1900 to 1930s Women's Fashion - Haute Couture
The advent of fashion design as we know it today didn't really emerge until around the middle of the 19th century when the horizons of the fashion design industry broadened due to the new mobility and emerging independent lifestyle many wealthy women.
Charles Frederick Worth was considered as the pioneer of couture fashion and was the first known couturier to open a fashion house.
Worth opened his fashion house, 'The House of Worth' in 1858, just around the time that women's yearnings for more practical yet stylish clothes was becoming evident. His boutique's popularity grew such that it was dominated by Parisian haute couture through the second half of the nineteenth century.
Prior to that period, dressmakers and tailors were the ones who inspired style, making fashionable and elaborately sewn garments that were majorly worn by ladies at the royal courts.
Gradually, women began to seek practical clothes for their new-found lifestyle and as their demand for such grew from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, fashion houses began to emerge.
The emergence of a few couture houses further whets the public's appetite for sensible but fashionable clothes, and by the beginning of the 1900s, haute couture fashion was born.
Haute Couture Fashion - 1900 to 1919
By the beginning of the 20th-century, bespoke fashion houses hired artists to sketch and paint designs for dresses, gowns, and other garments for their growing clientèle.
A century before, when a wealthy client required a special gown, sample garments were made for her. If she was fine with any of the samples (all samples were made from inexpensive cloth of course), she then made an order for it. However, when they desire modifications, these were made.
The turn of the century gave way to sketched clothing styles which were presented to clients, who in turn either made orders for their preferred designs or asked for modifications to some.
Soon, the fashionable outfits worn by stylish women were strikingly similar to those worn in the heydeys of and designs, and magazines began to include sketches and sepia photographs of haute couture styles, and this further had a profound effect on public tastes. Frederick Worth's sketches
By 1910, a fashionable silhouette became the order of the day. Styles became softer, more practical to wear and much more flexible than in the previous years.
Layers and layers of fabrics used in the past reduced considerably and women could now wear dresses without help from their maids.
Apparel design had a new look, and the first female couturier and fashion designer Jeanne Paquin organised the first real fashion show.
She designed chic gowns of "quiet sophistication" that appealed to women of refined taste, and her top notch clients included the Queens of Belgium, Portugal, and Spain.
As more women had to earn a living, a new dress style appeared. This was brought upon by the 1st World War because the men went away to war and their women had to go out to work.
New styles created were better suited to their new found activities, and as the clothes became simpler, simple felt hats and turbans replaced the popular headgears of the 1900s fashion era.
Darker and muted colours became the norm because too many sons, brothers, fathers and husbands were dying at the war fronts and the general conditions of the times demanded sobriety.
By 1915, women's skirts rose above the ankles, and then further up to mid-calf (less fabric used!) and the golden age of French haute couture fashion went through great changes and rapid reformation.
Fashion designers began to find new clients in the ranks of film actresses, heiresses and the wives and daughters of wealthy industrialists.
1920s Fashion and Style
The First World War changed how women were perceived in society because constraints were removed and women began to experiment more with clothing styles.
A radical change soon emerged. Dresses with long trains became outdated and gave way to above-the-knee dresses and pinafores.
This was the decade of:
- Dropped waist
- Rolled down stockings
Exposing the knee was the height of fashion, bouffant coiffures gave way to sophisticated short bobs, and the need for corsets greatly reduced because women clothing tended towards a kind of "boyish silhouette” style as seen with the loose styled dresses and gowns.
In the 20's the flapper dress was the most popular style for women and everyone desired it. Also referred to as the Charleston dress, these attires in various cuts and silhouettes became popular from the mid-1920.
Flat-chested and waist-less shapes and cuts emerged, an "aggressive" dressing down that was softened with the use of feather boas, embroidery, showy fashion accessories, blunt-toed shoes, and long cigarette holders.
It was during this fashion decade that sheer stockings become fashionable, a good thing, as the thick unattractive woollen stockings that were worn by fashionable women a decade and more before the swinging 20s 'went out' like a puff of smoke.
Styles of the 1930s
By the beginning of the 1930s, the effects of the great depression had slowly started to set in and fashion styles had to step down to be more compromising. There had to be a balance between preserving feminism and re-discovering subtle elegance and sophistication.
Thirties women clothing styles became more romantic as waistlines reappeared and hems started to drop once again.
There were bias-cut lace gowns, velvet and satin long evening dresses, flutter sleeves, and thin belts, and while the bust line re-appeared, the loose cuts of the swinging 20s became outdated.
The backless evening gowns and soft slim-fitting day dresses become appreciated by those in tune with fashionable styles and the female body's slim, toned, and athletic silhouette became the vogue. Certainly, this was because the outdoor activities women engaged in was on the rise.
Consequently, this new found 'athleticism' stimulated fashion designers and couturiers of the 1930s to design and manufacture sportswear apparel (which in essence was another term used to describe ready-to-wear clothing).