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Western Fashion
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12th Century

In this century, most of the wars had affected the western fashion in a country. Various European soldiers who returned from the crusades during the 1100s and 1200s brought back various eastern ideas of dress styles. The crusaders also returned with rich silks and other textiles, which were otherwise not available in Europe.

14th Century

cotteMajor changes in western fashion had occurred frequently in the 1300s. Since then, the political and social conditions of a nation, plus technological developments, have influenced fashion in various ways. Here, the fashion changes were accompanied by the breakdown of the social status. The members of the nobility lost much of their power during the 1300s, when rigid class systems were weak in Europe. Then they began dressing up more elaborately to distinguish themselves from the other classes. Even the rulers of many Western nations began to set fashions that were followed by the members of their courts. In this era, a garment called `cotte` (which means a rib-sticking garment) emerged. Other versions called the `bliaunt` and `surcot` were worn over dresses hugging the breasts tightly.

17th Century

In the mid-1600s, the turn in western fashion came up when King Louis XIII of France began wearing a wig to hide his baldness. Fashionable Frenchmen soon began to shave their heads and wear wigs.

18th Century

Louis XIVWomen and dressmakers in the 1700`s outside the France court relied on sketches to see fashion magazines to see the latest styles. Even, the famous French King Louis XIV said that fashion is a mirror. Louis himself was renowned for his style, which tended towards extravagant laces and velvets. Fashions in games and sports had also influenced the way people dress. People in England adopted simpler clothing styles after they became interested in fox hunting and other outdoor sports. During the French Revolution (1789-1795), the elegant dress styles were replaced by simpler fashions. In the late 1700s, the invention of the toothed cotton gin, the power loom and the foot-and water-powered machinery for spinning and weaving made factory production of cloth possible. After the Industrial Revolution began in Europe in the 18th century, it became increasingly possible to produce cloth and clothing quickly and inexpensively. The invention of foot- and water-powered machinery stimulated the development of the sewing machine. This was one more turn about event in terms of the western fashion.

Fashionable clothing for western women had a number of characteristics that remained constant from 1760 through 1790. Women attended banquets, balls, and public ceremonies in highly stylized and elaborately embellished garments. Dresses were made with three-quarter length sleeves that fit tightly to the arm. Bodices were also tightly fitted, with the armholes cut far into the back to prevent rounding or relaxing of the shoulders. Skirts were full and reached nearly to the floor, with the fullness concentrated over the hips to create a broad horizontal profile. Under the gowns, women of fashion wore heavily boned stays (or corsets) that extended from the bust to below the hips. These corsets pulled the shoulders back and formed the torso into an erect conical shape with a broad chest and narrow back. The corsets were rich garments made in damask satin or brocade with embroidery ribbons, and laces to disguise the whalebone. On their feet, women wore high-heeled shoes, and in their hair--which was swept up in high coiffures--they wore jewels and flowers. Gowns were also made of relatively heavy, crisp fabrics, which enhanced the feeling of weight and presence these garments, projected a heaviness and commanding flamboyance characteristic of furniture and architecture of the time as well.

However, by the 1790s, the western fashion styles began to change. Women`s dress clothing began to follow a more slender, draping, neo-classical line. Lighter weight fabrics were used, skirts were rounded and often finished with a train, and waistlines moved higher. Men`s fashions were derived from military models and changes in a European male silhouette were stimulated in theatres of European war, where men officers had opportunities to discover foreign styles. The pace of change picked up in the 1780`s with the publication of French engravings that showed the latest Paris styles. By 1800, all Western Europeans were seen dressing alike.

19th Century

VictoriaDuring the mid-1800s, mass production of clothing made fashionable clothes available to more people at lower prices. People of all social classes began to wear similar styles of clothing. Thus, most of the English women had copied Queen Victoria`s stout figure by wearing puffy dresses with padding underneath. After Napoleon became emperor in 1804, even he brought back elaborate fashions in clothing in France. However, fashionable clothing of the 19th century made very sharp distinctions between men and women`s clothing in color, shape, fabric, and decoration. The first version of the present day brassiere was created in 1889, when Madam Cuddle of France cut the midriff of her corset allowing more movement at the waist.

The neo-classical style of dressing too developed fully by the 1810s, sheer white cotton, either plain or embroidered with floral or neo-classical motifs, became the fabric of choice for dress gowns. Waistlines rose dramatically to a point just below the bust and skirts became increasingly narrow, with just a small amount of fullness added at the center back in carefully arranged gathers. Sleeves could be either short or long. With such dresses, fashionable women wore flat slippers made of thin leather and tied their short, curled hair with ribbons in a style known as "a la Titus." The triumph of neo-classical fashion led to a revolution of sorts in female undergarments. While liberation from heavy fabrics and restrictive undergarments was a welcome change for many women, it was also a cause of concern among more conservative members of New England society. They were worried about the influences of such fashion on the younger generation.

Western clothing styles moved toward greater restriction and concealment of the female form. By the 1830s, rounded skirts gained fullness controlled with either pleats or gathers at the waist, which continued to fall toward the natural waistline. The sleeves themselves ballooned in size; fullness either started at the shoulder or was pleated into the shoulder and released to its full width between shoulder and elbow. Flat slippers remained in fashion, but women returned to wearing their hair long, styled in elaborate braids and curls high on the head. Printed fashion plates of the period illustrate tiny, demure women in gowns that accentuated their doll-like appearance. Middle-aged women might remember wearing dresses with high waists and narrow skirts during their school days, while mature women for work and play wore tightly fitted gowns.

20th Century

nylon stockingsEach decade of this century ushered greater progress. During the 20`s, one of the greatest influences on dress code was the movement towards equal status for women. However, during the World War II (1939-1945), the shortage of fabrics limited new fashions. The governments of many countries restricted fabric that was used in various garments. Nylon stockings were also scarce and hence many women began to wear leg paint. The modern bra was also created, which was a short bra with two lace handkerchiefs and ribbons in 1913 The bra with divisions between the breasts was created in 1925 and by 1938 A, B, C, and D cups were introduced with adjustable straps. Padded bras appeared in 1940 and ten years later, the strapless bra allowed women to wear will-power dresses. In 1959, Warner and DuPont also revolutionized bras with Lycra.

The 30`s indicated the idea of socialism, communism and fascism and women`s fashion became more and more feminine in keeping with conservative ideas. The establishment of the Indian cinema also proved to be the strongest influence on the fashion in the decade. This period also saw the emergence the culture of cabaret; hence, the dresses became more body hugging and the colours deep and dark in tune with such themes. Modern men`s underwear, as we know it today, was largely an invention of the 1930s. At around this time companies began selling button less drawers fitted with an elastic waistband, which were the first true boxer shorts. The name is derived from the shorts worn by professional fighters. The word `underpants` also entered the dictionary.

`Jockey` began making briefs in 1930 but it was not until 1934 with the advent of `Jockey` Y-vent briefs that the design of men`s underwear made a leap forward. It was the first time an easy-to-use diagonal vent was applied to boxers and briefs.

In the 40`s, Christian Dior turned fashion upside down with a new shape, with the bosom pushed up and out, a pinched waist and hips emphasized with short fluted jackets.


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