Monday, 18 October 2010

A Little Bit of History Repeating

For me, one of the most interesting things about fashion is that trends can more often than not be attributed to something that has gone before, and maybe even more than once. My mother has often told me that I'm wearing something that reminds her of something she once wore, and I know I'm not alone in this line of thinking. Take this winter's "new" shape trouser; a beautifully tapered cut that is high-waisted, slim at the thighs and wide at the ankles; they borrow their look heavily from the trouser shapes of the 1970s. You could also take it one step further and say that that womens' wide-legged trousers have been in existence in one form or another since the 1930s. They are an elegant idea that is ripe for constant reinvention and innovation. 

 (Then - 1970s) Charlie's Angels, (Now- 2010) Chloé's Autumn/Winter Campaign.

Adaptations and rethought versions of bygone style are not strictly limited to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, either. A beautiful example can be seen in the penchant for high-waisted bodices and narrow, draping skirts in the years leading up to the First World War. This evening gown from 1912 was designed by the aristocratic couturier, Lucile, in striking black and white silk. Note the high empire line of the bodice, (which stops just below the bust line and much higher than the natural waistline) and the softly draping folds of the skirt. 

Black & white silk evening gown (1912) by Lucile, V&A Museum

The Lucile gown of 1912 is in many ways similar to this gown (below) made between 1807 and 1811. It is this period that epitomises true Regency style; a perceived revisitation of neoclassical ideas about simplicity of dress which, for women, culminated in the empire line gown seen below. The bodice ends below the bust line and the skirts beneath are straight, but with a hint of classical style draping at the back. Women were to be as statuesque and as simply attired as their Greek and Roman counterparts, and indeed, for the first few years of the nineteenth century, the truly fashionable colour palate only touched upon whites, creams and light colours. It was only as the years progressed that colour and decorative trim became accepted once more.

Red gauze evening gown (c. 1807-11), V&A Museum.

Fast forward a hundred years and this column-like style becomes popular again, albeit with a distinctly twentieth century twist. It's certainly no bad thing to say that fashion history repeats itself. 

Velvet and satin gown with lace, net and bead trim (1910) by The House
of Worth, V&A Museum. 

Designers and consumers both take inspiration from what has gone before, as feelings of nostalgia point us back towards shapes and colours that we were once fond of, and makes us see the beauty of them again. From a designer's point of view, they make the old and tired seem both new and palatable again. There is certainly no need to reinvent the wheel, but to make it attractive once more is where the real skill lies.


  1. ...and that's where I wish I had one of those big houses with lots of space to keep and "catalogue" all my clothes from the last few decades - so many times something has come back into fashion and I'm kicking myself for getting rid of it. Admittedly, I never fancied the 1980s revival... Have a great week, Love from London x

  2. Excellent post Laura. I don't mind fashion repeating/reinventing itself as long as there is not a repeat of paniers and other fashion oddities.

  3. Fashion designers and artists take inspiration from History, nature and literature, but we are all children of our own era/age, hence the 'Modern Twist' on the trousers above.

    As for trends - I view them as I do the seasons - forever changing - Style on the other hand has personality, spirit and so forth. Excellent post!

  4. Carole- Me too! The ultimate dream is one of those walk in wardrobes (or rather a big room) for huge amounts of clothes and shoes! I agree about the 80s revival...bubble perms and massive shoulder pads can stay in the past I think! As can 70s polyester and nylon :D

    Ingrid- Thanks! Reinvention and adaptation is a very good thing, I think. i'd be intrigued to see paniers making a foray back onto the high street again, haha! I'm perfectly happy to look at fashion oddities from afar...

    Fashion, Art... - I agree, style is the constant and trends come and go. It's what we do with them that counts. :)