The History Of Fabrics

From the early years on, men and women have dressed with dignity. Women wore long “tunics” that covered pretty much everything and covered their heads with veils starting in the time of Noah all the way through King David. This basic style did not change all that much for centuries. In the late 1500’s, fashion became much more ornate though the basic clothing remained the same: long gown with long sleeves and a head covering of some sort. There was also lots of embroidery and decoration. It was also around this time that the corset was introduced. It wasn’t long before it became the classic element of women’s clothing. Around the time of the French Revolution, the trend of high-waisted dresses with straight, boyish silhouettes and flattened bust lines took hold. This is the style you see in Pride and Prejudge and Jane Austin. However, this fashion revolution didn’t last all that long and fashion returned back to its traditional style. Here in the United States, waistlines were at the natural spot and the styles were fancy. Men wore ruffled shirts, tight knee-breeches, and powdered wigs. In the mid-1800’s, skirts started becoming very full with hoops and crinoline petticoats. You often see this style in photographs taken during the Civil War. The bustling at the back of the dress started around this time also.

Modern fashion started taking shape around the 1900’s. The hemlines moved above the ankle and fashion became simpler. It is interesting to note that the women’s clothing trends of the day follow the same pattern as the trends in society. The Industrial Revolution (around 1800) enabled women to work outside the home which changed the way the dressed. In 1920, women were given the right to vote and this is where we first saw the departure from the classic style of dress! In the roaring 1920’s, you saw women with short hair with skirts raised to the knees and sleeveless bodices. Coco Chanel (Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel) was the driving force behind these drastic changes. Around the same time, designers Yves Saint-Laurent and Courreges introduced dressy pantsuits for women. During World War II, women were often working in factories. They wore trousers and coveralls to work but kept their feminine style of dress for home. After the war, the men came home to white-collar suits of the middle class or blue-collar uniforms of the working class. Women were expected to wear makeup and pretty dresses. In the 1960s, young people started to question society and its prim and proper dress. You would often see women with long hair, no makeup, and barefoot. Men also grew their hair long, grew beards, and wore blue jeans. Music also inspired new styles. In the 1970s, you often saw men’s pantsuits and women’s metallic dresses and glitter.

Below is a timeline of some interesting points in the history of fabric:

6000 BC – During a geological dig, fine-spun and plied-thread, plain weave tabby cloths and garments were found dating back to this time period.

3300 BC – In the Similaun Glacier, the Ice Man was found wearing the gear of a Neolithic traveler. The Iceman’s basic piece of clothing was an unlined fur robe stitched together from pieces of ibex, chamois, and deer skin. A woven grass cape and a furry cap provided additional protection from the cold, and he wore shoes made of leather and stuffed with grass.

490 BC – Quilting was known to the ancient Persians and, at the time of the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), quilted garments were worn as armor.

1130 – Skilled weavers who came to Palermo from Greece and Turkey produced elaborate fabrics of silk interlaced with gold.

1519 – Cotton is discovered in Central and South America by Pizarro and Cortez.

1631-1633 (roughly) – Calico is imported from Calicut, India by the East India Company

1708-1716 – A series of laws prohibiting the importation of printed silk textiles thus making calico’s and silk textiles more popular than ever is signed into law by William III.

1858 – Englishman Charles Worth establishes first haute couture fashion house in Paris

1873 – Levi Strauss & Company receives their patent for blue jeans

1885-1889 – Rayon is invention in France and shown at the Paris Exposition of 1889.

1913 – Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel opens a boutique in Deauville, France. She revolutionizes and democratizes women’s fashion with tailored suits, chain-belted jerseys, and quilted handbags. She’s the most copied fashion designer in history.

1936 – Nylon is created by DuPont

1941 – The first polyester fiber called Terylene is produced.

1942 – Polyurethane (Spandex) is invented.

1947 – Christian Dior reestablishes Paris as a fashion center. He revives haute couture with tight waist, stiff petticoats, and billowing skirts.

1948 – Textiles become the second largest industry in the US. The consume consumption per capita of fibers 27 pounds of cotton, 6.3 pounds rayon, 4.9 pounds of wool.

1950 – The first commercial application for “Orlon” an acrylic wool substitute.

1955 – Velcro is created

1958 – Eastman Kodak introduces Kodel polyester.

1960 – London boutique owner Mary Quant champions the youth movement and introduces mini-skirt, hot pants. She also launched Twiggy as supermodel and becomes 1960s most influential 1960s designer.

1966 – Kevlar, which is 5 times stronger than steel, is invented.

1968 – Calvin Klein begins producing elegant, simple clothes, favoring neural earth tones and luxurious fabrics. Ralph Lauren creates men’s wear line and expands into women’s wear. He favors natural fabrics, and his designs feature western or country motifs.

1970s – A growing market for organically grown food was firmly established and the production of naturally grown fabrics soon followed suit..

1974 – Giorgio Armani creates a men’s wear line and popularizes Italian tailoring

1984 – Donna Karan launches line of versatile, casual knits and favors the color black.

2004 – Bamboo fabric starts being manufactured in Asia, bamboo bedding and bamboo clothing start to make their way to the United States. Since then its popularity has grown by leaps and bounds.

Clothing has always played a role in our lives throughout history. The history of fashion is intertwined with every major development in American life since we got here in the early 17th century. However, now we are seeing fashion recycle and reinvent itself. Eco-friendly fabrics are part of this new century with hemp, organic cotton and bamboo being the front runners. The fashion industry is looking for ways to not only improve the design/style, but to be environmentally friendly. By going back to an earlier time and trying to be more natural, the fashion industry has quit trying to reinvent the wheel and instead giving the consumers what they want. It’ll be interesting to see what the next ninety years will hold!

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