Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fashion From 1907 to 1967
Wearable Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Fashion is often informed by Art Movements. It is therefore not surprising to find that an art movement such as de Stijl suddenly making an appearance on the cat walk.

Cocktail dress on the right is a wool jersey made of geometric segments in white, yellow, red and blue, separated by bars of black - a’la Piet Mondrian.

Fashion is not necessarily cyclic in terms of style or content, since at different points in time - new ethics are forged, new fabric colors emerge, new techniques arrive and new fibers are invented that change the handle, the drape, the cut, the look and acceptability of what we wear. However, when concepts in fashion are recycled, it is appropriated rather than mimicked. That is, the new look is re-created via a transforming force to change old concepts into a more “modern” idiom. For example, how far different is the fashion of Art Nouveau from that of the ancient Greeks?

Costume of the Ancient Greek Females.

Alphonse Mucha – Chansons d’aieules circa 1898.
The influence of the former on the latter cannot be overstated.

This post looks back on women fashions between 1907-1967 and in doing so, was greatly assisted by the essays and photographs from a wonderful catalogue – S. Blum, L. Hamer and R. Clarke, Fabulous Fashion (1907-67), Wilke & Co Ltd, Clayton (1985).

Fabulous Fashion.


Fashion 1907 to 1967
In the West, the sixty year period from 1907-1967 witnessed vast changes in available fibers and fabrics (e.g. man-made and natural etc.), coloration of fabrics (e.g. dyes and pigments), fabric and textile techniques (e.g. machine made stitches to weaving techniques of textiles), fabric and textile care (e.g. dry cleaning, washing, drying and ironing machines), shifting ideas of aesthetics and beauty (e.g. from “buxom is in” to “thin is beautiful”) and mores (e.g. the liberation of sexual activity and moreover, gender roles).

Falbalas & Fanfreluches Almanach 1923 Cover.
Georges Barbier.

Fashion engages and regurgitates all of these developments, but moreover it is at the peak end of the influence scale (re: the movie - Devil Wears Prada); that is, it is a creative endeavor where the outcomes are from talented people who can encapsulate and articulate the mores, values and ideals of society that surround them and by making use of the latest techniques, forge a “new” look. It does not have to be complicated – it can be just cutting a hemline of a dress six inches above the knee in order to announce the arrival of a confident liberated woman who is no longer bound to child rearing, thereby indicating that the role of the gatherer has been transformed into a myriad of possible roles.

Mary Quant’s Mini Skirt.

1907 to 1908
In the early 20th Century, fashion rested in the final phase of the 1890s styles. Although the Victorian era had given sway to Edwardians and women morals were no longer so severely conscripted to a narrow viewpoint (after all the suffragettes movement was in a trajectory of ascendency), women continued to encase themselves in tightly fitting corsets, with masses of ruffles at the hem line, thereby restricting their leg movement. The “S” shaped body was desired and desirable – with a mono-bosom and full rounded hips, separated by an incredibly small waist line.

Evening Gown (1908).
Description: Red – violet voided velvet patterned in design of ostrich plumes, trimmed with matching embroidered net and beads.
Designer: Jean-Philippe Worth.

Fashionable women wore gowns or blouses with high stiff collars in order to give their necks the appearance of a swan-like elegance. Many of the gowns were made of soft fabric – mainly silks – and trimmed with a profusion of braids, laces and all sorts of embellishments. The designer, Jacques Doucet understood the mood of this era and created some of the most elegant clothes for his wealthy and stylish cliental.

Left: Visiting Dress (1907).
Description: Pale grey-green wool broadcloth, trimmed with white machine lace and silver metallic embroidered net.
Designer: Jacques Doucet.
Right: Late Afternoon Gown (1907).
Description: Grey silk chiffon trimmed with dark grey velvet, lace, soutache braid and chain stitch embroidery. Designer: Beer.

1909 to 1913
With the death of King Edward VII, Paris started to respond and react to sweeping winds of change. In 1909 the Ballets Russes exploded on the Parisian scene. Produced by Serge Diaghilev, the clothes for the ballet company were designed by Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois. The uncorseted supple bodies of the dancers, the vibrant colors of their exotic dance costumes evoked Oriental fantasies that made the fashion of the day appear dull, faded and outdated.

Cape for costume - For A Lady (1913).
Designer: Leon Bakst.

Fashion in the ensuing years became ablaze with color and bold accents. Women no longer wore corsets - rather their gowns now fell loosely from the bosom in a classical manner. However, constriction was transferred from the waist to their ankles, since the hems of skirts became so narrow that women were forced to take tiny steps – hence the term “hobble skirt”. Note: This in part mimicked the binding of feet that the Japanese envisaged heightened the essence of womanhood.

Left: Evening Gown (1913-1914).
Description: Dark emerald green figured ribbed silk and blue chiffon, trimmed with dark blue and green beading and silver lace.
Designer: Jeanne Hallee.
Right: Tea Gown.
Description: Pink silk shot with gold trimmed with cream colored lace, gold metallic braid, pale blue satin and brown mink.
Designer: Soeurs Callot (1910).

Just before the war, the tango became popular and so women conspired to split the hems of their skirts to free their feet in order to perform the dance. Hence for the first time in centuries the ankles of women were exposed to the public gaze, even just for fleeting moments whilst the tango was danced. Nevertheless, women’s fashion remained essentially feminine, with gowns accenting the female curves. Women of fashion were cast in the roles of the temptress or the vampire.

Evening Wrap.
Description: Beige velvet with overall pattern of griffins and paisley-style motifs in shades of blue and olive green; trimmed with metallic braid.
Designer: Paul Poiret.

1914 to 1919
When war intervenes, fashion becomes a hostage to its needs. All embellishments disappeared as functionality, practicality and availability framed the apparel that women wore. Moreover, this trio of need was further heightened by the fact that women were drawn out of their homes and thrown into the labor market in order to assist with the war effort. The lack of manpower also furthered the emancipation of women, who now needed to be engaged in a multitude of roles that were hitherto unknown to them. Nevertheless their formal wear still reflected a feminine style.

Left: Evening Gown (1916).
Description: Deep pink satin with mauve floral pattern brocaded in gold trimmed with purple net and gold lace.
Designer: Callot Soeurs.
Right: Evening Dress (1916).
Description: Rose silk with silver metallic pattern, trimmed with silver metal lace, rose net, chiffon, beads and rhinestones. Designer: Callot Soeurs.

The clothes women wore were now more simple and masculine in appearance since the work they did was tailored for functional, available, hard but long wearing fabrics. Once experiencing a modicum of emancipation, this nectar of freedom would never be so easily relinquished again.

Dinner Dress (1919).
Description: Navy and red silk faille dress and matching poncho.
Designer: Paul Poiret.

1920 to 1928
In the West, the roaring twenties saw women seeking and obtaining equality with men. Women cut their hair more in line with the haircuts of boys. The desired and desirable women figures also began to look more androgynous, with their bosoms and hips flattening out to met a flat waistline, a body shape not too dissimilar to a plank in appearance.

Left: Evening Dress (1925).
Description: Matte black sequins, floral design of white opalescent sequins.
Designer: Unknown (French).
Right: Evening Dress (1925).
Description: Black net, embroidered with silver, white beads, pink spangles and black bugle beads.
Designer: Unknown (French).

By 1925 women’s legs were exposed to the knee, with fashion enabling free movement of the legs and hips in stride and dance. Liberated bodies sought excitement in round-the-clock dancing of the Charleston, Fox Trot and the Black Bottom.

Left: Dancing Dress (1927).
Description: Cream georgette sewn all over with iridescent paillettes; skirt has fringe of matching stripes.
Designer: Captain Edward Molyneux.
The aesthetics in fashion reflected somewhat the hard-edged elements of art movements, with abstract and geometric designs lending shape and sexuality to body forms that would otherwise appear unfeminine and sterile. The gowns of the twenties – basically unshaped rectangles – were embellished with beading, fringes, ruffles and all manner of embroidery design to accent each motion of the androgynous body.

Left: Evening Dress (1926-1927).
Description: Black silk taffeta trimmed with silver beads, pearls and rhinestones.
Designer: Jeanne Lanvin.
Right: Evening Dress (1927).
Description: Pale golden yellow silk taffeta with embroidery of seed pearls, rhinestones and gold beads.
Designer: Eldridge Manning.

1929 to 1939
With the crash of Wall Street in 1929, the Western world found itself totally spent and confused. Only the rich and the well-heeled could ride this financial maelstrom - as the middle class shrunk and the rest fended for themselves just to survive. Husbands left wives and children to a fate that was hapless and hopeless.

Lounging Pajamas (1929).
Description: Black and red faille crepe embroidered with gold metallic threads in diagonal bars; black silk pants.
Designer: Captain Edward Molyneux.

The rich turned inward for comfort, cocooning themselves amongst their own society and seeking international solace. They moved to Paris for the fashion season, stayed at the Riviera in summer and skied in St Moritz in the winter. Fashion followed their adventures but with a more subdued and introspective edge.

Left: Summer Suit (1937).
Description: Blue linen edged with matching linen knit.
Designer: Coco Chanel.
Right: Afternoon Dress (1932).
Description: Bright red silk crepe de Chine with white polka dots, trimmed with self-fabric corsage.
Designer: Mainbocher.

Hemlines dropped and by the 1930s they were below calf-length during the day, and at night they dropped to the ground. Gowns fitted the body snuggly and they were smooth, slinky and backless for the evening. Mere breathing would reek of sensuality and sexuality. Swim suits were more for basking than for swimming and so were flatter and more revealing.

Evening Ensemble (1930).
Description: Black silk crepe dress, trimmed with black ostrich feathers, cape of black ostrich feathers.
Designer: Coco Chanel.

As war loomed and appeared imminent in the mid 1930s, fashion responded. Maleness in women fashion returned. While evening clothes tended to be more feminine by including artificial flowers, costume jewellery and whimsically trimmed hats, tailor-made suits returned for day wear. Maleness was accentuated by shoulders being padded into an exaggerated width and moreover, were squared off.

Left: Evening Gown (1933).
Description: Black silk crepe.
Designer: Mainbocher.
Right: Evening Gown (1937).
Description: Black satin, made completely on the bias and cinched at the waist with a carved white wooden buckle of an Art Deco stag. Designer: Madeleine Vionnet.

Fashion continued to embrace movement since dance music straddled the sweet and dreamy sentimental sounds of swing as well as scintillating Latin American rhythms of the samba, rhumba and conga.

Left: Evening Cape (1938).
Description: Black velvet, embroidered with gold metallic sequins, gold bugle beads, gold bullion and amber paste in design of Versailles’ Fountain of Neptune.
Designer: Elsa Schiaparelli.
Right: Evening Gown (1937).
Description: Accordian pleated lame with rainbow colored panels sprinkled with silver paillettes. Designer: Madeleine Vionnet.

Paris was the magnet that drew to its midst writers (e.g. Hemmingway), artists (e.g. Picasso) and their art movements (e.g. Fauvism) as well as musicians (e.g. Ravel) from all over the world. Fashion designers were also in these circles, drawing their inspiration from the multi-faceted stimuli of this city and so designing clothes in step with the rapidly changing atmospheres. For example, Coco Chanel brought the 20th century to fashion, with the functional simplicity of her designs were as appropriate today as when they were created. That little black dress will grace many a wardrobe for eons to come.

Left: Dinner Or Theatre Suit (1939).
Description: Black velvet trimmed white linen, and mother-of-pearl buttons.
Designer: Coco Chanel.
Right: Evening Costume (1939).
Description: Black velvet jacket; trimmed with gold tinsel, mirror and black plastic buttons in the shape of women’s heads.
Designer: Elsa Schiaparelli.

1940 to 1945
When Paris fell in 1940, the fashion world shifted its gaze across the Atlantic to America, where local designers started to reap from years of hard work. The wealthy and fashionable American women, when not dressed in French couture, wore clothes made by well known local labels such as Elderidge or H. Jaekel & Son. The label rather than designer were the focus in this milieu.

By the time America entered the war in 1941, American designers were getting the same recognition as was previously reserved for the French couturiers. Norman Norell, Charles James, Gilbert Adrian Greenburgh and others became known for their elegant sumptuous styles.

Evening Ensemble (1945).
Description: Silk crepe in shades of brown taupe, moss green, maroon and light blue arranged in a Picasso style pattern.
Designer: Gilbert Adrian Greenburgh.

The war years were grim and the trio of necessities - functionality, practicality and availability – once again came to the fore. As American men marched off to war, woman dominated the labor market but this time a US homegrown fashionable item – the humble denim blue jean - became the hard, long lasting work wear. Moreover, American designers engaged and injected quality and design in clothing that reflected the life styles of the vast American middle class. The gradual democratization of fashion had begun.

American women wearing blue jeans during World War II.

1946 to 1953
The Marshall scheme for the reconstruction of Europe was quickly put in place. The men were home, baby boomers were born and so fashion responded. In April of 1947 Christian Dior launched his “new look”. The silhouette look was typified by the sloping shoulder, rounded bosom, nipped-in waist and expanded hips - an overall appeal to femininity. Within a year the vast middleclass suffered the discomfort of waistcinchers, the constriction of layered petticoats and pain of walking in pointed shoes with high stiletto heels.

Left: Evening Gown (1952).
Description: Black wool jersey, backless, halter top.
Designer: Hubert Givenchy.
Right: Ballgown (1950).
Description: Shocking pink satin bodice trimmed with black beam embroidery, black silk faille skirt.
Designer: Elsa Schiaparelli.

Fashion returned to dressing-up for lunches, parties and balls. Fabrics were richly decorated with beading, embroidery, laces and braids and cloths were created that rivalled in opulence to those made at the turn of the century. Dior designed suits, dresses and spectacular ball gowns that rendered the wearer as a fashionable frame.

Afternoon Ensemble (1946-1947).
Description: Gold and black melton cloth with black gabardine.
Designer: Philip Mangone.

Charles James, Norman Norell and Arnold Scaasi upheld haute couture standards in America.

Winter Coat (1951).
Description: Cranberry colored mohair.
Designer: Charles James.

1954 to 1963
In 1954 Chanel re-opened her salon and startled the fashion world by re-issuing the simple functional designs that were her concept of what dress designs should be in the 20th Century. The logic of her fashion statement eventually took hold - at least in the area of daywear and soon she was joined by Dior, who uncinched and unpadded his H line in 1954 and then followed it with his A-line in 1955. By this time, Balenciaga found his chemise and sack-back styles - not only acceptable - but extensively copied. In 1957 Yves Saint Laurent introduce his famous “trapeze” silhouette.

Left; “New Look” Cocktail Dress (1954).
Description: Black wool broadcloth trimmed with black satin.
Designer: Christian Dior.
Center: H-line Evening Costume (1954).
Description: Fine black wool broadcloth trimmed with black satin.
Designer: Christian Dior.
Right: A-line Spring Suit (1955).
Description: Banker’s grey silk and wool flannel.
Designer: Christian Dior.

Technology and world economic expansion in the late fifties to early sixties gave greater leisure time to more people and especially women, who found that the white goods of the era (e.g. refrigerators, washing machines) and other household devices (e.g. vacuum cleaners, irons) yielded a greater freedom to socially engage. Television and radio stations increased connectivity and communicated to the vast middle class what clothing was and was not fashionable. The First Lady of the USA in the Camelot era – Jacki Kennedy – personified American and European fashion.

The Fashion Of Jackie Kennedy in 1962.

While women readily acknowledge the practicality of less restricting day clothes, they were less willing to abandon the trussed up discomfort of the new look silhouette for the evening. The only concession that was made was to wear a shorter length evening gown.

Evening Ensemble (1963).
Description: White organdy blouse; black alligator leather slacks.
Designer: Arnold Scaasi.

1964 to 1967
The baby boomers arrived as a wave of young adults. By 1960 one half of the American population was under twenty-five years old, which was also reflected in most Western countries. They were raised in a financially secure time, with their parents becoming increasingly permissive, thereby giving their children a platform to accelerate the rate of change.

Left: Evening Gown (1967).
Description: American Beauty chiffon over layers of bright pink chiffon.
Designer: James Galanos.

Music has always mirrored tastes, as has fashion, but in the sixties it became the dominant expressive form of the youth. The Beatles had arrived and suddenly music was the vanguard to promote change and dissent. Fashion followed suit and it quickly crossed the Atlantic and returned not to Paris but to London. The appearance of Mary Quant’s mini-skirt made Carnaby Street the place to be. Designers began to cater for their age level and taste. By 1967 the ideal fashion look was that of a “nymphet”, a budding but undeveloped young lady, as epitomized by Twiggy – “thin was in”. The fashion market became so youth-orientated that even more mature women wore skirts that risked them looking ridiculous.

Left: Mini Dress (1966-1967).
Description: Red-purple wool trimmed with white jersey.
Designer: Mary Quant.
Center: Coat Dress (1965).
Description: White wool twill bound with navy grosgrain.
Designer: Andre Courreges.
Right: Day Dress (1965).
Description: Wool jersey made of geometric segments in white, red and blue, separated by bars of black – a la Mondrian.
Designer: Yves Saint Laurent.

The counter-culture was emerging and so San Francisco re-took the fashionable look. Confused and disillusioned by the Vietnam war, anti-establishment was in, dropping out was cool, dodging the draft became mainstream - all of this was made more palatable by smoking dope, dropping acid or taking hard drugs. Blue jeans, tee shirts, second-hand cloths, sneakers, sandals and headbands heralded the beginning of a period of anti-fashion that in due time would spawn another fashionable look - the emergence of the Punks and Goths was just a glimmer on the horizon.

A cool looking fashionable Goth.


Flora Fascinata said...

Thank you! I feel like I've just walked through the Costume Institute at the Met. Xx

Art2wear said...

Great post!
I used to teach fashion and Clothing in secondary school, brings back fond memories.

Art Quill Studio said...

Thanks for the wonderful feedback ! Great to see that you enjoyed the beautiful clothing too !