History of French Fashion

Instructor: Lorrine Garrison-Boyd
Why is it that France is automatically connected to a reputation of fashion, glamour and luxury? This lesson will examine various historical characteristics of French fashion to determine how this connection was made and why it still exists today.

A Trip of a Lifetime

Imagine planning your dream vacation to France. Where would you even start? France offers an endless list of amazing historical locations and miles and miles of breathtaking, beautiful scenery, but no matter what else makes your list, your itinerary will be sure to include the city of Paris. The City of Lights has something for everyone, especially if you're interested in the latest fashion trends and unique origins of the most current styles worldwide. After all, according to fashion history, Paris is the high fashion capital of the world!

How It All Began

From the early 17th century to the present, France has developed a fashion culture of its own. This is due in part to French designers' unique abilities to design clothing that expresses class, opulence, and sophistication and sets clothing trends around the world. Throughout fashion history, French fashion consistently established a reputation that represented to many the true quality of female character and style.

However, surprisingly, it was a man, King Louis XIV to be exact, who is well-known for making a definite mark in French fashion history. During his 72-year reign from 1643 to 1715, King Louis XIV made his own fashion statement with fancy shoes, diamonds, perfumes, wigs and even cosmetics. This was unusual for the typical man, but this king was far from typical.

The King and His Court

King Louis XIV strongly influenced the history of French fashion.
King Louis XIV

King Louis the XIV is credited with being one of the most powerful leaders of France and was responsible for transforming his country into a mercantile super power of luxury and trade. His goal was to become known as not only the most powerful and wealthiest monarch in Europe but also the most fashionable, and he went after those goals with great determination!

Because he was so devoted to fashion, he expected his subjects to share this passion. The king demanded fashion perfection from everyone from nobility to the middle class to even the lower class. He had especially high expectations of those occupying his court. During this time in France, fashion became a necessary requirement for everyone's lifestyle, according to the orders of the king.

In addition to consistently stressing the importance of fashion and a sense of style, King Louis XIV created elaborate dress codes for every special event he organized. Whenever the king arranged a time to celebrate, he also provided very specific instructions about how the participants were to dress. So every invitation to the king's parties came with the added stress of finding the perfect outfit to fit the royal dress code.

During his rule, King Louis helped establish and boost his country's luxury fashion status. But he also created and classified standards for interior design, food and drink as well. As a result, the French developed a monopoly on style, luxury and fashion that still exists today.

Fashion Forerunner

Even after King Louis' reign ended, France continued to shape and impact the fashion industry. During this time, the history of French fashion continued to make a definite contribution to the country's economy. The French understood the significance and importance of trade and marketing. They also understood the importance of conducting and operating fashion as a serious financial business.

Other Milestones and Events

The following is a brief overview of other major milestones and events that helped to shape the history of French fashion.

Eighteenth century French fashion was graceful and feminine.
18th century french fashion

• 18th Century

When the French Revolution occurred, many aspects of French society and businesses (including the fashion industry) were severely damaged. French fashion almost seemed to end at the onset of the revolution, as industry workers left the country or tragically died. However, when Napoleon became the emperor of France, he helped to restore French luxury and style and revived the country's economy.

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