Industrial People, Industrial Fashion
History 112: Origins of the Modern World
April 17, 2013
Debates are still raised about whether or not the positive outcomes of the Industrial Revolution were worth the struggles faced during the time period. Fashion reflects its time period; therefore, by looking at the fashion of a time one can understand the motives, lifestyles, and productivity of the time period. By analyzing the fashion industry as a whole from 1780-1860—trends, trades, and machinery—the importance of the Industrial Revolution can be seen. Not only did the Industrial Revolution bring a renaissance for fashion, but fashion also impacted the people, events, and inventions of the time period. This revolution broke the boundaries of production and led to limitless manufacturing opportunities of goods and services. Of course— as with any other time of novelty, expansion, and growth— there were periods of obstacle and struggle, but the gains that the industrial revolution brought to society are much more profound. The relationship between the Industrial Revolution and fashion can be seen through many different aspects of the period including: the interests or tastes of the people, trade and trade policies, and the machinery and techniques of the trade. A close analysis of the industrial revolution from a fashion perspective reveals the transformations and advancements of not only production but also of lifestyle during the time and illuminates the overall achievement of the Industrial Revolution.
The industrial revolution was a time of invention, productivity, and innovation; likewise the clothing during the time was redefined, was more intricately designed, and was seeing the beginnings of mass production. An American visiting Great Britain around 1810 said, “We have seen carding and spinningmills, weavingmills, mills for everything. The human hand and human intelligence are not separated.” The first industry to be revolutionized was cotton textiles. Prior to the 18th century, cotton was available but only through importing and not enough to be used for cloth. The cotton industry is credited for shaping British economy throughout the industrial years. There was a direct correlation between this industry and the economy. In other words, when cotton was flourishing as was the economy. This relationship between cotton and the economy from ca. 1780- 1850 holds true for fashion, more generally textiles, as a whole. For an industry to expand, demand must be rising. Throughout history “when capital was small, and the movements of trade comparatively sluggish, a new manufacture would extend itself slowly.” Until the 18th century, basic spinning mules were used to produce thread and cloths. With this level of production, it took a day’s time to make enough thread for an hour of weaving. In many cases, that is not even a full garment. Industrial innovations brought changes for workers, productions, and consumers. With the invention of the spinning wheel in 1764, “there was more yarn to be had than could be woven by the available workers.” The production cost for yarn decreased and the demand for woven goods rose. Before revolutionizing, thread and cloth were weaved at home and this production was known as “cottage industry.” However, with production advancements, the water frame and cotton mill were built and cloth production shifted to factory production. Innovations in production brought innovations in products and people began developing distinct desires for novelty designs. Roller printing quickly replaced wood block printing, and designs with multiple colors were produced. Manufacturing with this new type of printing increased production from 168 yards of fabric per day to 14,000 yards per day. The fashion industry, and others as well, began mass manufacturing to make articles of clothing and other goods easily available to more people. Popular appeal for intricate designs continued...
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