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.

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