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A Brief History of Fashion Design

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18 July 2023

A Brief History of Fashion Design

Creating clothing is one of the oldest crafts humans have been adapting and perfecting for hundreds of thousands of years (approximately 170,000!). What began as a necessity to protect us from harsh weather conditions and potential environmental threats evolved to symbolise status and would eventually become intertwined with our sense of self.

We began to experiment with the natural materials we found all around us, such as animal pelts or vegetation to indicate who a person was within a society; a warrior, a healer, a priest. Over many years our increased clothes manufacturing knowledge coupled with the advancement of technologies such as cotton and wool mills, allowed humans to become more creative with garment design, pushing the boundaries of what we could create with simple fabrics. 

Since the industrial revolution, fashion has evolved even further to become one of the most powerful and influential industries on the planet, with the appearance of large factories and intricate machinery allowing for large-scale production and a sophisticated supply chain system. Despite this, the actual design process has remained largely unchanged until the 21st century. Since the craft of clothing production was conceived up until the 1970s when larger corporations began using computers, hand-drawn methods such as sketching or tracing were the only way fashion designers could visualise what their finished garment would look like. Join us here at Bodywear Lab as we give you a brief history of fashion design.

SKETCHES 

As previously mentioned, clothes were invented at first for necessity, then to establish societal status and eventually as a form of self-expression. Fashion can tell historians a great deal about a certain moment in time such as certain cultural anxieties or beliefs. The first indication of fashion being created for more than simply fundamental protection can be traced back to the Ancient Roman and Egyptian civilizations, with both using clothes to differentiate between the upper and lower classes. Aristocrats during the Roman Empire wore garments made from rare and expensive fabrics which the poor couldn’t afford, whilst Egyptian upper classes dyed their linen clothes vivid colours made from scarce materials and time-consuming methods to display their wealth. This notion of fashion and design being a concern only to the wealthy continued throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods with trends largely being dictated by the various royal families across Europe and their courts. This changed in 1790 with the invention of the sewing machine which allowed for much faster and less laborious clothes manufacturing. 

Many fashion historians point to Charles Frederick Worth (1826-95) as the first fashion designer as we know them today, who was born in Britain but resided in Paris which was the hot spot for fashion at the time. He gave his customers advice on what specific cuts, styles and fabric choices would be most flattering for their differing body types and ladies of the court began to flock to him, desperate to be seen in his designs. This success allowed him to found his own fashion house, replacing the unknown seamstresses and tailors previously used by the upper classes who were at the mercy of their masters and mistresses to create whatever garments they envisioned. Worth and the other designers who followed in his footsteps were now able to dictate fashion trends and developed their businesses to employ artists that could use their creative skills to create patterns for sewing beautiful and unique garments. These sketches  were then presented to clients as a prototype for the finished product, with customers sometimes able to adjust the design to their liking. This was a big departure from the previous process as clients would only see their garment once it was complete. From this point on, fashion design was able to be much more creative, with clients and designers sketching imaginative and intricate designs tailored to their specific tastes. Looking for support with creating bespoke bodywear designs for your brand? Check out our product design services here

CADs

At the beginning of the 20th century came huge technological advances as well as the onset of war. Governments of countries involved in World War I desired to produce military uniforms for their conscripted soldiers quickly and efficiently, and this advance eventually became the catalyst for mass production within the fashion industry. With this, manufacturers were able to offer customers a wide choice of clothing styles, colours and cuts at a much lower cost, allowing markets with a lower income to be able to afford to buy more clothes than ever before, especially with the introduction of the ready-to-wear category. By mid-century, digital technologies were advancing incredibly swiftly, and the invention of Computer-Aided Design (CADs) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAMs) changed the fashion design industry forever. 

CAD systems were originally created to design precision machines such as laser cutters and milling contraptions, however, by the 1970s the fashion industry began to absorb the technology as it proved extremely beneficial for creating fashion sketches, making patterns, and flat drawings as well as providing a more efficient tool for weaving decisions, sizing and embroidery placement. CADs allowed designers to quickly edit sketches, permitting them to play more with colour choices, patterns and shapes as well as offer an enhanced level of detailing to be included in initial designs. This meant that there was less wastage as the design moved along the production line, as manufacturers had clearer and more precise patterns to follow such as specific seams to use. Today, Computer-Aided Design is universal and commonplace within the fashion industry, with fashion students using this technology during their studies. 

3D DESIGN

3D assets, including the metaverse, AI, AU and 3D design, is an extremely new technology to the fashion industry, however, we are already witnessing the waves it’s creating. It can be used in a multitude of exciting ways to enhance the consumer and business experience with virtual catwalks, virtual fitting rooms, NFTs, and even 3D influencer avatars for marketing and PR purposes, however, 3D product visualisation is arguably the most game-changing feature for the industry that we’ve seen so far. By creating 3D renderings instead of only CADs or sketches, designers have even more freedom to experiment with colours, patterns and cuts of the garment with a much clearer idea of how the final product will look. The technology is so advanced that designers can even put their 3D designs onto 3D models aka avatars to get a better understanding of how the clothes will look on a range of different body types as well as how the product will look whilst in motion before any production has taken place.

Not only does this speed up the design and production process as designers will need less time to fine-tune their designs, but it is also great for brands looking to experiment with their current collections or expand into new product categories. This is because 3D design offers not only the designers themselves an opportunity to visualise their final product, but investors, buyers and consumers too. Many sustainability-led brands are exploring 3D design technology as it reduces wastage and minimises stockpiling; some businesses are taking it even further by presenting buyers and consumers with digital look-books for pre-orders to reduce mass production and diminish their carbon footprint. 3D product design is a great tool for any new or established brand hoping to experiment with a new product category as you can test market interest without any production taking place which saves on costs and our planet. If you want to learn more about the exciting world of 3D product design, check out our full 3D service offering here.

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What is Brands of Tomorrow?

Brands of Tomorrow is a curated program, designed to support the growth of an exclusive group of creative entrepreneurs embarking on the journey to develop their businesses in the bodywear sector.

Interested? Find out more on our sister company,
London Contour Experts website.

What is Brands of Tomorrow

Brands of Tomorrow is a curated program, designed to support the growth of an exclusive group of creative entrepreneurs embarking on the journey to develop their businesses in the bodywear sector.

Interested? Find out more on our sister company,
London Contour Experts website.