May 3, 2012

Fashion through the ages

A while ago, I bought three books, each containing a year's worth of Dutch lady's magazine 'Moeder' (=Mother). The years were 1950, 1952 and 1954 and I bought them because, next to stories and articles about child care, they contain fashion news, nice pictures of designs for which you could order the patterns and the occasional sewing, knitting or crafting project.
Browsing through them, this article caught my eye:

Entitled 'fashion through the ages' it is an educational but also rather smug article on fashion history. The text discusses developments from the 16th century onwards, in a fairly neutral tone. The pictures show looks for different events and times of day with historical ones shown next to their 'modern', 1954 counterparts.
I'll show you those I could photograph in a more or less acceptable way, translate some of the text and, just for fun, I've tried to find 2012 equivalents through Google image search.

A day at the park. There may have been plenty of fresh air around, but did one even notice in these ensembles? And that poot child! Playing in nature was an impossibility for these little ones. as opposed to 1954: we still like to go to the park, but what a difference and 2012:

A lot less formal yet, but we still go to the park (especially if there are events held there, as they were in the park in Venlo, Limburg, the Netherlands where this picture was taken)

The ball. This is how our young daughters went to their first ball in 1859. Despite the lack of comfort, these ensembles are rather graceful and charming.
And at the right: This is how our daughters do it today. A silk underskirt, a could of tule over it, a little necklace and she's ready for her big night.

In 2012, there are fewer occasions for formal ball gowns. With the theme of a 'daughters first ball', I decided to do a search for prom gowns which brought up things like this (I think a search for the other option, gowns for the debutante ball would have resulted in some more subtle styles). 
What strikes me most is the fact that, over a century and a half, the prefered silhouette for a yound lady's first ballgown doesn't seem to have changed significantly.

Ice skating. On the left: Here, you see a lady from the year 1670, dressed for ice skating. At least you can't say she isn't warmly dressed. We don't know whether she could actually move her legs properly.
And next to it: This is how we go sporting today. And you can bet we can move our legs! Elegantly, this figure skater moves across the smooth ice on her sharp blades.

I don't think it's fair to compare figure skater's dresses to the clothes worn by normal women for an afternoon out on the frozen pond, but I'll stich with Moeder's interpetation of this one and show you an outfit for a 2012 figure skater. Again, the general silhouette of the 1954 one is still there, it just covers less (or pretends to do so)

At the beach. These pictures are a bit too close to the center of the book, so the photograph doesn't look good, but I thought it was too much fun to pass up.
Beachwear anno 1797. This is how one would look out over the sea back then. It looks neither very elegant nor very comfortable, don't you think?
1954: This is how we do it today. Free and easy, we can walk about and enjoy the beach and the sea. If there's a bit of a chill, well, we'll put on a loose jacket over our bathing costume.

Anno 2012 the whole term 'bathing costume' has become archaic. This is the kind of look that's recommended to us now (available at an h&m store near you).

A night out. These looks are for when 'madam' goes out, which I guess would mean a grown-up woman going to the theatre or something like that.
This is how madam would dress for a night out in 1856. Look at the cinched waist and the huge flowing skirts. Mark also the fan and the lace handkerchief in the ladies' hands.
1954. If madam goes ou nowadays, she will prefer to do so in an evening gown and we definately don't need fans or lace handkerchiefs anymore. 

There's a bigger difference in the silhouettes of these evening dresses than there was with the ball gowns and yet 59 years later, it seems that the trend of the deflating skirt has continued. Almost everything which you find when searching for 'evening dresses' is either bias cut or somehow draped with a sleek skirt. And I don't think anyone brings fans or lace handkerchiefs these days. We might carry a huge handbag though.

Afternoon dressing. 
In 1835 the ladies went out for a walk in the afternoon wearing redingotes and big flappy bonnets.
If we have to go out in the afternoon in 1954 we dress up in an easy dress with matching hat and gloves.

Not unexpectedly, a search for 'afternoon dress' brought me lots of pictures of very nice historical and vintage dresses and not a single piece of modern attire. The truth is, we will be dressed in the afternoon as we were in the morning and will continue to be until we go to bed in the evening unless there's something special we need to go to. And for most people, on most days, that's some variation on jeans and a t-shirt. 


  1. Wow, that does sound smug! Thanks for sharing the photos and translations :)

  2. Those are really interesting! Funny how it puts the "trend" for casual freedom of movement and comfort in perspective. And makes you wonder where we'll be in another sixty years...

  3. I haven't seen prom dresses in the US like those prom dresses you show. The only similarity would be the shiny fabrics.

  4. I wore an afternoon dress from the 1910s for my wedding reception... it was so delicate, I was frightened of ripping the lace! But funny to think at the time it was one changed into for the more casual afternoons, or that there was more reason to change for various parts of the day.