 show.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

While scrolling the site of your go-to store or fashion publication, you’ve probably seen the term “ready-to-wear,” and it may have been a cause for confusion. But, you may actually know more than you think—and chances are, you’re wearing it right now. Ahead, we break down exactly what ready-to-wear means and how it differs from haute couture, according to professional stylist
K.J. Moody

What Does "Ready-to-Wear" Mean?

To put it simply, ready-to-wear is a collection from a designer or brand that’s, well, ready to be worn right off the runway or rack at your favorite store. If you follow any designers on Instagram, you’re most likely seeing ready-to-wear collections in your feeds already. However, that isn't always the case. It can be hard to differentiate between ready-to-wear and haute couture collections that often grace red carpets, galas, and even hold their own separate fashion week. In fact, just a hundred years ago or so, almost all clothing was bespoke or couture, rather than ready-to-wear.

Meet the Expert

K.J. Moody is a celebrity stylist for Parkwood Entertainment. His clients include Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, Chloe Bailey, Hallie Bailey, and more.

Has There Always Been Ready-To-Wear Clothing?

To understand exactly how we entered the world of ready-to-wear, let’s take it back to the turn of the 20th century. At the time, most clothing was made at home for the everyday American while wealthy subsets had their clothing made especially for them by tailors. As technology and efficiency took center stage, ready-to-wear collections became the norm for consumers and also marked the inauguration of early department stores like Marshall Field's and Lord & Taylor to cater to a wider variety of shoppers beyond the upper class. The idea of “mass” clothing was initially looked down upon until luxury houses began to partake in the process, too—for that, we can thank Yves Saint Laurent who opened his first boutique selling a ready-to-wear line in 1966.

As I’m sure we can all agree, accessibility within fashion is key, whether that be offering clothing at a variety of price points, size ranges, nixing gender lines, and even ensuring the opportunity to partake in global trends. To put it simply, all of this was made possible by the availability that ready-to-wear lines brought to the fashion industry. Case in point, it’s a no-brainer that this approach to clothing has become the norm.

What’s the Difference Between Ready-To-Wear and Haute Couture?

Haute couture is one-of-a-kind and custom-fitted directly from the fashion house. If you’re wondering what happened to the bespoke tailoring or couture from the past, it’s still present today, but it’s typically reserved for special events, red carpets, and, of course, the runways.

When it comes to dressing clients in haute couture, Moody says, “You have the opportunity to wear a design, hand made by extremely skilled artisans. The difference [to ready-to-wear] can’t be compared because the fabric quality is unique, rare, more delicate, and complex. There’s something very special in knowing there’s only one in the world versus a mass market fashion piece.”

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