Try to chart the course of fashion and you’ll need more than a sexton, compass and telescope, to navigate to its beginning. The rise and fall of fashion is like waves in a storm filled ocean. However, charting the course of style is much easier, it has a known beginning, its progress can be documented and unlike the turbulent fluctuations of fashion, style dictates a constant theme that has the ability to cross cultural barriers and oceans. British civil administration made it easier for us to chart the course of style because of the precise way its administrators recorded important historic events. But it’s also worth remembering that before computers and electronic organisers’ people kept diaries where dates and events were recorded with great accuracy. Unlike the throw away society of today many of these diaries were kept and are intact even today. Baeurocratic systems certainly play an important role, accurately recording information through the ages enabling fashion designers to access archives.
For example it’s well documented that Thomas Burberry opened his own business in 1856 in Basingstoke, Hampshire. Noticing how local shepherds and farmers wore linen smocks, which were cool in summer and warm in the winter, he attempted to apply the same principles to other clothing. In 1879 he developed a fabric which was weatherproofed in the yarn before weaving, using a secret process and then proofed again in the piece, using the same undisclosed formula. The new material was un-tearable and weatherproof, whilst cool and breathable. He called the cloth ‘gabardine’ and registered the word as a trademark.
In 1901 Thomas Burberry designed a raincoat that became the regulation style during the First World War. Adapted to include functional epaulettes, straps and D-rings, it was named ‘The Trench Coat’. At that time, officers in the army took to wearing a Burberry raincoat as part of their uniform. The lightweight cotton was preferred to the heavy rubberised mackintosh that was supplied at the time.
The Burberry Trench coat continues to be an essential part of outerwear collections. Authentic details remain even to the metal “D” rings on the belt, which are now purely decorative. However this is interpreted from season to season according to whether fashion dictates a slim or full fitting silhouette together with a long or short hemline.
Extraordinarily that same century, 1860, the Prince of Wales ordered a short smoking jacket to wear at informal dinner parties at Sandringham from his friend, the tailor, Henry Poole. It was the first dinner jacket on record and was cut in midnight blue cloth. In 1886, a Mr. James Potter of Tuxedo Park, New York, was a houseguest at Sandringham. He consequently ordered a similar dinner jacket to Bertie's from Henry Poole & Co. It was this dinner jacket that Mr. Potter wore at the Tuxedo Park Club inspiring numerous copies that fellow members wore as informal uniform for stag dinners. Thus the Tuxedo was born at Henry Poole & Co. It took only eight years for an accidental style to cross the Atlantic Ocean and soon became an American institution.
There are many other prime example of style innovation to note, interestingly many originated in Mother England “come on the mighty blues” Take Harris Tweed; it’s been constant through many decades of fashion fluctuations. The dark business suit dates back to the early nineteenth century, initiated by Beau Brummell, this style continues today. The tie dates back thousands of years. Jessie Langsdorf a New York tailor made significant structural changes to the tie eighty years ago. He made his ties from three separate pieces of silk: the blade, the gusset and the under-end, these were cut at 45 degrees on the bias.
So let’s drop a few names of individuals who initiated styles that are taken for grated today, Coco Chanel, Jean Patou, Beau Brummell, Amelia Bloomer, Thomas Burberry, Jessie Langsdorf, Tommy Nutter, Vivian Westwood, Oxford University, and Cambridge University, Thomas Burberry. It’s all history, but like history fashion has a habit of repeating itself, actually fashion is just repetition of style. “Style is constant, fashion comes and goes”.
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