History of British fashion through the centuries.

Have you ever wondered how fashion in the United Kingdom has evolved over the centuries? From the Roman invasion to the present day, British fashion has undergone remarkable transformations. In this article, we’ll delve into the rich tapestry of British style, exploring the diverse trends that have influenced the fashion landscape. Get ready to embark on a sartorial journey through time!

The Roman Invasion and the Middle Ages

The Roman Empire left an indelible mark on British fashion. As the Middle Ages dawned, the art and fashion of the Roman era became the foundation for subsequent styles. Charles the Great, a Christian emperor and conqueror, brought about a renaissance in art and fashion during his reign. The upper classes embraced two-tone dresses, crosnas, and fur coats. However, it was a dark time when people found comfort in thick layers of knitted fleece sweatshirts, longing for the respite of nightfall. Even then, fashion played a role, as some had to don shorts or strip down for a good night’s sleep.

The British and Anglo-Saxon Period

The harsh British climate didn’t deter fashion-forward individuals. Gentlemen had a variety of clothing options, including pastoral robes, coats, and wide-legged trousers, all designed to brave the elements. The constant battles of the time deeply influenced British menswear. Women, on the other hand, embraced multiple layers, such as sleeveless tunics, long gowns, underlayers, and veils. Silk even made its way to England in the eighth century, adding an air of luxury to women’s attire.

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Before the Renaissance

As we jump to the Norman rule and the iconic “Bayeux Tapestry,” we witness a pivotal moment in fashion history. Women began adopting the phoenix dress, a modified version of men’s clothing, and long strapless skirts. King Henry III introduced a sense of simplicity to women’s attire in 1216. Woolen toe trims and buttons became fashionable, and women had a wide selection of hats to choose from, including mesh, heart-shaped, turban, and top hats. The garment industry also emerged during this time, with people desiring clothing tailored to their body measurements. Surprisingly, the mandatory wearing of bras persisted until the 20th century.

The Renaissance

The Renaissance marked a period of transition, characterized by the use of expensive fabrics and perfumes. Women employed homemade decoctions with rose oil, fruit juice, and camphor to enhance their beauty. Queen Elizabeth I famously owned an enviable collection of 2000 dresses. Women throughout Europe, including those in Britain, favored flashy decorations and voluminous skirts, heavily influenced by Spanish culture. Lace fashion took center stage in the 16th century, gaining the moniker “French” in Europe and “English exaggeration” in France.

From 1672 to Haute Couture

In 1672, the world witnessed the birth of the first fashion magazine, Le Mercure Galant. It disseminated trends, including a call for longer men’s bras and details on sleeves. During the 18th century, British fashion began to blur class lines, with London’s bourgeoisie leading the way. They replaced lace, ribbons, and frills with black silk bows and calf-length coats, embracing the “Simplicest” school. The French Revolution further solidified a French obsession with all things British, from tea and scotch to bulldogs and the silent “r” sound. However, it wasn’t until the time of King Napoleon that Albion gained his personal attention.

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18th – 19th Century

“In a way, we are all being avenged for the French worship of England today,” wrote German writer Helferich Peter Sturz in 1768. The 18th century witnessed a surge in British designers longing to conquer Paris. Charles Worth, the father of haute couture, arrived in Paris without speaking a word of French but with 117 francs in his pocket. In 1858, he opened a fashion boutique that forever linked his name to voluminous dresses and women’s bras.

20th Century to the Present

The turn of the century heralded a multitude of styles that blended seamlessly at times. From Eastern-inspired liberal stylings to ultimate gentlemen, the fashion landscape was ever-changing. Wallis Warfield parties, low-cut gowns, iconic Vogue covers, and fashion revolutions—all burst onto the scene. The ’60s saw the rise of unisex style, with striking makeup and outdated couture. The ’70s brought a shift in office attire as women sought smart yet elegant looks. Arthur Elgort captured the essence of real women in outdoor photography, immortalizing their style. The ’80s witnessed the rise of self-proclaimed celebrity designers, the globalization of brands, and the glamour of Lady Diana Spencer. Boy George transformed the club into a catwalk, defying traditional norms. London Fashion Week was born in 1984. The ’90s introduced the era of the supermodel, with appearances by Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, John Galliano, and Vivienne Westwood cementing England’s fashion prowess.

A New Century and Beyond

As we venture into the new millennium, British fashion continues to influence the world’s most renowned designers. London, home to the best design schools, has become the birthplace of audacious global fashion. Today, as the industry advances, anyone can leave their mark on modern fashion. This marks a new beginning, a torch passed to the next generation of trendsetters.


Join us at Caravansarai as we celebrate the captivating history of British fashion and look forward to the exciting fashion trends that lay ahead.