The Philosophy Of Paul Poiret – Principles Of Correct Dress

Poiret_Studio

Paul Poiret was one of the most influential designers during the early 20th Century and he played a major role in shaping haute couture and the fashion industry as we know it today. Most notably, Poiret helped ensure the demise of the corset, and especially it’s most recent incarnation in the form of the s-bend corset, and introduced new designs that moved fashion away from highly structured silhouettes to more loose ones based on draping rather than tailoring. Also, Poiret was noted for the development of the hobble skirt and the “lampshade dress” as well as incorporating oriental elements in his designs. Here we see just one example of the “lampshade” dress style from 1912:

Poiret, Evening Dress, 1912; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.385&A-1976)

Poiret, Evening Dress, 1912; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.385&A-1976)

However, lost in all of Poiret’s achievements is consideration of his ideas, or “philosophy” were about dress itself. One charge that is often laid on haute couture and their designers is that wealth automatically equates to good or “correct” dress. To Poiret:

This art has little in common with money. The woman whose resources are limited has no more cause for being dowdily dressed than the woman who is rich has reason to believe that she is beautifully gowned. Except in so far as money can procure the services of a good dressmaker, of an artist who can judge his customer’s style and garb her accordingly, the wealthy woman stands no better chance of being correctly dressed than the woman who must turn every penny before spending it. [1]

While the above is almost a truism when it comes to fashion, at least today, it’s still revealing coming from the man who had crowned himself the “King of Fashion.” Poiret further expands on this theme, stating that dressing is:

…not an easy art to acquire. It demands a certain amount of intelligence, certain gifts, some of them among the rarest, perhaps—it requires a real appreciation of harmony, of colors, ingenious ideas, absolute tact, and, above all, a love of the beautiful and clear perception of values. It may be resumed in two words, good taste. [2]

So, what is “good taste” to Poiret?

Taste is by no means developed by riches; on the contrary, the increasing demands of luxury are killing the art of dressing. Luxury and good taste are in inverse proportion to each other. The one will kill the other as machinery is crowding out handwork. In fact, it has come so far that many persons confuse the two terms. Because a material is expensive they find it beautiful; because it is cheap they think it must be ugly. [3]

The above is as true today as it was back then and we see it in the fashion nearly every day. Naturally, “good taste” can be somewhat subjective, depending on time and place but it still gets to the idea that one cannot simply buy their way into good taste, or by extension, good fashion.

Here we see a sample of the fashion illustrations that Poiret commissioned by various avant garde artists such as Paul Iribe. Here we see a definite revival of the simple vertical lines of the empire dress style:

Paul Iribe, Les Robes de Paul Poiret, Plate I (1908)

Paul Iribe, Les Robes de Paul Poiret, Plate III (1908)

Poiret also notes that:

In order not to appear entirely at odds with her surroundings and the place where she lives, a woman is obliged to follow fashions to a certain extent. But let that be within certain bounds. What does it matter if tight skirts be the fashion if your figure demands a wide one? Is it not important to dress so as to bring out your good points rather than to reveal the bad? Can any idea of being fashionable make up for the fact of being ridiculous? [4]

And there it it- Poiret gets to the heart of the matter by pointing out that fashion is about emphasizing one’s good points rather than the bad, something that holds true today as it did then. The above has been only a small sample of the depth of Poiret’s fashion “philosophy” but it’s interesting to see that his ideas still hold true today in many ways and as such, they represent a distinct break with the 19th Century.

1. Principles of Correct Dress, Florence Hull Winterburn, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1914, p. 237.
2. Ibid., pp. 237-238
3. Ibid., p. 239
4. Ibid., pp. 240-241



Happening Today! It’s 1918!

Looking for an historical event to start off the New Year? Well, if you’re going to be in Southern California, we have just the thing- A tea dance to commemorate the end of the First World War! The dance will be held on February 1, 2020 from 1:30 to 5:30 at the War Memorial Building in South Pasadena. The War Memorial Building was built in 1923 and dedicated by Marshal Foch of France and it’s the perfect venue for this sort of event. There will be live music with a caller to help everyone through the dances. This definitely promises to be a lot of fun and it’s an era that we haven’t done much with so far…but that will change. 🙂  For more details, please click HERE.

Here’s a few pictures of the wonderful venue:

The Early Teens Walking Suit- A Brief Look

 

The walking suit represented a major step in the evolution of women’s wear during the late 19th and early 20 Centuries. Starting in the early 1890s, the walking suit was considered an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe and by the Teens, it occupied a prominent place in fashion. Style details, construction, and fabric varied depending on price point but the objective was always the same- a outfit that a woman could wear out in public that was practical yet stylish. In response to the growing popularity of walking suits, clothing manufacturers produced walking suits in a variety of fabrics, colors and styles. Walking suits became to widespread that even the major couturiers couldn’t ignore it.

Walking Suit 1910

Walking Suit, 1910

In response, couturiers began to offer an ever-expanding line of practical day wear of which the walking suit was a key element and each couturier put their own twist on the basic design as with this walking suit by Paquin:

Fb104684.jpg

Paquin, Walking Suit, 1912; National Gallery of Victoria (2015.670.a-b)[National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with funds donated by Mrs Krystyna Campbell-Pretty in memory of Mr Harold Campbell-Pretty, 2015 © Paquin]

The above example illustrates one jacket style was designed to give the effect of a robe or kimono; naturally, this effect tended to work better with a lighter fabric such as a linen.  Here’s another one from Maison Worth:

Walking Suit Worth c. 1913

Worth, Walking Suit, c. 1913; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.16.3a, b)

Jackets also followed more conventional styles such as with this one:

Paquin Walking Suit 1910 Front

Jeanne Paquin, Walking Suit, Spring/Summer 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.474a–d)

The walking suit below from Redfern features a more tailored jacket (which would come as no surprise given Redfern’s background):

c. 1911 Walking Suit Redfern

Redfern, Walking Suit, c. 1911; V&A Museum (T.28&A-1960)

c. 1911 Walking Suit Redfern

Three-quarter rear profile.

And jackets could also have more of a greatcoat style:

Walking Suit Redfern c. 1910

Redfern, Walking Suit, c. 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.107a, b)

And just to round things off, here are a few from unknown makers:

Walking Suit c. 1912

Walking Suit, c. 1912; McCord Museum (M976.35.2.1-2)

Walking Suit c. 1912

And here’s one from 1915:

Walking Suit 1915

Walking Suit, 1915; McCord Museum (M983.130.3.1-3)

Walking Suit 1915

And sometimes, it was hard to tell where “suit” left off and “dress” began…here’s an example from 1911:

Walking Suit 1911

Walking Suit, 1911; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1976.290.7a–c)

The above examples are only a small fraction of what was out there but it’s clear that the walking suit had arrived as a major wardrobe item. We hope that this will serve as a source of inspiration for those looking to recreate the day wear of the early Teens. And finally, just to tie this into something more contemporary, consider this:

Boarding Dress3 Titanic Movie Walking Suit

Enjoy! 🙂