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Those two words seems referring to one thing.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

"Apparel" can also include things like nametags, jewelry or other stuff you wear. "Clothing" tends to refer to stuff traditionally made from cloth (but still includes synthetic variants.)

The specific dividing line between the two terms is subjective and will differ from person to person. "Apparel" is also slightly more formal.

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Agreed. Apparel can also be "categorized": you can join it with a word that describes the kind of outfit all the things you're wearing is for (for example, "hunting apparel" or "wedding apparel"). Apparel comes from the meaning "to wear" so it includes clothing and "outfitting" (i.e. equipment/accessories worn or carried for function or decoration). Clothing is the "cloth" you wear as part of your apparel for body protection/modesty. –  Viktor Haag Apr 29 '11 at 13:29
    
+1. Shoes and belts are sometimes also considered clothing when taken together with some shirts, dresses, etc.; but I agree that you would never call a pile of belts and shoes clothing. –  Cerberus Apr 29 '11 at 13:52
    
@Viktor: Yes, excellent points; especially the word "outfitting." –  MrHen Apr 29 '11 at 14:00
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I would rather use apparel when the outfit is complex or fancy. It is closer to attire than to dress.

The origin is from Old French appareil which has a connotation of lengthy or complex preparation. You used it for a ship being prepared for taking the sea or a fighter being equipped for fighting.
These two senses once existed also in English but they are now lost I believe.

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