We look at the changes in fashion from the 1700s to the 1900s
The history of fashion is amazing across the stemming of the fabrics restricting the styles, allowances for what people could and couldn’t wear, when and how trends came about plus the significant change of styles over the centuries. If you are ever in Bath I truly recommend visiting the History of Fashion museum, consisting of such an amazing collation of garments stemming from as far back as the 1700’s…..
Silk was the principal fabric in this era weaved by French immigrants fleeing the persecution of France from the 1600’s bringing their talents to Spitalfields London, establishing the area as a centre for English weaving.
Trends started to build around this period as fashion fabrics exported to America were often seen as old-fashioned because of the time it took for silks to reach North America.
Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the 1700’s changing from rural society to one where people lived in towns and worked in factories. Textiles were at the heart of this society and in the late 1700’s printed cotton came about in which inventions like the ‘spinning jenny’ enabled multiple threads to be spun into a yarn paving the way for affordable printed fabrics.
At the start of the century the Jane Austen novels introduced the ‘cotton frock’ into the everyday wear of which fastened at the back rather than the front.
The average 1850’s dress was designed to fit the ‘flounce’ potential aka tiers of gathered fabrics beneath. The common being three for morning dresses and up to seven for the evening. And there were also strict regulations about how to dress for presentation in courts. Trains had to be more than three yards (almost 3 metres) long from the ankle!
The must have accessory were gloves, not your average pair though. They were made with exceptionally thin leather, so much so the true test was to roll the gloves up to fit into a walnut shell!
There was also the ‘mourning trend’ in which women weren’t expected to turn their backs on fashion, instead they selected a whole new wardrobe in which they wore plain black and ‘crape’ for a year and a day. For second mourning of which lasted nine months, they wore black silk with jet jewellery, and finally for half mourning they wore white, grey and shades of purple for at least six months.
It was a common occurrence for households to hold an etiquette rule book giving advice to women ‘…of taste and good sense…’ on behaviour. One book released in 1870 stated ‘…no wife should betray that total indifference for her husband’s taste which is implied in the neglect of her appearance. …to dress consistently and tastefully is one of the duties she owe to society’. Seems it was very much to be seen and not heard…
For the first time, skirts above the ankle were introduced which enabled women to wear suiting for war work. The average coat and skirt ensemble in Dickins and Jones in 1915 cost 84 shillings (equivalent to approx. £250 today). Trousers were also introduced in a subtle manner such as the ‘beach pyjamas’ popular with Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn (influential h.huna women).
It was around the early 1900’s that synthetics came about and during the second world war fabric was in short supply. The Limitation of Supplies Order (aka Civilian Clothing - CC41) was introduced in 1941, rationing clothes to 66 coupons per person per year apart from interestingly black-out curtain fabrics of which were a popular choice for home dressmakers. Manufacturers produced well designed and price-controlled clothes to save on materials and labour and the ‘Make Do and Mend’ campaign was launched in 1942 of which encouraged people to care for existing clothes and make new from old…something which is starting to awaken in our current era, darning socks anyone?
Christian Dior once quoted ‘I designed clothes for women, with rounded shoulders, full feminine busts, and hand-span waists above enormous spreading skirts’. The New Look collection introduced in 1947 moved fashion on from masculine war-time looks.
And it was around the 1950's nylon the manmade fibre was introduced, heralded as ‘…first man-made textile fibre, strong as steel, yet fine as a spiders web’. Polyester fibres were developed in laboratories in Lancashire (of all places!) and garments were created as part of a new campaign to promote the use of new synthetics in high fashion. I'm sure we have all seen upon that visit to a vintage store or flea market, the real textures of manmade fibre garments from back in the 60's...pretty plastic-y!
So there you have it, overall it was a truly awe-inspiring exhibition with such mesmerising facts on how fashion as a whole has developed over the centuries. A must visit destination, one of which has really got our minds ticking here at h.huna on the design of each piece with a purpose for longevity.