Like cuisine and language, style is often a place where cultural borders overlap. The history of fashion is really the history of ideas moving from one region to another, similar to what ethnobiologist Richard Dawkins has referred to as cultural “memes.” Here are just a few ways to recognize where your style may have originated.
The Evolution of Fashion Houses
There is little doubt that in contemporary life, the nation of Italy constitutes a major point of influence in fashion. Houses like Gucci and Prada are now synonymous with haute couture clothing, and many trends directly stem from fashion shows in Italian cities like Milan. This was not always the case, although certainly Italian culture has always had a major effect on aesthetic sensibility in world affairs.
Most of what we now consider as fashionable clothing actually originated in two specific places: For men, this would be the high-end tailor-shops of London, and for women it would be the high-fashion houses of Paris. That isolation of design has all changed, of course, as different world capitals have contributed their own variations on these original themes. Clothing companies likenow feature the work of designers from across the globe, for example.
Finding the Source
In terms of men’s clothing, nothing speaks of elegance quite like a good Italian suit. The Italian suit as we know it, with its bright colors and deeply sensuous fabrics, was in reality formed in the men’s fashion capital of London’s Savile Row, which flourished under the styles developed by early 19th Century clothes horses like Beau Brummell.
Italian suits had for the most part been simple affairs prior to the early 20th Century, with suits in the country traditionally having been made of black wool combined with white dress shirts. Italian tailors took the multi-patterned fabrics they saw in London and used them to create elaborate looks, with wider lapels, bright blues and grays, and a “sprezzatura” style along with it, “sprezzatura” meaning the slightly informal touch to a formal outfit that gives its wearer a look of Italian effortlessness. (Industrial titan Gianni Agnelli was the master of this look, for example.)
The Effect of Art on Fashion
Although it’s difficult to imagine anyone designing a dress in the style of Damien Hirst’s strange contemporary art, fashion was once greatly influenced by visual sensibilities created by painters. The 20s “flapper” look often took from Japanese and Chinese art to create slim-lines and elaborate arabesques into dresses, while even in Marie Antoinette’s France a simpler fashion was developed in large part as a response to philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s naturalist philosophy and writings. In fact, Antoinette went so far as to wear simple cotton dresses as a result of her interest in naturalist writing.
In these ways, the country your clothing comes from may just have its roots elsewhere, its designers having been influenced by generations of variations on new and different ideas. The important thing is to personalize your look for a truly world-class personal style, however; fashion is truly a melting pot, and only the future will tell what cities will become powerhouses of style.
Brionna Kennedy is native to the Pacific Northwest, growing up in Washington, then moving down to Oregon for college. She enjoys writing on fashion and business, but any subject will do, she loves to learn about new topics. When she isn’t writing, she lives for the outdoors. Oregon has been the perfect setting to indulge her love of kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking.