View Full Version : Theory of fashion history

03-02-2010, 12:18 AM
I'm wondering if anyone here has a clue about fashion-history. I'm working on my alternate history right now and I'm trying to figure out how far my changes in fashion can go.
I need to figure out why fashion and hairstyle developed the way they have, what factors played a role, but so far I had no luck. There are some books on fashion in our tiny library, but they only state how fashion devloped, not why.

03-02-2010, 12:52 AM
Maggi - how long do you have? Serious question! To put it in a nutshell (though it is open to debate) religious, economic, social and political influences were just some of the reasons why some fashions developed the way they did. For example during the Regency/Empire style of dress may have come about because of the French Revolution when it became dangerous, if not downright silly, to dress in extravagant silks and jewels. It may also have come about because of a new interest in antiquity. There is, imo, no one single factor that influences dress and hair styles but a combination of events and people who become leaders of fashion. So you could have, in your alternate history a leader of fashion - for example, to name a very few, Beau Brummel, Mary Quant, Coco Chanel. Their inspiration and genius changed the way people dressed.

See if you can get hold of The Language of Clothes by Alison Lurie - ISBN 0 7475 0821 6
From the blurb on the back cover "'Like most spoken and written languages, the language of clothes is constantly changing. New ideas and phenomena demand not only new words but new styles. ...most social political and cultural trends have been mirrored not only in what we say, but what we wear, so that even if we never followed the news we could guess at what was happening around us.'

03-02-2010, 03:33 AM
the French Revolution when it became dangerous, if not downright silly, to dress in extravagant silks and jewels.
Ah, that's waht I needed. So, a movement smiliar to the French Revolution during the renaissance would make it possible/plausible to tone down ornaments and colors.

03-02-2010, 03:56 AM
You might want to check the resources down on the Historical Fiction board as well. Or start a thread there about it. They take their research seriously on that board and it would be an interesting topic.

03-02-2010, 04:11 AM
What do you NEED to happen in terms of fashion changes? Then, think up a reason for it. Could be political. Could be religious. Could be convenience. Could be economy. Any of these factors play a role in affecting changes of fashion. "Sumptuary taxes" or edicts can be passed, limiting a particular fabric or color to a particular class. Sometimes civilian fashion follows military fashion - sometimes it's the other way 'round.

03-02-2010, 04:18 AM
Back in the days of monarchy, it was generally the monarchs who made fashion.

When Henry VIII started getting fat, EVERYONE started dressing as if they were fat.

Similarly, Louis the XVI was short, so he wore platform shoes. But then everyone started wearing platform shoes, requiring Louis to wear even higher platform shoes.

Then there's Napoleon and his hand in his shirt thing. And some people accused Caesar of wanting a crown for the sole reason that he was bald.

Nowadays, fashions are invented and replaced regularly in order to keep fashion designers and clothing retailers in business.

Tsu Dho Nimh
03-02-2010, 06:49 PM
Another fashion factor: historical discoveries in archaeology brought out the models for the Regency gowns, and the French Revolution gave the "go-ahead" to dump the old styles for a radical new one.

Napolean ORDERED the court to wear locally woven silk because smuggled muslins were hurting his economy ... and then the smuggling went the other way across the Channel when the fashion-forward got wind of the changes in the French court.

Sometimes technical things happened - aniline dyes, discovery of cochineal bugs from the New World.

03-02-2010, 06:56 PM
I have an observation myself based partly on history and modern fashion trends.

Boots have a peculiar history to them.

Young women today like wearing "Uggs," those stupid boots worn all year around no matter what the weather is. I remember in the early 90s they wore suede work boots everywhere. (I worked in a shopping mall so I saw this all the time.)

The 60s had the knee-high "go go boots" which in recent years have made a comeback.

But in the 1920s, it was fashionable for young women to wear galoshes. These women were rejecting the old fashioned values of their parents and grandparents and were starting new trends including bobbed hair, shorter dresses and boots. When they walked down the street, their unbuckled galoshes made flapping sounds. Hence, they were called "Flappers."

Maybe we should call young women today "Uggers."

03-02-2010, 11:10 PM
Then there was the whole British thing in the mid-1960s. With the British Invasion (in America and elsewhere) of the British rock bands like the Beatles and the Stones, came British fashion.

In the 1950s the dresses and skirts became long because women could once again use all the fabric they wanted to. During the war, skirts were slimmer to save fabric (needed for the war effort) and fashion copied military styles. Also, since women couldn't get silk for hose, and this was pre-nylon, women used let makeup.

One thing about fashion is that trends start out reasonable and then get exaggerated. Small shoulder pads are perfectly reasonable. They help jackets fit better on both men and women. But in the 1980s, as women were just starting to get higher level jobs in corporations, they shoulder pads got very large. "Look, I'm just as powerful as a man..."

The same thing happened to men's ties in the 1960s. There was a switch from the skinny ties of the 1950s, but the ties got wider and wider until they were practically breastplates.

1700s women and men's wigs, white face makeup (with lead, actually) then the 1800s men's sideburns went from regular to ridiculous. Just check presidential portraits.

03-03-2010, 02:56 AM

This is a very helpful website regarding all fashion especially 20th Century fashion, but the theories behind the whys and hows of fashion are true no matter the era, even a couple of thousands of years ago. (New, available fabrics, for example can change a lot of fashion trends.)


03-03-2010, 09:44 PM
Seeing Through Clothes by Anne Hollander is a very readable book that considers some of these questions as they relate to the history of clothing and fashion in the Western world.