Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Evolution of Fashion

The History of Fashion is such a broad topic that millions of books, articles, websites and blogs are dedicated to the study of it. Trying to narrow fashion down to a specific cut and dry history is almost impossible. Throughout time periods and cultures, every country, state, even city, has had their own history of fashion and unique style. Most everyone has a different view or opinion of what fashion is, but what is it that makes fashion so important and versatile over the years?
Since the beginning of the civilization, clothing has been important to the masses. From the time of Adam and Eve wearing fig leaves to cover his nakedness, to now days, where society spends a good chunk of their time worrying, obsessing and fussing over it, fashion has an impact on each of us whether we like it or not. As is sung in “The Creation of Man” from the musical, The Scarlet Pimpernel[i], the lyrics “Now, drape your cape and puff your cuff, embroider those lapels! Be the king of the beasts in pastels! La, but someone has to strike a pose, and bear the weight of well-tailored clothes, and that is why the Lord created men” demonstrate just how important clothing is to our society.

What I find ironic about fashion and its increasing importance in our everyday lives is the lack of people who actually know how to sew. “Ready-made clothing…resulted in the devaluation of the sewing machine in the minds of Americans, which lead to its ‘disappearance’ in American culture. Since it was no longer a status symbol, the sewing machine became an object whose use was assumed but not proclaimed—something akin to a washtub or broom.” In our culture today you rarely hear of people making their own clothing. More often I hear of people throwing or giving away old clothes, or even new ones, that don’t fit them because they don’t know how to mend or alter them to fit. This trend is unlikely to be reversed, but at least there are some designers left who devote all their time to making beautiful clothing. If not, we might all be running around in potato sacks. How uncomfortable.
In contrast to the lack of at home designers today, the first “fashion designers” were disputed throughout the history. Before the 1800’s, most seamstresses were anonymous and were employed by the rich and powerful. At the time, the rich were able to dictate specific fashion trends. If a queen, princess, duchess or other important noble man or woman wore something new, it was instantly the height of fashion. A more recent example of this is charm bracelets. They became popular in Queen Victoria’s reign because she “loved to wear and give charm bracelets. When her beloved Prince Albert died, she even made ‘mourning’ charms popular; lockets of hair from the deceased, miniature portraits of the deceased, charm bracelets carved in jet.”[ii] Charles Frederick Worth[iii] is said to have been one of the first fashion designers who was actually recognized for his work. He led his customers to embrace the new trends he conjured by “preparing a variety of designs that were shown on live models at the House of Worth…his aggressive self-promotion earned him the titles ‘father of haute couture’ and ‘the first couturier.’”[iv]
There have been many fashion revolutions and shifts throughout the years that have shaped our ideas and given names to the trends we see today. For example, Mrs. Bloomer who “had a skirt just below the knees and trousers gathered at the ankles,”[v] the flappers of the 20’s, the greasers of the 50’s, the peace loving folks of the 60’s, and the hipsters of 2012. One of my favorite and commonly overlooked revolutions in fashion was Christian Dior’s “New Look” of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. After World War II, people needed something new and exciting to help them emerge from the dregs of penny pinching and assisting the war effort. “Christian Dior delivered it in a collection of luxurious clothes with soft shoulders, waspy waists and full flowing skirts intended for what he called ‘flower women’.”[vi] The fifties are a huge inspiration for me in my designs and the way that Dior was able to take America by storm in a single, simple silhouette is remarkable. “All the reference books agree: contemporary fashion was born in 1947, with the New Look, the child of Christian Dior.”[vii] Many fashion designers like Dior have changed the world in their time. That is why we continue to be inspired by their creations and people are willing to spend small fortunes on a dress just because it has a particular label on the back.

Another interesting aspect of fashion is the way we use it as an alternate way to study history and the people involved in it. CBS news posted a video on their website that shows in three minutes the evolution of fashion by a woman changing just her hair style and the clothes on her upper shoulders. Even with such a limited view, the watcher can instantly relate to what time period she is embodying.[viii]

Moby - Wait for me from Lena Nosenko on Vimeo.
Another video shows a man and a woman dancing while their clothes and the music they are dancing to changes to match the time period. We are such a visual culture that when someone mentions a decade, the first thing that pops into most of our minds is a picture of someone in that time periods clothing.

To answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post, the reason that fashion has remained so important and versatile over the years is because it directly involves people and their imaginations. As long as a nudist colony doesn’t take over the world, we will always need something to wear. The individualist nature of humans will continue to push us towards the new, different and exciting things that fashion has to offer year to year. We are always stealing from the past and the styles they held while looking towards the future and the evolution that is bound to continue.

[i] “The Creation of Man,” last modified 2012,
[ii] “Charm bracelet,” last modified February 14, 2012,
[iii] “History of fashion design,” last modified February 20, 2012,
[iv] “Charles Frederick Worth (1826-1895) and The House of Worth,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, accessed February 22, 2012,
[v] Wilfred Mark Webb, The Heritage of Dress: Being notes on the history and evolution of clothes: (London: E. Grant Richards, 1907), 361, accessed February 21, 2012,
[vi] “Christian Dior: Fashion Designer (1905-1957),” Design Museum, accessed February 21, 2012,
[vii] “History of the House of Dior,” Dior, accessed February 22, 2012,
[viii] “Evolution of fashion and style for women over centuries,” last modified September 21, 2011,

1 comment:

  1. Wonderfully written, I like how you defined how that when people think of the past they think of how people dress. One question I do have though is you mention that if we are one ran by a nudist than fashion would be over. How would you compare this statement to cultures that see being nude as a fashion statement?