This is a perfect illustration of the way high fashion often differed from the clothes women bought in the stores and wore on the streets. In 1947 Dior launched his "New Look", which boiled down consisted of longer skirts, nipped in waists and unpadded shoulders. By 1948 all designers of haute couture were working along these lines, but Alden's, while accepting the nipped in waist and the longer skirts, obviously thought their customers would not go for the narrow shoulders. (Shoulders in women's clothes had been broad and padded for nearly fifteen years by this stage!) What they wound up with here was the "Gibson Girl" look, harking back to the 1890s.
No one ever accused the Edwardians of wearing understated fashions: more was definitely more in 1903. This is a dress for a debutante "in white gauze, with a spot of turquoise, trimmed with ruches of gauze ribbon and lace applique". Well-to-do older women would be more elaborately dressed yet.
Flair did a special issue on suits in July 1961, and the model on the cover is wearing one in "Classene Terylene and wool fabric, shadow-checked in cocoa and black, and styled with a waist-length jacket, group-pleated skirt." Inside they also illustrate suit styles inspired by Coco Chanel and the world's latest fashion icon - Jackie Kennedy.
Made in white seersucker, this ruffled sundress was obviously influenced by the nostalgic "pastoral" look which was one of the ongoing fashion trends of the 1970. However it seems likely that it owes more to Marie Antoinette than than real life shepherdesses, and the choice of background for this photo seems frankly odd.
Sleek and streamlined, the fashions of the late 20s are the earliest you can point to and say "this is modern". The free patterns offered in this issue of Weldon's - skirt, jacket and blouse - would not look too out of place on the streets if made up today. Only the hats and hairstyles have really dated.
Since this is a special issue for teenagers one can assume the formal outfit modelled on the cover was intended for this age group - but it could just have easily been worn by the teenager's older sister. Youth fashions were still fairly conservative in 1960.
Couture: an illustrated history of the great Paris designers and their creations was published 1972, which was ironically around the time that Paris haute couture stopped being the main source of fashion ideas. This book by a number of well-known fashion writers traces the history of Paris fashion from Worth in the late 19th century to Saint Laurent in the 1970s. It is somewhat of a patchwork, covering a number of designers from overlapping perspectives. Perhaps my favourite essay in this book is "A Paris model: the world of the mannequins" by Penelope Portrait, which describes her life as a model in the 1950s.
Along with his rival, Chanel, Patou was one of the designers who created the "look" of the 1920s, and this book is a history of his career. He specialised in jaunty modern "sports" clothes designed for the active postwar woman, was the first person to introduce the concept of monogrammed designer wear and created a house perfume, "Joy", which is still one of the most expensive and desirable in the world. He also shocked the French fashion world by introducing a stable of American mannequins to model his clothes - his argument being that since American women bought his clothes they would want to see them modelled on leggy American figures. His clients included sports, screen and stage stars such as Suzanne Lenglen, Louise Brooks, Constance Bennett and Josephine Baker.
Though he was the first designer to introduce longer hemlines at the end of the 1920s he didn't manage to retain his popularity into the 1930s, gradually falling out of step with the spirit of the era. By the time he died in 1936 he was close to bankruptcy, and it is probably this decline in his fortunes and his premature death which accounts for him being not very well known today. Meredith Etherington-Smith's book is therefore a bit of a rarity, being one of the few books dedicated to this designer.
(Couture published Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1972.
Patou published New York : St Martin's / Marek, c1983. ISBN 0312598165)
To kick of April 2011 I bring you a magazine from April 1911!
The magazine enthused:
This season's fashions show a happy mingling of many modes, for instance we have the kimono sleeve, the Japanese sash, the Empire waist, Early Victorian materials, the classic Grecian lines, the harem skirt from the East, the simple gown of Puritan or Quaker make, the muslin fichu of Kate Greenaway's time, to say nothing of all the varied collars, fancy hoods, zouaves and boleros that are already worn.
From the vantage point of a hundred years later the overall "look" is much more apparent than the details.