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Fashion ’round the Clock

While it is commonly considered a whim today to frequently change outfit during the day, this convention is rooted in modernism, which produced a new conception of time and the ways it was organized.

Accessories, drawing by Petra Fiedler, ca. 1928. Courtesy Dietmar Katz, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

Accessories, drawing by Petra Fiedler, ca. 1928. Courtesy Dietmar Katz, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

The time of fashion is mainly conceived as linear. Designers’ collections develop season by season, a rapid look over the history of fashion may be intended as a timeline of every period’s silhouettes. While fashion historians and critics have brought now a wide range of substantial theories to discuss this linearity, a first and practical example of a circular time of fashion can be found on the revolution of dress changes during the day that happened from the time of the Industrialization and progressed through modernism.

The impact of Industrialization on the mid-18th century fashion reflected the changes it brought in society. Not only did the industrial production lower the costs of dress production, but also the shift from country labour to industrial labour had an impact on the way people dealt with time. Although who lived in the city was already keen on the modalities court and ceremonies articulated the day, the shifts of factory work favoured the conception of clock time instead of natural time for a wider part of the population.

Women in evening dress, illustration by Léonard, ca. 1930. Courtesy Dietmar Katz, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

Women in evening dress, illustration by Léonard, ca. 1930. Courtesy Dietmar Katz, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

As time started to be scanned by the clock, new rituals in dress emerged and appropriate dresses for appropriate occasion started to be produced and worn, differentiating models, lengths and ensembles throughout the day. If the practice of changing dress according to the time of the day was already diffused, it was with the modernist concern about time rationalisation that fashion and clock time became bound, as shown in fashion and society magazine of the time. These publications showcased progressive silhouettes in line for the right hour of the day, demonstrating that the clock influenced the way the day was lived, and fashions and garments were designed accordingly.

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