The first fashion designer who was not merely a dressmaker was Charles Frederick Worth (1826-1895.) Before the former draper set up his couture fashion house in Paris, fashion creation and inspiration was handled by largely unknown people, and high fashion descended from style worn at royal courts. Worth’s success was such that he was able to dictate to his customers what they should wear, instead of following their lead as earlier dressmakers had done.
It was during this period that many design houses began to hire artist to sketch or paint designs for garments. The images alone could be presented to clients much more cheaply than by producing an actual sample garment in the workroom. If the client liked the design, they ordered it and the resulting garment made money for the house. Thus, the tradition of designers sketching out garments designs instead of presenting completed garments on models to customers began as an economy.
Around the start of the twentieth century fashion style magazines began to include photographs and became even more influential than in the past. In cities throughout the world these magazines were greatly sought-after and had a profound effect on public taste. The outfits worn by the fashionable women were strikingly similar to those worn in the heyday of the fashion pioneer Charles Worn, By the end of the nineteenth century, the horizons of the fashion industry had generally broadened, partly due to the more mobile and independent lifestyle many well-off women were beginning to adopt and the practical clothes demanded. The constant need for radical change, which is now essential for the survival of fashion within the present system, was still literally unthinkable.
During the early years of the 1910s the fashionable silhouette became much more lithe, fluid and soft then in the 1900s. Paul Poiret also devised the first outfit which women could put on without the help of a maid. Simple felt hats, turbans, and clouds of tulle replaced the styles of headgear popular in the 1900s. It is also notable that the first real fashion shows were organized during this period in time, by the first female couturier, Jeanne Psquin.
Changes in dress during World War I were dictated more by necessity than fashion. As more and more women were forced to work, they demanded clothes that were better suited to their new activities. Social events had to be postponed in favor of more pressing engagements and the need to mourn the increasing numbers of dead, visits to the wounded and the general gravity of the time meant that darker colors became the norm. By 1915 fashionable skirts had risen above the ankle and then later to mid calf. The period between the two World Wars, often considered to be the Golden Age of French fashion, was one of great change and reformation. Carriages were replaced by cars, princes and princesses lost their crowns, and haute couture found new clients in the ranks of film actresses, American heiresses, and the wives and daughters of wealthy industrialists.
Soon after the First World War, a radical change came about in fashion. Bouffant coiffures gave way to short bobs, dresses with long trains gave way to above-the-knee pinafores. Corsets were abandoned and women borrowed their clothes from the male wardrobe and chose to dress like boys. Although, at first, many couturiers were reluctant to adopt the new androgynous style, they embraced them wholeheartly from around 1925. A bustless, waistless silhouette emerged and aggressive dressing-down was mitigated by feather boas, embroidery, and showy accessories.
In the 1930s, as the public began to feel the effects of the Great Depression, many designers found that crises are not the time for experimentation. Fashion became more compromising, aspiring to preserve feminism’s victories while rediscovering a subtle and reassuring elegance and sophistication. Women’s fashions moved away from the brash, daring style of the Twenties towards a more romantic, feminine silhouette. The waist was restored to its proper position, hemlines dropped, there was renewed appreciation of the bust, and backless evening gowns and soft, slim-fitting day dresses became popular. The female body was remolded to a more neo-classical shape and slim, toned, and athletic bodies came into vogue. The fashion for outdoor activities stimulated couturiers to manufacture what would nowadays be called sportswear. The term » ready-to-wear » was not yet widely used, but the boutiques already described such clothes as being « for sport. »