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Fashion is one of the world’s most important creative industries. It is the major output of a global business with annual U.S. sales of more than $200 billion — larger than those of books, movies, and music combined. Everyone wears clothing and inevitably participates in fashion to some degree. Fashion is also a subject of periodically rediscovered fascination in virtually all the social sciences and the humanities. It has provided economic thought with a canonical example in theorizing about consumption and conformity. Social thinkers have long treated fashion as a window upon social class and social change. Cultural theorists have focused on fashion to reflect on symbolic meaning and social ideals. Fashion has also been seen to embody representative characteristics of modernity, and even of culture itself.

This Article enters the debate about intellectual property protection and fashion design — a debate in which the fashion industry finds itself divided — and argues for a limited right against design copying. We set the legal policy debate within a reflection on the cultural dynamics of innovation as a social practice. Fashion in the realm of dress is a version of a ubiquitous phenomenon, the ebb and flow of trends wherein the new ineluctably becomes old and then leads into the new. Fashion is commonly thought to express individuality, and simultaneously to exemplify conformity. The dynamics of fashion lend insight into the dynamics of innovation more broadly.