“Haute couture” – sounds pompous and engaging, gets one wondering. It is true I could have easily used “popular dressing styles” instead in the title. But this pompous, heavy and pretentious heading aptly describes what the Victorian era before the 1900 was all about. The pomp and show as evident from excessively frilly and lacy outfits of the women of the era. The mood and personality of each era and epoch in history has made some significant effect on the dressing styles of entire populace of the countries. Victorians under the hangover of the monarchy were still courteous and haughty as evident.
And the Frills Disappeared
But the new century wasn’t going to be the same. The 1900’s saw a stark shift in, not only the social standing but also gender roles. Women were no longer interested in tea parties and soirees, they were demanding more. With a roaring fight they won their right to vote and all constraint was lost. Women were experimenting, gaining admissions into the best universities, getting rid of age old conventions and putting up an equal fight with the men. This transformation of the meek, sleek and propriety conscious lady into demanding women of 1900 was evident in dressing styles of the women folk. Also it would be unwise to forget the tethering political scenario of the world at large which was soon to convert into The First World War, which produced women like Florence Nightingale, confidence incarnate.
Women At Home Were Transformed
With these demanding situations women stepped outside the confines of their homes and the silly extensions of dresses which had caused hindrance to their movement were discarded. Women were now supporting bob cuts, or getting a frizzy mane, drinking in pubs, showing skin more than the respectable standards of the Victorians. They now wore Flapper dresses with sleeveless cuts baring their arms, straight cut skirts, “dropped waisted” dresses accessorized with a string of pearls. Dancing to the tune of Jazz and Broadway these women were seen wearing fur coats with heavy eye makeup and cupid dark colored lips. They also wore Cloche hats with an ornament or sometimes a feather attached to it.
Haute Couture Of American Denizens In 1900
The women of the 1900’s were demanding more from their couture masters. The corsets and figure setting and revealing chemises and petticoats were in style. Every women in the street wished to attain an ‘S’ shaped figure, to be the perfect beauty in town. So unlike our anorexic models! The slim and sleek look was the mantra; the bell shaped gowns worn by the Victorians had lost their charm. Since women were now working, walking to their offices, even cycling down to town.
They wore walking skirts with wide bottoms which made it easier to ride a bicycle. Linen blouses paired with a skirt along with a leather belt made them look smart. Their blouses were now embroidered and were more gorgeous and no longer plain. The fetish for hats was still strong. Women were still seen showing off huge hats with feathers or ornaments, even flowers at times.
Men Were Catching Up Too
Well much as we like, most articles on fashion in terms of clothing would always talk more about the women than the men. After all, the fairer sex has a monopoly in this arena. It is and always has been a women right to dress up and deck herself. But men were not much behind. The tailoring and the style of men clothing underwent some changes with the turn of the new century. Undershirts were now made of silk, cotton and wool.
One could choose between a long or short sleeved one. Under wears was a one piece affair, sewed to the undershirt. Stocking were in fashion which were held by garters. Suspender held trousers were preferred by men. Ties, belts, hat and stiff collared shirts are what comprised complete gentleman. Collars and cuffs were still important. But one is to keep in mind that, with the advent of the World War this would all undergo a huge change. As we all know in times of peril style is last on one’s mind, men would go on to adopt more practical clothing and one which would be easy and comfortable without the pretension of garters and suspenders.
For the Little American Masters and Miss-es
The kids unlike the kids today seem to a decent and plain lot. They were happy and bubbling in their cotton dresses till the age of five. The length of girl’s dresses depended on their age and the expected level of modesty. At six the hem would reach the knees, to ankles at the age of 16 and as the pretty girl steeped into adulthood her dresses would be sweeping the floor of the house. Stockings were to be worn and corsets were of utmost importance to ensure the right posture of this growing caricature of modesty. Boys wore trousers shortened a bit and long pants till the age of 12. Well, both sexes were still supporting hats.
Concluding the Chic Couture
It does seem that the Americans in 1900 were just debating and compromising slowly on the length of the hem of dresses. But trust me that this was a farce. They were doing many important things like fighting for votes, fighting for equality and the like. Clothing styles were being modified, The dynamic nation of America was on its way to becoming a superpower, its industries were getting raw material from all over the world, business was booming and the happiness factor of the citizens was becoming an increasing concern of the government.
The average American wanted more from life and wanted to enjoy more. And he had the jobs and salaries to pay from. Rest is as recorded in history. Americans became the trend setters. America the dream land became the land of opportunities, the land of luck with its theaters and Hollywood, played a great role in influencing the prevailing couture styles and tastes of the young Americans.