Symbolism in fashion


Lace is a permanent feature in fashion with a history as gracious as the textile itself. Despite its modern-day femininity and association with womenswear, it was once an adornment to unisex clothing. 

by Charlotte De Loose

Lace, your grace

The delicate, open-worked fabric has literally been in fashion for ages. The graciousness of lace decorations on clothing and home decor was brought to light during the sixteenth century. French courtiers and kings - Louis XIV being the trendsetter of his century - are depicted in paintings wearing clothing adorned with lace collars, cuffs and ruffles. The influence of French style on the fashion world was significant at the time, so the rest of Europe swiftly followed their example. Two common techniques applied by lacemakers were needle or bobbin lace, both requiring a great amount of skill and being very time-consuming. As a result, this handcraft was an expensive process and lace became an exclusive textile, sought after only by the upper class. Wearing clothing with handmade lace detailing was a symbol of wealth and status and only premium quality was good enough. The key regions for high-quality lace were Flanders and Venice, but because travelling back and forth became too much of a hassle, the elite began to house lacemakers in various French villages. Hence the names of specific lace techniques such as Valenciennes and Alençon. 

By the end of the eighteenth century, more people acquired the means to purchase clothing and the demand for lace increased. New techniques were developed to speed up the creative process and make it less expensive. With time, machines improved and began to equal the complex patterns that were once made by hand. The textile inevitably became accessible to a large audience and threatened to lose its exclusive image. The aristocracy found ways to prolong the elite character of the fabric - among which dying it with tea to mimic a vintage look - but the commercialisation turned out to be out of their hands. 

The Fashion Museum of Bath dedicated an entire exhibition to the fabric called 'Lace in Fashion'. It features a smock with Flemish bobbin lace detailing that dates from around 1580, which is the oldest object in the exhibit. A trio of noteworthy evening gowns by the hands of Balmain, Balenciaga and Molyneux is a reference to the timeless presence of lace in couture and prêt-à-porter fashion. 

'Lace in Fashion', runs until the 1st of January 2018 at the Fashion Museum Bath.

Everlasting femininity 

Even though red is said to have been the go-to colour for a lady's wedding day in the early 1800s, Queen Victoria broke that dress code and unchained a bridal revolution with her strikingly white lace-trimmed wedding dress, beaming an unrivalled purity and simplicity. After an intense six-month design process, her Highness had the patterns of the unique dress destroyed in order to avoid possible imitations. The wedding became a pinpoint in fashion history to which modern-day lace partially owes its feminine character. 

Today, the delicate textile has gained a slightly more suggestive connotation, especially when worn as a single layer, revealing parts of the skin underneath. Dolce&Gabbana, Erdem, Etro and Saint Laurent and Alberta Ferretti are only a handful of designers who keep shedding new light on a historically symbolic fabric.  

Alberta Ferretti AW16, Alberta Ferretti SS17, Alexander McQueen SS16, Balenciaga SS16, Céline SS16, Dolce&Gabbana SS18, Elie Saab AW17, Etro SS18, Sain Laurent SS18, Erdem SS18
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