Exhibiting Fashion in 1900

Dinner dress by Boue Soeurs, 1900


At the time of year when all the Fashion and Textile courses are exhibiting graduates’ work, it’s good to think about the history of fashion promotion. One of the major attractions of the international exhibitions held around the world from 1851 onwards was the opportunity to view new styles in dress – worn by the illustrious ladies and gentlemen at the opening ceremonies, on the bodies of the international visitors, and in the displays. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 there was a whole building devoted to fashion, sponsored by the Collectivite de la Couture, the trade body of Paris Haute Couture. This contained large vitrines with staged scenes inhabited by figures with realistic wax heads – some of them portraits of the designers themselves. Visitors could linger over the details of elaborate toilettes for the ballroom or for presentation at Court – garments that would normally only be seen by those present at these exclusive events, or by those involved in the making. For those unable to visit, there were many illustrated review articles and guidebooks, including a lavish volume with hand-coloured illustrations of dresses from the Collectivite.

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2 Responses to Exhibiting Fashion in 1900

  1. denise marie says:

    Hello, I have been trying to locate a copy of the Exposition of Paris 1900 collectivite de la couture. Where can I find it in print or to purchase?

    Denise Marie

    • Clare says:

      Dear Denise Marie
      ‘Les Toilettes de la collectivité de la Couture. Exposition universelle internationale de 1900’ is one of my favourite historic sources – the plates are so detailed, with watercolours and silver paint to recreate the fabrics and trimmings of the original dresses. I used a copy in the National Art Library, London – there are copies at the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, and other US Art libraries. Only a few hundred were printed, so it’s rarely available for sale. You can find out more about the Collectivite exhibit at the 1900 Exposition in my book ‘Art Nouveau Fashion’ (V&A Publications, 2014) http://www.amazon.com/Art-Nouveau-Fashion-Clare-Rose/dp/1851778020

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