Nineteenth Century Clothing

Becoming a Professional Fashion Designer

Become a Professional Fashion Designer

Get Instant Access

ress during the nineteenth century changed dramatically. The change was influenced by shifts in taste, of course, but more significantly by the introduction of machines to the construction of clothing. Sewing machines, power looms, or weaving machines, steam power, electricity, new dye formulas, and other inventions increased the speed and ease of clothing manufacture. These inventions were used to add embellishments to women's clothing; machine-made trimmings were applied in bulk to the enormous

Nineteenth-century industrialization offered the luxuries of life to more people than ever before. Sewing machines, electricity, new dye formulas, and other inventions increased the speed and ease of clothing manufacture. by permission of © Historical Picture Archive/CORBIS.

1895 Clothes Men Spain


Though born and raised in England, Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) became the first world famous French fashion designer. He was also the first to create and employ the principles of design and fashion that would be called "haute couture," or "high fashion." Worth not only designed clothes for much of Europe's nobility and many American millionaires, he also introduced many modern changes in the ways clothing was designed, made, and sold.

Worth was born in 1825 in Lincolnshire, in the east of England. His father was a lawyer who had lost most of his money gambling, so young Charles was forced to go out to work when he was only eleven. He worked for many years at a department store, then at a company that sold fabrics. Through his sales experience he learned about what women wanted and needed in clothing and fashion. He wished to become a dress designer, so at the age of twenty he took a job with a fabric firm in Paris, where he could study design while he worked. It was there that he introduced his first new idea of offering dress design to customers at the fabric company. For the first time, ladies could get the whole dress, design and fabric, at the same location.

Before Worth began his design career, dresses had been made by dressmakers, and designs had been created by the customer and the dressmaker, who got ideas from looking at pictures of popular dresses. Worth was one of the first designers to come up with his own ideas, based on his knowledge of women's needs. Soon he started his own company. The wife of the Austrian ambassador bought a dress from Worth that attracted the notice of the Empress of France. Worth became the court designer, and was soon making dresses for the royalty of

Russia, Italy, Spain, and Austria. Famous and wealthy Americans such as the Vanderbilts and the Astors also came to the House of Worth for special gowns, making Worth the first celebrity fashion designer.

Worth used beautiful and luxurious fabrics for his dresses, and he trimmed them with rich decoration, such as fringe, lace, braid, and tassels made of pearls. His many important contributions to design included an ankle-length walking skirt, shockingly short for its time, and the princess gown, a waist-less dress that hung simple and straight in the front while draping in full pleats in the back.

However, more lasting have been Worth's contributions to fashion as an industry. He changed the way dresses were shown to customers by being the first designer to use living women as models, and the first to have fashion shows to reveal his new designs to customers. He also began to make high fashion more widely available, by selling his designs not only to individual customers but also to other dressmakers, clothing manufacturers, and to the newly invented department stores. Another introduction Worth made was the practice of mass-producing parts of a piece of clothing, then putting them together in different ways. For example, a certain type of sleeve could be produced in a bulk quantity, and then used on several different types of dresses to produce a different look each time.

Worth's ideas came at a time when clothing factories and department stores were new developments, and they combined well to create a new concept in fashion called ready-to-wear clothing. For the first time, people could simply go to a store and buy the latest fashions, and "haute couture" style was no longer only available to the rich. Charles Worth died in 1895, but his sons continued to operate his successful design house for many years.

flowing gowns worn by women in midcentury. By the end of the century, the introduction of ditto suits for men increased men's interest in ready-to-wear clothing, which would ruin many tailors' careers by the mid-twentieth century since the clothes did not need alterations.

The style of dress worn by men became increasingly somber and less flamboyant throughout the century. At the beginning of the century, stylishly dressed men known as dandies, such as George "Beau" Brummell, influenced male fashions by replacing fancy outfits of ornate waistcoats and ruffles with plain dark jackets, high-collared shirts and simple cravats, vests, and eventually trousers. Although some men wore corsets and loud clothing during the century, by the end of the period proper male clothing came to be associated more with clean, polished clothing rather than with fancy ornament. The color black, introduced during this century as proper for male dress attire, has endured to the present day in the form of tuxedos and dark suits.

Women's fashions shifted dramatically throughout the century. Starting with styles that revealed more of the female figure than ever before in Europe and America, women shifted to wearing large dresses with huge sleeves and skirts and heavy ornamentation by midcentury. As the century continued, women's fashions changed again to incorporate slimmer silhouettes, or profiles, with the fullness of the skirt limited to the rear bustle. Despite the huge variations in skirt and sleeve size, women's waists were pinched tighter and tighter in a variety of constrictive corsets throughout the century. The importance of a slim waist throughout the nineteenth century influenced some mothers to confine their young daughters in binding corsets as well.

While the styles for men at the end of the century laid the foundation that would influence men's clothing for the centuries to come, the styles for women did not. Women's fashion began to be influenced by fashion designers, the first being Charles Frederick Worth (1825—1895). And in the coming century, women would experience much more liberty and a variety of new styles would emerge to reflect this. One style introduced during the nineteenth century would have a lasting impact on the fashion of both men and women across the globe: Starting as a sturdy work pant, blue jeans would become one of the most influential American fashion trends.


Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London, England: B. T. Batsford, 1992.

Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.

Costume Illustration: The Nineteenth Century. Introduction by James Laver. London, England: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1947.

DeMarly, Diana. Worth: Father of Haute Couture. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1990.

Fletcher, Marion. Female Costume in the Nineteenth Century. (National Gallery Booklets) Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Gibbs-Smith, Charles H. The Fashionable Lady in the 19th Century. London, England: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1960.

Moers, Ellen. The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm. New York: Viking Press, 1960.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Yarwood, Doreen. Fashion in the Western World: 1500—1900. New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1992.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Fabulous Fashionista

Fabulous Fashionista

Get All The Support And Guidance You Need To Be A Success At Being A Fashionista. This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Choosing The Right Style For Your Body Type.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment