The Rise of French Fashion

France has an unending number of incredible historical sites and miles and miles of breathtakingly stunning scenery, but no matter what else you do, you must have Paris on your schedule. The City of Lights has something for everyone, especially if you’re interested in the most recent fashion trends and their unique roots around the world. After all, Paris is the world’s high fashion center, according to fashion history!

For many people, French fashion is the pinnacle of elegance. Many books, publications, and articles exist that idealize French fashion, and many people aspire to mimic the seemingly effortless French aesthetic.

From the outside, French style appears to be effortless, but believe me when I say that it takes a lot of effort to look so stylish!

French fashion and King Louis XIV

French fashion and King Louis XIV

From the early seventeenth century to the present, France has had its distinct fashion culture. This is owed in part to the unique talents of French designers to create apparel that reflects wealth, luxury, and sophistication while also setting global fashion trends. Throughout history, French fashion has maintained a reputation for representing the actual quality of female character and style to many.

King Louis the XIV is regarded as one of France’s most powerful leaders, and is credited with developing his country into a mercantile superpower of luxury and trade. His ambition was to become not just Europe’s most powerful and wealthy ruler, but also its most stylish, and he pursued both objectives with zeal!

King Louis XIV not only emphasized the value of fashion and style, but he also set intricate dress standards for every big occasion he hosted. When the monarch set a date for a celebration, he also gave very detailed directions on how the guests should dress. As a result, every invitation to a king’s party came with the added pressure of finding the right outfit to suit the royal dress code.

Louis XIV’s sartorial efforts paid off handsomely, as he became known as a monarchical role model. Steele recalls, “Everyone [wanted] to look and act like [him].” However, Louis XIV was concerned with more than just soft power and cultural branding. He and his finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, saw huge economic possibilities in fashion as well. As a result, they worked together to keep foreign competitors out and maintain the local textile sector, which they also supported financially. Steele quotes Colbert as saying, “Fashion will be for France what Peru’s gold mines are for Spain.” “This [idea] would be crucial to their economic goal, which is extraordinary because [fashion] is still a major pillar of the French economy three and a half centuries later.”

Marie-Antoinette, a fashion icon of France

Marie-Antoinette, a fashion icon of France

The nobility scrambled to live like Marie Antoinette in the late 18th century, and ruffles reign supreme. If you have the cash, this means splurging on frou-frou layers of tulle, silk, and velvet, as well as elaborate stitching and rich ornamentation. Women’s dress reflects one’s social standing and position, and is a visual representation of the proverb “women should be seen, not heard.”

The French court’s unquenchable need for extravagant clothing drives the country’s textile industry, which has been under sovereign rule since Louis XIV, laying the groundwork for haute couture. The rococo court of Louis XVI continued to protect an industry of “royal manufacturers,” including Marie Antoinette’s “Minister of Fashion,” Rose Bretin, who is regarded the first-ever fashion designer. The luxury dressmakers serve to reinforce aristocratic fashion culture by catering to the preferences of French royalty and aristocracies at home and abroad.

Vogue magazine and Coco Chanel

Vogue, the world’s largest fashion magazine, originally appeared in Paris in 1920, while designer Coco Chanel exhibited her first collection in 1925.

In contrast to the conventional designs for full-figured women, Chanel’s boyish, simple, and graceful designs were embraced. Chanel is still a key player in the world of premium fashion. It should come as no surprise that it began in Paris, a city where new ideas were always welcomed.

Forerunner in Fashion

Forerunner in Fashion

Dior’s pioneering style, which featured a nipped-in waist and an A-line skirt that reached the mid-calf, altered the female silhouette, yet it was first criticized owing to the amount of fabric required to manufacture his outfits. “Europe has had enough of bombs; now it wants to see some pyrotechnics,” Dior said.

In the 1960s, the growth of young culture in’ swinging London’ posed the greatest challenge to the French design industry. Mary Quant, a British designer, led the way, forsaking conventional Parisian clothing in favor of more daring designs. Extremely short miniskirts were popular among younger generations as a sign of feminine empowerment and sexual liberation.

However, it was the efforts of a youthful Yves Saint Laurent in the late 1960s that helped Paris restore its fashion crown. Importantly, Saint Laurent was the first couturier to make a ready-to-wear line and was the first to bring a number of men’s coats into the feminine wardrobe, including ‘le smoking.’ Almost all of the original couture houses now produce ready-to-wear lines, which receive far more press coverage and are, in turn, far more profitable, potentially adding to high fashion’s survival

Dressing for Success

Dressing for Success

Despite losing the status of world’s largest superpower to Britain, France’s mastery in fashion — and, for that matter, all forms of high culture – lasted long after the First French Empire fell. Unlike London, which specialized on menswear, Paris focused on womenswear. The notion of la Parisienne – the ideal Parisian lady, elegant, intellectual, and discerning – dominated French fashion, and Paris was referred to in feminine terms, and even anthropomorphized as a woman. Despite its status and notoriety, French fashion was small-scale until the mid-nineteenth century, when British designer Charles Frederick Worth opened up shop in Paris. Steele explains, “You had a lot of couturiers, but they were largely small-scale craftspeople.” 

Haute Couture

Fashion in the early twentieth century seeks further abroad for inspiration, fueled by France’s empirical governance and fixation with exoticism. Paul Poiret is a well-known designer that incorporates Eastern elements into fanciful haute-couture creations. The austere limitations of post-revolutionary France are gone, and opulent attire is back in style as art nouveau sweeps Europe. Poiret establishes his name as the King of Fashion by introducing billowing kimonos, spacious harem pants, and intricately embroidered turbans and sultana skirts, freeing ladies from organ-crushing corsetry