In the annals of fashion history, France’s dominance in haute couture during the late 19th century set the stage for an era of sartorial innovation and opulence. As the 20th century dawned, technology and shifting societal norms began to reshape the landscape of Western fashion. The years between 1910 and 1920, a decade characterized by the emergence of new inventions, the rise of the automobile, and the flourishing of leisure activities like sports, dance, and tea parties, witnessed a fascinating evolution in French fashion.
This transformative period in the world of fashion was fueled by Parisian fashion houses that had already etched their names in the industry’s annals. Names like Jacques Doucet, Rouff, Jeanne Paquin, the Callot Soeurs, Paul Poiret, Louise Chéruit, Madeleine Vionnet, and Jean Patou became synonymous with innovation, luxury, and impeccable taste.
The fashion of the 1910s retained echoes of the previous decade. With puffy chests, small waists, and long flowing dresses, it exuded an aura of petite romanticism. A palette of bright and dove-like colors, including shades of purple, pink, and peach, dominated the fashion landscape. Intricate lacework, delicate details, and pristine whites defined the era, encapsulating a sense of purity and innocence.
The year 1910 witnessed a transformative moment when the Ballets Russes performed “Scheherazade” in Paris, sparking a fashion frenzy for oriental styles and giving birth to asymmetrical designs that would captivate the fashion world.
Preferred fabrics ranged from satin and taffeta to chiffon and lightweight silks, with cotton making an appearance during the summer months. Hemlines began their gradual ascent, and the female silhouette evolved, becoming straighter and flatter.
The Art Deco movement, with its bold geometric forms and lavish ornamentation, started to influence couturiers’ designs. It was a time when simple felt hats, turbans, and billowing clouds of tulle replaced the ornate headgear of the previous decade.
This period also marked the emergence of the first real fashion shows, organized by none other than Jeanne Paquin, a pioneering female couturier who expanded her influence with branches in London, Buenos Aires, and Madrid.
Two luminaries dominated the fashion scene during this era: Jacques Doucet and Mariano Fortuny. Jacques Doucet was celebrated for his mastery of pastel colors and his gossamer-like dresses that evoked the shimmering hues of Impressionist paintings. His creations struck a harmonious balance between sensuality and sophistication, setting a standard that few could match.
The extravagance of Parisian couturiers manifested in various forms, but the tunic over a long underskirt silhouette reigned supreme throughout the decade. Initially, waistlines sat high, just below the bust, reminiscent of the Empire and Directoire styles of the early 19th century. “Lampshade” tunics, full and hip-length, graced narrow draped skirts, but by 1914, skirts widened at the hips and tapered dramatically toward the ankles, introducing the notorious “hobble skirt” that limited long strides.
As the decade unfolded, waistlines softened and descended to a more natural position, remaining there through the war years. Tunics grew longer, and underskirts fuller and shorter, eventually culminating in calf-length dresses by 1916.
Today, we take you on a visual journey back in time. We invite you to explore what could very well be some of the world’s earliest street style photographs, capturing the essence of fashion at events like the Longchamp Racecourse Grand Prix, nestled on the scenic banks of the Seine River. These snapshots in time not only chronicle the evolution of French fashion but also offer a window into an era when elegance and innovation danced hand in hand on the streets of Paris.