Time Line of Fashion From the Victorian Era Through the 1950's - Terms of Interest to the Fashion Industry

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Victorian Fashion - According to Victoriana.com, the 1850s lady was a vision of elegance and grace in beautiful gowns lavishly trimmed with frills, flounces, lace, and ribbons. The fashion-conscious Victorian lady created this appearance with a mysterious combination of the “uncomfortable and inconvenient" with the “frivolous and decorative." Numerous heavy petticoats, layers of underclothes, metal hoops, tight corsets, and pointed boned bodices of whalebone and steel were hidden by an array of ornately accented undersleeves, collars, pelerines, fans, gloves, hats, and parasols. The finished look was of elegance and grace with an illusion of ease and comfort.

Edwardian-During the Edwardian era, women's dresses were “fluffy" confections of organdy, batiste, dimity, or lawn. These feminine creations were elaborately trimmed with lace, ribbons and tucks. Styles ranged from fluffy garden party gowns made of organdy to bodices adorned with rows of Valenciennes lace.

20s-According to Fashion-era.com, until the '20s, high fashion was reserved only for society women. Since construction of the flapper's dress was less complicated than earlier fashions, women were much more successful at home dressmaking a flapper dress, which was basically a straight shift. As a result, the flapper style flourished amid the middle classes negating differences between themselves and the truly affluent.

Dress and coat lengths were calf length and quite long during most of the decade. Skirts only revealed the knee briefly between 1926 and 1928, and this was the only period when evening dresses were short in line with the lengths of day dresses. By 1920 the silhouette of Coco Chanel's clothing style became the epitome of style. Chanel promoted the styles associated with the flappers. She worked in neutral tones of beige, sand, cream, navy, and black in fluid jersey fabrics that were cut with simple shapes that did not require corsetry or waist definition.

30s-The 1930s saw a return to a more genteel, ladylike appearance. Budding rounded busts and waistline curves were being shown and hair became softer. Foreheads which had been hidden by cloche hats were revealed and adorned with small plate shaped hats. Clothes were feminine, sweet, and tidy by day with a return to glamour at night.

40s-During WWII Paris produced restrained clothing to match the economic atmosphere. The general wartime scene was one of drabness and uniformity, continuing well after the war finished in 1945. There was an austere atmosphere and people were encouraged to 'make do and mend.'

Uniforms were seen at all civilian social occasions from cinemas, weddings, and restaurants to gala events. Every type of cloth was in short supply worldwide so material was severely rationed.

Popular fashion items of the time include the wedge sole shoe, the turban, the siren suit, and the kangaroo cloak. The turban began as a simple safety device to prevent the wearer's hair entangling in factory machinery. It doubled as a disguise for unkempt hair, which women had less time to attend to being so busy running their homes, attending to their jobs, and giving extra help wherever they could.

Siren suits were the original jumpsuit and the all enveloping sometimes tartan cloth garment was a hit especially at night when sirens called citizens to the air raid shelter for cover. With its quick zippered front individuals could wear the suit over their pajamas making it ideal for children.

50s-Chanel began to produce boxy classic Chanel suit jackets and slim skirts in braid trimmed, nubbly, highly textured tweeds. She used richly textured wool slub fabrics sometimes designed by textile artist Bernat Klein. The silhouette was straight down and veered away from a nipped in waist. The suits, which were lined with silk, were embellished with gilt Chanel chains.

During the 1950s Dior showed his H, A, and Y lines. The H-line of 1954 was a slender tunic suit with a slim skirt that later became more of a dropped waist tubular '20s style dress with a hemline that was creeping upwards. This became a classic 1950s fashion garment.

Hubert Givenchy designed a Paris collection dress in 1957 called the sack. This dress started the trend for straighter shift dresses. First it developed into the fitted darted sheath dress and later into the loose straight short shift dress. By 1958 the style really began to catch on.

The trapeze dress was also quite popular. A swinging dress almost triangular in shape, the trapeze was designed to be worn with low shoes. Over the years it was modified into the short baby doll tent style, which transformed it into a '60s version. Similarly the empire line dress that had been introduced in 1958 was loved by young teenagers who looked childlike in the style, hence phrases like "baby doll style" were applied to it.

You may also have interest in viewing our Fashion History page and the Fashion Museums.

by Regina Cooper for Apparel Search June 2009

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