Sunday, January 31, 2010
Dress Design and production
By the late seventeenth century a division had occurred between the provision of male and female clothing. Tailors continued to produce men's tailored garments, but female dressmakers undertook the making of women's clothing, with the exception of riding habits and corsets. A limited democratization of fashion occurred in the eighteenth century as some ready-made and partly made clothing allowed the less wealthy to keep in step with the growing pace of changes in fashion. The principle of exclusivity was reasserted by the continued use of the finest tailors and dressmakers by those able to afford their services and the expensive fabrics they recommended. By the nineteenth century the rise of the couturier whose name and clientele implied the height of fashion reinforced such distinctions. The idea of men being equally as interested in fashion as women declined sharply in the nineteenth century. The beaus, macaronis, and dandies of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, who were caricatured and ridiculed for their dedication to the more outré details of personal appearance, were replaced by dour, dark-suited men of business.
Fashion, from the period of the Englishman Charles Worth's rise to dominance over the design of women's dress, during the Second Empire in France (when he became the first great couturier as understood today), until the 1950s, was in the main, about women's clothing. The origins of the late twentieth century's multi-billion pound fashion industry can be traced back to Worth and his two sons. He created new designs to show to his clients rather than deferring to their ideas, a notable change from previous practice. These garments were displayed on human models for his clientele of royalties, aristocrats, and the rich bourgeoisie. His clothes were bought by foreign buyers, and became available in the capitals of Europe and the US, and he was treated like an artist rather than as a tradesman by his clients, although he always thought of himself as the latter. He also reinvented the idea that a man can understand and design for women as well, if not better, than another woman. This dichotomy has been preserved; there have been inventive, even great female couturiers — Chanel, Vionnet, Schiaparelli, Grès — but the male dominance of female fashion in France, in Italy, in America, and in Great Britain has been a feature of the last 150 years.
During this period there were important technical changes which influenced the creation and marketing of fashionable clothing. The introduction of the sewing machine in the 1840s, of aniline dyes in the 1860s, and of artificial fibres from the 1890s onwards offered important improvements to the process of production. Fashion also benefited from the growing sophistication of the media: specialist magazines, dedicated newspaper articles, photographic images, and the advertising opportunities offered by film, radio, and television all contributed to an international awareness, at many levels in society, of the latest fashion trends and ideas. Increased demand for novelty in all matters to do with dress caused misery amongst the employees of many dressmakers; cramped conditions, long hours, and pitiful pay combined to create sweat shops. Unfortunately, despite legislation, this problem is still found today, and not just in the so-called Third World.
Fashion designers, especially in the period from the 1920s onwards, diversified into ranges of ready-to-wear garments, scent, and cosmetics. Specialist suppliers of accessories became equally aware of the possibilities inherent in designer footwear, jewellery, luggage, and much more. Ultimately, as both compliment and curse, talented copyists ignored patent law to produce cheap facsimiles of the most luxurious labels, and, within the law, chain stores ‘imitated’ the latest suit, dress, shoe, or scarf, to offer affordable fashion to mass markets.
Even in the area of alternative fashion in the post 1945 period, the world of Teddy boys, mods and rockers, hippies, punks, new Romantics, and so on, the driving force has been a masculine one. And, to a degree, alternative fashion is about men reasserting their right to attention through the adoption of unusual, exotic, or bizarre forms of dress. Ironically, these so-called street fashions have in turn, influenced the expensive, handmade creations of the powerful fashion designers.
Today, so we are led to believe, we can create our own fashion statements by buying across the spectrum from charity shops to couture houses. Fashion is fun, it is adventurous, it defines us and our approach to life. In fact, the majority prefer to conform to the dress codes of their social group, accepting or rejecting the dictates of fashion according to their circumstances and means.