Fashion History from 18th to 20th Century

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I have only recently got round to looking at the Taschen Fashion, A History from the 18th to the 20th Century books that Tim recommended to purchase in first year. I wasn’t expecting the books to be A3 size; however they are packed with the transition of fashion through time. I was surprised by the amounts of shifts in style, some more subtle and others being massive transformations that have shaped fashion today.

I feel that not only do clothes define a decade but they also define people and the attitudes of the time. Clothes are a key part of culture, class, personality and even religion. The books are a fascinating excursion through the last three centuries of clothing trends. I also found it interesting to see how my ancestors would have dressed and the innovation and accomplishments that have happen in history.

I found the section on corsets very interesting. In the late nineteenth century, few people believed that women would ever be freed from corsets or that one day they would wear skirts revealing their thighs. It is this transition away from the corset, especially after World War I which accelerated shifts in various aspects of society and culture. I didn’t realise that there was a growing fascination with sports at this time and so for active women, they required day-to-day clothing to achieve a certain level of functionality.

I feel that Paul Poiret was inspirational in this way of thinking, putting forward a new line of fashion that did not require a corset. His 1903 ‘Confucius Coat’ was straight cut and ample in shape. These designs liberated women away from the corset, leading fashion to evolve from an artificial form to a more natural shape. I am thankful we haven’t returned to the highly structure corseted frame today. I feel that if this was to occur, female body image would become even more negative and restrictive.

Chanel also played an important role in designing clothing for comfort. I admire her forward thinking, simplicity and chic appearance, using male shapes to create more relaxed silhouettes. Chanel has been a huge driver in the fashion world, creating a whole new dress ethic that I feel proposed a style for women who were ready to pursue their own active lives. This has continued today with business women proving their individual worth and women empowering other women, praising achievements.

I really feel that it is this development away from the corset that has led to a more diverse, tolerant and enlightened future of fashion for women, with a greater sense of experimentation.


FashionRachel Fox