Buff coat Buff coat (1630-1645)York Castle Museum
A brief look at how trends evolved around the continent and influenced each other
European countries have long since been a source of sartorial inspiration to each other. As one of the most visual aspects of self-expression, clothing provides a fascinating insight into how taste and style has connected cultures across the centuries. We take a look at how fashion has made an impact across the continent and how trends spread from city to city through differing fabrics, color and cuts.
Fabrics: Tricks of the trade
Buff coat (From the collection of York Castle Museum)
An increase in trade from country to country began to show previously isolated communities the variety of materials on offer and led budding fashionistas to desire other, more exotic textiles for their wardrobe. European cities such as Flanders were able to provide high-quality wool; Italy, trading with the Ottoman Empire, offered expensive materials like silk and damask; and northern European countries such as Scandinavia were able to provide luxurious furs, such as sable, ermine and Nordic squirrel. Likewise, important centers of trade such as Brussels, Cologne, Antwerp, Florence, Venice and Paris allowed the transfer of dyes, such as indigo, saffron, and scarlet. Fashion began to get interesting.
Colors and the original influencers
Louis XIV, king of France (1702) by Hyacinthe RigaudPalace of Versailles
Louis XIV, king of France (1638-1715), by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1702 (From the collection of Palace of Versailles)
Portrait of Philip II (c.1549-1550) by Anthonis MorMuseo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao
Portrait of Philip II, Antonis Mor, c.1549-1550 (From the collection of Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao)
The extravagant style of the European courts began to trickle down to lower classes as supply of materials and dyes increased, and fashions began to spread. Cities began to implement laws, known as sumptuary laws, to try and control how people dressed: regulations were set in Germany in the late medieval period, but also appeared in Italy in 1157, France in 1180, Spain in 1234 and England in 1363.
Instead of reducing the extravagance of dress pervading the lower social classes (so that the peasants weren't dressing the same way as the nobles) they accidentally encouraged fashion innovation by inadvertently circulating descriptions of different types of dress. Thus courtly dress in France or Spain, would influence the nobles of somewhere like England, then the trends would gradually reach to the other classes in the country, and likewise all across Europe.
Mantua Mantua (1740/1745) by Leconte (Madame)The Victoria and Albert Museum
Mantua (1), by Leconte (Madame) (From the collection of The Victoria and Albert Museum)
Formal ensemble Formal ensemble (1790/1800) by UnknownThe Victoria and Albert Museum
Formal ensemble (France, 1990/1800) (From the collection of The Victoria and Albert Museum)
As time passed, with the advent of printing, it became easier to circulate images of what people were wearing, whether through portraits or costume books. What would start as a new cut in one country, would spread to another, where it would then be recreated with different materials or different colors, allowing fashions to evolve. Trends began to standardize and influence at the same time.
With every new invention, no matter how small, fashion improved: buttons made for creative fastenings, prescription eye glasses allowed for seeing delicate craft work better, right up to the industrial revolution when fabric could be mass produced. Throughout all this, fashions were shared and innovated, and similar styles can be seen across the different cities of Europe adapted with different cultural twists.
Take a look at some examples of fashion evolution across Europe:
Dress with train: France circa 1810 and Spain circa 1820
Court train (circa 1810) by UnknownCentraal Museum
Court train, Unknown, circa 1810 (From the collection of Centraal Museum)
Court Dress (c.1820)The Kyoto Costume Institute
Court Dress, c.1820 (From the collection of The Kyoto Costume Institute)
Traditional Costume: Northern Greece early 1900s and Bulgaria early 1900s
Sarakatsani costume from Alexandroupolis, northern Greece (early 1900s)British Museum
Sarakatsani costume from Alexandroupolis, northern Greece, early 1900s (From the collection of British Museum)
Bulgarian costume, bridal headdress (kaitsa) (early 1900s)British Museum
Bulgarian costume, bridal headdress (kaitsa)early 1900s
Man's suit: Sweden 1778/1785 and England 1750-60s
National costume, for men (1778/1785) by UnknownNordiska Museet
National costume, for men, Unknown, 1778/1785 (From the collection of Nordiska Museet)
Man's Suit (coat, waistcoat, and breeches) (1750-60s)The Kyoto Costume Institute
Man's Suit (coat, waistcoat, and breeches),1750-60s (From the collection of The Kyoto Costume Institute)
Corset: Netherlands 1770/1790 and Italy 1770/1779
Corset [Netherlands] (1770/1790)MoMu - Fashion Museum Antwerp
Corset [Netherlands], 1770/1790 (From the collection of MoMu - Fashion Museum Antwerp)
Corset Corset (1770/1779)The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Corset (From the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)