A mere 200 years ago, most people still wore hand-sewn clothing made from hand-spun, hand-dyed, and hand-woven fabrics. Over the 19th and 20th centuries, textile technology exploded, introducing huge innovations such as mechanical looms, knitting machines, sewing machines, and synthetic fabrics. As clothing became faster, cheaper, and easier to produce, an entire industry grew up around textiles and fashion. Fashion has evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry that encompasses haute couture and ready-to-wear designer fashions, global brands, and affordable fast fashion lines.
The 18th century saw the rise of some of the most important technologies in fashion history. Inventions such as the flying shuttle, the spinning mule, the power loom, the cotton gin, and the knitting machine made it possible to process fibres, spin them into thread and yarn, weave fabric, and create knits mechanically. The new manufactures that rose to prominence in Europe produced fabrics faster and cheaper than the hand spinners and weavers who previously produced all materials did. This made clothing and textiles more affordable for everyday people, creating a large new group of customers. The Industrial Revolution was born, and the fashion industry grew with it.
As the 19th century progressed, industrialists continued to improve the technologies created in the previous century. It also saw the rise of haute couture and ready-to-wear as industry concepts.
The 19th century gave birth to a new host of inventions, including the mechanical sewing machine, the first synthetic dyes, the first synthetic fabrics, and the automatic power loom. Clothing and textile production continued to get faster and cheaper, causing the market to grow. Mass-produced ready-to-wear clothing for men became popular. Although machines could weave, knit, and sew fabrics, seamstresses and tailors continued to produce most women's clothing.
For centuries, people viewed dressmaking as a handicraft, but the 19th century transformed fashion design into an art form. Although machines were responsible for more and more textile production, the century saw the rise of the haute couture tradition. The spread of machine-produced clothing for the mass market introduced a demand for handcrafted clothing among the elite. The Paris-based designer, Charles Frederick Worth, is widely regarded as the first haute couture designer, establishing Paris as the capital of couture.
Early 20th century
Industrialists in the early 20th century continued to create innovative products. The chemical company DuPont created nylon in 1935 and polyester in 1953, introducing two of the most versatile synthetic fabrics to date.
Haute couture designs flourished in Paris, launching famous houses such as Chanel, Balenciaga, and Lanvin. Italy also gained prominence in the fashion industry, especially due to high-end luxury leather goods designers such as Gucci.
Social changes also affected clothing production. Women's liberation movements in the Western world called for clothing that was less fussy and easier to wear than the corsets and full-skirted dresses of the past, causing ready-to-wear fashions for women to flourish. The Great Depression and the two World Wars also created a large demand for affordable mass-produced clothing.
American clothing manufacturers began to play a more prominent role in the fashion industry, especially as mass-produced clothing spread throughout the western market. New York became the main seat of the American ready-to-wear fashion industry, as designers flocked to the Garment District.
Late 20th century and early 21st century
Although Paris, Milan, London, and New York dominated fashion in the first half of the 20th century, different cities started to play a role in the fashion industry towards the latter half of the century. "Fast fashion" developed in the 1980s and gained worldwide popularity in the following decades. This concept involves quick production runs and fast retail turnarounds, creating a constant cycle of new clothing in stores.
Although high-end designers still influence fashion trends, the Internet made "street style" an important force in the industry. Bloggers all over the world can post pictures of their local clothing trends, which influences both retail brands and big name designers.
How to buy designer clothes on eBay
Shopping on eBay is a wonderful way to find a wide variety of designer clothes. You can find both new and vintage designs in many different sizes and styles. Specific search terms that include designer names, item type, decade, colour, and style can help you find relevant pieces. If you still get a large number of different results, you can use filters to narrow down the items. If you are not looking for a specific kind of item and simply want to browse, you can do a simple search for a designer name.