The Woman in Fashion, The Cycle of Dress
Posted by P. Bingham on August 25, 1998 at 22:34:04:
I thought this very interesting as it has touched on some items we have discussed here in Pemberley before. This particular post is from The Woman in Fashion and discusses the cycle of women's clothes:
'An attempt to see the picture whole must lead, I believe, to the strongest doubts thaT fashion, in the sense of continuous experiment and change, is motivated by considerations of sex appeal. Studious references to the periods and regions where change is most in evidence will rather suggest that it is an expression of a questing, exploring, and restless attitude which is typical of certain phases of civilization; and that it symbolizes, by its reiterant break with tradition, a groping after freedom, an assertion of personal worth, which is sometimes made with equal energy by both sexes and sometimes only by one - the one , of course, which is least satisfied with the existing order.
This hypothesis is not knew and is generally recognized principle among writers holding many different views on particular styles that in times when the ideals sometimes called revolutionary are in the ascendant, fashion moves with swift, discernible strides, while in periods of repression and submission there is a weakening of the desire to express personality in new types of dress.
In countries and races where male superiority is unquestioned, feminine dress remains almost static for generations, even centuries, together; whereas when women's struggle for independence or, at any rate, power is particularly strenuous, there are invariably marked changes of costume. In brief, the less there is of social parity, the longer, roughly speaking, does each vogue for women last.
To some degree, the speeding up of the processes of fashion may be the result of modern industry and commerce, but that is by no means soley due to the cause we must realize when we observe that the feminine mode moves much more swiftly during the Napoleonic Wars and the period we know as "Romantic", an era when women tasted a good deal of liberty, than during the early Victorian years, when most of them became content again with more or less graceful bondage; not withstanding that these years, say 1837-1857, were the most notable in the century for indstrial and commercial expansion.
Male costume shows us exactly the same response to the settled or unsettled temper of the times, though in recent years this has taken the negative form of renouncing a large number of formal garments which were once de rigueur rather than inventing new shapes or ornaments. it is to be remarked, by theway, that the conditions of modern industry which are credited with having accelerated women's fashions would have seemed to have slowed down men's.
The imetus behind major changes may take one or all of three forms. First there is the straightforward prediliction for a new standard, by which "exploring and restless minds" free themselves from habits of taste which come to be regarded as a bandage. Next, and fully as important, there is the desire to dissociate oneself from the class lower than ones own in the social order or else identify themselves with the class above (This is classic Regency here - a time when the lower classes began to wear the same styles as the upper classes which left the upper classes constantly having to update their wardrobe in order to seperate themselves, and this also started all those rules and regulation on proper deportment, Patricia): for that sense of the value of the individual which is essential leaven has always made itself felt at least as actively on the material as on the spiritual plane, causing an eager aspiration in the humble ranks to imitate the dress and manners of the priviliged or a refusal to be imprisoned in a certain class by the type of costume. The priviliged, on the other hand, are generally determined to maintain their distinction and consequently are boliged from time to time to change their mode of dress and even to adopt styles which are intendid absolutely to baffle the classes beneath them.
The third potential factor has something in common with the second, but requires a closer application to the history of fashion before its workings can be seen. This is the propensity of women to seek to put themselves on a level with men by copying male dress. (Regency again! The riding habit in particular, the Peninsular War details on dress and hats, etc.)
...Though fashion writers of the more superficial kind assume that feminine adaptions of male garments are modern, they have been numerous in every century about which we have any records. As a rule they are mucg resented by male and frequently result in change of masculine fashion, on the principle which makes the members of any superior castle abandon a habit that has once been imitated on a lower stratum.
Writing from memory only, (she goes on about the thirteenth century...the coats and waistcoats laced and buttoned in masculine style and worn with cocked hats at the end of hte 17c; and the top hats and tailcoats adapted from men's riding clothes in the Directoire. And this is to mention only principle garments. If one were to add all the plumes and ruffles, the frogs and fobs, the tags and buckls that were essentially masculine accessories before they were copied by women, the list would fill many pages.
Many efforts have been made to put down masculinity in women's clothing, just as sumptuary laws of several kinds have been passed to prevent the common people from trying to dress like their betters, but in the lonf run the only effective measure has been for men to shape out a new mode. (which can be seen of Beau Brummel and his dandies)
...contary to poular belief, there is always a visible evolution of every shape and style. None comes into being unheralded by portents which are which are perfectly recognizable to the trained eye. Although the wonder-loving public will always prefer to disregard transition stages and complexities and to place its faith in the little anecdotes which give each vogue a simple amd memorable origin, in point of fact such extree fancies as a balloon sleeve, a towering headdress, a skirt reaching only to the knee, are not introduced by one leader of fashion or dictated by one designer. They are the final developement for a trend which must assuredly hacve become evident over a period of years.
It is most notable tendency of fashion to carry every favored style to its logical or prehaps illogical end. If skirts begin to widen, there is a very strong probability that they will be degrees get wider and wider until they may require hoops of some kind to support them. these hoops will ultimatley reach a size whcih make their use intolerable and they will then be discarded by the aid of some not too sudden contrivance of design, and the skirt will, by the same slow degrees, grow narrower. This trend toward excessive narawnesscan be seen in certain Empire dresses, in a short-lived style of the late seventies and the early Edwardians.
As fashion does not remain static except when the social order is static, from time to time there will be some new wasy of treating the waist. Sometimes it will be made important by its smallness and sometimes it will be interely concealed, as in the loose-fitting garments which hung from the shoulders in 1917 and onwards.; sometimes the waist will be high and sometimes low. But wherever it might be placed, we can be certain, unless the dressmakers and their clients happen to be too deeply preoccupied with other aspects of the costume, the tendency will be carried to the point of absurdity before it is relinquished.
... La Belle Assemble...1855 The more wealthy classes of Society are constantly devising new modes of marking the artificial distinction between themselves aqnd those who are not so rich in worldly possessions by a difference in dress...
- Excessive narrowness The Mysterious H.C. 22:23:20 8/26/98 (4)
- Interesting! Caroline 08:48:26 8/26/98 (1)
- more text... P. Bingham 20:36:56 8/26/98 (0)
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