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Historic Fashions: Turning the Centuries

As the centuries turn, we look to the past for comparisons of where we have been and what was worn. The following timeline is from Calendar 2000: Historic Fashions Turning the Centuries.

17th Century Turns...1690 - 1710

Fashion is the mirror of history. It reflects political, social, and economic changes, rather than mere whimsy.
Louis XIV, 1690

1660 England restores its fashion capital after their Civil War
1690 Louis XIV reigns in France and dictates appearances from his exclusive position
1700 European colonists bring their fashions to North America
1710 All cloth and clothing is made by hand

18th Century Turns... 1780 - 1810

1780s English simplify their fashions.
Photo- 3 mannequins in similar white empire-style dresses, holding flower garland betrween them
1800 White muslin dresses suggestive of classical drapery are the fashion for women. Average skirt circumference is 104" of this sheer fabrics made possible by the new spinning and weaving technology. Chemises, ca. 1800-1807, Museum of City of New York.
1780s Rose Bertin, Marie Antionette's mantuamaker creates elaborate and expensive creations for the queen contributing to the crown's bankruptcy
1779 Samuel Crompton invents a machine, the "mule", which spins high quality cotton yarn in large enough quantities for the weavers
1789 George Washington's inauguration in New York City - the capital of the new nation
1789 French Revolution brings a fashion revolution as Frenchmen adopt the simpler, working class styles. Fashion as an organized industry ceases to exist in France from 1793-1797 and the professionals flee to other European cities, like London
1794 Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin
1800 Textile production is primarily by machine while clothing is still made by hand
1804 Shawls are the main accessory for the thin muslin dresses.
1810 Post Revolutionary Paris with Napoleon as emperor moves fashion away from the simplicity of Greek dress to magnificent European style dress for women. Men maintain their conservative styles
1845 Elias Howe patents the sewing machine
1858 Charles Frederick Worth opens his shop in Paris as the first true house of haute couture.

19th Century Turns... 1890 - 1910

1890 Clothing manufacturers tout all of the 'wonderful advancements and improvements' made possible by abundance of textiles, large American production labor force, and new cost-saving factory machines
Photo- white historic wedding dress
"Some dresses are more timeless yet still reflect period aesthetics".
Wedding Dress, 1905, Marjorie Merriweather Post, Hillwood Museum
1890 Gibson Girl look popularized by Charles Dana Gibson, American illustrator
1891 Simple tubular skirts and little puff sleeves inspired from early 1800s style is popular
1892 Ballooned sleeves in vogue - an 1830s revival
1896 Harper's Bazar reports that "the huge melon shaped sleeves are absolutely out of date" and suggests that "the eye becomes accustomed to whatever is in vogue"
1896 Trusty blue serge suit is the classless "uniform for men"
1897 Bicycle craze….many clothing manufacturers produce clothing for a specific sport
1900 Since the French Revolution male clothing was monotonous with one exception…'sporting clothes', tennis and outing suits, skeleton coats and vests, flannel trousers, yachting suits, and bicycle suits
1901 Queen Victoria dies ending the 70 year Victorian Era…Edward VII is crowned starting the Edwardian Era, the height of sheer femininity in women's dress
1903-1907 A corset shapes women's bodies with an extra long front throwing the hips, back, and the bust forward
Edwardian Lady is assembled rather than dressed, with jewels, lace, and embroidery.
Paris dominates fashions
Photo- 3 manequins wearing similar  dresses and hats
1907-1910 More vertical silhouette replaces the S curve shape. Massive hats with plumes and feathers adorn the heads above the more tailored day dresses and walking suits. Dresses, 1907-1910, Missouri Historical Society
1902 Suits are very important garments in a woman's wardrobe
1910 Edwardian Era ends with Edward VII's death
Every article of female and male clothing can be purchased ready-made. Within years, shopping for clothing off the rack becomes customary

Why Study Historic Fashion? Clothing is culture manifested at the most personal level. By studying what people wore and why, we gain a fuller knowledge of a specific time and place.

How do we know? Costume historians use primary resources of extant garments like these featured in the calendar plus prints, portraits, photographs, letters, diaries, books, magazines, wills, inventories, and oral histories.

Want to know more? Public and private costume collections preserve past fashions for current and future knowledge about the art and science of dress and appearance. Look for their exhibitions and programs. The Costume Society of America is an association for the serious study of dress and appearance.

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