Sunday, January 24, 2010

Quick Summary of Fashion History

Textiles have always been the most important part of garmnet construction, because they determine the drape and propertoes of the clothing. The most common fabrics used in the ancient world were wool, linen and silk. Wool was most commonly used in ancient Sumeria and een worn by Assyrians. Wool was a very common material at that time because in the environment in which the civilization grew there was a large supply of sheep. Wool was also common in ancient Greece in a garment called a doric chiton which was wrapped around the body.

Linen was most commonly used in the ancient Middle East, and was very common. The linen was a woven textile made from a plant called flax. This was most common in many draped cloths and was even sometimes sewn as a garment. This was a time when sewing machines did not exist so most commonly in clothing large sheets would be draped and wrapped around the body in a variety of ways. Silk became very popular during the Byzantine Empire because of an increase in trade with the East. Silk a is filament fiber that was woven into a textile and worn by many. These fibers were used in the creation of yarns and textiles because they were not only the most common, but most easily obtained. At this time in history, many people did not have the technology that we do today to create complex fibers (like jacquard and brocade and lycra).

Wool was most commonly used at that time because it could be worn as a fur and required almost no processing. It was easy to obtain wool because of the large amount of sheep in ancient Sumerian mountains. This is why many Sumerians were noted to have been wearing clothing with "fringe". (They were also depicted with curly hair and bears because they actually used curlers in their hair!). Linen, as flax, grew in large quantities close to the Nile River. This was a long staple fiber and was easily spun and woven into a cloth. Silk was very popular when trade increased and especially in Byzantine because the Mediterranean was a large port for trade. It seems that at first when civilizations were developing quickly the city grew domestically and produced clothing domestically. However, as soon as the influence of an empire spread and became vast, trade was introduced which allowed for us to find raw materials that were not as readily available domestically.

Hopping into the Middle ages: during the Dark Ages women wore a chemise that was of a long length, a lot longer than that of men at this time. The woman's legs were covered and so were her ankles. The sleeves would be loose and would often cover the wrists. An interesting trend in women's fashion at this time was the V-neck that developed. The V-neck opens the shoulders and is known to elongate the neck. One of the parts that was considered very sexual on women at this time was the long, pale "swan" neck. Furthermore, another interesting trend that appeared in women's fashion at this time was the plucking of the hairline back. Many women, in paintings from this time and in poems and writings were always the most beautiful when they had a large forehead. This is another reason why the women of these times would bring their hairlines back and wear elaborately tall hats in order to emphasice the lenght of the neck and the size of the forehead.

For men at this time and throughout the Renissance and the Baroque, the size of the shoulders and the stomach was always the center of attention. The size of the man's shoulders grew throughout the Renaissance in order to make the man more masculine and more intimidating. This is why King Hnery VIII was depicted with tremendously large shoulders and chest, a large potbelly and skinny legs. By wearing tights, men could use proportion to create the illusion that their shoulders are wider and their silhouette gets narrower on the bottom. By placing capes and furs on their backs men could also create the illusion of more mass and weight on the upper body. ( The first fake furs were used in Ancient Egypt by the people of the middle class who wanted to imitate the rich, so they would cut out fabric in the shape of a hide and paint it).

The potbelly on men and woman was attractive at this time because it symbolized monetary wealth and the ability of the man to feed himself and possibly a wife (probably because so many people were starving). Women with a belly also represented wealth but also represented fertility. This is why the 'peascod belly' becomes a popular shape for doublets, and also why the waistline in men's fashion gets higher in the Baroque period. By pushing the waistline up and legthening the coat, the men's silhouette deeply enhances the size of the belly.

During the Renaissance women's hands, wrists and ankles are still considered to be sexually arousing and are still hidden out of modesty. The sleeve funnels are still long and the skirt lengths cover the legs, feet and ankles. The waist in the Medieval era was not emphasized and women wore either a loose silhouette belted at the waist or a gown with an empire waist. However, during the Renaissance the hourglass shape of a woman's body became more and more preffered. The woman with the belly was still desirable underneath clothing, but in clothing the women wore corsetry. Because of this women's waists get smaller and smaller (down to 16-18 inches) and the shoulders get bigger and the hips extend to almost arm's length; especially the French Farthingale.

During the Baroque period hooped skirts suddenly disappear, but the hips are still larger in order to maintain an emphasis on a curvy figure. However, the waistline moves from the natural waist higher and higher. This is meant to mimic men's clothing. Many women at this time began to wear shorter sleeves and expose their wrists and hands. Moreover, the necklines on women's dresses became horizontal in order to expose the shoulders nad teh neck and the top of the bust. This is an obvious sign that the attention was meant to be brought to the face and the upper body.

In the early 1900s a lot of events took plae that affected the economy and consequently the fashion; women got the right to vote, we experience two world wars, suffered an economic depression and had to deal with a big flu epidemic. All of these events were so largely significant that they altered the economy and the Zeitgeist from decade to decade. These changes were reflected in the trends and the clothing that people wore as fashion began to cycle faster and faster. In order for a designer to understand how the economy affects fashion, one has to study the history.

Before and during the Great War, we had several events that were very influential in design; the women were fighting for their right to vote, and the futurist movement was very popular in art. Futurists were artists that were aggressive and promoted industry and war in their propaganda. This cohort wanted war because they belieed that it would cleanse society and bring upon new technologies. Art movements like this work closely with fashion design because they affect one another greatly (like dadaists and surrealists worked with Elsa Schiaparelly in the 30s to create bright fashion post depression), and this art movement created an interest in military apparel. Not only did the military pressure fashion because of millions of citizens were at war, but also artists did as well and because of this we see a rise in silhouettes and styles from the military. The trench coat was one garment that became a popular staple for men and women. Furthermore, because of the war hemlines got shorter on women's skirts in order to salvage fabric.

As the women began to seek independence and equal rights they also began to dress differently as well. Their dress was a way to make a statement about their position in society; they wanted to be seen as equals to men. This is why in the 1920s, when women finally got the right to vote, in fashion we see women cutting their hair to boyish lengths. Young women most promiently adopted protesting dress codes and were looked down upon by older generations because they wore straighteners instead of corsets that flattened their chests and de-emphasized their curves. These women were called flappers and wore their skirts shorter, they waistlines longer and their hair cropped off. This was a reaction to the political events in teh 1920s. Coco Chanel was a designer that was very influential at this time and introduced a lot of new trend in women's wear, like the cropped hair, the loose fit on women and even knitwear. She introduced casual wear.

In the 1930s we see the great depression and the flu epidemic create a very somber atmosphere in the economy and because of this, women began to wear longer hemlines and subdued colors that reflected that mood. Elsa Schiaparelli was a designer that was most influential during this time and worked closely with artists like Dadaists and Surrealists in order to create amusing prints and embellishments. But the longger hemlines did not last in women's wear because during WW2 the government set a fabric rationing because they needed the fabric for the military. Because of this we see men's suits loose details like pocket flaps, length in jackets and in women's wear we see hemlines that rise to the knee. Rebels who wore the zoot suit were targeted during this time period because they were deemed unpatriotic; the zoot suit took up a lot of fabric because it was baggy and long.

The reason that fashion changed so dramatically in the 50s and late forties was because the war had ended. Not only did the rationing end with the war, but there were a lot of factories that rose up during war to produce large quantities of products for the army that were now empty. The large factories were bought by corporations and businesses that began to produce large quantities of merchandise for consumers. This meant that in the market there was a lot of competition for large quantities of cheap goods that were not selling. Because we began to overproduce so much, prices dropped and competition in the market increased; merchandise sat on teh shelf.

In this competition driven economy where supply was higher than demand and we were in a state of over production, another factor that played a large role was the end of rationing. When rationing ended, there were no limits to the amount of fabric and the type of fabric that could be used. Women's nylon stockings came back into fashion. People were once again excited about fahsion and about leisure. Couture was again popular (until Yves Saint Laurent left the House of Dior and revolutionized fashion by popularizing ready-to-wear in the 60s). This was the environment in which Christian Dior came out with his New Look. Dior brought back the full skirts, longer hemlines, small cinched in waists and broad shoulders. Fashion was exuberant.

During the war women had to pick up the jobs that their husband left behind when they went to war. So women worked in farms and factories. After WW2 women went back to house sitting and could afford elaborate apparel that was harder to move in.

Baby boomers were the new generations, the post war generation adn they were the first to grow up with TV in their daily lives. This generation was the one that was rebellious to conformity adn in teh 60s and 70s would adopt lifestyles like those of the hippies and punk rockers. For the first time in history there was a new market for fashion...the young adults. Being able to follow news events like the war in Vietnam on the tv angered the young adults and led them to riot. TV was also a soure for popular culture and fashion innovators...which is one reason that the punk movement spread so avidly from Britain.

Furthermore, another aspect that helped create overproduction and helped produce fast fashion to our industry was the expansion of the highway system. By expanding the highway system we had a faster transportation of goods. New innovations were introduced in trickle-down by tTV stars and teh elite classes and the next week they could be in the stores. This allowed for fashion to cycle faster and fro new innovations to be introduced more often. When an innovator notices that the innovation is widespread, they find the need to differentiate and move on to something new. This is why seasonal trends, and tredns powered by celebrities and fashion icons began to be very influential. Highway systems spead up the process of product development by allowing for novel products to reach consumers faster...

And I think thats as summarized as fashion history can get. There is so much information and it could make fifty books if it could. But unfortunately here it is summarized. And I would post pictures if my sisters were not irritating me so much right now. Unfortunately this is it. Well enjoy learning!

1 comment:

  1. Yay! I actually read it!
    You know, the reason that attention is often brought to the face, as in the Baroque period, is that we, as primates, identify individuals by their faces rather than by smell like dogs and felines.