Libraries of books have been written about modern fashion but rarely do they focus on the evolution of fashion from an integral perspective. Instead they tend to see only the evolution of style and not the parallel evolution of society, identity and technology. The history of Modern Fashion by Daniel Cole and ~Nancy Deihl is the closest book I’ve found as it charts the growth and development of fashion not just from an aesthetic point of view but also a technological and cultural point of view. What it doesn’t do though is place modern fashion in its developmental stage in a hierarchy of fashion.
The world view known as Modern is also known as Rational. The birth of modern science with it’s new and unique take on the world and our position in it came about using logic and reason. The old myths and legends of God and his creation slowly gave way to experimental testing of the material world and eventually to a complete disregard for the interior world of mythos. Famously modern ‘scientist’ Richard Dawkins is a poster boy for the ‘material sciences are the only sciences’ worldview, this movement is slowly giving way to greater complexity.
As the material sciences have boomed what has become of the material used to cover our bodies? How did that change during this modern era? The modern era is said to have begun 500 years ago but modern fashion took slightly longer to arrive. Little changed on the sartorial front when Newton theorised the existence of gravity and proved the world to be round but fashion rarely reflects the advancement of science. Fashion is a cultural beast and the modern world view took time to filter down.
Modern fashion is said to have begun with the invention of the sewing machine 170 years ago, but the idea of individuality in dress has, for the wealthy elite been an option for much much longer.
The wealthier you are the more options you have but with the sewing machine and advances in chemistry and material manufacturing the choice of clothes slowly filtered down to the lower classes.
The modern world view is the birth of the democratic world view, an individual has rights, but as far as fashion is concerned those rights do not immediately extend to wearing what ever you like. Through a curious mix of social convention and necessity class and gender distinction is rife throughout modern fashion. The hierarchicies of the tribal and mythic world views are still present even in the democratic era of science.
The history of modern fashion is a history of social change. As attitudes swing from liberal to conservative and back again so do the clothes with which we cover or uncover our magical naked bodies. Photography gave rise to the first ‘Selfie Queen’ the Countess Di Castiglione, seen here casually mocking her own vanity. She even went as far as taking a picture of her ankles!! Shocking in the 1860’s.
The flamboyancy of the Georgian era gave way to the austerity of the Victorians and an empire was built. Serious and strong men were needed to conquer the world leaving little room for sensitivity or flair. Accordingly mens fashion has not moved as much as womens fashion. In fact the history of modern fashion for men is trousers and jackets. The fact that transvestism became popular in Victorian Britain is telling, exclude males from expressing femininity in dress and it just goes underground.
Modern fashion continued the process of ‘cultural appropriation’ or evolution as it is sometimes known and took in influences from all over the world. It created such an abundance of colour and style and paved the way for postmodern fashion.
As the era of modern fashion progressed the fashion houses of Paris grew into the multi billion dollar, global corporations we see today. Style is now global and instant and it comes with an increasing cost to the environment. Something that the industry has struggled to deal with. Fashion is, by it’s nature, now, and yesterdays fashion is tomorrows garbage.