Admittedly, dressing up is the best part of being a woman, even a man, in some cases. But it amazes me as to how blissfully ignorant some of us are as we listlessly put on our garbs every morning without giving it a second thought as to how did they even come into existence.
The fabrics that we wear today, the wafts and warps of our garments, the cuts and creases, the intricate techniques, the trims…Who invented them? I’m sure many fashion aficionados reading this will have the answer. But, for the remaining few enthusiasts, luckily, you have me!
This post is dedicated towards enlightening you on how much effort and years of fashion evolution have translated into a simple shirt or trouser that you adorn today.
An interesting trouser fact for the girls: It may come as a surprise to you, but trousers were only legalized in the fashion capital of the world, Paris, in the year 2013! Yes, before that, the women of Paris had to take permission from the police before sporting them pants in public!
Here’s a small brush-up guide on the evolution of the fashion industry to instantly transform you from nada to Prada in no time!
So that when the glossy magazines tell you that the 90’s or the 80’s or the 70’s are back, you know what mental pictures to build!
So how did it all start?
Initially at the dawn of mankind, clothing was just a basic necessity. Just something to cover themselves for protection. And thus the materials used were also very basic. But later on, as man began to understand himself more, and as class distinctions were created among the human race, clothing or rather costumes started becoming a serious affair. For example, wealthy Greek men and women would wrap themselves in purple laced togas suggesting their higher rank in the society.
Speaking of togas, there is a theory that suggests that the Indian traditional saree is a customized version of a toga.
Also, the choice of clothing and fabrics depended heavily on the regions that humans resided in. If we were to take the example of linen we would see that it was invented in Egypt, not for fashion purposes, but simply because the weather there was too dry and warm for leather. So to alternate it, they discovered linen from flax that grows abundantly around Nile. It was similar to cotton, but only better with its subtle shine and softness.
Everything invented before the 1850’s was purely for utility. But anything after that was all about extravagance introduced by the bourgeoisie of Europe. Even today, the Europeans proudly hold their positions as the pioneers in the fashion industry and they mean stern business by it! It is illegal to carry first copies of any European branded bags in Europe. If you were to be found guilty as charged, you could be looking at some serious time in jail!
The 1850’s introduced to us the iconic crinoline, which happens to be the primitive version of the mesh can-cans that we use today under our lehengas and wedding gowns to increase the volume by manifolds.
Corsets were brought to use much before the 1850’s. But they kept changing their shapes and sizes throughout this era. However, they were the rough sketch of the evolved bustiéres and corsages we wear today.
Furs, the most coveted fashion accessory even today were finally put to good use by the ladies of yore during this period. By the end of the era, the world was introduced to jersey dresses which have now evolved in so many different ways by leaps and bounds!
Not to forget the launch of the fashion bible ‘Vogue’s’ very first issue in 1892!
1900s and 1910s:
This era, better known as the Edwardian era gave us Paul Poiret, one of the most esteemed fashion influencers of the past. Inspired by Orientalism, he introduced to us what we know today as the ‘harem pants’ and also the pinafore dresses.
There was also the hobble skirt which would later evolve into the pencil skirt that we love so much today! However, due to the rationing of clothing impeded by World War I, the progress of fashion industry was hampered considerably.
But this was also the year when the hints of modern-day’s much loved Androgyny surfaced, as women started working while men were out at the war front. Burberry paved its way into the fashion industry with their trench coats that make us swoon even today.
The now popular V neckline was invented during this era. Lastly, but most importantly, we simply can’t miss mentioning the father of couture- Charles Frederick Worth, without whom the fashion world as we know today wouldn’t exist! He was the first one to curate fashion shows with real models among many other firsts that he injected into this industry.
The roaring 20’s:
The 1920s, better known as the roaring twenties for its jazz and Charleston obsession, gifted us some of the most talented powerhouses of fashion.
The most significant one being ‘Coco’ Chanel among Elsa Schiaparelli and Madeline Vionnet! ‘Coco’ Chanel, a name synonymous with suave elegance was, still is, the flag bearer of androgyny at its best. She popularized the Little Black Dress or the LBD among so many other legendary designs over the years. I say popularized, because the real inventor of it was Jean Patou, another talented innovator of the 20’s and madame Chanel’s biggest rival! While Miss Schiaparelli, inspired by the surrealism of the fabled artist Salvatore Dali, brought to us some of the most eccentric dresses and hats along with the very first working class clothes for women, Madeline Vionnet exhibited the expertise in her craft by introducing the handkerchief hemline.
The stylish 30’s:
The 1930’s earned the moniker of being stylish for a reason! It was in this year when backless clothing was the new black among the elite of the society. The style later seeped down to the middle-class too. So, this is when the first backless swim suits started doing the rounds.
However, the rich preferred to wear nautical accents on their exuberant summer outings for that requisite distinction. By the end of this decade, Du Pont in America launched Nylon for the first time.
The world was introduced to Nina Ricci, an epitome of designing talent. Like they say that history repeats itself time and again, you will see that many of the styles invented during this decade will be reinvented yet again in the 50’s.
This particular decade does not have a specific name like the others as it was a simply grim period for the impending World War II had started emerging. As a result, fashion had to take a backseat.
Major fashion houses like Chanel had shut shops. However, Lanvin, Balenciaga, Ricci and a few others continued to do business but on a very small scale. Utility clothing was introduced and so women had to make do with whatever was available. They started wearing their husband’s trousers to work.
This was also the period when overalls started to be seen as a thing of fashion which we now know by many names like jumpers, rompers and jumpsuits. Can you imagine a world where Paris was not the fashion capital of the world? I can’t either. But during WWII, the Nazis wanted to elope with the fashion industry to Germany. Luckily for us, Lucille Lelong saved the industry by talking Germans out of it. Phew!
Once the war was done over with, the golden period of fashion had begun! Our favourite Bikini was invented in France by two gentlemen called Jacques Heimm and Louis Reard in 1946. Micheline Bernadini was the first woman to wear it though the bikini wasn’t publicly worn until the 60’s.
In the following year, the world rejoiced as Christian Dior spearheaded into the industry with his famous Dior slit and A-line cuts. Another such marvelous neophyte talent was Pierre Balmain.
The conservative 50’s:
1950’s were truly conservative, as the fashion was made to look more sophisticated, taking cues from the 30’s which were all about elegance and class. This decade saw an uprising of Italian designers coming to the fore, Emilio Pucci being one of the most revered.
He swished in like a breath of fresh air with his plethora of daunting colors and geometric designs amidst the otherwise drab ensembles that everyone was sporting at the time. We adored two of the greatest fashion icons in history who ‘wowed’ us with their chutzpah in films and otherwise. Yes! They are the doe-eyed Audrey Hepburn and a true siren Marilyn Monroe.
Audrey Hepburn exhibited the importance of LBD’s, pearls and dressing pretty while Marilyn Monroe taught us that size does not matter! They did change the presumptions of the elite society and common man alike.
The swinging 60’s:
1960’s were all about rampant growth of fashion due to various advancements in technology. New materials such as PVC, polyester and acrylics were introduced.
The mini skirt was invented by Mary Qaunt. The youth was quick to follow suit.
Yves Saint Laurent better known as YSL started his first boutique after working under Dior for a long time.
Meanwhile another fashion giant was emerging by the epithet of Givenchy. They need no introduction for their erstwhile contributions to this industry speak for themselves.
Finally, now fashion had become unisex. Sadly, the glory of couture was beginning to see its last light as Ready-To-Wear lines were being introduced. For those of you who don’t know, couture means every rib and bone of the outfit put together by hands as opposed to machines; even the most intricate details like embroideries and trims. Today, there is an exclusive group of only about 2000 elite women around the world who can afford couture pieces and proudly do so!
This decade spelled crazy like no other. The Hippie subculture had emerged and that marked the beginning of Bohemian fashion.
The fashion police wasn’t necessarily impressed by this decade as it was actually quite anti-fashion all through. With haphazard fads and trends emerging and vanishing, it was a tumultuous journey.
The retro vibe was also reinvented. Basically this era was all about marching to the beat of your own drum. There were no rules; everyone expressed their individuality through the medium of clothing.
Japanese designers like Issey Miyake and Kenzo Takada had entered the fashion scenes of Europe.
Punk fashion was at its peak on the streets of London thus giving way to anarchist sloganized tees introduced by Vivienne Westwood.
Lycra was invented by Du Pont during the 70’s. Psychedelic prints, tie and dye, bell bottoms, peasant blouses, maxi-dresses and ponchos are all the gift of the 70’s to us.
The 1980’s threw dramatic curveballs at the fashion industry. With Madame Chanel gone, the reigns of Chanel were handed over to Karl Ottoman Lagerfeld, who continues to hold them in great stride to this day.
Talented designers like Thierry Mugler and Azzedine Alaïa were the new fashion moguls. Power dressing was the mantra of the 80’s.
However, Franco Moschino thought otherwise and introduced eccentric collections. Suddenly, there was a boom of designers- Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Donna Karen, Jean Paul-Gaultier, John Galliano.. to name a few.
It will be futile to talk about the fashion scenario of the 80’s without mentioning Lady Diana who gave us major style cues with her All-White-Everythings and taught us how quintessentially chic it was to match our accessories with our ensembles in the right measure.
The naughty 90’s:
This decade was to mark the end of evolution of fashion as everything after this is just the reinvention of some or the other trends that were seen before during all the previous decades.
It is named as the naughties because it was the age of liberalism and so many avant-garde designers garnered a stronghold in this industry. Among them were Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang, Xuly-Bet and many more.
It was basically a deconstructive mélange of all the trends from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. If you are a fan of the laudable sitcom ‘Friends;, or if you have watched the movie ‘Clueless’ , you would easily figure out the trends of the time. Oversize sweatshirts, relaxed silhouettes, stylish sports-wear, turtle necks, cargo pants, plaid co-ordinates, et al would describe this decade well.
This was also the decade when under the direction of Tom Ford, Gucci reached its apex while Miuccia Prada rose to power singlehandedly turning around the fate of her grandfather’s legacy, Prada.