How couture became haute couture

In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution gave the arts and manufacturing new impetus. Clothing was no exception and the female wardrobe was padded out with a wealth of new and improved clothes and accessories. Here we explore how couture became haute couture…

THE GUIPURE HAT by Alexandre GuerchenerOriginal Source: INPI Archives


Hats and headgear in general are true fashion accessories and have evolved continuously over time.

THE PASSEMENTERIE HAT by Jean-Pierre MeretOriginal Source: INPI Archives

Hat-making became the preserve of milliners in France from the time of the French Revolution.

The silk hat by Jean SmitherOriginal Source: INPI Archives

Millinery factories supplemented what was produced by workshops.

THE STRAIGHT CORSET by Clémentine Davin, née CherrierOriginal Source: INPI Archives


One undergarment not easily forgotten is the corset. Although extremely restrictive, corsets were worn by the women of the aristocracy for centuries to help give their busts a conical shape.

The stomach support by Nicolaus CUKOROriginal Source: INPI Archives

Following the French Revolution, corsets disappeared for a time. However, they soon came back onto the scene and developed in a variety of ways during the 19th century.

Le soutien-gorge by Eugénie Herminie CADOLLE née SARDON. Brevet d'invention déposé le 16.07.1898 pour un corselet-gorge (1BB279823).Original Source: Archives INPI

In 1898, Herminie Cadolle set women free by cutting the conventional rigid corset in two. In doing so, she invented the "bosom-bodice," which we now know as the bra.

THE MYON DRESS by Marguerite MissonnierOriginal Source: INPI Archives


It was only in the 19th century that dresses began to be worn exclusively by women. They reflected the restricted role of women as they hindered their movement with disproportionately voluminous petticoats like crinolines and were often made of rigid fabrics.

The Petticoat frame by Angélique Caroline MILLETOriginal Source: INPI Archives

Crinolines appeared in the 1830s. These petticoats were worn under the skirt to make it look more voluminous as styles became more rounded at the hips.

RUFFLES by Godemard and Meynier.Original Source: INPI Archives

Dress styles evolved, with sheath dresses at the time of the Empire and Restoration and bell-shaped dresses until 1850…

THE LADIES' NECKTIE by Charles Alfred JorderyOriginal Source: INPI Archives

…dresses with a crinoline until 1870…

The marguerite rosette by Louise Worms and Marguerite Françoise VarletOriginal Source: INPI Archives

…then dresses with a bustle until 1910.

THE METAL CLOG by César Auguste DelabarreOriginal Source: INPI Archives


After the French Revolution, women's shoes were flat. The beginning of the 19th century was dominated by low-cut pumps which often had ribbons to tie around the ankle. These pumps were so flexible that the left and right feet were interchangeable. There were also low boots for daytime wear with side or front laces. The latter adopted technical innovations like metal eyelets in 1823 and elasticated gussets in 1827.

THE BOOT by Félix ChantepieOriginal Source: INPI Archives

In 1830, there was a small revival of heeled shoes where the arch of the foot was supported by a shank. However, heels only really came back into fashion around 1850.

Le godillot by Alexis GODILLOT. Brevet d'invention déposé le 01.02.1862 pour l'imperméabilité du dessous de la chaussure par une application de la gutta-percha (1BB52853).Original Source: archives INPI

In 1862, Alexis Godillot had the idea of distinguishing between the right and left foot when it came to shoes. This principle became widespread around 1870 and waisted heels appeared. These remained on the scene for almost half a century and reached their peak around 1890.

The Handbag by CORDIER frères et compagnieOriginal Source: INPI Archives


In the 19th century, women adorned themselves with a range of accessories. Socialites were never seen leaving the house without a hat, gloves, and purse! The latter were based on old money bags or pouches that were previously hidden under a woman's dress. However, they were now on show and carried by hand.

Le manchon pochetteOriginal Source: Archives INPI

This meant women could now carry essential items with them like handkerchiefs, coin purses, keys, and beauty accessories.

THE BRACELET GLOVE by William Léon HammondFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

Dresses with short puffed sleeves enabled women to wear long gloves. These were simple and worn all day, often enhanced with a bracelet.

The decorated comb by Antoine Joseph Morize and Louis Jean Baptiste VatardOriginal Source: INPI Archives


All types of jewelry were seen in the 19th century, but women especially enjoyed wearing matching sets. Full sets comprised around five or more matching pieces of jewelry, while half-sets included just a brooch and pair of earrings.

THE PASSEMENTERIE BRACELET by Félix François Dafrique.Original Source: INPI Archives

These pieces followed clothing fashions.

Lalique inventeur by René Jules LALIQUE. Brevet d'invention déposé le 22.07.1889 pour un genre de bijoux à fond de tulle, dentelle ou toile métalliques, tels que peignes, colliers, bracelets, papillons, broches, etc. (1BB199725).Original Source: archives INPI

Among the main jewelry makers such as Jacta, Cartier, and Boucheron, Lalique is recognized as one of the most important French Art Nouveau jewelry designers.

Credits: Story

Conception et réalisation : service Archives, INPI

Credits: All media
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