Sunday, August 3, 2014

Let's Talk About: Textiles and Fashion History

The history of fashion and textiles are interdependent. At at any given moment in time, apparel and fabrics available are tied to many factors such as: the economy, technical developments, design trends, labor issues and government policies. Having a good understanding of the history of textiles, from weaving methods to innovations, will give the fashion designer or vintage collector a better understanding of the relationship between fabric the the apparel worn at any time in history.

It may seem logical that the silhouette of a fashion trend is created through the selection of a specific textile weight, weave or knit, and fiber, but what is less known is that the availability of the essential fabric is equally important for a fad or trend to become widespread.

The study of twentieth century fashion often gives textile history and development only a brief glance. When dating a garment, knowledge of fibers and weaves is an important tool towards 'guessing' the decade or date of that fashion. All too often vintage collectors or sellers will state a garment's date in error due to the fact that the fiber or weave was not available as a fashion fabric during that era.

This can go even further: the dates for modern synthetic fibers are listed, but those dates give the patent or invention date, not the era when the mills were actually able to re-tool and create that fiber into fabric. Often the practical use of a fiber comes long after its invention. Wars, economic hardship, import duties and embargoes, and labor issues also affect the use of a specific textile as a fashion fabric.

To help unravel the history of modern textiles, has posted a terrific resource by Yancy S. Gilkerson on the story of textile manufacturing and development from 1887 through 1960. This is written in seven extensive chapters available online through their website. Current events, labor and manufacturing issues are included along with fashion industry influences. This story connects the apparel industry to textile manufacturing in a meaningful way, and is something everyone who works or plays with fashion history, costume or fashion design and wants to know more about it should put on their reading list.

HISTORY of TEXTILES from Textile chapter links

1887 - 1900: Textile Industry Meets the Demand of a Booming US Population

1900 - 1910: Mills Prolifereate and Profits Grow Until 1908 Panic

1910 - 1920: New Technology, Unions and World War I Leave a Mark on Textiles

1920 - 1930: The Roaring Twenties, Recession, Boom and Depression

1930 - 1940: The Country and the Industry Pull-out of the Depression

1940 - 1950: War Effort Brings Maximum Production and Post War Boom

1950 - 1960: The Quiet 50's: Most Revolutionary Decade

The title illustration shows examples of 20th century dress silhouettes that were dependent upon the type of textile available and popular during its era. From top left: Black 'shimmy dress' c. late 1980's or early 1990's (textile: spandex mesh), Calico print dress, c. late 1930's (textile: rayon), Tropical print sheath dress, c. late 1950's or early 1960's (textile: sateen weave cotton), black dress, c. early 1950's (textile: rayon chiffon), lavender dress, c. early 1980's (textile: polyester jersey knit), brown dress, c. 1970 (textile: polyester double knit)

This original article on fashion is part 10 of an education series on Fashion Design called "Let's Talk About:" that is original to Pintucks.

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Lizzie said...

What a great resource! Thanks so much for posting this, Jen.

Lynn said...

What wonderful information. I'm glad to see you back blogging--I learn so much!

Jen O said...

Yes, that site has lots of little goodies--for true textile nerds, that is!

Blogging: I don't know how those of you who post regular blog entries do it. The research, the writing, it all takes up so much time--which seems to be in short supply around here!

Jessica said...

This is great, I'll have to read through that series when I have a little extra time on my hands.
Textiles are surprisingly fascinating, just because they say so much about the garment. I was an English major in college, and as a senior I took a class on meta textual information - basically, how things like background information about the author, general historical conditions, and even things like book binding and typography change how we read books. Textiles are kind of like that - knowing that a dress was made from parachute silk, for example, tells us so much about what was going on in the world when it was made. One of my dresses has a tag that says "Sanforized" in bold letters, because it really was a big deal that you could buy a cotton dress and know that it wasn't going shrink in the wash. It's really fascinating what you can learn for something as small as fabric.