Couture to high street a comparison

Topics: Social class, Sociology, Working class Pages: 6 (2203 words) Published: April 7, 2014
Historical, Social, Professional and Contemporary Contexts


In 1904 German sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel put forward a theory that there was a “dualism” effect in fashion or as later coined by the press, a “trickle down” theory. What Simmel was suggesting was that lower status groups emulate the fashions of higher status groups and in turn higher status groups move onto new styles so as to differentiate themselves from lower groups (, 2014). In this essay I am going to discuss how this theory is thought out and observed in early Twentieth Century ladies fashions and how does the idea of trickle down still influence the development of fashion in today’s lifestyle orientated society.

For fashion to exist, “society must be stratified, some members must be perceived as inferior or superior - or simply as worthy or unworthy of being imitated. and as far as the "inferior one" imitates their direct "superior" and never vice versa, the conclusion is: "... fashion - i.e., the latest fashion [in social forms, apparel, aesthetic judgment, the whole style of human expression] - affects only the upper classes." (Simmel pp 135.) For example, if some upper class girls begin to wear a new dress designed by a prestigious couturier, soon, the desire for lower class girls to imitate them will force the market to supply low-priced copies. Thus, moving down from one level to another, in a short space of time this dress no longer distinguishes the upper class girls, since everyone is wearing the same or similar styles. So the girls from the upper classes will once again have to look for something else to distinguish themselves, which will once again be imitated, and so the cycle will go on.

As an example of this theory we can see portrayed in Fig 1, Hollywood actresses of the roaring twenties would have a particular style, known as a “flapper girl”, these girls were famous, rich and had a party life style which lower class girls could only dream of, but in acquiring the same fashions, these lower class girls could feel like they too were part of the same higher social class. They were also a part of the post World War One oppressive era, women wanted to rid themselves of the restrictive fashions of the previous decades and join in with the free for all lifestyles of the higher classes. The war had removed many of the class boundaries and this was reflected by the girls feeling free to copy the higher society girls. It was only when the lower class girls started to emulate the actresses and higher classes of which an example of lower class girls wearing similar fashions to the higher class flapper girls, is shown in Fig 2, then fashion would change and alter itself again and the upper socialites would move on with their trend to something different again, in an attempt to keep a visual differentiation between the classes, but fashion could not provide change as quick as it was being copied and we see throughout the early twentieth century, “there was a stylistic uniformity of fashion which descended throughout the class and social structure of the era” (Davis, 1992, p.p108).

Another example of this copy cat fashion is as shown in Fig 3, in the 1950’s, where again, fashionable socialites of Hollywood for example Marilyn Monroe are being copied and their style of dress is even being made available to reproduce in the dress patterns which were sold at most department stores for only a few pence, thus allowing the styles to be affordable to all. An example of dress pattern sleeves from the period is shown in Fig 4 illustrating very similar styles to that of Monroe’s dress. Why were these glamorous stars of Hollywood being copied so readily? The world had just come out of a time of severe austerity due to the Second World War, Empires had fallen and whole countries were in need of rebuilding, materials were in short demand at first but due to technological advances, new textiles were...

References: Figure 1 Nina Petronzio. 2014, 20 in the 20’s … some things didn’t change. – Nina Petronzio, [online] Available at: http;// [accessed: 5 Jan 2014].
Figure 2 2014. Where Are We Now?. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 Jan 2014].
Figure 3 2014. Style Icon: Marilyn Monroe | Real Style Network – Fashion and Style. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 Jan 2014].
Figure 4 Pinterest. 2014. :: FIFTIES FAB :: [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 Jan 2014].
Figure 5 We want what she 's got. 2014. Marie Claire, Iss. 304 p. 95.
Figure 6 2013. Jenny Packham, Alexander McQueen, Topshop : Kate Middleton 's best outfits of 2013 | Style | Life & Style | Daily Express. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 Jan 2014].
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