July 23, 2021
The Evolution of Fashion in Paris
The evolution of fashion in Paris is a story unlike any other. Parisian fashion and haute couture began centuries ago and we are still dreaming about it. This industry of velvet and silk, necklines and silhouettes has captured the world’s attention for hundreds of years and has evolved to impact almost every person on the planet. We all wear clothes; we follow trends and turn to the celebrities and runways for all of the latest inspiration. But, our relationship with clothes and fashion has not always been this way (only for the past 400-ish years!) In order for us to understand modern day fashion, we need to go back in time. The story really begins in the heart of Paris during the 1600s.
Artists have always loved depicting Parisian fashion in drawings, paintings, and journals. Two historical figures who played a huge role in French fashion were Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. They were arguably the two people who brought the fashion industry to Paris. Both Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette placed a lot of value in outwardly expressing their wealth and status as royalty by using clothes as a tool for non-verbal communication.
The most detailed and elaborate pieces of clothing were made for them, and during their rule, the textile industry evolved significantly in Paris to accommodate their wishes. Because of the grandiose nature of each of their tastes, artists flocked to capture their fabric masterpieces and attempt to recreate it in a painting or drawing. These would then often be sent out to other places in the country, and, due to their extravagance and undeniable sense of style, the reproductions were soon sent throughout Europe, slowly drawing all eyes to France for their wardrobe inspiration.
Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, and their paintings, are the equivalent to our modern day celebrities and runways. This is one of the first examples of the masses looking to the few, who are often in a different class or social status, for direction on what to put on our bodies. Arguably, it is still the same to this day, the clothes are just more accessible— and that is all thanks to Charles Frederick Worth, who is credited to be the ‘inventor of haute couture.’
A British expat, he set up his studio in Paris; drawn, like the rest of us, the creative center of fashion. He specialised in creating made-to-measure dresses, unique for each woman. This exclusive role of the dressmaker and tailor was only available to the few, and became extremely sought after. Worth changed the fashion industry in three major ways:
- He created the idea of a ‘brand’ by being the first to put his own labels in the clothes he sold.
- He created changing ‘seasons’ of fashion (the source of our ‘need’ to buy more clothes).
- He invented the concept of selling the same dress in different sizes— eventually leading to more products being produced overall.
And thus, a more democratised fashion industry is born.
With the availability of garments in different sizes and options came the department store; small boutiques and fabric shops were no longer big enough for the sudden increase of options available. Department stores have existed for only about 100 years, but have had a snowball effect on the fashion industry and consumption habits of consumers by ushering in the idea of ‘shopping for pleasure.’
Because of this, overconsumption has skyrocketed. We buy because we can, because the clothes are there, and because the trends keep changing and we need to keep up. It is us who have built this structure and it is us who are struggling to keep up with it all. We are crossing the line into hyper-democratisation, pushing and evolving an industry that cannot keep up… and exploitation inevitably follows.
Paris is the birthplace of this wildly romantic and problematic industry we all love to hate; it is still considered a fashion capital of the world, but it will always be the heart of fashion, and that will not change. But, what should change is our relationship and perception of the clothes themselves. Let us learn from the past so we can construct a better future for this vital industry.