AN AMERICAN’S GUIDE TO FRENCH FASHION
By: Chloe Huang
While many important industries are based in the United States, there is no denying that France is the capital of the fashion world. Just one look into French fashion history makes it clear how France gained this title. From fabrics dripping with jewels to political messaging, French clothing has it all. Each era has its own characteristics and together they make up France’s unique history of dress.
France’s first taste in fashion begins in the late 17th century, where Queen Marie Antoinette decided what was in style. At this point, fashion signified wealth and every noble was clothed in dresses dripping with jewels, ruffles, and lace. All fabric was hand-woven back then and these dresses showed that you could afford to pay for extra bolts of fabric for ruffles and more hours from a seamstress. This period also saw the birth of what modern dress experts consider the very first fashion designer, Rose Bretin.
This opulence was not meant to last. The French Revolution brought down the monarchy and the fashions of the elite with it. No longer were expensive fabrics and fine clothes prized. In fact, wearing nobility’s clothing could get you labeled a traitor to the revolution because of your perceived loyalty to the crown this very revolution was trying to overthrow. Proper revolutionary clothing was a lot simpler, with plain fabrics like cotton. Many clothes were in red, white, and blue, symbolizing the revolution ideals liberty, equality, and fraternity. Designs were influenced by Athens, the birthplace of modern democracy. The most famous symbol of the revolution is a cockette, a rosette of ribbons first worn by free men in Greece.
A century later, France’s imperialist attitudes made themselves known in fashion. In the early 1900s, the French were enamored with the exotic cultures of the East. Paul Poiret, the “King of Fashion”, was the most famous fashion designer of his time, and he certainly made it clear that he took plenty of inspiration from “orientalism”. Not only did he prefer the bold jewel tones of the East instead of the pastels of earlier European fashions, but he also used flowing Eastern silhouettes. Poiret doctored these silhouettes to make them more palatable to European customers, “inventing” the kimono, harem pants, and split skirt.
As, always, fashion cycles. Two world wars later, the fashionable silhouette reverses again. Pioneered by Christian Dior, his “New Look” showcases padded shoulders, a cinched waist, and a full skirt in a now iconic hourglass shape. The popularity of this look makes Dior the designer to follow for the season, and middle-class women rush to seamstresses to try to emulate his “New Look”. The feminine figure and quiet elegance of Dior’s works endeared him to the many women tired of the conservative outfits of World War II, which just ended.
Almost every important era in French history were accompanied by the fashions of the time.
ey make up the beautiful tapestry that is French fashion. It’s obvious that France’s title of reigning queen of fashion is well deserved, so the next time you visit France, don’t forget pay attention to their fashion trends of the season. You might be participating in history!