The history of women fashion 1: 12th-19th century

The first thing we all do when we get up in the morning is deciding what to wear today. Whether we go to a business meeting or to the market, we pick out styling according to the impression we aim to achieve. Today, thousands and thousands of fashion lovers gather in February and September every year in order to attend the New York Fashion Week. It’s safe to say that fashion has a major impact on our lives. Fashion as we know it today has developed through the 20th century. The modern industry started forming in the 19th century with the creations of Charles Frederick Worth, who is the first designer who put a label on his creations.

But the very beginnings of fashion’s history originate from the 12th century, from the periods called High Middle Ages and Little Renaissance. The elegant innovation was based on wearing black laced gowns which were the peak of High Medieval fashion, for esthetics and for comfort. Women in these times usually covered their hair with a wimple.

A new innovation develops in the 14th century, when women started wearing sleek, narrow dresses that emphasized the human structure, instead of simple, loose dresses that were worn in the 12th/13th century. Wide necklines, fitted sleeves, the structure of the dress following the form of the body and elegance were the main characteristics of the fashion during this period.


In the 15th century, the gown was worn over a kirtle or an undergown. While in previous periods the gowns were made long-waisted, now they’re sewed in a high-waist style, bound with a belt over the belly. The V-neck is now in, which exposes the decorated undergown.

The 17th century fashion was in a great deal influenced by Queen Elizabeth I, after which the dresses were made in a so-called Elizabethan style. High necklines were very popular, as well as ruffs and deep cuffs. Around 1640 a longer figure became more desirable, so the dresses were sewed with the waist in a normal height at the back and a low point at the front.

The middle of 19th century was characterized by narrow shoulders and corsets worn under the skirt. Women start wearing a crinoline in order to volume up the size of the gown. Soon they become flatter and emphasized on the back. A bustle replaces the crinoline to puff the gown from behind. At the end of the century, the robes become again simpler. Crinoline nor bustle are no longer in use, whilst corsets still are, but in a prolonged shaped, providing the skirt with a trumpet form.

Fashion is a way of representing ourselves in the world. By choosing our clothes, makeup, haircut or accessorize we opt for a style that defines us and differs us from the others. In that way, we learn to express our personalities, define our tastes and to take our role in the society. By selecting our own personal style, we also learn to accept those that are different from ours.


Nessie L.B.



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