Form and Fashion

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Introduction

Fashion evolved far more rapidly in the 19th century than it had in the past, and the accelerated changes were most evident in women's clothing styles.

Rapid changes in fashionable garment styles were linked to the newly evolving consumer-oriented bourgeois society of the period. Women's wardrobes became the ultimate exterior symbol of a family's socio-economic standing. Also influential in promoting fashion change were improved communication systems which enabled European fashion trends to be disseminated throughout North America within as little time as a few months. Contributing to the shaping of collective tastes were publications (fashion plates, descriptions of refined toilettes, and advertising); articles and pictures featuring well-known personalities such as royalty and performers; elegant attire which could be viewed in public places; the advent of paper patterns in fashion magazines introduced as of the 1850s and 1860s; and mail-order catalogues that began introducing new, mass-produced clothing priced for the general public in 1880.

The women's attire held in the McCord Museum collection provides an apt illustration of the stylistic changes of this period through the evolving shapes of skirts, sleeves and bodices.