Evolution of fashion

History always brings to mind Edmund Burke’s quote: “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”   In fashion it’s: “Those who don’t know fashion history don’t know where they came from…or where they’re going!”  And why is that important?  Because it gives you a track….a path….breadcrumbs to follow.

How can so many designers be on the same track so much of the time?  It’s because a trend takes a certain track and follows it to it’s natural  course.  In humans, that’s usually one way then the other.  Studying that track gives you a great perspective of where we are and where we are going. That makes it very easy for those of us who study this to see why certain styles and trends blossomed and why they passed and why they come back and how they come back.  It’s not only fascinating, it also gives us heads up as to what is coming.

The beginning of fashion really started with Worth and the over-exaggerated silhouette that was trademark of the Victorian Era with an artificially small waist exaggerated bust and huge bustle at the back to exaggerate the voluptuousness and fertility of a woman – large hips to bear lots of children and hourglass shape.

Lucy Honeychurch in “A Room With A View” is an excellent example of this silhouette, and although it became more overdone at the end of this style.

Then comes Elsa Shiaparelli and Coco Chanel.  Both these responded to this restrictive and artificially enhanced style that preceded them, and to rebel against this, went to a straighter, smoother and looser style of clothing.  You could say this is the first influence of a more androgynous style.  But the main point was that the designers were rebelling against the corseted and artificial look of a too-slim waist and bustles and other paraphernalia that the Victorian fashion figure prescribed. This is how fashion moves….as a rebel or antithesis from one look to another.

For the time this was inordinately innovative and very shocking.

It even had it’s own classic-ness.  It was so classic, that at the dawn of World War II and the instigation of rationing – rationing everything including fabric and clothes, this became the style du jour.

This style had a little different take and the shoulder began to take prominence so that as it developed into the early 40’s it took on a more “V” silhouette.

This was a clean, sparse, frugal look that served beautifully for the time of war and rationing of most resources.  The little fabric that it took to make this look, worked well for the trends of the time.

Then the end of the war.  The Allies were victorious.  Life could return to normal – whatever that was, but also as the soldiers came back home, and started families, a huge world-wide boom started.  In 1947 Christian Dior responded to that look with a silhouette that was exaggerated, took loads of fabric, totally feminine and looked like nothing but fun!


The Bar Suit and the subsequent designs looked like the required yards and yards and yards of fabric.  But they were anything but baggy.  They all had an accentuation on he waist.  The shoulder was brought down to more normal proportion and the skirt was not just full, but overly full.  This was the style of vive la differénce that the 50’s became known for. Again we have the hourglass….so we’ve gone from the Victorian hourglass to the Shiaparelli/Chanel androgyny back to the Marilyn Monroe/Dior hourglass.  But see how the hourglass silhouette changes from what was in the Victorian fashion to the Dior fashion:



Even though both designs have the hourglass as the central part of the theme, there is obviously more freedom and fun in the Dior version of the hourglass than the Victorian one which was armored up more than a knight in shining armor!!!  Dior’s design was filled with so much frivolity and fun that it was hard to resist and after almost 20 years of Schiaparelli (even though she was enormously inventive and innovative at the time), people were ready to bust out with joy.

This is NOT Victorian in any sense of the word or fashion notion, but it is an hourglass silhouette.  This is a perfect example of how fashion moves from one phase or trend to another and then back to the old with a new twist.

Even though Dior was revolting against the sterility and rationing of the 30’s and 40’s, it moved past that and into a much more frivolous look.

There is a great retrospective of photographs from the House of Dior at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne Australia.  I can’t make it, but there is a nice outlay of the exhibit on the NGV site here.

And of course some of the designers who have since headed the famous house like

Yves St. Laurent

….and one of my favs John Galiano

This completely captures the whole look of Dior – the fun, frivolity and the massive use of fabric.

The amazing thing is that we are coming back to that vive la différence or the more feminine silhouette.  How do we know?…it’s a move away from the androgyny of the 90’s, 2000’s and now part of the 10’s Grunge movement.  So what we are seeing now is a return back to a more feminine figure……

like this:  Rodart, Spring 2016

Or Alexander McQueen, Spring, 2016

or Temberly, London, Pre Fall 2017

There are no hipsters here or low-rise anything…..all dresses and they are usually with a bit of a higher waist, not empire, but higher than the natural waist.

So here goes the pendulum again – swinging the other way!




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