A LESSON ON THE HISTORY OF FASHION
Costume Fashion History is so much more than a mere blog; it is a complete guide to everything you need to know about the history of fashion and costume fashion divided by century. Kalen Fischer, the founder of the blog, can boast to be an expert on the subject. Having studied Art in Berlin University of Arts, she expressed a particular interest in gender studies and has since worked on developing costume performances. Along with Kalen, we attempted to go down the history of fashion and its development within the centuries in a brief lesson that will certainly fascinate you.
Which century saw the most radical changes in fashion?
At the dawn of the French Revolution, a centuries-old dress code was swept away and paved the way to a more profound discussion regarding clothing in context to the individual. At that time, the systematization and temperament-related assignments of colors also started to develop. A new definition of harmony, which took into consideration not only clothing but also the complexion, eye and hair color, evolved. With the introduction of tar and aniline colors, a hitherto unknown richness of color was possible, which had been expressed in rapidly changing fashion colors starting from the mid-19th century. And, last but not least, the health consequences of clothing had been publicly discussed and this ultimately lead to the liberation from the corset fashion in the 20th century.
Are there any anecdotes behind an outfit of a famous personality?
The famous telescope Portrait of Princess Royal, the daughter of Marie Antoinette. It symbolizes to a certain extent the verge from an old to a new era. While Paris was celebrating the end of the monarchy in a seemingly never-ending party, this young girl was kept completely isolated locked in a prison, and people watched her from the roofs of their houses at the opposite side of the Seine, as if she was a bizarre animal in the zoo. In other words: a 14-year-old girl growing up in unimaginable luxury was put into absolutely unfamiliar environment, the “dress” of a new era.
Which garment has evolved the most throughout the centuries?
While men’s clothing up from the 19th century has hardly experienced any change, the female dress has been facing a continuous change since the early Middle Ages. The widely flowing clothes of the Byzantine era, only slightly indicating the body contour of the woman, changed into a very body-hugging style following the ideal of Gothic, the transformed to the vertical aspiring line of Burgundian court dress, which was then replaced by the comfortable, soft-flowing cut of the Renaissance fashion. Starting from Baroque, we are witnessing a two-piece design. The woman’s body is elaborately hidden head to toe. Even the chest area is padded at this time, so the original shape could only be guessed. This partition in top and bottom part, with the bottom covered, lasts until the 19th century when it finally gives in to modernity. In other words, it had been a long way from the chiton or peplos of ancient Greece to today’s designer dresses of the “anything goes” mentality, or from the long pants of the Germanic barbarians to today’s business dressing.
Who, in your opinion, is the most influential personality ever in fashion history?
To commit only to one person would be difficult, considering that there have always been outstanding personalities, who had been influencing fashion significantly at their times; for instance, Rose Bertin. She did not really create any novelty, but she added significant new accents to the late Baroque Rococo fashion. Though she came from a humble background, she ended up working as a dressmaker at the court of Marie Antoinette with the official title of Minister of Fashion. She is also cited as the first female fashion designer in history.
What was the most popular fashion (perhaps one we do not know about) in the ancient times?
Looking back to the Minoan civilization, men wore a kind of codpiece (loincloth, jockstrap) which had only been revived in the 15th century as a dominant part of men’s fashion, and has been living on until today as part of sports clothing, fetish underwear and movies – see Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick where the protagonists carry codpieces outside of their pants, thus highlighting their sexuality. On Minoan frescoes, female artists also wear these codpieces.
I was utterly amazed by your coverage on Greek fashion! What do you like best about it?
Arcadia, a far-distant place of innocence and grace, is associated quite often with classical Greece. Looking at the clothing of women from this period, one immediately notices the apparent diversity, although it is always only one and the same piece of clothing. The peplos, consisted only of a sewn-together fabric cloth, was held together by brooches at the shoulders and was girt about the waist. The refinement lied in the draping and artful production of wrinkles. The Greek woman took a correspondingly elegant upright posture, which was underlined by the constant change of the drapery in motion.
Your classification of Parisian fashion is truly original. Which do you think are the elements that have everyone fascinated about the Parisian style?
The common interpretation of “Parisian chic” is based on the apparent effortlessness in reducing complex costume and style combinations to the most essential, and wearing them seemingly effortlessly with a touch of sassiness.
Is there a trend that continues to inspire designers nowadays?
In each collection there are cites of fashion history inevitably included. Depending on the respective trend, earlier style elements are also reinterpreted in a new way. This is what makes a substantial part of the attraction of fashion and what shows the skills of the couturiers. However, a trend is also determined by new materials and changing colors. While France tends to maintain the elegance of the early modern period, Italy shows a preference towards a more opulent playful or arabesque element.
After all this research and studying, how would you describe fashion in five words?
Life without fashion is incomplete.
How do you see today’s fashions and trends?
Attention to gender is important, meaning that once again sex is defined by the silhouette, in contrast to the androgynous approach in recent years. A democratization within the fashion industry, which strays from the elitist trickle down towards more liberal forms of presentation and reception, is also noticed. Digital networking offers completely new interactive possibilities between producers and consumers, thanks to which the concept of transparency will ultimately be critical to the success of any label.
Images courtesy of Kalen Fischer for Costume Fashion History