It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Right now is a very exciting time in fashion. All around the world, it’s Fashion Week season. New York and London Fashion Weeks recently wrapped up, Milan is well underway, and Paris begins next week. So it seems only fitting that today we should talk about the history of the fashion show.
The precise early history of the fashion show is a bit of a mystery. It developed slowly, therefore no one has yet been able to pinpoint when and where exactly the first true fashion show was held. Back in the mid-19th century, Parisian dressmakers would have their assistants wear their designs around their shop to exhibit the pieces. This trend was likely started by Charles Frederick Worth,and as I mentioned in my Worth post, he was also the one to come up with the idea of spring/summer and fall/winter seasons. Yet as technology changed, it became possible to mass-produce garments. This completely changed the fashion industry. Designers could now sell their clothes across the world, and a woman no longer had to pay for a fully custom dress, but could instead go to a department store and choose a design from a wide selection. As a result, designers needed to present their designs to buyers so they could be sold in stores far and wide.
These early fashion presentations were known as “fashion parades.” They were highly exclusive events. Only the most prestigious buyers were allowed to witness these fashion displays. At their core, they were not too different from shows today, except for the fact that they were much, much longer. A show today might take 15 minutes. A late 19th Century Fashion Parade could take several hours. The show would pause several times, as the buyers waited for the models to be carefully dressed between each time they walked. The show would be repeated for the next several days for different audiences of buyers.
In 1903, Ehrlich Brothers Department Store in New York City held the first fashion parade in the United States, and opened it to their customers. This was likely the first “modern” fashion show. It quickly spread to other department stores, and soon designers began to invite non-buyers to their personal shows.
In 1943, the Paris fashion industry, previously far and above the top in the world, floundered due to German occupation. The American fashion industry jumped in to fill the void. Fashion PR specialist Eleanor Lambert organized “Press Week,” an opportunity for the editors of fashion magazines’ to feature American designers. This was the very beginning of the idea of “Fashion Week.” Of course, throughout the decades, the increased media exposure has amplified Fashion Week and fashion shows to the extravagant events that they are today.
Want to learn more about the history of the fashion show? Check out these books:
The Mechanical Smile: Modernism and the First Fashion Shows in France and America, by Caroline Evans
Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity, and Deathliness, by Caroline Evans
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