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Past Influences on Present Fashion


Key Skills Essay

How does the past influence present fashion?

By Lauren Speakman.

From 1939-1945, Britain was going through a tough era; at the time of WWII fashion was at a standstill. The war began when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, and so Britain and France declared war with Germany after Adolf Hitler refused to give up the invasion of Poland, but 61 countries were involved in the war.[2]

Throughout the war there was severe rationing of fabrics as well as food and everyday essentials. Women had to find a way of keeping up with the new trends and they still wanted to feel good about themselves. The government introduced the ‘Utility Clothing Scheme’ in 1941, also known under the label “CC41”. The state launched a campaign, called “Make Do and Mend” encouraging people to take their old clothes and make them into something new, or if there was a tear in a garment, you would simply mend it, by sewing patches onto the fabric. This gave women the feeling of having something new. Also, swap shops were held, where you would take your old clothes to a swap shop, then you would swap them for something from another’s wardrobe.


The war ended when Hitler surrendered, and Winston Churchill had won victory for Britain. After the end of the war, rationing continued and it took years for Britain to recover. In April 1947, Vogue witnessed the most extreme shift in fashion since 1910. Fashion was coming back to life again and new designers were emerging.

 With his new collection, up and coming designer Christian Dior had become the new name in Paris. Dior introduced a revolutionary ‘New Look, where wide-waistbands and boned bodices were just a few details of his work.

Christian Dior was born in 1905 in Granville, Normandy. He moved to Paris in 1910, and knew he belonged in the arts. In 1928 his father gave him some money to open an art gallery. He made a living by selling fashion sketches to haute couture houses and he was eventually offered an assistant job to the couturier,

Dior used his fabric lavishly in his skirts, easily consuming fifteen yards of material in a day dress and twenty-five yards in a short taffeta evening dress. This lavish collection was one that caused moral outrage due to the excessive use of fabric in a time of continued rationing. This unique collection also included full skirts, narrow shoulders and wide hats. Dior’s corset created the perfect curvaceous figure and he had ingeniously designed a piece of clothing that portrayed the beautiful feminine silhouette that made women adore Dior’s dresses.

After the Second World War, Dior put forward his theory that the public and women were ready for a new style after being starved of glamour during the ‘austerity years’. His theory followed on and the house of Dior was officially opened.  Dior showed off his new, exiting, unique looks in his first Dior Couture show on 12th February 1947. Dior is now a global brand across a wide range of products including men’s wear and woman’s wear, bags, belts, perfumes, make-up and much more. Dior campaigns continue to grace the pages of magazines and perfume adverts are still on TV.

John Galliano for Christian Dior’s Autumn/Winter 2009 Couture collection clealry portrayed his inspiration taken from 40’s Hollywood glamour and Monsieur Dior’s ‘New Look’ silhouettes. Galliano said “I want to focus on the established codes of Dior: the bar jackets, the Panther, The Lily of the Valley”.






 Christian Dior Couture A/W 2009         Christian Dior Couture A/W 2009



Model: Sigrid Agren (ELITE)              Model: Caroline Trentini (WOMAN)


Photo: Monica Feudi/Gorunway.com      Photo: Monica Feudi/Gorunway.com     



The collection included form-fitting and figure-hugging dresses with lace slips showing at the hem, which gave the dresses a 40’s feel. Fairytale creations made of layers and layers of silk-edged cream chiffon, with embroidered pink brocade and a bustier. But the main focus was on the models wearing underwear on the outside of their 1940’s inspired garments; the underwear was actually built in as Galliano revealed back stage. A bold palette of eye-catching fuchsia, yellow, scarlet, tango orange and purple was used against a toned down nude or black silk. The collection had also had a ‘My Fair Lady’ feel with gigantic hats with big feathers, satin gloves and matching shoes. The sculptured jackets and the dresses flattered the models feminine silhouette and this reminded us of Dior’s first ever couture collection in 1947.


I think John Galliano acknowledged the idea of taking 1940’s past fashion, making it more contemporary, making his Dior Couture collection admirable and interesting. I believe that the era of the 1940’s will continue to inspire many designers for their future collections as designers are sometimes influenced by what legendary designers have created in the past. Christian Dior dominated the fashion world and he introduced something so unique and influential to the fashion world, that his work will always inspire designers. Chloe’s autumn/winter 2009 collection carried a very 40’s ‘Land Girl’ theme to it, and it was an amazing collection as it represented how a women’s simple uniform for working during the war can be updated and ‘re-launched’ in the present fashion world. Prada’s Autumn/Winter 2009 collection, also portrayed

the same theme, making it high fashion and glamorous.[1] Reinterpreting the past doesn’t stop at the catwalk. Topshop had a collection for Autumn/Winter 2009 called ‘Highland Girls’ and that contained many 40’s war-time land girl styles.


Chloe A/W 2009 ad campaign

Model: Kasia Struss

Photographer: Mikael Jansson


It is important for past styles and fashion history to be explored in fashion today as they are great sources of inspiration, and it is also important to remember how fashion has changed so quickly from era to era. Many high street stores such as Zara to high Fashion designers such as Dolce and Gabbana are still continuing to translate past fashions through their modern collections and with the growing popularity of vintage in a new era of ‘austerity’ in the 21st century, will continue to do so.  





[1] [Dolly Jones (2009) Prada Ready-To-Wear [online]. Vogue. Available from: [31st January 2009]


[1] Rothstein, Natalie. 1984,  Four Hundred Years of Fashion. First Edition. London: V & A.


[2] [World War Two [online]. Kent, Woodlands Junior School. Available from [31st January 2010]


[3] [Design Museum. CHRISTIAN DIOR Fashion Designer (1905-1957). Design Museum. Available from: [12th December 2009]


[4] [Dolly Jones (2009) Christian Dior [online]. Vogue. Available from: [1st December 2009]



[1] [Dolly Jones (2009) Prada Ready-To-Wear [online]. Vogue. Available from: [31st January 2009]


[1] [Design Museum. CHRISTIAN DIOR Fashion Designer (1905-1957). Design Museum. Available from: [12th December 2009]


[1] [Dolly Jones (2009) Christian Dior [online]. Vogue. Available from: [1st December 2009]


































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