The History of Fashion

The history of fashion through the decades is a rich and interesting story. From Charles Fredrick Worth’s genius to the grunge style of the nineties it has been a fantastic history. I’m going to begin at the beginning.  


Charles Fredrick Worth was born on the 13th of February 1825 in Bourne, Lincolnshire in England . He is thought of by many people as the Father of Haute Couture. His works were created in Paris. He was employed in numerous successful drapery shops in London before he left for Paris in 1846. He was employed by Gagelin and Opigez who were famous Parisian drapers. Worth created a few uncomplicated dresses for Marie Vernet who was his wife and one of the company’s models and consequently customers began to ask for copies of the dresses for themselves. In 1858 with the financial help of an affluent Swede Otto Bobergh Worth opened the dressmaking shop of Worth and Bobergh. He designed outfits for numerous women who were titled, affluent, or notable in some aspect like the French Empress Eugenie, actress Sarah Bernhardt or other notable women like Catherine Walters and Cora Pearl. A lot of his work is to do with the movement to redefine the female shape in fashion and eliminating excessive ruffles and frills and using luxury fabrics in uncomplicated but flattering outlines. He is the first designer to put labels onto the clothes he created. Instead of letting the customer decide on the design, as had previously been what was done, four times in each year he presented dresses on models at fashion shows. His patronesses decided on a model, who would then be sewn in fabrics of the customer’s choice and tailored to fit their figure. He revolutionised fashion. His business was called The House of Worth.


Paul Poiret was a French designer. He founded his fashion house in 1903. He made his mark with the controversial kimono coat. He is mostly famous for allowing women more freedom with their clothes by eliminating corsets and for his creations like hobble skirts,”lampshade” tunics and “harem” pantaloons. He used draping in his creations which was a huge change from the usual methods up to then of tailoring or pattern-making. 



The twenties was the decade of the flapper dress. The social and political trouble and growing cultural exchange which was after the end of World War I and also American jazz coming to Europe were where the origins of the flapper dress came from. Actress Louise Brooks was one woman who wore the flapper look with pride. However the first time that both the word and look was noticed in the United States came from the well-liked 1920 film by Frances Marion called The Flapper which starred Olive Thomas. She also appeared in a similar role in 1917 but it was not until this film that the word was used. In her last films, she was seen as the flapper image. Writers in the United States like F. Scott Fitzgerald and illustrators like Ethel Hays made the flapper look popular as well as the lifestyle in their work. The flapper lifestyle and look went out of fashion in America following the Wall Street Crash and after the Great Depression.


The 1920s is the decade in which women first left behind the more restricting fashions of previous years and started to wear clothes in which they felt more comfortable. And men also left behind their usual formal clothing. Some started to wear athletic clothing for the first time. The suits men wear today are still based, to a large extent, on the suits worn in the late 1920s. The 1920s had two distinct periods of fashion. In the earlier end of the 1920s, change was slow because lots of people were scared to adapt to new fashions. The public began to wear the fashions connected with World War I from 1925 onwards. The United States of America came into an affluent period and because of its part in the war came onto the world stage.  


The thirties was a fantastic decade for fashion in film. There was starlets like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. The former was known from the beginning of her career to incorporate masculine clothes into her look.



In 1937, Wallis Simpson married Prince Edward at the Château de Candé in a creation by American designer Mainbocher. Wallis wore a dress which was nipped-at-the-waist. She wore a blue straw hat created by Caroline Reboux which had a halo effect and also blue tulle and gloves which were made from the same blue silk crepe as her gown.  Both were incredibly influential to style. She wore many designs by the top couturiers of the day and he wore classic Savile Row tailoring as well as sportswear.


Successful designers were Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Madeleine Vionnet. The only male designer to have made a huge impact in this decade was Jean Patou. There was a lot of rivalry between Chanel and Schiaparelli.   


Gabrielle “Coco” Bonheur Chanel was born in 1883 in Saumur in France. She was the only fashion designer to make Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. As well as Paul Poiret, she was a driving force in freeing women from the constraints of the silhouette which had a corset. Her designs were in jewelry, perfumes and handbags as well as clothes. Her signature scent was Chanel No. 5. She became a licensed modiste in 1910 and opened a boutique at 21 rue Cambon, Paris called Chanel Modes. Chanel’s modiste career blossomed when theatre actress Gabrielle Dorziat wore her creations in 1912 in the play by F Noziere called Bel Ami. She also wore her hats in Les Modes. This was the start of her career. Her signature pieces were monochome and tweed. The re-establishment of her couture house was in 1954. Her new line was not liked by Parisians who thought her reputation had been destroyed by associating with the Nazis. Nevertheless, Chanel’s comeback was liked by both the British and Americans.   

Elsa Schiaparelli was an Italian fashion designer who was born in 1890 at the Palazzo Corsini in Rome. She had a great rivalry with Chanel. Her work was inspired by Surrealists like people who collaborated with her such as Salvador Dali and Alberto Giacometti. One of her clients was the actress Mae West. In Paris, Schiaparelli whose nickname to her friends was “Schiap” started creating her own clothes. She presented a collection of knitwear in the early part of 1927 using a double layered stitch pioneered by Armenian refugees and including jumpers which had surrealist trompe l’oeil images. Her company really started to get successful due to a pattern that gave the impression of a scarf wrapped around the wearer’s neck. The “pour le Sport” collection got bigger the year after to feature bathing suits, ski-wear, and linen dresses. The divided skirt which was a forerunner of shorts was worn by Lilo de Avarez at Wimbledon in 1931.  


The forties was the decade of Film Noir. Numerous actresses were wearing red as their lip colour. Actresses who were admired for both their talent and style in the forties were Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.


While the Second World War was going on, Vera Maxwell displayed outfits created of plain and simply cut details and brought in innovations in men’s work wear. Bonnie Cashin innovated boots into a huge fashion accessory. In 1944 she started the manufacture of new and innovative sportswear. Claire McCardell, Anne Klein, and Bonnie Cashin were a successful trio of women who put down the foundations of American sportswear, making sure that ready-to-wear was not playing second fiddle.



The fifties was the decade when Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld along with fellow winner Colette Bracchi won the International Wool Secretariat. The year was 1954. Saint Laurent won first and third place in the dress category. Their sketches had been chosen from six thousand sketches which were anonymous. The competition was in it’s second year and the first-prize designer in each category had their sketch made up into an outfit which was wore at the awards by a model who accompanied the winners onto the stage. Lagerfeld won the coat category and his coat was manufactured of daffodil-yellow with straight lines. It ended on the calf and was cut low also across the collarbone and dipped in a V at the back. Saint Laurent’s cocktail dress was a black sheath dress
that wrapped around one of the shoulders. There was a black veil over the model’s face. At this time Lagerfeld was twenty-one and Saint Laurent was eighteen.  




Christian Dior was a major designer in the 1950s. Dior founded his fashion house on December 16, 1946 with the backing of Marcel Boussac who was a cotton-fabric magnate. His first collection was   presented in early 1947 and was called Corolle but the name New Look was given to it by Carmel Snow who was the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar and was also Irish. Dior’s creations throughout the 1950s were more sensual than the boxy shapes of the World War II looks, inspired by the rations imposed on fabric. He was inspiring at creating silhouettes. His style consisted of fabrics which were lined mostly with boned, percale bodices which were like bustiers in style with hip padding and dresses which flared out from the waist which in consequence gave his models a curvaceous look. Sadly he died in 1957 at the very young age of 52 of a heart attack while on holiday in Italy.


A Streetcar Named Desire was a huge film in 1951. The style in this movie by Lucinda Ballard was amazing.


Another actor in the 1950s whose style is still copied by men today is the incredibly handsome James Dean who tragically died in 1955 at the very young age of 24. His casual style of jeans and shirts was simple but perfect. He starred in three huge films Rebel Without A Cause, East of Eden and Giant which was released in 1956 after his death. 


Grace Kelly was a huge fashion icon in this decade. She acted in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Dial M For Murder. She married Prince Rainer III of Monaco on the 19th of April 1956. Her wedding dress was designed by designer Helen Rose who worked for MGM. The dress had a bodice and also another bodice which was an attached under-bodice and skirt. There was also two petticoats. One was an attached foundation. She also wore shoes, a headdress and a veil to match and carried a prayer book which was encrusted with pearl and lace. The dress is still inspiring today. Kate Middleton’s wedding dress when she married Prince William on April 29th 2011 at St. Nicholas Cathedral was reportedly influenced by Kelly’s dress. Due to the fact that Kelly was friends with designer Edith Head, Head thought she was going to be the designer asked to create the much-anticipated gown but it was Helen Rose who got the go-ahead. The gown was a present to Kelly from the MGM studio. It had a high-neck as well as long sleeves gown. The torso was fitted and the skirt was billowing. The dress consisted of silk net, silk taffeta, tulle, peau de soie and Brussels rose point lace which was 125 -years-old. She also wore a Juliet cap which had jewels of orange blossoms and seed pearls. The veil was created from tulle. She also had a bouquet of Lilies of the Valley. The material price and manufacturing price of the gown was US$7266.68, with the fee of the Rose.      The sixties was an incredible era for so much historic fashion and is one of the most referenced decades on the catwalk even now. It is easy to see why. This was the decade which gave us Twiggy. Twiggy was born Lesley Hornby. She was a model from 1965 until 1970.   Her biggest inspiration was Jean Shrimpton who she seen as the world’s first supermodel. She has also been seen as the successor to her idol.  In January 1966, her hair was coloured and cut short in Mayfair at The House of Leonard which was owned by celebrity hairdresser Leonard. A professional photographer called Barry Lategan took many photographs for Leonard, which the hairdresser hung up in his hair salon. Deirdre McSharry who was a fashion journalist for the Daily Express saw the photographs and asked to meet her. McSharry had further photographs taken. A couple of weeks later there was an article published with the photographs describing her as “The Face of ’66.” This was her breakthrough and after this her modeling career took off. A month later she was in   her first shoot for Vogue. And just a year later, she had featured in 13 fashion shoots in international Vogue magazines. She went to New York in 1967 and it garnered interest from the media. The New Yorker amongst others featured the Twiggy “phenomenon”. In 1967 she became a sensation internationally. She modeled in America, Japan and France. She was on the cover of Paris Vogue in May 1967 while she made the cover of US Vogue in April, July and November and also the cover of British Vogue in October. In her career she was photographed by numerous incredible photographers including Cecil Beaton, Annie Leibovitz and Richard Avedon.    Fashion inspirations in this decade included The Beetles who were at the height of their “Beetlemania” and The Rolling Stones who offered a more alternative style of music to the Beetles. Other musical and style influences were Jimmy Hendrix, The Who and The Doors with their charismatic and controversial frontman Jim Morrison. 

One of my biggest fashion inspirations and a fashion inspiration to many other women through the decades since the sixties has been actress and Humanitarian Aubrey Hepburn. She starred in numerous films including her breakthrough Sabrina which was the film she met the designer Hubert de Givenchy on which began a lifelong fashion partnership between the pair. She also starred in Breakfast at Tiffany’s which was the film which was based on the incredible writer Truman Capote’s novella. She also appeared alongside Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. Her little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the most iconic fashion images in history and was of course designed by Givenchy.   

Arguably the best designer to have ever been invented was Yves Saint Laurent. From 1960 to 1970 he made famous numerous styles with the help of his partner in life and in business Pierre Berge. They made the beatnik look successful as well as safari jackets for both men and women. Other successes included tight pants and boots which were thigh-high in height. In 1966 they released the Le Smoking which is considered the most popular classic Tuxedo suit for women. He and Berge split romantically in 1974 but continued to be friends and partners in work.



The sixties was a time of political evolution. Sadly, people fighting for human rights were killed. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jack Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy were murdered.

Technology in photography was also major in this decade. There was four main photographers who were around at this time photographing fashion and giving extraordinary life to the clothes the designers of the day designed. These four photographers were David Bailey, Terence Donavan, Brian Duffy and Eric Swayne. 

The seventies was the disco era. Platform boots and flared trousers were the order of the day and the film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta and with music by The Bee Gees was released. Disco music reigned with the likes of Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, Diana Ross, Gloria Gaynor and Kool & the Gang. 

A huge designer was Vivienne Westwood. Her style was very rebellious and anti-establishment. She met Malcolm McLauren who was a member of the rock group The Sex Pistols. They moved into a council flat in Clapham together.  In 1971, McLaren decided to open a boutique on King’s Road by the name “Let It Rock”. This boutique later became known   as “Sex” then “Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die”, and also “Seditionaries”. It is now called Worlds Ends. She had a huge interest in the punk clothing which was huge in the seventies. The “punk style” included bondage gear, safety pins and spiked dog collars for jewellery and razor blades. There was eccentric make-up and hair. Tartan was a huge factor in the style of punk. In the unique facets of her style is the employment of historical 17th and 18th century cloth cutting techniques. She reinvented these in, for example, radical cutting lines to men’s trousers.


Glam rock was huge in the seventies with people like David Bowie and Elton John and bands like T- Rex, Wizard and Queen. 



Sadly this was also the decade that Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were killed. The two men were incredible ambassadors for the rights of gay people, environmental issues, labor rights and neighborhood issues. The man who killed them Dan White only served a little bit more than five years in jail for their murders which was a disgraceful verdict. He should have got life. 


The eighties was the decade of leg warmers, padded shoulders and heavy, colorful and eccentric make-up and hair. Fame and Flashdance were released in this decade and the styles were a huge indication of the style back in this decade shown through characters like Doris Finsecker played by Maureen Teefy, Coco Hernandez played by Irene Cara, Montgomery MacNeil played by Paul McCrane and Leroy Johnson played by Gene Anthony Ray in Fame. In Flashdance style came from characters like Alex Owens played by Jennifer Beals and Nick Hurley played by Michael Nouri.   


Bernard Arnault is French and is hugely successful in the business side of the fashion industry. In 1987, not long after the founding of LVMH which is the luxury group which came from the merger between the two companies Louis Vuitton and Moët-Hennessy. In 1988, the group was searching for   investors. Henri Racamier who was the CEO then asked Bernard Arnault if he would invest in LVMH. With over 25% of shares, Arnault became one of the major shareholders of the group. In 2005, he became the richest man in France. On the Forbes list of Billionaires in 2006, he stood at  $30 billion.


American soap operas such as Dallas and Dynsty were popular for both their storylines and their fashion. The latter had style from Joan Collins and Linda Evans while the former had style from Linda Grey and Pamela Bellwood. 

Elizabeth Emmanuel designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress when she married Prince Charles in 1981. The wedding dress when she married Charles, Prince of Wales. The wedding took place on the 29th of July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was made of ivory silk taffeta and antique lace and had a 25-foot train. It cost £9000. At the time it was and was one of the most guarded secrets in the fashion industry.   


Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was a major film for fashion. Even to this day, fans of the film wear their copies of the outfits that Rachael played by Sean Young, Pris played by Daryl Hannah and Rutger played by Roy Batty wore.   

Power dressing was big in the eighties. It is a style of clothes and hair that helps to make people wearing the style seem authoritative, specifically in work situations in business. The clothes have   matching trousers or a long skirt and jacket with colorful accents, like cravats or brooches. Thierry Mugler and Giorgi Armani were masters of the power dressing style.

In 1983 Karl Lagerfeld became chief designer for Chanel. As Chanel herself did, he used the past as an influence for his creations. He made sure to include the signature fabrics of Chanel fabrics and features such as tweed, chain and gold accents. He kept the signature Chanel look but also made the brand more contemporary. In future collections he decided to come away from the ladylike style of Chanel and started to experiment with various fabrics and looks.    


The nineties was when the style of grunge took off. Grunge was a subgenre of alternative rock and started in the middle of the eighties in Washington in America but mainly in Seattle. It’s influences came from indie rock, punk and heavy metal. The earliest grunge movement surrounded Seattle independent record label Sub Pop in the late part of the eighties but it became mainstream in the first part of the nineties because of mostly albums by incredible rock bands Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Nirvana released Nevermind and Pearl Jam released Ten.    The nineties had three incredible designers in Tom Ford, Gianni Versace and Marc Jacobs. In 1990, Tom Ford who was almost an unknown in the fashion industry from Texas was employed as Gucci’s chief women’s ready-to-wear designer while Versace dazzled with the “Safety-pin” dress which Liz Hurley wore to the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994 making both her and Versace more known. In 1997, Jacobs was appointed Louis Vuitton’s creative director. Here he designed their first ready-to-wear line. He has collaborated with many people from different creative worlds for his Louis Vuitton collections, such as Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, American artist Richard Prince and rapper Kanye West


In 1991, Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis was a major inspiration in fashion and still is today. 


Hip hop style, also called urban fashion is a style which comes from African American young people on the scene of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Detroit, Virginia, St. Louis, the San Francisco Bay Area, Memphis and Atlanta and many others. Each city added different parts to its complete look which is displayed universally now. Hip hop fashion ties together the personality and outlooks of hip hop culture. Nike and Adidas were popular brands in hip hop style. 


Fashion is still major today. There is numerous sections in gossip magazines dedicated to fashion and many magazines like Grazia, Vogue, Elle and Look Magazine are completely dedicated to fashion. Films like Twilight and The Artist are huge style influences while shows like Glee have a website dedicated to just the style of the show alone. Artists in music such as Rihanna give a hip hop edge to their style while artists such as Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert sport eccentric styles which slightly give a nod to the Glam rock era. Meanwhile stars like Cheryl Cole, Victoria and David Beckham and Olivia Palermo are known for their style. Designers such as Matthew Williamson and Erdem as well as new breakthrough designers J W Anderson and Simone Rocha are keeping the fashion world entranced. I think it is safe to say that fashion will be popular for many decades to come. 

































3 comments on “The History of Fashion

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