Americans have the 4th of July and the French have Bastille Day. On July 14th in 1789, an outraged group of Parisians stormed the Bastille, a fortress and prison in France. Bastille Day, which symbolizes the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the modern republic, was made the national holiday of France in 1880.
We have France to thank for much more than cheese and fine wine — the first modern Olympic Games, Monet, and Mardi Gras to name a few — but who can deny their influence on the fashion world? Whether it’s your favorite striped tee or skater skirt, here are 14 styles we owe to the French:
1. Empire Waists
This classic silhouette, featuring a fitted bodice ending just below the bust, dates back to the eighteenth century, with influences from Greco-Roman art. Originally referred to as the “impure waist” — because it hid the wearer’s actual waistline — the style didn’t receive its signature name until the First French Empire in the beginning of the 19th century. The silhouette was popularized by Napoleon’s first empress Josephine de Beauharnais, who was influential in making it the style a la mode.
2. The Beret
Evidence of beret-like headwear can be found dating back to pre-Roman times, but mass production began in Europe, namely in France, Spain, and Italy, in the 19th century. The French were the first to adopt the beret in military uniforms in 1889 and the black beret was once considered the national cap of the country. The style is part of the stereotypical image of the Onion Johnny, the quintessential French countryman, and continues to be worn in traditional celebrations today.
3. A-line Cut
Also known as the Trapeze silhouette, a-line dresses and skirts were introduced by Yves Saint Laurent’s “Trapeze Line” in the Spring of 1958. Particularly popular in the 1960’s and 70’s in mod fashion, this style saw a revival in the early aughts. As opposed to Dior’s signature fit-and-flare shape, Saint Laurent’s “Trapeze” is fitted at the shoulders and flares down the length of the body, usually ending with a short-cut hemline
4. Fit-and-Flare Silhouettes
The fit-and-flare silhouette is a direct descendant of Christian Dior’s revolutionary “New Look,” introduced in the mid 20th century. The nipped-in waist has become a signature of American 50’s era style, but it originated with Dior’s first collection in 1947. At a time when French fashion was largely dominated by Coco Chanel’s influence, Dior’s ultra-feminine collection prompted Vogue editor-in-chief Carmel Snow to exclaim, “It’s such a new look!”
5. The Little Black Dress
In 1926, American Vogue published an image of a simple black dress designed by Coco Chanel, deeming it “Chanel’s Ford.” The dress, which was calf-length with a straight silhouette, was described as “a sort of uniform for all women of taste.” Prior to the introduction of the now ubiquitous LBD, black was primarily reserved for times of mourning. However, Chanel had other ideas, setting out to create a style that would be versatile, affordable, and accessible to a wide market.
6. Flapper Style
France’s own Coco Chanel pioneered flapper fashion — also known as “Garçonne” since the short hairstyles and loose shapes made wearers look young and boyish — in the early 20th century. Her most obvious contribution to the trend was her beaded dresses, which proved to have lasting power as sequins and beads are still a popular choice on runways everywhere.
7. Breton Stripes
The 1858 Act of France introduced a navy and white striped shirt as the uniform for French seamen in Brittany. Now known as Breton stripes, the design was originally called marinière or matelot, and featured exactly 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories. In 1917, Coco Chanel introduced the style to the fashion world with her nautical collection, elevating the look from traditional worker’s uniform to chic Parisian style.
8. Chain Strap Handbag
The chain strap handbag was also introduced by Coco Chanel. Named “2.55″ after its date of creation (February of 1955), the chain strap was influenced by her convent days, specifically by the waist chains that the abbey caretakers used to hold their keys. The uniforms worn by the convent girls inspired the bag’s burgundy red interior lining, and the quilted pattern is believed to have been inspired by jockey’s riding coats and the cushions in Chanel’s own Paris apartment.
9. One Piece Swimsuits
Long before topless beaches rose to fame, the French actually created the one-piece bathing suit. After World War I, French designer Jean Patou designed a clinging one-piece for his 1924 collection due to women demanding more freedom to show their legs for sunbathing. He developed a jersey fabric for swimwear that resisted shrinkage and was non-colorfast. Soon after, all other swim apparel was abandoned.
10. Costume Jewelry
Yet another contribution to fashion from Ms. Chanel was the production of costume jewelry. Coco Chanel introduced the trend during the Art Deco movement, which was defined by an attempt to combine the harshness of mass production with the sensitivity of art and design. The Art Deco movement faded away with the onset of the Great Depression and the outbreak of World War II, but costume jewelry has prevailed, especially within the mass market.
11. Stiletto Heels
It’s not hard to believe that the most feminine shoe was created in France, but did you that know that it was created by a man? King Louis XIV, the “Sun King,”’ who built the famous Palace of Versailles, sported heels to elevate his social status. French designer Roger Vivier was credited with the design of the first stiletto heel in 1954. Stiletto heels were certainly around in the late 19th century, but Vivier is known for reviving and developing this opulent style by using a thin rod of steel.
We have bold French women to thank for distinguishing lingerie from underwear. The renounced Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, donned her lingerie for everyone to see in an infamous portrait Le Reine en Gaulle. Just as lingerie has the effect of emboldening the wearer, Marie Antoinette represents everything that lingerie is today. Lady Duff-Gordon of Lucile was a pioneer in developing lingerie that freed women from more restrictive corsets. Through the first half of the 20th century, women wore underwear for three primary reasons: to alter their outward shape, for hygienic reasons, or for modesty. Today, a popular lingerie style worn as outwear is bustiers, which were seen all over the runways during Paris Fashion Week.
13. Boho Chic
Baba Cool style, or “Boho Chic,” originated in France in the 1970′s because of the economic difficulties caused by the 1973 oil crisis. French youth cultivated this anti-style, known as Baba Cool, as a tribute to the scruffiness of the Woodstock generation. While some of the Baba Cool styles consisted of beat up parkas, knit scarves, and military surplus gear, others displayed the earthy garb of the disenfranchised “ethnic” poor. The modern-day “boho chic” style, which draws on various bohemian and hippie influences, has been made popular by the likes of Seinna Miller, Kate Moss, and Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.
14. Menswear for Women
Famous French designer Yves Saint Laurent created the Le Smoking tuxedo suit in 1966. This suit pioneered minimalist, androgynous styles for women, as well as the use of power suits and pantsuits in modern-day society. This was a bold evening wear alternative to the little black dress because it was still controversial for women to wear trousers in public. The Le Smoking suit effectively demanded: “If men can wear this, why can’t I?” This suit has continued to influence fashion designers’ collections though the 2000′s.