French fashion is centuries old. In fact, it is as old as you make it. Since you will probably find some elements of French fashion no matter what the century, it’s best to strap yourself in as you are in for a long ride.
Let’s run through the centuries and pinpoint the revolutions in fashion over the years. These changes are what set France apart from many countries around the world. It is the reason why people still look to France for fashion!
Table of Contents
11th to 13th Century French Fashion
French fashion went through a whirlwind of changes during the medieval period. The variations were so frequent and sudden that people barely had time to catch their breaths before the new trends were thrust upon them.
During the 11th century, men were used to their long and tight-sleeved tunics. Fashion in France was adopted from the popular trends in Germany as leg-wear was identical to the region. The nobility wore dresses cut from the regal silk cloth, which was used extravagantly.
The lower classes used affordable clothes with standard lengths and simple designs.
With the advent of the 12th century, attitudes to fashion started to change. Although most of the dressing for both men and women remained the same, the trends began to show slight differences.
During the 12th century, women wore a long and wide dress tied over their undergarments. A girdle held up the dress. Men were used to wearing a similar dress, but it was not as low cut as the female dresses and was tied by a draw-string.
Women’s dresses started to undergo slight changes, such as the coats, which were cut short. These coats came with belts that could be tied around the waist to accentuate them.
Men were also used to wearing a draped cloak over the dress. This cloak was long enough to fall just above the knees and fastened by expensive buckles. It covered the leg wear, which was held up by a belt.
Kerchiefs were used to tie around the head as an accessory. Men typically preferred high boots, much like the Germans.
Sleeves were also changing as they were no longer tight throughout. Sleeves became more and more loosened at the top, and buttons were added near the wrist to tighten them. For women, some styles involved a tighter sleeve that eased near the end, much like a flare.
By the 13th century, a stark difference between ceremonial and routine dressing was created. The over and undergarments were the same; however, the sleeves were relaxed or cut away, and coat styling also changed.
The sleeve was made more comfortable. French fashion also birthed the popular trouser during this century. This trouser covered the legs and the lower trunk at the same time. These trousers were modified through the ages for comfortability. They were made of wool, silk, or other fine cloth and were bright in color.
The cloak was shortened till it came just above the hips, as it no longer served the purpose of hiding the lower half. A cape was also attached to the cloak; thus, a new headdress was created!
However, much change was still left to be witnessed in the coming centuries!
French Fashion in the 1500s
This short period temporarily changed fashion in France and gave way to different modifications made in the coming centuries. As the monarchy flourished, regality was adopted with pride. Thick cloth with multiple layers was paired with bold colors and extravagant trimmings.
The tall shape was replaced with more breadth at the hips for female clothing. Sleeves were puffed with beautiful linings. French fashion resembled the lavish French courts. As gold flowed into France, so did the expensive cloth. This encouraged rich dressing.
Embroidery became even more intricate, with geometric shapes beautifying the plainest of dresses. Gold was added to cloth here and there to give it the regal touch. People loved to flaunt yellow, red, and black.
The 1600s to 1800s in French Fashion
Fashion in France was subject to change depending on the time’s politics, wealth, and foreign influence. The latter centuries were no stranger to this development.
Men were seen flaunting all kinds of fabric. This included silk, satin, elaborate laces, and jewelry. It was not just women who wore bold jewels. Men also liked them as they were a sign of wealth. Doublets were popular and were worn with embroidered linen which was tightly fitted.
As the years progressed, collars came into existence. These stuck out away from the face and highlighted the beards. With time, doublets and sleeves were loosened, buttons were added, and people had more freedom to make adjustments.
For females, the cloth was shaped to form a bodice adjusted depending on the neckline. Necklines varied according to the occasion. Women could also add collars. Similar to male clothing, female clothing also loosened with time.
Heavier fabrics gave way to simpler silks and Indian cotton or damasks. The colors became lighter, and pleats were added to the back of the dress for a better fall. Men’s clothing stayed the same, more or less.
Fashion in France was changing rapidly at this point. After the French revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte reintroduced silks to France to make France the leader of the textile industry around the world. This led to extravagant high-waisted gowns with shorter bodices made of silk.
Greek and Middle Eastern art and fashion influenced French fashion at the time. The effects trickled into Britain, which began to follow the higher waistlines.
For men, clothing became looser and more comfortable. The dressing was marked by the same breeches and tailcoats. As an accessory, men wore top hats and replaced cloaks with coats.
The 1900s to Present French Fashion
This was the most exciting period in French fashion history! It is most probably the one you have been waiting for. Let’s get right into it!
1910 to 1920
This period flaunted the ever-popular corsets for a figure that leaned towards the hourglass shape. These corsets often caused women to faint and press their organs, causing different illnesses. The dresses were more conservative and hid most of the skin.
Women expressed their yearning for freedom through brightly colored parasols, hats, sleeves, or jewelry. Accessories became important. World War I discarded the popular corset and modified the dressing for comfort so women could assist the country.
1920 to 1930
This period witnessed the rise of Coco Chanel, who introduced her “little black dress,” which was modified according to the buyer’s demand. Women started to resemble Chanel with their tomboyish haircuts and hats.
This period was nothing short of a revolution. For the first time, women were given a choice to wear trousers. It gave way to shorts, smaller skirts, tighter skirts, and the iconic scarf.
The 40s revolutionized dressing forever. Fashion was no longer tailor-made. Mass production was introduced to the fashion industry, and soon, branded clothes became a thing. These were slightly more minimalistic than dresses in the past. Women still designed their dresses but preferred to buy most of them from designers.
This era saw a demand for feminine styles. French fashion started to become influenced by the country or chic styles in the United States. Mini shorts and curvy tops flooded the market.
See also: French Fashion in the 1950s
Women preferred comfortable dresses and were willing to compromise on style. The reliance on ready-to-wear clothes became more pronounced. They also showed off their long legs with smaller skirts or tighter pants. The hippie era also added funkier styles to the mix.
See also: French Fashion in the 1960s
See also: French Fashion in the 1970s
The 80s was a period that witnessed many sporty clothes which were much brighter than before. Tops became shorter and started to be paired with sweaters. The disco age introduced neon tops which made the outfits stand out!
People started to abandon the color and pop of the 80s and moved the simple sweatshirts, jeans, and jackets with subtle prints. The jeans were baggy, inspired by hip-hop culture. French fashion began to mimic the loose skirts or pants and tighter tops of celebrities in the United States.
As we enter the 21st century, we bring a mixture of all the trends we have seen throughout the years. French fashion has transformed from conservative styles to relaxed athletic wear. Fashion has become a way to express oneself.
The 2000s have gradually shifted from crop tops, mom jeans, and boyish looks to elegant skirts that hug the figure, accentuating the feminine curves. Men have started to embrace sober styles that flaunt suits or coats made of fine material.
To Sum it Up
No matter the style of the century, decade, or year, we continue to make a unique mark on the world by dressing up just the way we prefer. Unique styling has led to subcultures and fashion statements that cause a revolution in fashion time and again.
Here’s to the coming centuries and many more trends that will continue to change French fashion. Perhaps we will write another piece for you fifty years down the line, outlining the changes in French fashion throughout the 21st century. Until then, au revoir!
Header image courtesy: Joeman Empire, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons