Rose Bertin (1747 to 1813) and Charles Frederic Worth (1825 to 1895) should rightly be called the parents of high fashion. Bertin was the first famous dressmaker, while Charles Frederic Worth was the first designer in the modern sense of the word, as he ran a fashion house that employed many tailors and seamstresses.
The two came to prominence nearly a hundred years apart, but their influence is unmistakable. Worth influenced people to wear what he said they should, setting trends much like modern fashion designers do.
The beginning of the 20th century was marked by the arrival of more practical fashions. This came hand in hand with the increased freedom and independence enjoyed by women. The practicality did not mean that the style of the era was not elaborate. As a matter of fact, by current standards, there was nothing practical about the dresses of the day. The shift was, however, very important in the evolution of fashion. The increasing financial power and independence enjoyed by women fueled the fashion industry and brought it to the forefront of popular culture.
As the first decade of the 20th century came to a close, the silhouette of women’s dresses changed from an S shape, a tightly laced corset creating an exaggerated hour-glass shape, to a more natural and slimmer silhouette. Around that time, the Maison Redfern introduced a tailored suit for women based on the male version, thus creating the very first truly practical item of clothing for women.
The second decade was marked by more fluid lines and gowns and dresses inspired by the Orient. These were also the first clothes made for wealthy women that could be put on without the help of maids. The style incorporated turbans, exotic and bright colors, flowing pantaloons and even kimonos. This decade also marks the first fashion shows, organized by Jeanne Paquin, one of the first women to become a couturier. The other notable fashion designers of the time were Paris based Jacques Doucet and Spanish born Mariano Fortuny.
The Second World War brought many changes, not least in the fashion world. Because of the war, more women than ever worked away from home, making practical clothing an imperative. Colors changed from bright and extravagant to a more monochrome and somber palette. Even after the war ended, women continued demanding practical clothes and often chose to dress like boys.
The years between the two World Wars are also known as the Golden Age of French fashion, the age that gave us Jean Patou and other designers. The designers made casual chic popular, thus paving the way for the fashion we have today.