When did Fashion Start? The History of Fashion

“Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events. You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.”

Diana Vreeland

Clothing has always been one of the basic human necessities. Over time though, as societies evolved, this need has given rise to a market that classifies items of clothing based on a number of factors. Materials that clothes are made of and brands now define what we know today as ‘fashion’ but when did fashion start? Where and how the term came into being and what is defined as fashion? These are all the questions that we look to answer today.  

What is Fashion?

Fashion isn’t really a term. It is an idea, a trend and even a way of life. It evolved from our need to clothe ourselves but has now become something more profound. According to the Oxford dictionary, fashion is “a popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration or behavior”. However, experts have used the term to refer to a lot of different things ever since it was coined. 

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu stated that “the latest fashion, the latest difference”. Clothing is and will always remain a need but fashion is what has come to define people. It offers a glimpse of their personality, attitudes, their outlook on life and the vibes they emit to influence those around them. It isn’t always positive but it gives the first impression that as the old proverb goes; that’s “the last impression”. 

Katherine Hamnett, one of the leading  British fashion designers, said that “Clothes create a wordless means of communication that we all understand” implying fashion as the language that people understand even before we’ve had a chance to interact with them verbally. More so, fashion is what defines us as a person. It is a representation of what we want the world to know about us but intrinsically, it tells the world our story.  

Even though we’ve come a long way in terms of the clothes we wear, people still inquire about the history of fashion. When did fashion start is a common question that springs to mind when thinking about the latest trends, watching fashion shows and observing celebrities everyday. The thing is though, that it is hard to put a finger on the time when clothing really evolved into fashion. 

Who Invented It?

Fashion, as an idea has been around for centuries. Evidence has been found from as early as the 1600s of Japanese being criticized for the fact that their clothing hadn’t changed in a thousand years. Surprisingly, the history of fashion dates back much further. Charles Fredrick Worth has been credited as being the first fashion designer but no one, in particular, has been associated with creating the concept of fashion. 

Modern movies are a great source of offering a peek into the world of medieval fashion. Game of Thrones and Rome are two famous shows that have been produced recently. There are several other movies which show what fashion in olden times looked like. All these pieces of art are just a glimpse of the world of clothing was like and how it has evolved over the years.  

The Romans and Egyptians were the first nations where people demonstrated great interest in how they dressed. Back then, appearance indicated wealth and social status. This was a time when financial disparity was a tool for governance and the rulers felt the need to distinguish themselves from the common men. In the 15th century, the Burgundian court of Philip the Good was considered the fashion center of Europe. 

Over time, similar fashion capitals kept emerging across the world. The British colonial system introduced a lot of trends to other countries in the sub-continent and beyond. Asian traditions in fashion were a statement of their own and theme continues today with different regions associating fashion in their own respective ways. This distortion makes it hard to put a finger on who or where fashion was first invented. 

The Origin of Fashion Design

Something that we can put a finger on is fashion design. Charles Fredrick Worth was the first fashion designer and he laid the foundation for the industry as it is today when he began sewing a signature label on the clothes that he created. Charles was a draper in Paris, but soon he became popular that he began to dictate trends by providing suggestions to his customers on what they should and shouldn’t wear.

Since Paris was where it all began, by the start of the 20th century, it had become the hub for all things fashion. Magazines would send their editors, ordinary clothing stores would send their tailors to Paris in order to catch up on the latest trends and spread them in different regions around the world. Next time you go looking for the answer to when did fashion start, you’ll definitely find it here. 

The 20th century also saw the introduction of fashion shows where designers had the opportunity to showcase their finest work. Jeanne Paquin was one of the first female couturier and the first to open branches in London, Buenos Aires and Madrid. She is credited with organizing the earliest fashion show, a trend that has only grown till this day. After this, fashion trends and the way clothes were designed changed significantly over the years. 

Fashion Trends in 1800s

Fashion grew and transformed considerably from medieval times but the 1800s were a significant time in history. This was primarily due to the fact that the sewing machine was invented in 1790. Not only did this allow faster and mass production of various garments, but it also allowed for more intricate and precise printing on different clothes. 

This new invention came at the time of the first Industrial Revolution that occurred between 1760 and 1840. The materials with which garments were produced evolved to a great extent with knitted and woven fabric of fine gauge being produced by machines at a faster rate. The quality of these products was better and the time was quicker as compared to handmade stitching.  

People still ask when did fashion start and the question has quite clearly been answered here, but the way this industry evolved is seldom given consideration. The introduction of the sewing machine meant a lot for the industry but it did little to promote fashion in general. The concept remained confined to a limited circle of wealthy and powerful individuals for more than  200 years. Not many considerable changes occurred in the industry until the 20th century. 

Evolution of Fashion in the 20th Century

With the dawn of the 20th century, fashion was no longer limited to a select circle of wealthy individuals. It began to become more accessible to the masses for a variety of reasons. Rising incomes and more affordable brands allowed consumers from across various social classes to embrace fashion trends. 

The rise of Hollywood during this era played an influential role in bringing fashion to each and every household around the world.  Icons like Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Marlyn Monroe were able to woo audiences with their iconic and signature clothes. Soon their dressing would become the newest fashion trend inspiring a whole segment of society to adopt and flaunt the respective designs. 

The era between World War I and II was known as the Golden Era of French fashion. This was a time when the Industrial Revolution meant that money was flowing into American households giving rise to a large number of entrepreneurs, industrialists and celebrities. This was perhaps one of the last great rises of French fashion because after World War II ended, there was little left standing. 

In the wake of WWII, the fashion capitals of the world went from France to London and New York. This was a time when the fashion industry witnessed one of the biggest transformations in history. Mass manufacturing, affordability of handmade clothes and the discovery of new materials like Polyester and Nylon meant that the diversity in the arena increased allowing more people to afford and accept it.   

Why the History of Fashion is Significant

The study of when did fashion start is important because of a number of reasons. The most significant among these is the fact that history repeats itself. Old fashion continues to go full circle and return to modern times in updated forms. In order to understand these trends, it is crucial to learn about how they began and what was the inspiration behind them. 

A lesson in fashion history serves as a foundation for acknowledging that this industry has existed for hundreds of years because clothing needs have evolved. The styles and designs may have changed but the underlying requirements and demand from consumers remain the same. 

As time progresses, we will witness some exciting renewals of antique trends and this where the knowledge about history will have a part to play. 

What do you think?

Written by Spencer K