Prêt-à-Porter: Past, Present & Future
Posted on 16 May 2016
The phrase ‘prêt-à-porter’, translated from French, means ‘ready-to-wear’. There are two factors that qualify clothing as ready-to-wear - standardised sizing and finished to be worn. Before ready-to-wear fashions became widely available there was a distinct dichotomy between high and low end clothing. With no middle ground those who could not afford the high-end styles were forced to make do with their existing clothes.
Ready-to-wear fashion resulted from the industrial revolution, new innovations in technology and material and can trace its roots back to the military. Male uniforms began to be massed produced for The War of 1812 following these significant advancements in technology. Ready-to-wear clothing for men followed soon after with new contemporary styles.
An example of this was seen with Levi jeans. Levi Strauss started to experiment with a new French material for tents but later found the material suitable for work trousers, which he began to mass produce. His work trousers grew in popularity and eventually denim jeans became the ultimate wardrobe staple and cemented themselves firmly into fashion history.
In the early 19th Century women’s fashion was lavishly ornate and heavily dependent on a perfect, sculpted fit which meant ready-to-wear garments for women did not become popular or widely available until the beginning of the 20th century. Before, women with larger incomes purchased new clothing in current styles while middle-class and lower-class women adjusted their clothing to fit changes in fashion by adding new collars, altering the length of the skirts, or cinching in waists.
Another significant factor created by the ready-to-wear industry was the development of the United State’s own style independent from Europe when their travel overseas was hindered by the war. The US fashion market turned way from the popular Parisian trends in favour of an individualised style. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Yves Saint Laurent was the first French couturier to create a ready-to-wear line and it was considered as Saint Laurent’s attempt to democratise fashion. This lead to a swift increase in popularity of ready-to-wear lines amongst designers which has only continued to grow.
Fashion weeks are now a mainstay in major cities, showing a high proportion of ready-to-wear items. These high-end ready-to-wear lines are often draw inspiration from iconic, haute couture looks and are then duplicated and distributed on a mass scale, often online through the rise in online departments stores such as net-a-porter and Moda Operandi.