Fashion began to change rapidly in the 19th century. It spread further and faster thanks to the burgeoning fashion magazine and print industry. A great deal had changed since the French Revolution. The guild system had been abolished, liberating trade. Shops with attractive glass display windows were introduced, as well as beautiful arcades with stores selling luxury goods where people could stroll. The first fashion houses emerged, charging fixed prices, allowing customers to exchange goods and sending out attractive advertisements in the form of price lists. In the second half of the 19th century the term ‘couturier’ was born: a fashion designer who dictated the latest trends. Fashion became accessible to more people. The advent of the sewing machine and ready-to-wear garments also helped spread fashion among a larger section of society than ever before.
Men’s fashion had changed radically after the French Revolution. No longer defined by the frivolous French fashion for embroidery, lace and colourful silks, it now tended more towards the English taste. Fabulous woollen fabrics, wonderful tailoring, beautiful, refined details: this became the basis of the men’s suit as we know it today. Knee-breeches, worn by the men of the elite classes since the 16th century, were replaced by long trousers, which were originally working men’s clothes.
In women’s fashion, the silhouette changed constantly. The 19th century saw more different successive silhouettes than any other century. From the slender Empire line to the exaggerated gigot sleeve and the ever-widening skirts that culminated in the crinolines of the 1850s and 60s, to the fashion for bustles in the 1870s to 90s, with sleeves also growing to unprecedented proportions again in the 1890s, 19th-century women’s fashion saw it all – from the confines of a tightly laced corset. It is therefore no surprise that, at the end of the century, the dress reform movement gained such ground in the Netherlands. The battle for more freedom of movement for women had begun.