The fashion world prides itself with always being innovative, ahead of the curve and overall with one foot in the future. In the end, this is only normal, given that fashion enthusiasts from all over the world who are always up-to-date with the latest fashion shows from Paris, New York and Milan are the first ones to see ahead in the next season. Sartorially speaking, at least.
In these conditions, the fashion world is in a way the field that is credited for many “firsts”, culturally speaking.
And because the fashion world has always had such a big impact on culture, it is important to know a series of fashion firsts. Here is a list of some of the most fascinating fashion firsts:
The first fashion shows
The first modern fashion show in the USA was organized by the editor of the American Vogue, Edna Woolman Chase and took place in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York. The event, which was held on November 4, 1914 had as a purpose to showcase American fashions, as imports from the Parisian couture houses had been suspended during the war. Later, Mrs. Chase admitted that she also had an ulterior motive for organizing the show, which was that, given the lack of French dresses, she had nothing to place in the pages of Vogue.
The first houses that showcased their designs were, among others, O’Hara, Tappy, Bergdorf-Goodman, Gunther, Maison Jacqueline and others.
Even though this was the first fashion show as we know them, this was not the very first fashion show. The very first display of fashion had taken place in London in 1899, but Mrs. Chase’s show was the first show ever to feature live models.
The first fashion photograph
Photographer Edward Steichen took a historical photograph of a gown designed by couturier Paul Poiret, that was featured on the April 1911 cover of the Art et Décoration magazine, which was a French publication that published a series of photos consisting of Poiret’s designs. It is interesting to note that the first fashion photograph was featured on a magazine focusing on arts and not on fashion, which adds an argument to the “is fashion art?” debate.
The first briefs
The first briefs were introduced in 1935 in Wisconsin, USA by the Cooper Underwear Company of Kenosha. Even though they were created in Wisconsin, they first went on sale at Marshall Field’s in Chicago in January 1935. When the briefs came to the UK in 1938, the manufactures of these underwear advised left-handed men to wear them inside out.
The first t-shirts
In 1942, the US Navy created a knitted cotton shirt with a round neck and short sleeves that was called a T-Type. The garment was created to absorb perspiration, but soon enough it was very much appreciated for its aesthetic appeal. After the war, the t-shirt started to gain more and more popularity among youngsters. Marlon Brando was one of the first men to wear a t-shirt as a style statement and not as a piece of underwear, as it was seen back then. After the outrage around Brando’s statement cooled off, teens, both girls and boys, started to sport t-shirt with jeans, which became the first unisex leisure-wear uniform.
The first zipper
The zipper is something we all know and use, and, even though it seems to have been around for a very long time, the zipper did not appear until 1913, when it was patented by a Swedish engineer from Hoboken, New Jersey, USA, by the name of Gideon Sundback. Previous to Sundback’s invention, there had been several attempts to create slide fasteners, but none of them had worked. At first, the zipper did not have a commercial success, but it was used by the army and the navy, which used to for its uniforms and to fasten other things. Later, the zipper started to be used for shoes, and it was the B. F. Goodrich Company, which produced shoes, that coined the term “zipper”. Even so, the zipper was not accepted by high-end fashion houses, which treated it with an attitude, until Elsa Schiaparelli started to put them on dresses at her fashion house in Paris, in 1931. In the world of menswear, zippers became popular only after 1935, when they started replacing the fly buttons which were used on pants.
The first women’s one-piece bathing suit
Australian swimmer Anette Kellerman was the first woman to wear a one-piece bathing suit. When she appeared in her one-piece bathing suit instead of the then-accepted pantaloons, she caused public outrage. In 1907, she was even arrested for indecency. Today, Anette Kellerman is seen not only as an important swimmer, being one of the first women to attempt to swim the English Channel and achieving other important swimming accolades, but a pioneer of the modern women’s liberation and gender equality movement.
The first sportswoman to wear trousers
You might have never thought of this, but, until the XXth century, women who were brave enough to take part in sporting activities were required to wear skirts. Eleanor Sears was the first woman who decided to wear pants when she engaged in physical activities. In 1909, she went to the polo ground at the Burlingame Country Club, wearing trousers with her jacket and asked to be allowed to join a match. The outrage was so strong, that she was immediately ordered off the field. After the beginning of the First World War, attitudes towards women’s wear started to relax, but not because of activism, as much as due to the fact that women were engaging more and more in physical labor and needed the appropriate clothes for the job.
In 1919, a lady from Leeds, whose name was Elaine Burton appeared in a pair of shorts at a track-and-field event. She was the first woman to be allowed to compete in a sporting event wearing something that resembled the male uniforms.
The first miniskirt
The miniskirt was introduced in 1964 by the British Vogue. Even though the hemline had risen over the knee during the flappers era in 1926, it never went above this length until Paris couturier André Courrèges shortened it, and made it 4 inches / 10,16 centimeters above the knee. Three years later, British designer Mary Quant took it even higher, and the rest is history.
The first fake furs
The first fake furs, made from acrylic and polyester were introduced in the 1960s. These furs became rapidly a good alternative to real furs, not only from an animal rights advocacy point of view, but from an economic standpoint as well, as they were much cheaper and therefore anyone could afford looking great without having to spend too much.
The first air-cushioned sneakers
The concept of the Nike Tailwind was developed by aerospace engineer Frank Rudy, who introduced the first air-cushioned sneakers in 1979, after studying the pressurized gasbags that enabled lunar modules to make safe landings.
The first long-lasting perfume
The Shiseido Eau de Cologne was launched in May 1993 in Japan. The perfume contained hydroxy-propyl-cyclodexrin that inhibited its evaporation, therefore making the scent remain strong and clear for up to nine hours, compared to a conventional eau de cologne that loses its fragrance in one or two hours.
As you can see, the fashion has offered the world many things that have had not only a sartorial impact, but also a cultural and a sociological meaning. The democratization of clothes walked hand in hand with the democratization of society, the masculinized women’s clothes and the feminized men’s clothes helped the gender equality movement and the growing variety of clothes allowed people to express their personalities with more nuance, therefore contributing to the complexity of thought we are developing today.
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S. Which one of these achievements do you think is very important or has a great importance for you? Why? Share your feedback, questions or thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook or Twitter!