The history of fashion, or the history of the origin of clothing, is like a mirror in which the entire history of civilization is reflected. Many countries have made their own contribution to the development of fashion history. Many years ago, people used clothes exclusively as a means of protection from the dangers of nature and its effects. Later, they began to think about the aesthetic function of garments, which led to the transformation of clothing elements and the emergence of fashion. Ancient civilizations became the founders of the history of fashion. Fashion was probably formed primarily in the West due to the fact that the latest styles and names of garments began to appear regularly in European countries. Western fashion has a bright history of development and can also be viewed through the prism of art, economics, and material approaches, yet it is one of the fundamentals of modernity.
History of Western Fashion
People needed clothes in ancient times, that is, at the very beginning of the development of society and man as an element of a social group. Globally, fashion in clothing originated in France in the XVII century (Welters and Lillethun 12). Natural elements were used to create clothing, such as leaves, and skins of slaughtered animals were also used. In order to cover their heads from the sun, people used skins from large fruits, the shells of large ostrich eggs and other rounded light objects. People began to use bone needles, with the help of which individual parts of the earliest, yet primitive clothing, such as bandages and capes, began to be joined into one whole supported by threads from plants.
In the XVI century and the beginning of the XVII century, the fashion of Spain influenced the European way of dressing. During this period, dubbed the Golden Age of Spain, which was able to succeed in economics and politics. This has led to some details of the Spanish costume have become popular in different countries. The XVI century was marked by the fact that Italy, in which a new Baroque style appeared, began to introduce its own vision into the fashion trends of the Western style. Italy was known for its fabrics, velvet, satin and lace, which made it one of the leading suppliers of luxury materials for the rich people (Riello 41). Florence took the most active part in the development of Italian fashion in the XV century, and then in the XVI Venice began to dictate its fashion trends.
French fashion has become dominant in Europe since the mid-seventeenth century. During this period, France became one of the most influential world powers, the center of political and cultural life in Europe. Fashion was created in this country as an essential component of different spheres of people’s life. King Louis XIV, and his famous Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the state actively developed the luxury industry as part of the political and cultural expansion of France. As a result, a new infrastructure for clothing production had emerged. State-owned enterprises controlled by the government were created, and clothing production was legally separated from its sale. Laws were developed on purchasing luxury goods, which held fashion consumption.
Primary Source Analysis
Christian Dior’s book called Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior was taken as the primary source. This autobiography of one of the most famous fashion designers demonstrates all stages of the development of Western fashion. This book is the most suitable primary source, as its readers will be able to feel the history of the Dior fashion house directly from its creator and plunge into the world of Parisian fashion. The author writes about his success, failures, and difficulties, as well as about what his inspiration was and how the creative process proceeds.
Material Culture Approach
In the context of material culture, fashion can be considered using one of the most popular approaches, namely semiotic analysis. This approach may exclude the material component of fashion, but it still exists and is expressed as accessories and some elements sewn on clothes. The intangible in the field of fashion is the self-expression of designers, their thoughts, and views through the created models. Material culture is focused on the materials that are used to create clothes, additional elements that complement the image, make it holistic and allow people to distinguish one designer from another.
Fashion within the Context of Gender History
Fashion has become the basis for demonstrating the sexual differences between men and women. Each gender has its own identity, which is also closely related to fashion. Clothing has also become an indicator of a person’s social position in society. The rich wore expensive jewelry, and their fashion consisted of an abundance of silk, velvet, wigs, and perfumes (Dior 14). The fashion of men from the wealthy class was demonstrated through pink silk suits with gold and silver. Then, clothing began to distinguish men and women, which led to men altogether abandoning decorative elements in clothing, and women retained all the available material beauty. Western fashion was characterized by men’s refusal of jewelry and accessories, which became a clear indicator of gender differences.
Fashion within the Context of Art History
Considering fashion through the prism of art, it can be understood that they are in close connection with each other. Designers created not just fashionable clothes for every day, but real works of art that people can still see at exhibitions or in museums. Some designers tried to demonstrate themselves through their vision of clothing and fashion (Dior 22). In the West, designers used fashion to hide the border between art and real life, while others, in their glasses, sought to show their attitude to specific sensitive topics. McCartney and Tynan claim that artists such as futurists aspired to novelty in fashion and created truly provocative styles (3). Fashion and art have always been inextricably linked, which is still reflected in fashion shows from world-famous couturiers.
With the advent of fashion, the textile industry began to develop; that is, more diverse clothing began to be produced and sewn. There are more jobs in factories, textile workshops and so on. In addition, cotton was often used as a sewing material, which led to its production and purchase increasing significantly. Fashion has also helped related fields such as the manufacture of accessories, costume jewelry and shoes. Thanks to the advent of technique, various technologies have also been actively developed that made it possible to simplify sewing and to work with different types of fabric in the past centuries and became the basis for modern inventions.
In conclusion, the history of Western fashion is quite bright and deep and has its milestones and features. Fashion has had a significant impact not only on how people dress but also on the economy of Western countries. Currently, fashion trends are as diverse as in the past, and the clothing and textile industries are among the most in-demand, as people strive to look fashionable and match the modern features of fashion.
Dior, Christian. Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior. V&A, 2018.
McCartney, Nicola and Jane Tynan. “Fashioning contemporary art: a new interdisciplinary aesthetics in art-design collaborations.” Journal of Visual Art Practice, vol. 20, no. 1, 2021, pp. 143-162.
Riello, Giorgio. Back in Fashion: Western Fashion from the Middle Ages to the Present. Yale University Press, 2020.
Welters, Linda and Abby Lillethun. Fashion History: A Global View. Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.