Fashions – By Valerie Steele
Fashion, clothing that is in style at a particular time. The concept of fashion implies a process of style change, because fashions in dress, as well as in furniture and other objects, have taken very different forms at different times in history. Thus, when English playwright William Shakespeare observed in the 16th century that “the fashion wears out more apparel than the man,” he meant that clothing becomes unfashionable long before it has worn out.
Back in Shakespeare’s day, only upper-class people dressed fashionably; the mass of the rural peasantry wore simple clothing that hardly changed over many generations. Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, fashions have changed rapidly. We would look strange indeed if we wore the styles our great-grandparents wore. And most people—at least in the West—follow fashion to some extent, because fashion refers to much more than the haute couture, the exclusive and expensive clothing produced by leading designers. Even schoolchildren are aware that fashions exist, and change, in running shoes. Nevertheless, we do tend to distinguish, however imprecisely, between basic clothing, such as blue jeans, parkas, and T-shirts, and the latest trendy fashions created by fashion designers. This article follows fashion in the West from its beginnings in Europe to the present. For more information on everyday clothing around the world, see Clothing.
Fashion reflects the society of which it is a part. It has been influenced by wars, conquests, laws, religion, and the arts. Individual personalities have also had an impact on fashion. Royalty and heads of state have set fashion, and in the 20th century media stars have emerged as leaders of fashion. French writer Anatole France said that if he could come back to Earth 100 years after his death and have only one thing to read, he would choose a fashion magazine because that would show him the way people lived.
Fashion also has its critics, who have at times denounced fashion as irrational, frivolous, tyrannical, and immoral. Why should pink be in fashion one season and gray the next season? Why do people follow fashion like sheep when they have enough clothes already? A common accusation is that fashion designers accelerate fashion change to create new business. Yet no new fashion succeeds until people are ready to accept it. The final decision about what to buy, or whether to buy anything at all, belongs to the consumer. Ultimately, fashions change because many people like new and different styles.
II THE BEGINNING OF FASHION
Many cultures through history have followed fashion. Styles of clothing have changed as a result of contact with other societies and competition for status within a society. Yet not until the 14th and 15th centuries, during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, did styles begin to follow a regular pattern of change in Europe. The beginning of fashion dates to that time.
In western Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries, trade revived, cities grew, and a rebirth of learning took place. The textile industries played an especially important part in this economic revival. The wool trade in England and Flanders and the silk industry in Italy contributed to the growth of a wealthy urban elite, and this elite increasingly competed with a landowning nobility for social and economic status.
The beginning of fashion is associated with this growth of trade and business and the rise of the economic system known as capitalism. In 1423 the doge (ruler) of Venice, an Italian city-state, observed, “Now we have invested in our silk industry a capital of 10 million ducats and we make 2 millions annually in export trade; 16,000 weavers live in our city.” Among the luxury fabrics produced in Venice were satins, velvets, and brocades. Renaissance paintings depict these magnificent textiles, which were produced in many small workshops organized in a system of guilds. Textile production was also carried out in people’s homes using inventions new to Europe, such as the spinning wheel.
Fashion information spread quickly through Europe, as the following 16th-century English poem attests:
Behold a most accomplished cavalier,
That the world’s ape of Fashion doth appear.
Walking the streets his humours to disclose,
In the French doublet and the German hose,
The muff, cloak, Spanish hat, Toledo blade,
Italian ruff, a shoe right Flemish made.
As this poem reveals, fashionable items of clothing came from all parts of Europe, and fashionable dress was fairly standard throughout western Europe. By the 16th century a fashionable man’s attire consisted of a white linen shirt and a doublet (fitted jacket), and over it a looser jacket or short cape, which a man might hang from one shoulder. Hose (thick tights) attached to the doublet and covered the legs. Hose might fit snugly or be loose around the hips and stuffed with padding. Short padded breeches were known as trunk hose and took several shapes, depending on the padding used. Women’s dresses had tight bodices with a stiff panel, called a stomacher, that extended over the chest and abdomen. Sleeves and skirts were full—made with ample fabric so they puffed out). Both men and women wore white ruffs, which were stiff, pleated collars.
Fashion tends to follow power. During most of the 15th century, Venice and other Italian city-states held economic power in Europe, but the center of power shifted to Spain after navigator Christopher Columbus made his first voyage to the Americas for Spain in 1492. During the 16th century the Spanish style increasingly dominated European fashion. Men at the Spanish royal court favored black clothing, with a large white ruff at the throat. The fashionable silhouette for both men and women became bulky and stiff. Men’s short breeches and doublets were padded. Skirts became wider and were supported by a farthingale (hooped petticoat), also known as a wheel or drum, which grew wider toward the bottom. Upper-class women adopted a boned corset, which flattened and narrowed the upper body.
Fashion also helped create an impressive royal image. Queen Elizabeth I of England, for example, used fashion to make a statement of political authority, to assert her power and legitimacy. Ornate garments encrusted with jewels, gold, and other decoration asserted her power and her right to rule, even though she was a woman.
III THE 17TH CENTURY
France achieved a dominant position in world affairs and fashions during the reign of King Louis XIV, from 1643 to 1715. All of Europe followed French fashions except Spain. In France and elsewhere the women’s farthingale went out of style and was replaced by a stately gown worn with a bustle (padded frame at the back) and a train that trailed behind. The gown’s bodice typically ended in a V-shape over the abdomen, and bright colors gained favor. In Spain the farthingale remained fashionable and spread to the sides even farther than it had before.
In place of doublets and trunk hose, men in France adopted a three-piece suit, consisting of knee-length breeches, a knee-length coat, and a waistcoat or vest. The suit was worn with a shirt and cravat (neckerchief that was a precursor of the necktie). A softly falling collar replaced the ruff. Thus the modern business suit existed in an early stage by the 17th century. But unlike men’s suits today, the pieces of an 18th-century suit were typically of different fabrics.
Under Louis XIV the French court at Versailles became the center of Western fashion, and fashionable clothing was produced nearby, in Paris. Paris remained the capital of women’s fashion for the next 300 years. Yet despite fashion’s economic importance, it produced controversy. Moralists in France and elsewhere argued that fashion undermined the rigid social hierarchy because middle-class people could copy the fashions of the aristocracy, often buying secondhand the very clothes that their social superiors had once worn. These critics deplored the fact that even a milkmaid could look like a lady.
Fashion inspired controversy in England because it fed female vanity as women competed with one another for elegance in dress. Even though changes in fashion promoted trade, keeping up with fashion proved expensive.
Clothing in England during the 17th century came to symbolize the difference in beliefs between cavaliers, who supported the king and wore luxurious, colorful aristocratic garb, and their political opponents, the austerely dressed Puritans, who wore dark, drab colors. When Puritans settled New England in the 1600s, they brought with them the Puritan styles then current in England.
IV THE 18TH CENTURY
After the death of Louis XIV in 1715, fashion became less massive and more graceful as the baroque style gave way to the rococo. Although France continued to dominate the world of fashion, England also played an important role. Clothing styles became increasingly important in all classes of society over the course of the century.
Clothing continued to function as a social sign in the 18th century. Many European countries regulated ostentation in dress by law, thereby maintaining distinctions between the dress of the aristocracy and that of the bourgeoisie (middle class). In France these so-called sumptuary laws also were intended to limit the import of costly fabrics. Yet as the middle class grew and its members became wealthier through trade, they began to demand equality with the upper classes in politics and dress. The French Revolution (1789-1799) had a great impact on fashion—far more than did the American Revolution (1775-1783). The French Revolution marked the end of the old system and the beginning of a new freedom of dress.
Styles in North America during the 18th century generally lagged behind those of Europe. Both England and France influenced Canadian fashions, but new fashions generally reached Canada a year or so after their introduction in Europe. English-influenced dress in Upper Canada (now Ontario) was typically more conservative than dress in Québec and other French-influenced areas of Canada.
A Women’s Fashions
In the early 18th century the primary style for women was a rather loose, flowing gown with pleats at shoulder level in back. It was known as a sack dress (in England) or sacque (in France) and was sometimes called the Watteau gown, after French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, who portrayed it in his works. This dress developed into the much fuller robe à la française, which was worn over hooped petticoats. These petticoats were called paniers after baskets that donkeys carried, which they resembled. Eventually, they became so wide that women had to move sideways through doorways. In the robe à la française, a tight bodice and a wide overskirt were joined together, and the overskirt opened in front to reveal an underskirt or petticoat beneath. Beneath the bodice was a stomacher or filling decorated with bows, lace, or embroidery. Another style for women, which came from England, was the one-piece robe à l’anglaise.
In the 1780s fashionable women in England and France began to wear simpler dresses that differed significantly from the stiff and highly decorated dresses of the mid-1700s. Necklines were cut lower, and a neckerchief filled in the open area. Bustles and hoops disappeared. Pale, pastel colors came into favor. Some women wore a more masculine dress that resembled a man’s riding coat. Fashionable people in France began to follow English styles, especially those worn for hunting and other country pursuits.
A renewed interest in the styles of classical Greece and Rome began in the last half of the 18th century. This revival of classicism had a tremendous influence, transforming not only fashion but also architecture and the decorative arts in Europe and North America. The simpler clothing of ancient Greece and Rome inspired women’s fashions. For example, a dress called a chemise was adopted to give women a supposedly natural look and to replace the ostentatious and ornate styles that preceded the French Revolution.
The chemise—named after an undergarment it resembled—was made of white muslin, had a high waist just under the bosom, and hung fairly straight to resemble a classical column. No petticoats or hoops were worn underneath it, and many fashionable women stopped wearing corsets as well. Over time, the chemise revealed more and more of a woman’s body. Today this style of dress is commonly known as the Empire style because it was especially popular during the Consulate and empire of Napoleon I of France, which began in 1799.
B Men’s Fashions
Men’s fashion remained luxurious during the 18th century, featuring velvets, satins, and silks in bright and light colors, including pink. Fabrics were embroidered in silk or trimmed in lace. Men of the ruling class vied with one another in the costliness and ornamentation of their wardrobes. A man’s garb served as an indication of his status and his wealth.
In the late 1700s this ostentatious manner of dress slowly lost favor, a pattern that continued through the 1800s. European and American menswear became more sober and uniform. Fashion historians have called this change “the great masculine renunciation.” The reasons for this change are complicated, but two primary causes can be identified.
The gradual democratization of Western society was the first cause of change. The French and American revolutions helped promote the idea that all men were equal, and their clothing changed to reflect this equality. Prior to these revolutions, the clothing worn by aristocrats differed dramatically from that worn by commoners, and sumptuary laws regulated clothing and other ornamentation to maintain the distinction. Aristocrats tended to monopolize the most colorful and luxurious clothing. Commoners, no matter how rich, wore more sober clothing. During the French Revolution, sumptuary laws were abolished in France.
After the French Revolution, clothing in France served as a powerful symbol of equality rather than as a sign of status. Male volunteers in the revolutionary army, who generally came from the lower classes, were known as sans-culottes (without breeches) because they wore trousers of homespun fabric rather than the elegant knee breeches of the aristocracy. Their pantelons (trousers) became a symbol of the forces for democracy. By the early 19th century, ankle-length trousers had replaced knee breeches as the standard male garment, and the plain dark suit had become increasingly prevalent. Other items of apparel frowned upon after the French Revolution were powdered wigs, high-heeled shoes (worn by men and women), embroidered waistcoats, and other aristocratic fashions of the earlier 18th century.
Another reason for the change in men’s fashions was the growing economic and cultural influence of England. By the 1770s, even before the French and American revolutions, plainer, simpler men’s clothing was perceived in England as more democratic and more natural. The outline narrowed, sleeves became longer and less full, and colors were generally less vivid.
Social life in England centered less on the royal court than it did in France, and royalty thus had less influence on English fashions. Neither gaudy nor ostentatious, the English suit had an air of elegance, the result of its beautiful tailoring. Foreigners observed that Englishmen usually wore plain dark suits. This observation held true both for the rising middle class and for significant segments of the English aristocracy, especially country gentlemen. A spirit of cultural nationalism led many English people to regard their clothing as functionally and morally superior to styles on the European continent. A division developed between Paris, which continued to dominate women’s fashion until well into the 20th century, and London, which became the center of men’s fashion.
V THE 19TH CENTURY
Styles of the late 18th century carried over into the early 19th century. Gradually, however, women’s clothing grew frillier and more voluminous, while men’s grew plainer. Developments toward the end of the 19th century resulted in more functional clothing for women.
A Women’s Fashions
A1 Early 1800s
The neoclassical, or Empire, style dominated the decorative arts and clothing fashions of the early 19th century. It gradually evolved into what became known as the romantic style, named after a movement in literature and art known as romanticism. Romantic writers and artists favored other times and other places, and fashion also drew inspiration from the past and from distant locales. By the 1820s waistlines began to drop, skirts became wider, and sleeves, hats, and hairstyles became increasingly elaborate. England saw a revival of puffed sleeves from the 16th century. Shawls with paisley prints from distant Kashmīr, on the Indian subcontinent, also came into fashion. The corset once more became an integral component of dress, to emphasize a narrow waist and full bust.
After Napoleon became emperor in 1804 he revived the French textile and fashion industries, which had declined during the revolution. Aiding his efforts was the Jacquard loom, perfected in 1801 by its inventor, Joseph-Marie Jacquard. This device largely automated the process of weaving patterns in fabrics and made great variety possible. Soon white muslins gave way to colorful silks, and women’s clothing became more heavily ornamented.
Victoria ascended the British throne in 1837, and the remainder of the 19th century has been dubbed the Victorian Age. A widely believed misconception about Victorian fashion is that tight corsets and bustles virtually crippled Victorian women.
Although almost all women in Europe and North America wore corsets, these corsets were not nearly as tight as popular legend has it. The 17-inch (43-cm) waist that later authors attributed to Victorian women was so rare as to be essentially mythical. Corsets were advertised and sold in waist sizes ranging from 18 to 30 in (46 to 76 cm), and the laces usually provided another 1 to 2 in (2 to 5 cm) in back. Larger sizes with waists measuring up to 42 inches (107 cm) were also available. There is no evidence that corsets caused serious health problems, as is widely believed.
Women did wear a great deal of clothing during the Victorian Age, however. An average woman of 1850 wore a chemise (underslip), a corset, several petticoats, drawers (underpants), a two-piece dress (consisting of a matching skirt and bodice), stockings, shoes, gloves, a bonnet or hat, and any necessary outer garments, such as a shawl. The development of synthetic dyes led to the popularity of extremely bright colors, which replaced the pastel colors that were previously fashionable.
Industrialization and technology contributed to the ongoing democratization of style in the 19th century. The sewing machine, patented in 1846, and the improvements made to it by American inventor Isaac Singer, made it possible to produce several hundred stitches a minute, a vast improvement over the hand-sewing rate of 30 or 40 stitches a minute. Although most clothing continued to be sewn by hand for some time, the sewing machine contributed to the mass production of ready-made clothing—clothing that increasing prosperity made affordable to many. As a result, the middle class could wear the same styles as the wealthy.
The ready-to-wear industry began to be significant in menswear by the 1840s, before it had a noticeable impact on women’s fashion. A system of sizes and patterns made it possible to fit the body, especially the male body, without resorting to custom-made clothing. In North America, entrepreneurs such as Ellen Curtis Demorest and Ebenezer Butterick created paper dress patterns that helped popularize the latest styles.
The growth of mass media also spread fashion information to the middle classes. Godey’s Lady’s Book, for example, a periodical first published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1830, brought sketches of French fashions to the United States. Developments in photography in the 1840s led to wide reproduction of photographs of elegant women. In 1860 Demorest brought out a magazine to promote her patterns. Mail-order catalogues spread recent styles to rural areas. In Canada the Toronto retailing firm Eaton’s issued its first catalogue in 1884.
At the same time, custom dressmaking, known as couture, also changed. Englishman Charles Worth moved to Paris from London in 1845 as a designer for a silk house and later became associated with Gagelin, one of the first firms to handle ready-to-wear coats and suits. Worth established his own atelier (studio) in Paris in 1858 and helped transform couture from a craft into high art and big business.
A3 Late 1800s
The size of women’s skirts increased steadily during the 1800s, until by 1860 steel-hooped circular petticoats called crinolines supported them. Although these hooped underskirts look awkward today, most women then found them much lighter and more comfortable than the layers of fabric petticoats they had worn before. Nevertheless, many cartoons of the period made fun of the size and inconvenience of crinolines—on public transportation, for example—or of their danger in high winds.
In 1867 the hoop skirt began to flatten in front, and its fullness was pushed to the back. This change led to the development of the bustle, a pad or frame worn beneath the back of the skirt. The bustle dominated fashions of the 1870s and 1880s but disappeared by 1890, when skirts with a bell shape came into fashion. Fullness in women’s fashions moved to the sleeves. A long sleeve narrow at the bottom and puffed at the top was known as a leg-of-mutton sleeve.
Through the 19th century, especially during the 1840s and 1880s, reformers attempted to make women’s dress more practical and comfortable. They wanted to abolish the corset, shorten skirts, and introduce trousers for women in the belief that these changes would make women healthier, more modest, and more likely to gain equality with men. Most women, however, did not follow these suggested reforms, either because they disagreed with the reformers’ social and political agenda or because they did not think that reform clothing was attractive. Many men made fun of the dress reform movement; they thought it would reverse the social roles of men and women by making women manly.
Another protest against current fashions came from the aesthetic movement of the 1870s and 1880s. This movement had greater impact than did earlier efforts at reform because it focused on issues of art and beauty and was not so clearly related to the women’s rights movement. Aesthetes thought that corsets and bustles made women’s bodies look ugly. Some women experimented with wearing artistic clothing, such as loose, picturesque at-home gowns. Gowns of this type can be seen in the works of pre-Raphaelite painters, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones.
Women increasingly began to enter the worlds of sports and business in the late 1800s, but at first few adjustments were made in their dress. They went to the office wearing tailored suits over corsets. They played tennis in ankle-length skirts. Both men and women wore special bicycling outfits, however, and it became fairly acceptable for women to wear bloomer-like trousers while bicycling.
While women’s lives were changing, so was retailing. The launching of department stores in France, Britain, and the United States toward the end of the 19th century had a major effect on women’s lives. Shopping became an important aspect of women’s (unpaid) housework as it became increasingly rare to make clothes at home. Offering fixed prices and a variety of other innovations, department stores rapidly destroyed the old pattern of small, specialized shops. They also provided employment to many young women, who worked as salesclerks.
B Men’s Fashions
The trend toward simplicity in menswear begun in the late 1700s continued into the 1800s, checked only briefly by the restoration of the monarchy in France in 1815 and the reintroduction of formal court dress. All classes accepted trousers extending to the ankles, and fashionable men known as dandies wore tight-fitting trousers, called pantaloons, and elaborate cravats.
In contrast to women’s fashions, dark, sober colors—especially black—triumphed in menswear. Gone were brightly colored men’s suits, although a man might wear a colorful vest, or in the privacy of his home, a brilliantly colored dressing gown. A multitude of minute distinctions identified a man’s position in the class structure. A gentleman wore a top hat, for example, whereas a worker wore a soft cap.
Beau Brummell, a trendsetter for English fashion, popularized the new English style of menswear in the early 1800s. He wore suits made of dark wool rather than of silk, and he promoted the idea that simplicity in dress could be elegant. He also stressed the importance of personal cleanliness as a fashionable virtue, insisting that a plain but clean white shirt was preferable to a fancy one that was dirty. Brummell was also responsible for introducing the fashion of wearing only black and white for eveningwear. Although himself of humble origins, Brummell became a close friend of the prince of Wales, whose style he influenced.
From the 19th century on, fashions in men’s clothing changed more slowly and to a smaller degree than women’s fashions. One reason for this difference is that a man’s wardrobe has been based on the suit. A suit constituted a kind of uniform that varied only in its details. By the late 18th century, fashionable suits were increasingly made of dark wool. They were unadorned but beautifully tailored. During the 19th century a knee-length jacket called a frock coat gradually replaced the short jacket with tails at the back, called a tailcoat, that had been worn earlier. The tailcoat became reserved for formal occasions.
As the suit grew plainer, the role of the cravat increased. By the mid-19th century the cravat had so expanded in size that it covered the entire shirt above the vest. This type of cravat was called an ascot. The bow tie and the four-in-hand necktie began to take shape in the 1880s and 1890s. The term four-in-hand originally referred to a vehicle having one driver for a team of four horses; the knot in the necktie resembled the knot that the driver used to tie the reins together.
VI THE 20TH CENTURY
During the first decades of the 20th century, the latest women’s fashions still came from Paris, and dressmakers elsewhere copied French styles. Men’s fashion came from London. Ready-to-wear grew more important over the course of the century, however, and brought affordable fashion to most people. Women increasingly adopted the suit, at least during business hours, from the 1970s on as they entered the higher ranks of the workforce in greater numbers. But as early as the 1920s, masculine simplicity had begun to influence the female wardrobe through the revolutionary designs of Coco Chanel. For both men and women, the suit has served as the visible sign of hard work and serious thought.
Youth culture dominated fashion from the 1960s on. By late century, so much freedom had developed in fashion that some commentators had begun to speak of its death. In an era of “doing your own thing,” the dictates of fashion could be safely ignored.
A Women’s Fashions
A1 1900 to 1918
The corset continued to shape women’s fashion in the early 20th century, as it had during the last decades of the 19th. By 1900 a straight-front corset was in style. Also known as the S-shape and the sans ventre (no stomach) corset, it pushed the stomach in, which threw the bust forward and the rear end out, so women looked as though they were leaning forward. By 1908, however, the silhouette of dresses had become straighter and narrower. A longline corset, which smoothed the hips, came into fashion. Slender women began to abandon boned corsets altogether, replacing them with elasticized girdles and brassieres.
The most influential fashion designer in the early 20th century was Paul Poiret, who promoted a revival of the high-waisted Empire style of the early 1800s. Poiret also advocated replacing the corset with the girdle and brassiere. Although older, stouter, and more conservative women continued to wear the long corset, many other women switched to wearing brassieres and girdles.
Hemlines remained at the ankle, but so-called hobble skirts, which were very narrow at the bottom, briefly became the fashion shortly before World War I (1914-1918). “I freed the bust,” boasted Poiret, “and I hobbled the legs.” Other designers also created hobble skirts, but Poiret made some that were so tight they had to be slit from the hem to the knee. These slit skirts were criticized as being immodest because they showed women’s legs. Young women were becoming less shy about defying conventions, however. Poiret also created extravagant costumes influenced by the East, including harem pants (baggy pants gathered at the ankle). Most women wore these trousers only at home. Still, it was the beginning of the end for rules that prevented women from wearing masculine clothes.
Another Paris designer who rose to prominence early in the century was Madeleine Vionnet, who opened a dressmaking establishment in 1912. Vionnet emphasized cutting fabric on the bias (diagonally across the weave) so that it fell gracefully on the body, following the lines of the figure. Like Poiret, she was opposed to the corset, as was designer Coco Chanel, who opened a boutique in the French resort town of Deauville in 1913. After World War I Chanel replaced Poiret as the most influential fashion designer in Paris.
Between 1908 and 1914 fashion changed dramatically. Instead of corseted women in long pastel dresses and big hats, the prevalent look in fashion became slender young women in looser, shorter, brightly colored dresses worn without corsets. Some young women even began cutting their hair short, a style that became very popular in the 1920s.
World War I had relatively little direct impact on fashion. French fashion houses continued to design, produce, and export. Contrary to a popular belief, fashion did not become more practical and suited to wartime living. Although skirts became shorter, this was not the result of a wartime shortage of material. The dominant style in 1915 and 1916 was a calf-length, very full skirt known as a war crinoline. The war did have an indirect impact on fashion, however. It weakened the prewar social structure and led the younger generation to question the wisdom of their elders. By the 1920s young people in Europe and North America were poised for rebellion.
A2 1919 to 1928
After World War I young women increasingly adopted radical new fashions, including short skirts, short hair, and makeup. Hemlines had begun to rise noticeably in 1915 but then stabilized at mid-calf. Slowly creeping upward, skirts reached the knees only for a brief period, from about 1924 to 1928. Stockings went from black or white wool or cotton to flesh-colored silk or rayon—all very noticeable as skirts grew shorter. By 1929 hemlines had begun to fall. But the exposure of the female legs was one of the most revolutionary developments in 20th-century fashion.
In the United States and Canada the 1920s was the era of the flapper, a young woman who embraced the radical new clothing fashions. Flappers wore short dresses that were straight up and down. Waistlines moved downward to the hips, creating a tubular silhouette, sometimes made even more boyish by the use of a flattening brassiere. Many women cut their hair short in a chin-length, straight hairstyle known as a bob. Over their bobbed hair, they wore a close-fitting, helmet-shaped hat called a cloche. A frequently heard complaint was that women looked like boys. But the facial makeup that flappers adopted with enthusiasm contradicted this view.
In France Coco Chanel established herself as one of the supreme fashion designers of the 20th century. She created simple (but expensive) casual dresses and suits made of jersey and other humble materials in basic colors such as beige, black, and navy blue. Another French couturier (designer of custom-made clothing), Jean Patou, also specialized in casual clothing. Vionnet, who had suspended operations during the war, reestablished her house and continued to make magnificently cut dresses until World War II (1939-1945).
Another consequence of World War I was the introduction of rayon, the first synthetic fiber. First produced in 1894, rayon proved its strength and durability when it was used for industrial products during the war, but the fabric did not become popular until the 1920s. At that time experimentation led to the development of rayon crepes, velvets, soft jerseys, and brilliant satins, and by 1928 great dressmakers had begun to use rayon.
A3 1929 to 1938
In 1929 and 1930 hemlines dropped below the calf. The waistline gradually returned to its normal position. Materials were soft and flowing, and the entire appearance of a woman became more feminine. Contrary to a popular belief, hemlines had begun to fall before the U.S. stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s. By 1935 hemlines began a gradual upward climb that took them back to the knees by 1940. Padding was added to shoulders and a new silhouette was in the making.
Chanel acquired a powerful new rival in France, Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. In the late 1920s Schiaparelli made the sweater fashionable, and by the 1930s she had become famous for the extreme chic and wit of her designs. She widened the shoulders of her suits with all sorts of devices—gathers, braid, and even coq (chicken) feathers—making the waist and hips look smaller in comparison. Like Poiret, Schiaparelli favored brilliant, intense colors, particularly a shade she named shocking pink. She introduced unconventional, often outsize buttons and striking accessories that created a dramatic overall effect.
In the United States, designer Gilbert Adrian began his career in Hollywood, California, creating clothes for Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, and other motion-picture stars. Like Schiaparelli, he introduced a wide-shoulder line, and the fashion soon swept the United States. Russian-born designer Valentina dressed actresses on the stage and other glamorous, wealthy women in her simple yet elegant evening clothes. American designer Charles James created exquisitely shaped clothes that were cut with the precision of an engineer.
North American manufacturers, department store buyers, and fashion editors went abroad twice and sometimes four times a year for the Paris fashion shows. Stores that made custom clothes to order bought Paris fashions and materials for exact copying. The medium-priced market in women’s clothes also flourished on copies and adaptations of Paris couture.
A4 1939 to 1945
The outbreak of World War II in 1939 altered the entire fashion picture. After the German occupation of Paris in 1940, French fashion was no longer obtainable in the Allied countries, which were at war with Germany.
As a result of the war, American designers such as Claire McCardell gained considerable influence within the United States. One of the best sportswear designers of her time, McCardell created clothes that were simple but chic. She used materials such as jersey, denim, and cotton calico to make what are now regarded as sportswear classics. Some of her dresses cost as little as $6.95 at a time when custom-made dresses could cost hundreds of dollars. McCardell admired Vionnet, but she also believed that fashionable clothes should be available to ordinary women, not only to the wealthy.
In Britain many materials were scarce or had been diverted to military uses during the war. Silk, for example, was used to make parachutes, and wool and leather were vital in the production of uniforms and shoes. To conserve textiles, the government imposed restrictions on the clothing industry. Limitations were placed on the length and width of skirts, and a specific yardage was allotted to dresses in each size. Restrictions on the use of fabric were imposed in Canada, and after the United States entered the war in 1941, restrictions were imposed there as well. When Allied forces liberated Paris in 1944, they were surprised to see the long skirts created by French designers because such clothes had been outlawed in Britain and North America.
A5 1946 to 1959
At the 1946 Paris fashion showings, French designers tried not to offend Allied sensibilities with extravagance, while still emphasizing the latest French fashions. In 1947 French couturier Christian Dior designed a magnificent collection of luxuriously feminine clothes. Dior’s dresses featured small shoulders, a voluptuously curved torso with a nipped-in waist, padded hips, and long, full skirts. It was a dramatic change from the broad shoulders, boxy torsos, and short skirts of the war years.
Dior’s revolutionary silhouette was soon dubbed the New Look. A New Look dress might require as much as 27 m (30 yd) of material. Some women tried to salvage their old clothes by lowering hemlines and removing shoulder pads, but this effort proved wholly inadequate. Politicians and some members of the public protested against this reckless use of still-scarce fabric but to no avail: The New Look was wildly popular with the majority of women, who felt starved for glamour and femininity after the war years. Soon corsets were built into dresses, and petticoats were revived. Other memorable silhouettes created by Dior over the next few years were the less fitted, straighter H-line, and the A-line that flared from top to bottom.
Dior’s greatest competitor was Spanish designer Christóbal Balenciaga, who showed his first collection in Paris in 1937. Over the next 30 years, Balenciaga became the leading advocate of the importance of construction and cut in a garment. He slowly evolved a series of distinctive and beautiful silhouettes, including tunic tops over long straight skirts, that had tremendous and enduring influence on the fashions of the 20th century. Balenciaga designed elegant clothing and was not afraid to create extreme silhouettes. In the late 1950s he helped launch the loosely fitting chemise dress, which became a popular fashion, although it was criticized for supposedly obliterating female curves.
The most famous fashion designers during the 1920s and 1930s had been women, including Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Vionnet. During and after World War II, however, fashion became big business and male designers came to the fore. In addition to Dior and Balenciaga, Jacques Fath became well known; he once said that “fashion is an art and men are the artists.” Other designers disagreed. Chanel reopened her couture house in 1954 and began creating the Chanel suits for which she was famous. These tailored suits, with their short, collarless cardigan jackets and straight skirts, appealed to women who wanted a stylish uniform.
Italian couture also became popular after World War II, and names such as Pucci and Gucci acquired international fame. The Italians quickly became known for their stylish sportswear. For some time women had worn slacks and shorts for active sports, but in the late 1950s capri pants—tight-fitting pants that end in mid-calf—and other casual styles became fashionable as everyday attire. American sportswear also continued to thrive. California designer Bonnie Cashin created comfortable, functional separates in materials such as suede and leather. English and American teenagers also began to develop their own styles—styles that flourished in the 1960s.
A6 1960 to 1979
Parisian couture still dominated the fashion system in the early 1960s. But the swinging youth styles of London gradually made an impact around the world, even in Paris.
British designer Mary Quant opened her first boutique in the mid-1950s on King’s Road, a fashion promenade for London’s young people who were obsessed with music and style. In her autobiography, published in 1966, Quant said that she wanted young people to have a fashion of their own. She delivered it to them with the miniskirt, which had a hemline well above the knees. Quant began to mass-produce miniskirts in 1961, but it was several years before the hemlines of adult women started to rise above the knee.
In 1961 French designer André Courrèges showed his first miniskirts. Courrèges later claimed that he had invented the miniskirt and Quant had only popularized it. Although this was an exaggeration, his miniskirts and mini-dresses proved extremely influential. In 1962, the year Quant brought out bell-bottom slacks worn with a matching cardigan, Courrèges also introduced the pantsuit, and pants continued to play an important part in his vision of the modern woman’s wardrobe. His 1964 Moon Girl collection featured white mini-dresses worn with white vinyl boots and other supposedly space-age accessories.
In 1961 Yves Saint-Laurent, the head designer at the house of Dior, founded his own couture house in Paris. One of the most important designers of the 1960s and 1970s, Saint-Laurent showed many youthful fashions, including pantsuits and safari jackets. His 1965 fall collection took inspiration from the black grids and colored rectangles in the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian. The next year Saint-Laurent introduced the tuxedo suit for women. Foreseeing the decline of custom-made clothing, he also opened a ready-to-wear business, Rive Gauche, which sold less expensive clothes.
The dominant fashion theme of the 1960s was youthfulness. The first phase, known as mod (short for modern) fashion, produced the miniskirt and the pantsuit as typical garments. Clothing materials were often synthetic. French designer Michelle Rosier was known as the vinyl girl for her experiments with artificial materials, and Spanish-born designer Paco Rabanne created dresses of plastic and metal. French designer Pierre Cardin also created youthful styles for both men and women, including one-piece jumpsuits. He built an enormous fashion empire by licensing his name. In North America, Austrian-born designer Rudi Gernreich helped introduce offbeat styles such as the wet look with shiny fabrics and a topless bathing suit.
The second phase of 1960s fashion has been described as the hippie look. The hippie movement originated in San Francisco, California, when thousands of young people flocked there in 1967 to celebrate what they called the “summer of love.” These young people criticized conformity and consumerism and, although antifashion, sought to express themselves through outfits that in many cases were inspired by the long ago and the far away. Fashion designers soon followed suit.
Ethnic and retro (backward-looking) influences became increasingly important in high fashion in this phase of the 1960s. Instead of crisply tailored clothes, the trend was toward longer, looser styles based on non-Western garments, such as the Middle Eastern caftan, an ankle-length robe. Thrift shops provided an important source for picturesque secondhand and antique clothing, which clothing manufacturers then began to reproduce commercially. Laura Ashley, for example, created deliberately old-fashioned dresses reminiscent of the Victorian era. By 1967, many young women were wearing long granny dresses and long cotton skirts in floral prints instead of miniskirts.
The miniskirt had come to symbolize youth, however, and there was an outcry in January 1970 when the Paris collections emphasized long skirts. Soon dubbed the midi (because its hemline fell to the mid-calf), the longer skirt was initially unsuccessful. Within a year, however, hemlines began to drop, gradually settling around the knee. The hemline controversy also contributed to the growing number of women who chose to wear pantsuits. With pantsuits, women could remain in style without changing their wardrobe with each new hem length.
Pants had long been acceptable for women as sportswear or informal party wear, but only in the late 1960s and especially the 1970s did women adopt them for daily wear in the business world. The acceptance of the pantsuit by the business world reflected women’s increasing social and economic power. In the 1970s Halston, Calvin Klein, and other North American designers made trousers an integral part of the working woman’s wardrobe. In France Saint-Laurent also emphasized tailored pantsuits for daywear.
Designers of eveningwear, which continued to be dominated by fantasy, also emphasized retro or ethnic themes in the 1960s and 1970s. Flowing chiffon evening gowns by German-born designer Karl Lagerfeld for the French fashion house Chloë were inspired by dresses of the 1930s. Saint-Laurent drew inspiration from the Russian ballet for his 1976 collection, which featured full skirts and high-heeled boots and triggered a wave of imitations in all price ranges. He followed this in 1977 with a Chinese collection. One of Saint-Laurent’s most enduring contributions to fashion was the female version of the tuxedo.
Individualism and freedom of choice were the keynotes of fashion in the 1970s. As a result, some commentators have called the 1970s “the decade that taste forgot.” The late 1960s and early 1970s were characterized by many exaggerated styles, such as platform shoes and hot pants (very brief, tight shorts). Many of these fashions were associated with youth subcultures and popular music styles such as disco. The punk youth movement of the late 1970s also created controversy with its wild hairstyles, ripped clothes, and aggressive use of safety pins. The punks inspired English designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Zandra Rhodes.
Blue jeans were one of the most important garments of the 1960s and 1970s for both women and men. In 1971 Levi Strauss & Co., the firm that invented denim blue jeans in 1873, received the Coty Fashion Critics’ Award, the highest award of the American fashion industry. What began as work clothing for laborers became the symbol of the youth culture and, in effect, the uniform of nonconformity. Soon the rise of so-called designer blue jeans meant that Levi’s and Wrangler had to compete with jeans by fashion notables such as Calvin Klein, Fiorucci, and Gloria Vanderbilt.
A7 1980 to the Present
In the 1980s, with a booming economy in Europe and North America, the fashion pendulum swung back toward conspicuous consumption. American television shows such as Dallas and Dynasty showcased the so-called rich look. Items such as a Chanel suit became the new status symbols. When made to order, a Chanel suit cost from $11,000 to $16,000; even an off-the-rack Chanel suit cost $3,000. The house of Chanel had been in the doldrums after the death of its founder in 1971, but in 1982 the firm hired Karl Lagerfeld, who quickly became one of the world’s most famous designers. He rejuvenated the famous Chanel suit by modernizing the silhouette and making it in new materials such as denim.
In the 1980s the media once again treated hot designers like Lagerfeld as superstars. In 1987 French designer Christian Lacroix opened his own couture house in Paris, causing almost as much excitement as Dior had with his New Look of 1947. Lacroix’s collection was a carnival of brilliant colors and extravagant historical silhouettes, including a short pouf skirt with crinolines underneath that harked back to the 1950s.
Younger people had their own favorite designers, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, who was known as the bad boy of French fashion. He gained fame for creating fashions that mixed elements of male and female dress. His men’s jackets, for example, included bold patterns and unorthodox fastenings, such as corset lacing and multiple zippers. Influenced by punk and other unconventional styles of rebellious youth, Gaultier was also known for emphasizing the body. For example, he designed a corset with pointed brassiere cones worn by American pop singer Madonna.
English designer Vivienne Westwood also drew inspiration from street styles such as punk. She had been the first designer to show brassieres worn on the outside of dresses, a fashion that helped launch the trend for underwear as outerwear. Westwood was often inspired by historical clothing, such as the crinoline and the corset, which she modified for contemporary life.
A new enthusiasm for physical fitness also had a significant and continuing impact on fashion in the 1980s. The popularity of jogging and aerobics introduced people to stretch fabrics such as Lycra, which soon moved from active sportswear into mainstream apparel. Trousers, shirts, and skirts featured this lightweight, expandable fabric that moved with the body. Athletic shoes also became fashionable.
Tunisian-born Azzedine Alaïa, who worked in Paris, became one of the most influential designers of body-conscious clothes—an offshoot of the fitness movement. His dresses fit like a second skin. Other French designers known for their sexy fashions included Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana. Mugler’s fashions were inspired by fantasies of glamorous women: Skirts were very short, waists tiny, and shoulders broad. Montana made tough-looking leather fashions for both men and women.
In striking contrast to these skin-tight clothes were big, baggy fashions created by avant-garde Japanese fashion designers such as Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. At first these seemingly shapeless clothes drew criticism in the Western press for looking strange and ugly. Eventually the Japanese designers succeeded in radically revising contemporary Western ideas about fit and proportion. They also helped launch a vogue for black clothing.
Italian fashion also became extremely important in the 1980s. The cities of Florence and Rome gave way to a new fashion capital: Milan. Among the top Milanese designers were Giorgio Armani, Krizia, Ottavio Missoni, and Gianni Versace. Armani was widely regarded as the most important designer since Chanel. Like Chanel, he emphasized a modern, somewhat androgynous (masculine and feminine) style. He designed suits for men and women that featured less structured jackets in softly draping materials in neutral colors such as beige and camel.
Versace also captured attention with his colorful, provocative fashions for both men and women. He was especially known for the men’s fashions that he designed for the television series “Miami Vice”—pastel suits worn with T-shirts, for example. Slinky jersey fabrics and see-through chiffon figured in his clothes for women. By the time he was murdered in Miami in 1997, Versace had become one of the world’s most famous designers.
Like Armani, American sportswear designer Calvin Klein created simple clothes in luxurious materials. Klein, too, worked in a palette of neutral colors. He also became famous for his designer jeans, promoted by the young American actress Brooke Shields, and for his unisex underwear. Other important American designers during the 1980s were Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. Lauren began by selling neckties, but he quickly developed an enormous fashion empire that emphasized a vision of old money and luxurious upper-class style. Karan catered to a clientele of successful executive women like herself, and she created soft, comfortable clothing suitable for a day at the office or an evening out afterward. Another successful American, Liz Claiborne, designed more casual sportswear separates.
As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, glitzy clothes fell out of fashion. The first major fashion story of the 1990s was what Vogue magazine called “the triumph of grunge … in the repentant ’90s”—repentant, presumably, for the conspicuous consumption of the 1980s. Grunge began as an inexpensive subculture style, associated with bands from Seattle, Washington, such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. It combined street style and work clothes, including items such as checked flannel shirts, long loose dresses, and heavy work boots. Consumers, however, resisted paying top prices for what looked like secondhand clothes.
As the fad for grunge waned, fashion designers turned briefly to the so-called monastic look, which featured long dark clothes and accessories such as crosses. These and other avant-garde designers took their cues from literary and artistic movements such as deconstruction and minimalism. Deconstruction in fashion involved the exploration of clothing structure, featuring, for example, visible seams on the outside of clothing and zippers as ornamentation.
In late 1993 the fashion mood shifted abruptly to what was called the new glamour, although it called for some old weapons in the fashion arsenal, such as very high heels, bare midriffs, and dark red nail polish. The “dressed-to-kill” look proved too extreme for most women, and by 1995 fashion moved toward a new conservatism. Even Versace temporarily abandoned his usual ultra-sexy clothes to focus on pretty, wearable clothes, such as pink suits. Meanwhile, The Gap and other companies that sold clothing staples, such as T-shirts in the season’s fashionable colors, became immensely successful.
By the late 1990s the fashion system had become increasingly fragmented into many small style tribes. Designers no longer found it possible to promote a single new look every season. By the end of the 20th century, several trends were identifiable. Retro and ethnic styles remained important. Top European designers such as John Galliano found inspiration in the long ago and far away. Styles that played with society’s assumptions about sex and gender also connected with young fashion trendsetters. Many professionals in the fashion industry believed that the use of high-tech materials would become increasingly significant in the early 2000s. Teflon coatings on fabrics, for example, resist stains. Techno styles use industrial materials, and they also express a functional aesthetic.
At the turn of the 21st century, experts maintained that fashion’s future was decidedly not futuristic and that there would be no shiny silver uniforms, as imagined by futuristic movies of previous decades. Rather, fashion continued to divide into many concurrent styles, with each consumer free to choose his or her own style from within the available array. Individuality coexisted with a desire to associate oneself with particular trendsetters among the fashion-conscious or among fashion designers.
B Men’s Fashions
By the 20th century, large numbers of men all around the world had adopted the middle-class men’s suit that originated in England. Its basic design has not been altered substantially since 1860, although shoulder widths, lapel widths, the number and placement of buttons, and other details have varied. Most suits in the 19th and early 20th centuries consisted of three pieces: jacket, trousers, and vest (previously known as a waistcoat). Most men gradually abandoned the vest after about 1960.
The average suit style has a life expectancy of five to ten years, during which fashion does not stand still. A constant flow of color and pattern ideas freshens styles each season. Fabric fashions also go through cycles. Staples such as tweed, a coarse, multicolored woolen fabric, may disappear from the fashion scene for as long as ten years, only to be rediscovered for another cycle.
Throughout the 20th century, the basic trend in suiting fabrics has been toward ever lighter weights. Improved heating in the home and better transportation facilities have minimized the importance of warmth in clothing. Since 1900 the weight of the average suiting fabric has been cut by more than one-third. When really warm clothes are needed, there is a tendency to adopt specialized garments such as parkas, which are often made of synthetic materials.
B1 1900 to 1939
The first decade of the 20th century saw the transition from the knee-length frock coats of the 1880s and 1890s to the shorter jackets of the 20th century. Men of the upper classes generally wore a jacket known as a morning coat during the day. It might be worn with matching trousers or with a contrasting vest and striped pants. A cartoon of the period shows an elderly woman talking to a young man wearing the modern style of business suit: “Don’t tell me you’re going to propose to my grand-daughter wearing a business suit?” she demands. “Why not?” he replies. “I mean business.”
The morning coat increasingly became reserved for formal occasions, such as very formal weddings and diplomatic functions. Tailcoats or cutaways (jackets cut short with tails at the back) were worn for formal evening events. In the United States the tuxedo gained popularity for formal eveningwear. It is presumably named after the town of Tuxedo Park in New York, where it was first worn in 1886. The move toward more casual dressing over the course of the century meant a decline in the use of formal apparel.
By 1910 the fashionable man’s daytime suit had a single-breasted jacket with narrow lapels and high buttons, and slim, straight trousers. This basic look has remained on the fashion scene ever since. The first lightweight suit of cotton seersucker appeared in 1908, but the summer suit did not become fashionable in the United States until the 1930s.
Trousers were widened during the 1920s. The following decade saw British tailors bring out the so-called English drape. This suit had a square, military shoulder line, a double-breasted front (front with a large overlap) that was very full across the chest and back, and a sharply nipped-in waistline. The duke of Windsor sponsored the style, and the Windsor jacket, which incorporates its basic features, was named after him. The style also called for trousers with pleats in front.
The concept of a separate category of apparel for sporting activities came into being in the 1920s, even though special clothes for hunting and horseback riding existed as early as the 18th century. The so-called pink coat (actually scarlet) worn by fox hunters in Britain developed early in the 19th century. For boating and other 19th-century leisure activities, Englishmen wore a boldly striped blazer jacket. Bicyclists, both male and female, often wore specialized apparel, such as bloomer-like trousers. By the early 20th century some tennis players sported white flannel trousers and white sweaters.
The first important sportswear fashion in the United States was a horizontally striped knit shirt copied from the Basque fishermen of northern Spain. First adopted by polo players, the Basque shirt was renamed the polo shirt, and it enjoyed enormous popularity in the 1920s before settling down to become a summer staple. The lumberjack shirt in plaid wool became fashionable in the 1930s after having been worn for years as work clothing by Canadian woodsmen.
B2 1940 to 1959
During World War II fabric shortages and government regulations strongly influenced clothing design. The zoot suit, a flamboyant style popular with young men in the early 1940s, was outlawed in the United States because its long, broad jacket and baggy pants used too much fabric. Rayon mixtures came into favor for summer suits in about 1940.
After the war ended in 1945, tailors restyled the English drape with long lapels and a wider waist. Restricted to solid-color fabrics during the war, the public went on a multicolor pattern spree afterward. Wide pencil stripes, outsize plaids, and vivid checks found favor. The trend was designated the bold look. Accessories included wide ties in vivid colors and conspicuous patterns, shirts with wide collar points, and wide-brimmed hats.
The clothing excesses of the years immediately after the war were followed by a strict middle-of-the-road fashion: a single-breasted suit with narrower shoulders and lapels. The double-breasted jacket disappeared from the scene for a few years, and the matching vest vanished entirely. The fashion pendulum continued its swing toward the narrower silhouette and darker colors of traditional prewar clothing. The year 1950 heralded the arrival of the charcoal-gray flannel suit in the business world. Summer suits received a boost from polyester, which was introduced in summer clothing in the early 1950s. Blended with rayon or cotton, polyester was used to make wash-and-wear fabrics that needed little or no ironing.
The long dominance of London’s custom tailors began to break down after World War II. The bold look in men’s clothing signaled Italian and American fashion independence from Britain, where designers still adhered to fairly conservative styles. The continental look emerged in the late 1950s in Italy. It featured shorter jackets with side vents (slits toward the bottom) and extremely wide collars, and slacks without cuffs. The look became popular among young men in England and contributed to the development of the mod style in the 1960s.
Italy emerged as early as the 1950s as the major source of men’s sportswear fashion ideas. Italian manufacturers popularized knit shirts with wide collars and tapered slacks. California was another source of sportswear ideas. California sportswear designers were largely responsible for the success of Western clothes, an American innovation. The Stetson hat, dungarees, blue jeans, and embroidered shirts, all worn originally by cowboys and prospectors in the West, became prominent U.S. fashions.
B3 1960 to 1979
The youth fashions that developed in London during the 1960s owed more to Italian and American fashion innovations than they did to traditional English custom tailoring. Young men who identified themselves as mods wore slim, streamlined jackets with tapered pants. In the 1960s fashion designers such as Pierre Cardin began making menswear as well as womenswear.
By the middle of the 1960s mods had given way to hippies, who tended to abandon suits and sports jackets altogether in favor of army coats or denim jackets. There was also a brief fad for Nehru jackets, which were inspired by the traditional men’s coats of northern India. Some Nehru jackets were made of luxurious materials such as antique paisley shawls. In the early 1970s men’s garments became more flamboyant in design, color, and fabric. Young men began to wear brightly printed multicolored shirts and slacks, and the use of fabrics such as velvet, silk, and satin in menswear was revived.
Menswear designers imitated the styles launched by young men; they emphasized shaped, slightly flared, longer jackets with deep vents and belted backs. Trousers were pleated in front and flared at the bottom. Colored shirts came into fashion in the late 1960s and early 1970s, replacing the white shirt that had long been standard. The so-called peacock revolution was short-lived, however, and by the second half of the 1970s menswear had again become relatively sober.
The traditionally styled suit, long considered a must for business wear, became less important. By the 1960s many men wore a sports jacket in offices across the country. This jacket is cut much like a suit jacket but is in a different fabric from the slacks it is worn with. By the late 1960s and early 1970s traditionally styled suits were no longer the required dress in many areas. However, the so-called dress for success movement of the 1970s and 1980s brought back the suit as a sign of power for both men and women.
B4 1980 to the Present
In the 1980s Armani and other Italian designers profoundly influenced the cut of men’s suits. The Italian look featured a looser, more comfortable fit, using softer materials in neutral colors such as camel. Over the course of the decade, shoulders became broader. Padded shoulders became standard for women as well as for men, a style known as the power look or the executive look. By the 1990s suits had slimmed down again, but they retained the easy elegance that distinguished the Italian look from the stiffer look of East Coast retailers in the United States, such as Brooks Brothers.
Although the suit remained the basic garment of the male wardrobe, the trend was toward more casual dressing. This trend even found its way into the workplace with the introduction of casual Fridays by many companies. In some companies the dressing down of casual Fridays now extends throughout the week. The business suit shows few signs of disappearing in western Europe and Japan, however.
As dress has become less formal, men have become increasingly concerned with style, color, and patterns in their clothing. Participation in sports has also influenced men’s clothing. To begin with, it has increased the size of the male wardrobe: golf, tennis, and skiing, for example, require specific apparel. Beyond this, a growing emphasis has been placed on functionalism in clothing. Athletic shoes, for example, are worn on the street, as well as during athletic activities. Today many top fashion designers have casual sportswear lines, for example the Emporio Armani line by Armani, that include casual items such as sweatshirts.
The most formal attire that most men ever wear is the dinner jacket or tuxedo, black trousers, a tie and cummerbund of black satin or grosgrain, and a white shirt. A white jacket is substituted during the summer. The tuxedo underwent stylistic changes in the 1960s, when designers began to produce dinner jackets in colors other than black or white. These jackets were worn with ruffled shirts and wide butterfly ties. This flamboyance in eveningwear tended to disappear in the 1990s, although teenagers still often rented tuxedos for their formal school dances.
Today, celebrity is more significant than social status in establishing fashion leadership. Musicians, actors, sports figures, and other performers frequently launch or popularize new fashions. The role of fashion leader has also been assumed by the manufacturers of men’s apparel, who through advertising and public relations techniques are able to acquaint millions of men with a new fashion idea in a matter of weeks.
C The Fashion Business
The fashion business comprises many different industries, from textiles and chemicals to apparel manufacturing and retail merchandising. The branches of the industry were once known as needle trades, but despite the name, sewing clothes with a needle and thread never formed more than a small part of the industry. Today’s fashion designers may use computers to create clothing patterns and envision a new collection.
Women’s apparel is the most conspicuous sector in the fashion business. Fashion designers working in this field may become famous, whether they are working in couture or ready-to-wear. Designers in the menswear or children’s wear industries are generally less known. The apparel industries produce dresses, suits, coats, sportswear, and underwear as well as accessories such as shoes, jewelry, handbags, hosiery, gloves, and hats.
The great expansion of department, chain, and mail-order stores in the 20th century paralleled the development of the apparel industry. The retail business itself embraces the fields of marketing and merchandising. Fashion media, including magazines and broadcasting, require fashion editors, photographers, stylists, and many other professionals.
New York City has been the fashion capital of the United States throughout the nation’s history, and Toronto and Montréal have vied for dominance in Canada’s fashion industry. For many years North American fashion was dependent on the creative leadership of Europe, especially Paris. Paris remained the international capital of women’s fashion from the 17th century until well into the 20th century. London was the capital of fine menswear from the 18th century until the 1950s. New York meanwhile became the capital of ready-to-wear men’s clothing. Over the course of the 20th century, however, the fashion industries in the United States and Canada have moved beyond their dependence on Paris and London.
Today the fashion industries in North America are interconnected with the international fashion system. Textiles and apparel for the U.S. fashion industry are increasingly produced overseas where wages are lower than they are in the United States. The government has supported Canada’s fashion industry and apparel has become one of Canada’s most important industries and a major export. Alfred Sung is one of the Canadian designers who has gained an international reputation.
Most apparel manufacturers in the United States and Canada prepare for four selling seasons within the calendar year: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Efforts are usually concentrated on the spring and fall collections. Manufacturers show their new line to retailers six months before the garments appear in stores. For example, they generally introduce spring styles during September.
Many North American fashion professionals also visit foreign fashion markets. The most important European market is Paris. Fashion in Paris is designed and presented on two levels: the haute couture (literally “fine dressmaking”), the custom dressmaking established in mid-19th-century Paris by designers such as Charles Worth, and the prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear). The couture houses show their collections twice yearly: the spring/summer shows in January and the fall/winter shows in July.
Because relatively few people can afford couture clothes, the couture houses make most of their profits by licensing their names. Many more people can buy a bottle of Chanel #5 perfume, for example, than can afford a custom-fitted Chanel suit. Many couturiers also produce ready-to-wear collections that are sold at fine department stores or at couture boutiques around the world.
The French ready-to-wear industry has thrived since the 1960s. Fashion designers of ready-to-wear, such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler, are known as créateurs (creators), as opposed to couturiers. They show their collections in March and October.
Italy is France’s most serious rival in the field of high fashion. Italy has long had couture houses, mostly in Rome; these houses show their collections one week before the French shows. More important, however, is the trendsetting Italian ready-to-wear industry, which is based primarily in Milan. Top fashion designers who head their own firms include Armani and the Missoni family. They coordinate their ready-to-wear collections with the French shows.
London was for many years the world’s center of high-quality menswear, although Italy has overshadowed it in recent years by producing more innovative menswear. London also has a small couture industry and a lively ready-to-wear industry. Vivienne Westwood is probably Britain’s most important designer today, although she has often chosen to show her collections in Paris rather than in London.
Germany, Spain, and a few other European countries have small fashion industries. The German designer best known in North America is Margaretha Ley of the fashion house Escada. In South America, Brazil is a major producer of shoes. Asia also has a substantial fashion presence, and the United States imports more apparel from East Asia than from any other area in the world. Designers from around the world, including Pierre Cardin of France and Calvin Klein of the United States, have used Hong Kong’s manufacturing facilities. So far, however, only Japan has produced fashion designers with an international influence. They include Hanae Mori, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo. Although fashion trade shows are held in Tokyo, Japan, in January and July, some Japanese designers prefer to present their collections in Paris.
People all around the world like to follow fashion, although their styles are not always Western. They may combine elements of international fashion with elements of their own culture’s traditional dress, or they may choose to wear primarily traditional dress. In India, for example, where many women wear the sari, fashion magazines carry pictures of international fashion and also interpret the sari in terms of fashion. In this system, the colors and patterns of the sari change according to the latest fashion, and fashion designers, photographers, editors, and models promote the season’s fashionable saris.