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The fashion system: The fashion seasons explained

By Esmee Blaazer


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Image illustrating the fashion seasons (autumn/winter and spring/summer clothing). Credits: Tropical Concept

Fashion expert José Teunissen was once quoted stating : "What characterises fashion is its urge to innovate. Every six months, fashion presents itself as a moment where the spirit of time is captured in a moment of absolute beauty."

*Source: José Teunissen's chapter 'The universe of fashion' in Artez Press' book 'Fashion and imagination on clothing and art' published in September 2009.

In this background article, FashionUnited has outlined the general information needed to understand the fashion seasons and the fashion calendar of ready-to-wear clothing.


  1. Why are there seasons in the fashion industry?
  2. What are the seasons that the industry follows?
  3. When do the fashion seasons take place? (The fashion calendar)
  4. Problems with the fashion calendar

1. Why are there seasons in the fashion industry? What is the point?

Seasons set the pace of the fashion industry

Each season, new fashion collections on the catwalk and new clothes appear on the store shelves. After all, the fashion industry exists through the process of people buying new clothes with some regularity.

The fashion seasons could be thought of as the industry’s trading cycle, with the industry itself only remaining relevant and dynamic as seasons allow for the continuous introduction of new styles and trends.

Fashion designers usually create at least two collections per calendar year: spring/summer and autumn/winter. A fashion season thus lasts a maximum of six months.

2. What are the seasons in the fashion industry? How many fashion seasons are there per calendar year?

Spring/summer and autumn/winter

Spring/summer and autumn/winter have been the most common seasons in fashion for years. Clothing brands almost always offer collections for these periods. These are called the primary seasons and main collections for this reason.

Not all fashion brands work with seasonal collections. There are also clothing brands that deliberately do not design according to seasons. Often their clothes are less fashion-sensitive or even timeless, and the collection can be bought all year round, or even year in and year out. These fashion brands fall under the so-called ‘slow fashion’ label. Slow fashion has emerged as a reaction to ‘fast fashion’, which is all about fast trends and fashion brands that launch many/continuously new collections.

Spring/summer: This season brings new styles for warm(er) weather. Clothing for spring/summer is often airy and made of breathable, moisture-wicking and/or lightweight fabrics. Casual cotton fabrics and typical linen summer materials are widely used. The collections feature blouses, skirts, summer dresses, shorts and swimwear. The season is often more colourful than fashion for autumn/winter and usually includes more prints. In the fashion industry, spring/summer is also referred to by the abbreviation S/S or SS.

Autumn/winter: This season is all about clothing for colder temperatures and wearing layers. Autumn/winter clothes are usually made of thicker [clothing] fabrics and warmer raw materials, such as wool and a more luxurious cashmere, for example. The collections typically include jumpers and cardigans, blazers, coats and jackets, scarves and boots. Autumn/winter clothing is often darker in colour than summer collections and usually also higher priced. The American industry also uses the term fall/winter, or the abbreviations F/W, FW or – in the UK – AW (short for autumn/winter).

Resort and pre-fall

Nowadays, most clothing brands make at least two to four collections per year. Other collections are launched between spring/summer and autumn/winter. These will therefore be the ‘intermediate collections’. Often these include the 'pre-spring' and 'pre-fall' collections.

Other common names in the fashion industry are pre-collections, off-season collections or secondary seasons.

But, note, the intermediate collections vary from one clothing brand to another. Some brands do not offer a 'pre-spring' collection, but do offer a 'high summer' collection.

For luxury brands such as Chanel, Dior and Jil Sander, the intermediate collections 'resort/cruise' and 'pre-fall' are common.

Resort/Cruise: What is a resort collection?

Resort and cruise collections are synonyms. Cruise and resort collections were once intended exclusively to dress the elite who holidayed in tropical destinations at the end of the year. At department stores during this time of year, parkas and winter gear were mainly hung on the shelves, and no summer or swimwear was available. Yet, resort collections have now evolved into full-fledged collections, as sunny getaways are made possible for a wider crowd thanks to affordable, commercial air travel. So for fashion houses, this means that resort/cruise collections could just be money down the drain.


This intermediate collection focuses on the transition period from summer to autumn/winter. The pre-fall collection often includes both spring/summer and autumn/winter items and 'elements'.

3. What about the timing? When are the fashion collections actually shown and sold? In other words, what is the fashion calendar?

3.1 Spring/summer and autumn/winter

Fashion houses such as Chanel, Dior, Jil Sander, Gucci and Prada, for example, usually present their new 'spring/summer' and 'fall/winter' collections during major fashion weeks. They appear on the official calendar of New York Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week or organise independent events (almost) simultaneously. Here, they show their new designs for the first time, gauging the interest of buyers and press and create enthusiasm for their collections for next season.

You can read more about it here: ‘Fashion: From catwalk to closet’

Fashion weeks are organised well before the start of a season:

Spring/summer collections are presented at fashion weeks in September and October for the following summer. Autumn/winter collections, meanwhile, are shown on the catwalk in February and March for next winter.

NB: We are talking about the ready-to-wear womenswear fashion weeks. Most eyes in the industry are on the 'womenswear catwalk season', because womenswear is typically considered the most important segment in the industry (accounting for 58 percent of fashion retail spending worldwide). In this article, we will leave aside other important fashion weeks such as menswear and haute couture and 'their' calendar for a moment.

When did that calendar actually come into being?

"We've been stuck with the ready-to-wear calendar for decades now," fashion expert Ninke Bloemberg said, a sentiment that was also confirmed by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FCHM) to FashionUnited. We asked the organisation, which regulates and promotes the French fashion industry and organises Paris Fashion Week, when the ready-to-wear show calendar originated. "Sources and voices are a bit contradictory on this subject. But generally we can agree that 1973 was the beginning of women's ready-to-wear calendars," said an FCHM spokesperson.

Ninke Bloemberg is an art historian and curator of fashion and costumes at Centraal Museum Utrecht. As curator, she is responsible for the museum's fashion collection, which comprises about ten thousand garments and accessories.
Bloemberg is also co-founder of platform Modemuze.nl and a member of Europeana Fashion, as well as the ICOM International Committee for Museums and Collections of Costume, Fashion and Textiles.

Spring/summer collections are delivered to stores between January and March. The SS collections are then on sale for a few months. Summer sales are often from mid-June to mid-July or August.

The fall/winter collections are delivered to retailers between July and September and are then on sale for a few months. Winter sales are often from Christmas to January - February.

Background: What happens between the catwalk presentations and when the collection goes on sale in stores?

After the presentations fashion brands sell their designs to retailers (the retailers who will be selling the clothes to consumers, ed.). Once the retailers have placed their orders (for the most part), the [sold] clothing designs are actually put into production.

Most clothing brands present their latest collections not on the catwalk, as the more upscale brands do, but at fashion trade fairs. There, labels such as a Marc O'Polo, Expresso, Gaastra, Nikkie, Tramontana and Xandres, for example, show their new clothing collections to retailers and buyers. The fairs - like the fashion weeks - take place every six months. During January and February, they present the latest fall/winter collections, and in July and August they present the latest summer collections.

You can read more about this entire process, the time it takes and the work involved, in the background article: ‘This is how a fashion brand’s collection is created’

3.2 Intermediate collections

Resort/cruise collections are shown on the catwalk in May. There is no fashion week for it, but luxury brands typically host their own bigger fashion shows. The "holiday" collections go on sale in winter, often starting in mid-November.

Resort/cruise collections are also sometimes called pre-spring, because the timing of deliveries matches that of pre-spring collections (which arrive at stores in October and November).

There is no pre-fall fashion week, nor are there grand fashion shows organised for this fashion season as in "resort/cruise. Pre-fall collections are often presented before the fall/winter shows in February by fashion designers, with or without a modest catwalk presentation. Pre-fall collections are delivered to stores before the summer collection, often in May.

SUMMARY: The timing/or schedule of the four seasons in fashion at a glance

Fashion shows

Autumn/winter: February/March

Spring/summer: September/October

Resort, Cruise: May

In the shop

Autumn/winter: July-September (the entire collection will be on the shelves in September)

Spring/summer: January-March (the full collection will be on the shelves in March)

Resort, Cruise: November

Pre-fall: May

Belgian fashion designer Dries van Noten said in an interview with American newspaper The New York Times: "It is impossible to explain how the fashion industry works to people who don't work in fashion”, referring to the fashion calendar.

4. The biggest problem with the fashion calendar is that fashion seasons do not coincide with meteorological seasons, or weather

Fashion seasons do not run concurrently with the "real" seasons. They run ahead of them. "But, who buys an item just to put it in the closet to wait for the right season?" said Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani , criticising the fashion seasons (or rather the entire fashion system) in an open letter to the American fashion trade magazine WWD in 2020.

Meanwhile, store owner John Mulder of fashion store Mulder Mode said last November that it was only then that his customers began to feel like trying on and buying the warm winter clothes he had been stocking since August. "In September it was still 25 degrees, in October it was 18 degrees. This is the first week that it gets a little colder," he told FashionUnited at the time.

So, in other words, weather affects clothing sales. Warm weather reduces demand for fall and winter clothing, and when it's freezing outside, spring items are less attractive.

When you and I purchase an item of clothing, by the time we can wear it it is usually already discounted because of clearance sales. Summer sales, for example, start around mid-June, while summer doesn't start until June 21. The same goes for winter. According to the astronomical calendar, winter starts on December 21, and that's also when the sale starts.

And discounted items simply mean less profit for retailers and/or fashion brands.

That is why there is dissatisfaction in the industry with the calendar. Armani called the "non-alignment" between the weather and the commercial season "criminal". The fashion designer finds it "bizarre that in winter only linen dresses can be found in stores, and in summer coats made of alpaca wool”.

Reset the fashion calendar?

During the corona pandemic, calls for a [fundamental] change in the fashion calendar grew louder. Led by fashion designer Dries van Noten, an ‘Open letter to the Fashion Industry’ was published, which proposed that the fall and winter collection selling season take place in the fall and the spring-summer collection in the summer period.

Big names in the industry, including, for example, the department stores Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and KaDeWe, signed the open letter. "Despite these very stores asking for earlier deliveries (pre-fall in April, pre-spring in November) and a constant stream of 'novelties' there is a unanimous need to serve customers in season and align the fashion calendar with the real life calendar," FashionUnited wrote at the time.

In addition to a "realistic" fashion calendar, it advocated discounting only at the end of the season (i.e. winter in January, and summer in July). That way, more clothes would be available for their full price.

As you now know, the summer and winter sales of fashion collections begin even before summer and winter have officially begun. Moreover, in the fashion industry, discounts are already given during the season. Think, for example, of the mid-season sale where low-demand items are discounted, as well as well-known shopping days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday where stores stunt with discounts.

Also read:

Yet today, more than three years after the call from the industry itself, fashion is still essentially operating according to the old/traditional scheme, Bloemberg noted.

Bloemberg: "There have been interesting experiments of course, but in essence I don't think a whole lot has changed."

It is not proving to be easy, to change the course of a supply chain with so many links, spread all over the world, and companies that have been operating traditionally for a long time. Certainly not because a fundamental change in the fashion calendar actually requires a turnaround from all players in the fashion industry. The fact that a short-term change will also have an impact on the financial results of fashion companies (many of which run on growth and profits) undoubtedly also plays into the equation.

"We just can't seem to get it together in the fashion industry to move everything along," Mulder stated. "During the pandemic, we thought we got it through. Deliveries were very spread out, especially later in the season. [We were operating on] more real time. And that resulted in good profitability.”

Profitability is a way of measuring how well a fashion company manages to make a profit with the resources it has (invested). The higher the profitability, the more efficiently a company uses its resources to make a profit.

Read more here: ‘From margins to sell-through: Important figures used in the fashion industry’

Image illustrating the fact that fashion seasons do not coincide with seasons. On the street, you see a passerby with a coat and scarf. Summer items are already hanging in the window of the Stradivarius store in Madrid. Credit: The Stradivarius flagship store Plaza de España. Property: Inditex, archival photography.

"On a small scale, of course, you see [change]," Bloemberg added. "There are designers who create their own moments. Some brands/designers have no latest collection but a collection that is constantly evolving, not sticking to seasons. And you have, for example, the Dutch fashion designer Ronald van der Kemp trying to make statements from within."

Did you know that…

In today's fashion industry, clothing is usually designed and displayed with the specific climatic season in mind, as described earlier (see Section 2). However, this has not always been the case throughout history. Sometimes clothing was and is instead displayed with an eye on the activities or occasions typical of that season. "Starting in the 19th century, for example, you saw ball gowns being presented in the winter. That was because the ball season (balls and dinners) took place in January and February," explained art historian Els De Baan.

Els de Baan is an art historian, a specialist in the field of Textiles, Fashion and Costume. She is a teacher, appraiser and perhaps best known for the fashion contributions she writes for Dutch outlet Trouw.

Related from the archives on this topic:
  • Breaking the pattern: The apparel brands ditching trends and seasons (June 2023)
  • Alexander Shumsky: “Dissatisfaction with the current fashion system is long overdue” (May 2020)
  • Fashion's emergency: Designers and retail executives sign open letter to transform industry practices (May 2020)
  • Giorgio Armani postposes collection one season: “The fashion industry must slow down” (April 2020)
  • The curse of the fashion calendar (July 2015)
  • Is the end of the seasonal fashion cycle in sight? (March 2015)
    • Sources:
      - Book 'Fashion and imagination about clothing and art ' by Artez Press, September 2009
      - Interview Ninke Bloemberg, art historian and fashion curator at Centraal Museum, July 12, 2023.
      - Interview art historian, teacher and fashion journalist Els de Baan, 6 April 2023.
      - Input Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FCHM), July 17, 2023.
      - Interview with John and Marion Mulder, owners of women's and men's fashion store Mulder Mode, November 30, 2022.
      - The New York Times article 'Designers Revolt Against the Shopping Cycle', by leading fashion journalist and critic Vanessa Friedman, May 12, 2020.
      - WWD article 'Giorgio Armani Writes Open Letter to WWD' by Luisa Zargani, April 3, 2020.
      - Articles from the FashionUnited archive by Don-Alvin Adegeest and Nora Veerman (linked in the article text).
      - Parts of this article text were generated using an artificial intelligence (AI) tool, and then edited.

      Images to illustrate the many 'fashion seasons' or collections. We take women's fashion from Jil Sander as an example. The latest collections are (at time of publication) 2024: Women's Resort. 2023: Men's and Women's Fall/Winter. Women's Pre-fall, Men's and Women's Spring/Summer, Women's Resort (in order of last published, newest first:)

      Jil Sander Women's Resort collection 2024, image from June 2023. Credits: Launchmetrics Spotlight
      Jil Sander Men's and Women’s Fall/Winter 2023. Credits: Launchmetrics Spotlight
      Jil Sander Pre-Fall Women Off Season 2023.Credits: Launchmetrics Spotlight
      Jil Sander Ready to Wear Spring Summer 2023 Credits: Launchmetrics Spotlight
      Jil Sander Women’s Resort 2023 Credits: Launchmetrics Spotlight
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