The egalitarian role that fashion played in the history of retail is important. What we call fashion now was in the past reserved to the social elite of society. Back then, fashion was only composed of the haute couture pieces, which were custom made by the tailor for the client. The clients were rich merchants, queens, kings, aristocracy. Rose Bertin was the first official tailor working for the king Louis 14 in 1770.
Since that time until the mid 1940’s, fashion was only accessible to the rich personalities of our world. However during the second world war, the American army needed an important amount of clothes for the uniforms. A new system of mass production of clothes appeared but was however only present in the USA. France wanted to keep its status of centre of fashion and was attached to the system of fashion exclusivity.
In the 50’s, precursor (like Rochas and Schiaparelli) of what we call “prêt à porter”, launched their ready to wear collections. Now there was two kinds of fashion, the ready to wear which was considered of lesser quality than the haute couture pieces and the haute couture. The difference between these two types is that the ready to wear is more affordable, available in the store and more egalitarian.
But we have to wait until the beginning of the 60’s for the ready to wear to become a vast phenomena. The haute couture is loosing power and the designers feel the potential of the ready to wear. Next to the Haute Couture collections appear the prêt à porter. Christian Dior creates Miss Dior, Yves Saint Laurent develops rive gauche and Courrège is even more drastic by stoping his Haute Couture collections to only focus on the ready to wear. By following such a trend, designers develop their name by creating different products like perfumes, shoes, accessories which give the opportunity to a wider public to afford their creations.
Nowadays, the ready to wear has more influence than the Haute Couture because it is more affordable and brings more money to the designers’ table. Throughout the time, two new kinds of ready to wear got developed. The high quality or luxury ready to wear with brands like Gucci, Chanel, Giorgio Armani which are usually side collections to the still existing Haute Couture collections. The other type is the mass production one like Zara, H&M, COS. Some designers doing both collections decided to only stay in one of the categories like Jean Paul Gaultier who decided to only focus on the Haute Couture part because it was more artistic. Each year the fashion weeks are available in two versions of the same brand, the Haute Couture fashion shows and the Prêt à Porter ones.
Through the evolution of fashion we can see that the role of fashion became more and more egalitarian in society by offering beautiful creations to not only the elite but also the lower fortunate classes of society.