10 innovations that changed fashion forever

Where would women be without a bra? Imagine getting undressed without zips? A life without jeans? Fashion trends come and go, but our lives have been transformed by the invention of many things. Here are 10 innovations that have changed our lives forever

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1: THE BRA

BUST supporters were worn as early as the 1880s, but it wasn’t until the empire-line silhouette of the 1910s that they began to make real fashion sense.

Several patents were put forward during 1890 and 1917. The best-known was American Mary Phelps Jacob’s 1914 design of two handkerchiefs held together by strips of ribbon. Her brassiere looked pretty, but was by no means supportive.

By the 1920s most women had adopted a bandeau-style bra that flattened the breasts for the desired flapper dresses of the day.

But it was the Hollywood starlets of the 1950s – think Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield – who embraced the exaggerated shape and increased support in bra design at the time, inspiring a generation of women to adopt the “sweater girl” look.

The 1960s was a time of protest and fashions allowed women to go braless – some even burned their bras. But by the 1990s full support was back, and the Wonderbra – thanks to supermodel Eva Herzigova – became a best-seller.

Today lingerie is big business. Realising the humble garment is so much more than a necessity, many lingerie companies – in particular, Victoria’s Secret, La Perla, Aubade and Agent Provocateur, which was co-founded by Vivienne Westwood’s son Joseph Corre in 1994 – have helped put sex back into smalls. Not to mention the many designers who now include lingerie as part of their brand strategy.

The bust supporter has come a long way.

 

2: THE BIKINI

The bikini was first unveiled by French engineer Louis Reard on July 5, 1946.

European women first began wearing two-piece bathing suits in the 1930s – generally a halter top and high-waist, wide-leg shorts. In the US, the modest two-piece made its appearance during WWII, when wartime rationing of fabric saw the removal of the skirt panel and other superfluous material.

But at the end of the war, Europeans celebrated and designers came up with fashions to match the liberated mood of the day.

Before long, young women in bikinis were causing a sensation on the beaches of Europe. In prudish America, the bikini was successfully resisted until the early 1960s, when a new emphasis on youthful liberation brought the swimsuit en masse to US beaches. Since then, the popularity of the bikini has continued to grow.

Today the bikini is a summer wardrobe staple.

 

3: TROUSERS

WALK down any street today and you will see more women wearing trousers than skirts or dresses. Yet trousers did not become even remotely acceptable for women until the 1920s.

While women who indulged in pursuits such as cycling and horse riding wore divided skirts or culottes for practical reasons, it was French actress Sarah Bernhardt who daringly first wore trousers on stage in the late 19th century.

In the late 1910s and early 1920s women wore trousers as beachwear and loungewear, but only the very outrageous dared to wear them on the street. In fact, in 1919, a woman in Puerto Rico was jailed for wearing trousers in public, what was then considered a crime, but the judge later dropped the charges against her.

Coco Chanel introduced elegant but relaxed leg white “yachting” pants, at first for herself and then for other women who admired her style. She explained: “I was at Deauville and I never liked to stay on the beach in my bathing costume. So I bought myself a pair of white sailor pants, and added a turban and ropes of jewels.”

But it were the feminists and several Hollywood stars of the time – Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich – who were often photographed wearing trousers. However, the trend of women wearing trousers universally didn’t really take off until the launch of Yves Saint Laurent’s female tux “Le Smoking” in 1966.

Despite our liberal times, it may come as a surprise to many that it was only in 1993 when women were finally allowed to wear trousers on the floor of the US senate.

What every woman needs is the perfect pair of trousers!

 

4: DENIM JEANS

THE twilled cotton fabric that we know as denim, originated in the French town of Nimes and owes its name to the location – d’Nimes, which became anglicised to “denim”.

The word “jeans” comes from the French phrase “bleu de Genes”  (“blue of Genoa”) in reference to the blue pants worn by Genoese Navy sailors in the 1500s.

But it wasn’t until the gold rush boom of the 1870s that denim really took off. Levi Strauss created a style of workman’s pants with rivets that was quickly adopted by Californian miners. Originally made from hemp used in canvas tents, Strauss eventually discovered the twilled cotton cloth that came from Nimes and denim jeans, as we know them, were born.

Worn mainly by workers, jeans became popular in American pop culture as a symbol of protest. The trend grew during the 1950s, courtesy of the movie stars of the day wearing them in movies. Think James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits and Marlon Brando in The Wild One and On The Waterfront.

French designer Andre Courreges introduced jeans for women in the 1960s. But by the 1970s jeans were truly established as a fashion trend. The ’80s brought with it designer jeans and denim found its way on to catwalks.

Today jeans are a staple of everybody’s wardrobe and each season brings new cuts, treatments and embellishment. They are, perhaps, the one garment that knows no boundaries.

 

5: THE MINI SKIRT

THE popularity of miniskirts peaked in swinging London of the 1960s. Before then, short skirts were only seen in sport and dance clothing, such as skirts worn by female tennis players, figure skaters, cheerleaders, and dancers.

The miniskirt – one of the defining fashions of the decade – is widely associated with UK fashion designer Mary Quant who “created” the miniskirt in 1964.

However, British fashion designer John Bates and Parisian Andres Courreges have also been linked to the garment. Regardless, skirts and dresses had been getting shorter since the 1950s — a development Quant considered practical and liberating, allowing women the ability to run for a bus.

But the style made front page news when Jean Shrimpton wore a short white shift dress to Derby Day in 1965, the first day of the annual Melbourne Cup Carnival in Australia, where it caused a sensation. But the ensuing controversy was as much to do with her not wearing a hat and gloves, and more importantly no pantyhose – essential accessories in such conservative society.

While hemlines rise and fall as quickly as you can say fashion trend, the debate will always continue to divide.

 

6: HOSIERY

THE world’s first knitting machine was invented by English Reverend William Lee in 1589. It was during this time a pair of knitted black silk stockings was presented to Queen Elizabeth I. So impressed was the queen, that she believed that the knitting machine was a national treasure and imposed the death penalty for anyone who attempted to take one out of England.

But it wasn’t until the 1930s that the circular knitting machine was invented. It produced the first seamless stockings by knitting tubes of fabrics to which separate foot and toe pieces were later attached.

One of the most significant advancements in hosiery was the advent of nylon in 1938. The first nylon stockings appeared in New York stores on May 15, 1940. More than 72,000 pairs of nylons were sold on that first day. Before this, most stockings were made of silk. As a consequence, the Japanese silk market collapsed almost overnight. In the first year, 64 million pairs of nylon stockings were sold and manufacturers could not keep up with demand.

However, once the US joined World War II all production of nylon went into the war effort and nylon stockings became very hard to obtain. (During this time women drew “seams” on the back of their legs so it appeared as if they were wearing stockings.

After the war, demand for nylon stockings soared. But the shorter hemlines of the 1960s made stockings with their necessary suspenders, garters and garter belts difficult to hide. As a result, fashion designers attached the stockings directly to panties and created the pantyhose (or tights).

While nylon is still widely used, most hosiery today is made with Lycra, which gives the garment elasticity, durability and a better fit. 

 

7: THE LITTLE BLACK DRESS

PRIOR to the 1920s black was often reserved for periods of mourning and considered indecent when worn for anything else. But because of the number of deaths during World War 1 and the Spanish flu epidemic, it became more common for women to appear in public wearing black.

Perhaps more than any other piece of clothing the little black dress will take you anywhere. But it was Coco Chanel who made it ubiquitous. She didn’t invent the concept, but the LBD dress was formally identified as the “shape of the future” when on October 1, 1926, US Vogue published a drawing of a long-sleeved, calf-length, simple black dress designed by Coco Chanel. Vogue called it “Chanel’s Ford”. Just like the Model T, the little black dress was simple and accessible for women of all social classes; a sort of uniform for all women of taste.

The LBD has continued to be popular, and is considered an essential to every woman’s wardrobe. Fashion observers also believe it is a “rule of fashion” that every woman should own a simple elegant black dress that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. And because it is meant to be a staple of every woman’s wardrobe, the style of the LBD ideally should be as simple as possible. A blank canvas of sorts.

 

8: THE SHOULDER PAD

SHOULDER pads originally became popular for women in the 1930s when fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli included them in her designs of 1931. The following year Joan Crawford wore them in the film Letty Lynton.

During the war years, women’s fashions were influenced by masculine styles and bulky shoulder pads. After the war, femininity returned and many dresses featured a softer, smaller shoulder pad. But they were really popular in business attire during the 1940s, 1980s, and late 2000s/2010s. 

The early 1980s saw a resurgence of 1940s styles: peplums, batwing sleeves and pencil skirts. The shoulder pad helped define the silhouette and was adopted by women seeking power and success in the corporate world. As the decade wore on, shoulder pads became the defining fashion statement of the era, driven especially by the wardrobes of those vixens and villains of iconic ’80s TV shows, Dynasty and Dallas. Why women in the ’80s thought looking like a linebacker would make them more attractive is still one of life’s great mysteries! The bigger the better!

Through the ’90s tastes changed and pads became smaller and more subtle. But by the 2009-2010, they had made their way back into the mainstream market. Like all things sartorial, their inclusion – and their size and shape – depends on the trend of the day.

However, despite it’s trend status, the real appeal of the shoulder pad is its ability to give the wearer the illusion of having broader and less sloping shoulders. They also help balance a pear-shaped figure (large bottom). And we love that!

 

9: THE ZIP

IT was a long way up for the humble zip.

The mechanical wonder passed through the hands of several inventors, but it was nearly 80 years after it’s first appearance, that it finally found its place in history.

Elia Howe, who invented the sewing machine, received a patent in 1851 for an Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure. Perhaps it was the success of his sewing machine, but Howe failed to market his clothing closure.

Forty-four years later, Whitcomb Judson marketed a Clasp Locker, a device similar to the 1851 Howe patent based on interlocking teeth. Initially it was called the “hookless fastener” and was later redesigned to become more reliable.

However, it wasn’t until 1913 that the modern zipper, designed by  Swedish-American Gideon Sundback, would take flight.

But the name “zip” came from the B.F. Goodrich Company, when in 1923 it decided to use Sundback’s fastener on rubber boots and renamed the device the zipper, a name that lasted.

Boots and tobacco pouches with a zippered closure were the two main uses of the zipper during its early years. But it took a further 20 more years to convince the fashion industry to use the closure on garments.

 

10: THE INTERNET

LOVE it or loathe it, online shopping is here to stay.

With the arrival of the internet in 1991, it wasn’t until 1995 that business-to-consumer sites starting popping up – namely Amazon.com, which was quickly followed by eBay.

While many ventures launched and failed, others that started on the kitchen table, are now financial powerhouses.

But online shopping is not without its problems. Given the inability to inspect merchandise before purchase, consumers are also at higher risk of fraud than face-to-face transactions. Not to mention the concerns with returning products that “just aren’t right”.

While many appear to have it right, others are slow on the uptake. In what is now a truly global and economy and many bricks and mortar stores are now finding it an absolute necessity to have a virtual companion to their brand. Online shopping is here to stay.

There are hundreds of great ideas and innovations that have changed our world today. 
Do you have any to share? Would love to hear from you. 
A version of this first appeared in The Sunday Telegraph (News Corp),
 on September 28, 2014 

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