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Fashion 1900 – Charles Frederick Worth

January 6, 2016

One of the names that always comes up when talking about turn of the century fashion 1900 is Charles Frederick Worth. This is because Charles Frederick Worth invented couture fashion and the fashion designer as a famous celebrity. As a young tailor at the court of Napoleon III, he decided to reinvigorate French fashion and restore Paris to its rightful place as the epicentre of chic.

A London Born Paris couturier – fashion 1900

Born in London, Worth studied art history by visiting museums. Drawing heavily on the designs of historical costume from all sorts of periods by studying old portraits, he lavishly re-invented styles for modern queens and princesses using acres of silk and tulle.


Royals and society ladies, including the Empress Eugénie and famous actresses and renowned mistresses like Lilly Langtry, Nellie Melba and Sarah Bernhardt loved his fairy-tale approach, and rushed to his studio every season to see what he had designed for them this time around. He showed his new creations on live models and the clients could then order each outfit to their own measurements and specifications – for example, they sometimes changed the colour quite dramatically, or had their version made more plainly or with even more lace.

A celebrity dressmaker for fashion 1900

Most fashion 1900 clothing makers were anonymous seamstresses, so Worth was the first “Name”. Other top designers quickly came to include the Callot Sisters, Paul Poiret, and Emile Pingat. Design houses also sprang up in New York and London, but Parisian style was the most desirable.


In fashion 1900, the House of Worth had been in existence for quite some time by 1900, but it was still the place to go for everything from walking suits to ball gowns. In fact, Charles Frederick Worth had died in 1895, to be succeeded by his son, Jean-Philippe Worth, who had been personally trained by his father. In time, Jean-Philippe ceded most of the designing to his nephew, Jean-Charles Worth. The House of Worth continued to be run by the family until 1952, when Worth’s great grandson retired. (The Worth name continues to be owned by various businesses up to the present day).

A stunning example of fashion 1900

This monochrome evening dress from c 1898 – 1900 is a lot bolder than we might expect amongst the popular pastels of the day. The dramatic scrolls, which grow larger towards the hem, were actually woven into the fabric (à la disposition), not appliquéd on top. The House of Worth was always celebrated for its support of the textile industry and this dress is a great showcase for the skill and dedication of the weavers working closely with the designer. Each section of fabric for the dress was calculated and made to order.


The design itself is, surprisingly, based on the black iron scroll work of a gate. The curves echo the popular sinuous forms of the Art Nouveau movement, while at the same time emphasising the curves of the dress itself, which is in the fashionable S shape of fashion 1900 early Edwardian style, achieved with a corset and bustle. The long train adds further drama, while the pretty ruffled sleeves soften the stark design.



House of Worth Evening dress back, 1898–1900 French.The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The dress bodice. Photo Metropolitan Museum.

Detail of the dress. Photo Metropolitan Museum.

A different colour way of the same design. The sleeves are different too. Metropolitan museum.