Amy T. Peterson
The word fashion conjures many ideas in people's minds: trendy styles, a person's external appearance, or the work of an elite group of designers. But fashion does not exist in a vacuum; its context is the society around it. "Fashion is a style . . . that is temporarily adopted [by a social group] . . . because that chosen style ... is perceived to be socially appropriate for the time and situation" (Sproles and Burns, 1994).
Fashion and social development have a dynamic relationship; each one influences the other, affecting numerous aspects of people's lives from gender roles to political expression and social acceptance. This book examines this relationship through the designers and shapers of fashion in Western society from the late nineteenth century to the year 2000. This book looks at the prevailing fashion trends through the years, places those trends into historical context, and examines the ways in which they impact social history.
The entrants in this book were not selected on their artistic merit alone. Instead, they were chosen because their influence on fashion is reflective of societal, political, or economic change. For example, Coco Chanel's 1920s knits, Christian Dior's 1947 New Look, and Yves Saint Laurent's 1960s pantsuit reflect the ever-changing image of women and their role in society. Companies can be as influential as designers; their marketing influences and reacts to fashion trends. For this reason, select companies have been included in this book under the same merits as designers. In a similar sense, movies reflect society, and costume designers have an impact on fashion trends; therefore, they were included as well. Although this book contains entrants from around the world, it focuses primarily on America and its designers.
Each entry includes basic biographical information about the designer or founding information about the company. This information includes birth and death dates, birthplace, founding dates, awards, honors, education, and training. Each entry describes the entrant's signature styles and outlines the career or company history. When appropriate, the entry summarizes any licensing agreements and influential marketing innovations. Finally, the entry defines the entrant's significance within fashion. Throughout the text, illustrations that were specifically drawn for this book are included. The illustrations are interpretations of the designers original works and are intended to represent some of the key changes in fashions trends. At the end of this book, appendixes list cross-references of each entrant by decades in business, primary country of business, and specializations.
FASHION: A SHORT HISTORY
Fashion emerged at the close of the Victorian period, an era when the predominant Christian values of virtue and moral piety were contrasted by outward displays of affluence and luxury. The last half of the nineteenth century witnessed the rise of a new class of money born out of the Industrial Revolution, a movement in which the nations of Europe and the United States gradually shifted to economies based on factories and industry rather than agriculture. This monied group was called the nouveau riche (new rich), and many of them spent their wealth on the abundant new material goods produced by the factories of this new industrial economy.
The Industrial Revolution impacted all social classes, not just the wealthy. A middle-class began to emerge, and the standard of living of the lower-class began to rise. Many products that had been too expensive for the lower and middle-classes could be produced more efficiently and less expensively in the new factories. Soon, people from every class could afford these new material goods and adopt elements of the latest fashions. Visual class distinctions, previously displayed through dress, began to erode. The elaborate trims and richly colored fabrics fashionable during this period fit into the budget of the socialite and maid alike.
The wealthy, who deplored the erosion of class distinction, found new ways to separate themselves from the other classes. One way of retaining the class distinction was to have one's clothes designed by a high-priced, exclusive designer. Charles Frederick Worth is often cited as the first fashion designer. He catered to wealthy Americans and Europeans in his private Paris salon. His popularity was immediate, and he influenced fashion changes with his opulent designs.
Worth's influence also strengthened the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, an organization of couturiers founded in 1868. The group, which originally served as a guild for craftsmen, evolved into a governing body which controls the standards and guides the marketing of couture fashion. Currently, the Chambre Syndicale's main function is the organization and oversight of twice-yearly collection showings. The Chambre Syndicale schedules the showings and organizes the press and buyers. The group also helps protect designs by copyrighting the designs that are registered with it. Furthermore, aspiring couturiers can be trained by the school operated by the organization. The Chambre Syndicale protected and nurtured couture during the twentieth century.
The dawn of the twentieth century saw significant changes in society. People had witnessed how technology and science had improved their lives during the end of the previous century, and they looked forward to the new century with its promise of modernity and innovation. Inventions that modernized everyday life had an effect on fashion as well. Electricity powered clothing and textile factories, trains sped the goods to the marketplace, the telegraph facilitated communication between buyers and sellers, and photography disseminated new fashion trends.
As technology was changing the everyday lives of Americans, the demographic composition of America was also being transformed. An influx of immigrants from Europe came to America in hopes of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the numerous factories. Over 50 million Eastern and Western Europeans migrated to the United States during the nineteenth century, radically altering the makeup of the population. While some immigrants retained their cultural dress and customs, others adopted fashionable dress in an effort to seem more "American." For these newcomers America was the land of opportunity. With hard work, more and more lower-class immigrants and their families acquired the comforts of middle-class life.
The growth of the middle-class resulted in an ever-increasing democratization of society and fashion. The factories of the Industrial Revolution began to produce ready-to-wear clothing for men and some accessories for women. Men's sizes became standardized, allowing them to purchase clothing off the rack instead of having it custom made. Soon, men and women could purchase clothing from mail-order catalogs such as Sears and Roebuck. These catalogs allowed people who lived in rural areas to purchase mass-produced goods, continuing the spread of a democratized American society.
Just as clothing sizes and production were becoming simplified, women's clothing was becoming less complex. Sumptuous swathes of fabric and elaborate decoration disappeared. Clothing became more functional, allowing women to work, play sports, and move about more freely in their garments. One of the key silhouettes of the era, the Gibson Girl, featured simple, bell-shaped skirts and separate shirts with exaggerated, puffed, leg-of-mutton sleeves. This look was starkly different from the bustles, brocades, and heavy velvets of the preceding period.
The onset of World War I (1914-1918) stimulated further simplification of clothing. The rationing of fabric and metals was responsible for women's fashions that served multiple purposes with fewer fasteners and shorter lengths. At the same time, the United States was emerging as a global power and solidifying authority at the same level as European powers. This newfound authority helped establish America as a fashion leader.
The 1920s were known as the Roaring Twenties because the booming economy and the shortened workweek gave Americans more time to spend on leisure activities. Nearly every cultural aspect of the decade revolved around leisure time. Movies, magazines, newspapers, and books documented the raucous parties characterizing the decade.
In January 1920, the Volstead Act outlawed the sale of alcohol and led to the era commonly referred to as Prohibition. Many Americans routinely broke this law. An entire criminal enterprise organized to sell illegal alcohol, and Americans from every class frequented speakeasies where they could purchase it. Alcohol became a uniting factor in a country where intolerance of blacks and Communists was dramatically increasing.
As class distinctions were becoming blurred, the status symbol aspect of fashion was losing its importance. Inexpensive copies of couture garments proliferated despite designers' efforts to copyright and protect their work. Although France was the undisputed fashion center, America was becoming known for its mass production of clothing.
Women's roles changed during the 1920s. In 1919 the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote in national elections, was passed. More women started practicing such traditionally male pursuits as working, smoking, and drinking. Sex became more permissible than it had been in previous generations. Trojan began to market condoms, allowing people to engage in casual sex with fewer repercussions. Also, young people freely discussed sex, an activity that shocked their parents.
These changes in women's roles were personified in the image of the flapper: a brazen, young woman with a boyish silhouette, bobbed hair, short skirt, exposed arms, turned-down stockings, and makeup. Clearly she was not the caretaker of home and family as was her mother. The rebellious flapper defied the conventions of feminine behavior. Actresses like Colleen More, Clara Bow, and Louise Brooks helped define and popularize the flapper look. Even women who did not adopt the flapper fashion extremes wore short hair and short hemlines.
In October 1929 the U.S. stock market crashed, and in 1930 a drought struck the heartland of the United States, which led to the greatest economic recession in United History. For the next ten years, unemployment hovered close to 20 percent, and numerous American banks failed, wiping out the savings of their customers. Many people found themselves standing in breadlines and accepting charity for their daily needs. Some lost their homes and lived in shantytowns built of crates and boxes. During this bleak period, few could afford to replace their worn clothes, and fewer had the money to follow fashion trends.
Americans, however, still had an interest in new fashions even though they could not necessarily afford them. Elegant, body-skimming, elongated lines became popular, and sumptuous fashions dominated this otherwise sparse period of American history. U.S. movies began disseminating fashion information through the glamorous garments of the stars. The international popularity of movies helped solidify the reputation of the American fashion industry.
The entry of the United States into World War II (1941-1945) ended the Great Depression and spurred economic growth. Just as Americans were beginning to enjoy economic stability, however, the government imposed rationing on building materials, clothing, food, and fuel. The fighting in Europe forced many of the couture houses there to close their doors, and those that remained open had to bend to the will of the Nazis occupying France. With America cut off from European fashions by the war, the U.S. fashion industry gained power and prominence in an industry that previously had been indisputably dominated by the French.
After the war, Americans focused on improving their standard of living and promoting family values. Many people moved from the city to the suburbs and purchased homes, cars, televisions, and convenience items. Soon, it seemed that everyone could afford the trappings of the middle class, and these trappings could be purchased at the suburban mall which now catered to the masses. Fashion design was no longer the realm of the elite; it was becoming big business.
Women, many of whom had worked in factories to help in the war effort, focused on raising families. It was considered unpatriotic for women to work in a job that could be filled by a returning soldier. They were expected to live up to the ideal of the feminine mother and wife, and fashions reflected this change. Stiletto-heeled shoes, confining girdles, and voluminous crinolines hampered movement and accentuated the womanly, hourglass figure.
By the end of the 1950s, a new emphasis on young people had emerged. In previous generations, age and wisdom were valued, but in the fifties youth and energy became more important. Rock and roll, a new music style, featured youthful performers and helped fuel the focus on youth. The youth movement continued and flourished throughout the 1960s.
The 1960s were characterized by upheaval and change. New attitudes about the Soviet Union, civil rights, and sexuality shook the foundations of the "family values" society that had predominated during the 1950s. These new attitudes began to take shape during the late 1950s.
When the Soviet Union launched its first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, it ignited the space race and intensified the Cold War between the Soviets and the Americans. The two sides were pitted against each other in a war that did not involve warfare and battles. Instead, it focused on global dominance and the threat of nuclear attack. Bomb drills and nuclear weapon stockpiling characterized the Cold War during the 1950s. The space race, a competition to be the first country to land on the moon, characterized the Cold War during the 1960s.
Twenty days after Alan Shepard became the first American to be sent into space on May 5, 1961, President John F. Kennedy committed the nation to landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Throughout the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union sent dozens of rockets into space and fueled the public's passion with the future and technology.
The popularity of outer space and the future was translated into vogue fashions. Designers such as Andre Courreges and Pierre Cardin unveiled space-inspired clothes. Other designers used plastics, metals, and Velcro to create futuristic designs.
While the space race was fueling the interest in futurism, the Civil Rights movement was awakening an interest in ethnicity. As the Civil Rights movement evolved from the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott to the lunch counter desegregation in 1960 to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the message of African Americans changed from the moral appeals of Martin Luther King, Jr., to militant demands of black power groups. After 1965 the message of black power gained an audience and helped spread black pride.
As African Americans began embracing their heritage, ethnic fashions gained popularity. Many blacks adopted traditional African styles such as dashikis, afros, corn rows, and kente cloth. By the mid-1970s, some of these styles, including dashikis and corn rows, had moved into the mainstream and were worn by whites as well.
While African Americans were revising their image, women's images were thrown into turmoil. In the 1960s, the notion of sexuality was transformed from a secret activity that was relegated to the bedroom, to a public topic that was discussed in best-seller books and films. While young people were focusing on immediate sexual gratification and individual pleasure, their parents were still trying to maintain high moral standards. Fearing that the newly introduced birth control pill would encourage promiscuity among their children, many parents enforced curfews, established dating rules, and fought to ban sexually suggestive media images.
The contradictory images of sexuality in society were expressed in a diverse hodgepodge of popular fashion styles. Some women dressed like little girls in tidy, conservative suits and dresses complemented by flat shoes and bows in their hair. Others wore more provocative styles, including micromini skirts, bodysuits, and, for the most daring, Rudi Gernreich's topless swimsuit. Yet other women sought to redefine womanhood by wearing unisex hippie clothing and jeans. This diversity of women's styles continued into the 1970s.
The activism, social change, and radical ideas of the sixties entered the mainstream during the seventies. Hippies became part of middle America. Men wore their hair long, women wore gypsy dresses, and both sexes wore bell-bottom pants.
By the end of the decade, the free-spirited hippie look evolved into a more glamorous form of self-expression. Hot pants, platform shoes, and leisure suits came into vogue. This new look reflected the self-indulgent lifestyle that characterized the 1970s. People were so focused on instant gratification and getting in touch with themselves that the seventies were called the "Me" decade.
This emphasis on individuality caused some elements of the culture to splinter into a variety of popular styles. For example, rock music split into soft rock, hard rock, country, disco, and punk. Each one of these styles was complemented by the appropriate look: Western shirts and cowboy hats for country music; three-piece suits and body-skimming dresses for disco; jeans and t-shirts for hard rock; and leather, spiked hair, and safety pins for punk.
Advances in the civil rights and women's movements brought changes to the images of women and blacks. In 1973 the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion. This decision along with the availability of the pill brought women unprecedented control in planning their lives and careers. Without the fear of pregnancy, women suddenly had as much freedom with sex as men did. The black pride movement brought black culture into the homes of middle America. With their immense Afros, coordinated suits, and towering platform shoes, stylish urban blacks appeared in films, television shows, and on the covers of magazines.
The individuality and self-expression of the 1970s erupted into unabashed greed and materialism in the 1980s. Money and status became the goals of Americans. Binge buying, purchasing on credit, and designer labels became a way of life for many.
The popularity of designer jeans illustrates the transformation to a society that was enamored with conspicuous consumption. In the 1970s, most Americans wore blue jeans as a casual garment. In the 1980s, designers like Sergio Valente and Calvin Klein adjusted the fit and detailing of jeans to make them more sophisticated. Soon designer jeans came to embody the status consciousness of American fashion.
Designers' names began to take on a life of their own as licensing grew dramatically. Bridge and contemporary lines expanded to meet the demand for designer clothing at more affordable prices. Designer labels on any item from housewares to shirts made the item instantly desirable. Also, it became voguish to place the designer's label or logo in a visible place on the garment or product.
Designers created a demand for their names through advertising. Advertising campaigns seemed to overshadow the products by focusing on shock value and controversy. Ads became about creating an image or lifestyle, like Ralph Lauren's Polo ads. Cable television aired the ads in countries around the world, helping designers expand into global businesses.
During the 1980s women's roles were changing. Women were joining the workforce in larger numbers than before. Also, more women were earning college and advanced degrees. When they married, they had fewer children, divorced more often, and were more frequently part of a dual-income family.
The working woman's image of aggressive femininity was expressed in her clothes. Early in the decade, working women wore a version of a man's navy suit, with a skirt instead of pants and a bow instead of a tie. As the decade progressed women's clothing became bolder and more feminine. Bright colors and exaggerated, masculine shoulders characterized the new look.
America had become more diverse by the 1980s. Immigration rates rose, and over 40 percent of immigrants were Asian, while most of the remaining immigrants came from Latin America. Latin and Asian influences can be seen in 1980s dress. Japanese designers achieved immense popularity during the decade, and Latin flounces and off-the-shoulder styles were widely used by designers.
Body consciousness rose to a new level during the 1980s. Many Americans became focused on physical fitness. After toning their bodies with exercise tapes like Jane Fonda's workout, people squeezed into body-revealing spandex, which seemed to come in every conceivable garment from dresses to shorts.
Fashion lost several of its most prominent and promising designers to a newly recognized disease, AIDS. Initially the controversial disease shocked people, but later brought them closer together. The losses of designers like Halston made many Americans realize the gravity of AIDS and prompted many to support research and care efforts.
At the end of the nineteenth century, fashion helped level diverse social classes and bring about democratization. At the end of the twentieth century, it brought about homogenization. Instead of narrowing the gap between social classes, fashion dissolved the visual differences between classes. The effects of the expansion of mass production and mass merchandising of the 1980s led to the homogenization of the 1990s.
Self-expression lost importance as people focused on conforming to the ideal image. Both men and women underwent plastic surgery to achieve the bodies and faces of models. Couture suffered a demise; clothing was simplified; and people of every class, lifestyle, age, and geographic location wore khaki pants, jeans, t-shirts, and button-down shirts for every occasion. Functionality became the most important quality in clothing.
During this decade, clothing lost a sense of time. Earlier in the century, people dressed up for dinner, going shopping, and even going to school. In the 1990s, casual clothing became acceptable for most occasions. Many workplaces instituted "casual Friday" when employees could wear less formal clothing than suits and dresses.
Clothing stopped following seasons also. Advances in technology produced fabrics that remained cool in the summer and warm in the spring. Colors were no longer limited to specific seasons. White and pastels showed up in winter clothes, and black and dark colors were worn in the summer.
Although clothing had become homogenized, retailers and, to a lesser extent, designers were focusing on specialized markets. The shape of America was changing. The baby boomers, Americans born between 1946 and 1964, were aging and their bodies were maturing. Also, an increasing number of Americans were overweight. By the last half of the 1990s, retailers and designers began putting more emphasis on creating styles for a variety of body types. The number of petite, womens, junior, and plus size lines expanded, and separates became extremely popular, because consumers could get a more customized fit.
Technology played an important role in the 1990s. Fashion information was disseminated in seconds through satellite feeds, television, and the Internet. People could purchase the latest trends on-line, allowing even the most rural consumer to dress fashionably. International distinctions in fashion continued to erode, as people around the world were exposed to the same images.
It is hard to predict what direction fashion will take in the next century. Certainly, there will be changes and the evolution of technology will play a role. Fibers, fabrics, and construction and manufacturing techniques will evolve, making clothing more functional and more comfortable. Everyday clothing may become more streamlined and uniform, but special occasion clothing will continue to reflect the individuality of our lives. For weddings, school dances, christenings, and other events, people will chose clothing which celebrates their individuality.
Fashion and society have shared a symbiotic relationship since the emergence of the former at the end of the nineteenth century. Each one influences the other, with fashion often reflecting the society in which it exists. As society continues to transform and evolve in the twenty-first century, fashion will undoubtedly continue to reflect the values and events of the times.
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