6 Women Who Influenced Fashion History with Their Ingenuity
Fashion has a long and rich history, no matter where in the world you look at it. Many fashion trends and inventions have been created from the minds of talented women who defied the time they lived in.
Here are 6 women whose contributions made a mark in the history of fashion.
Louise (Madeleine) Cheéruit
First Female French Fashion House Leader
Louise Cheéruit isn’t a household name, but she’s notable in fashion history. She was the first woman in history to take over a well-known French fashion house (Raudnitz & Cie House of Couture), which later took her namesake.
Most notably, she was the subject of many portraits by artist Paul César Helleu. Her name also appears in two highly acclaimed works of literature: Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies.
She is also directly responsible for launching the careers of fashion designers who would go on to collaborate with institutions like Vogue. In fact, fashion photographer Edward Steichen’ favorite model was often featured wearing gowns from the house of Cheéruit for Vogue magazines in the 1920s. One photo remains iconic to this day—model Marion Morehouse in a beaded black Chéruit dress (1927).
Cheéruit’s fashion house also remained the only one open during the first world war. Today, her fashion house still operates at its original location on Place Vendôme in Paris.
Pioneer in Womens’ Daily Wear
You may not recognize her name, but you most definitely know her creation. Caresse Crosby is the inventor of the modern bra in the 1910s. Prior to this, women wore corsets, which not only squished our organs, but made it hard to breathe.
Tired of the daily discomfort, Crosby asked her maid to bring her two handkerchiefs, ribbons, and some pins, which she turned into the bra as we know it.
In 1914 she patented her creation and later founded a manufacturing company to produce and sell her bra. However, she ended up selling the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company, whose name took all the glory for her invention.
The Dame of British Fashion
Mary Quant is responsible for breaking the mold in how women dress. She’s the inventor of the iconic mini skirt, which was considered revolutionary at the time. Later, she created the hot pants featured widely in the 60s and 70s.
She was one of the first high fashion designers who catered to a younger audience and encouraged them to express themselves in how they dress. Her playful approach to fashion could be seen on stars such as British model, Twiggy.
Since the 60s, Quant’s designs have remained youthful and fun. And in 2015, she was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions and inspiration to British fashion.
The Woman Who Defined Chic
Chanel is a household name. In case you didn’t know, the brand is named after its French founder and visionary, Coco Chanel.
Coco Chanel is directly responsible for popularizing the little black dress. These simple black dresses have been in widespread production since black dye became less expensive in the 19th century. The concept of the little black dress as we know it now came to be after the first world war, because there was much mourning. Chanel took the idea and put her own spin on it, being inspired by menswear. In the end, she created a piece that became a chic wardrobe staple.
But that’s not all. Chanel also popularized trousers for women. It wasn’t until the 1920s that it became acceptable for women to wear pants, as they were easier to wear when cycling and horseback riding.
Chanel’s yachting pants took the fashion world by storm. She originally created them for herself, but the trend quickly caught on.
Combining Chemistry and Clothing
Stephanie Kwolek is the woman who invented Kevlar. After graduating college, she began working for DuPont (the company who also invented and sold spandex material). During her career there, she was tasked with formulating new synthetic fibers. In 1965, she did just that.
She created the lightweight, durable fiber that would later become Kevlar. This material is used in military helmets, bulletproof vests, work gloves, sports equipment, and more.
Her discovery earned her the National Medal of Technology and an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994.
Mary Dixon Kies and Betsey Metcalf
The First Woman with a US Patent
Mary Dixon Kies was the first woman to receive a US patent (1809) for her new technique of weaving straw with silk and threads to make hats. After the Napoleonic Wars, the US banned trade with France and Great Britain. So now there was a need for American-made hats to replace the ones made by Europeans.
But Kies’ technique wasn’t possible without Betsey Metcalf’s prior ingenuity. Metcalf invented a method of braiding straw that became popular and created a new industry for women and girls, as straw bonnets could now be made from home with local resources. This became the American straw hat industry. But Metcalf chose not to seek a patent.
When Kies’ patented her method, she was even congratulated by First Lady Dolley Madison herself. Kies’ technique made bonnet-making cost-effective, which helped with the economy, especially since it suffered after the trade ban.
Although not all of these women are household names, their contributions to fashion history are notable. And some of their creations we even still wear today. These women paved the way for women of our own time to keep revolutionizing style as we know it.