We’ve Got Style

Portrait of Pierre Balmain and Ruth Ford making a dress. Photo by Carl Van Vechten, Nov. 9, 1947. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Portrait of Pierre Balmain and Ruth Ford making a dress. Photo by Carl Van Vechten, Nov. 9, 1947. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Every year, top fashion designers, style bloggers and journalists, celebrities and other movers and shakers gather in chic cities across the globe to showcase and check out the latest styles in clothing, accessories, hair and even makeup.

Fashion shows for Autumn/Winter womenswear is usually held in February, with the Spring/Summer looks being exhibited in September. Bridal Fashion Week kicked off April 15 in New York City.

I myself love fashion and giddily peruse the reviews and images that highlight the best and worst of the participating designers. The creativity and sometimes audacity of their styles has me both wanting to go shopping while wondering how one is supposed to actually wear what they are showcasing. If anything, noticing fashion trends is really a lesson into our own culture and history, how our tastes have evolved over time and how we are inspired and influenced by our own surroundings.

Anna Wintour, famed editor of Vogue Magazine, once said, “One doesn’t want fashion to look ridiculous, silly, or out of step with the times – but you do want designers that make you think, that make you look at fashion differently. That’s how fashion changes. If it doesn’t change, it’s not looking forward.”

The Library of Congress recently launched a fashion-related Pinterest board, which surveys fashion trends from yesteryear. Represented are styles for men, women and even children – from fancy dress to hats to hosiery (“the new fashion trend” of having hose blend in with the color of your dress.

Modelès de Madame Carlier. 1897. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Modelès de Madame Carlier. 1897. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

What’s interesting to notice is how trends have changed and the historical evidence of cultural and societal shifts. Pointed out are variations in hairstyles, makeup, accessories, hemlines, heel heights and colors. Women wearing hats and gloves may tell us about the formality or modesty of an era. Images of women reveal revisions in desired body shape over time. Material for clothing may vary with tariffs, rationing or new technologies. Children’s clothing reflects shifts in concepts of childhood.

The Library has a large collection of fashion magazines and pattern books that can help further trace the evolution of fashion. You can observe clothing styles appropriate for different years, seasons, activities, age levels, and classes in long runs of titles such as Harpers Bazaar, which dates back to 1867; McCall’s Magazine (1897-2001), Vogue (1892-present) and Butterick Fashions (1931-1957).

The Butterick Publishing Company also produced The Delineator, a women’s magazine of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It provided its readers with sewing patterns and stories on current fashions. This January 1926 issue features patterns from Paris, advice on the home gymnasium and a story on how to find beauty.

For further reading, check out this guide to the fashion industry from the Science, Technology and Business Division. It represents a selection of the many resources in the Library of Congress that may be useful for the study of this topic.

A Day of Mourning

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president was shot by John Wilkes Booth the evening of April 14 and died nine hours later on April 15. Several days later, Lincoln’s body would begin its long train-trek home to Springfield, Ill., where he would be buried on […]

Young Gun

In 1882, Sheriff Pat Garrett published his account of the apprehension and death of Billy the Kid, whom he shot and killed on July 14, 1881. “‘The Kid’ had a lurking devil in him; it was a good-humored, jovial imp, or a cruel and blood-thirsty fiend, as circumstances prompted. Circumstances favored the worser angel, and […]

The Power of a Poem

(The following is an article from the March/April 2015 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. Editor Audrey Fischer wrote the story. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) Billie Holiday’s iconic song about racial inequality was penned by a poet whose works are preserved at the Library of Congress. Recorded in […]

The Golden Fleecer

Who the devil was Soapy Smith? Some would say the devil was Soapy Smith. He was a swindler, a con artist, a bunco steerer. In the 1880s and ’90s he fleeced rubes from Denver to Skagway, Alaska and at many points in-between. He was dubbed “Soapy” because an early con involved selling overpriced soap by […]

Celebrating Women’s History: America’s First Female P.I.

Walking into the Chicago office of Allan Pinkerton’s detective agency one afternoon in 1856 was a woman of medium height, “slender, graceful in her movements, and perfectly self-possessed in her manner.” Claiming to be a widow, aged 23, Kate Warne was looking for a job, and not as a secretary. One could imagine Pinkerton’s surprise […]

“Make Speedy Payment”: Women, Business and George Washington

(The following is a guest blog post by Julie Miller, early American historian in the Manuscript Division.) In 1766, Philadelphia shopkeeper Rebecca Steel advertised that she had for sale “Dry Goods, Bohea, Green, Hyson, and Congo Teas &c. as usual, at the most reasonable Rates,” and also “a Parcel of fine silks” that she would […]

Wipe That Scowl Off Your Face

Photography was well-established by the dawn of the 20th Century–it had graduated from the tintype and daguerreotype to innovations allowing for smaller cameras and more portable exposure media. But as the 1800s became the 1900s, portrait photography carried forward a tradition of depicting people sitting stiffly, staring sternly into the camera. A handsome young immigrant […]

Celebrating Women: Women’s History on Pinterest

(The following blog post is by Jennifer Harbster, a science research specialist and blogger for the Library’s Science, Technology, and Busines blog, “Inside Adams.” Harbster also helped create the Library of Congress Women’s History Month board on Pinterest.) March is designated as Women’s History Month and this year the National Women’s History Project has selected […]

Wild Irish Foes

Today we’re going to add a new term to your broad vocabulary: Fenian. It’s a noun that describes a member of an Irish or Irish-American brotherhood dedicated to freeing Ireland from British dominion. The name was taken from the “Fianna,” a group of kings’ guards led by the legendary Irish leader of yore, Finn MacCool. […]