Lace is the epitome of feminine sensuality, revealing skin in tauntingly petite floral portions beneath loosely woven threads. Unsurprisingly, then, lace can be traced to the wealthiest ladies of Europe, wooing their royal suitors with such finery.
The history of lace itself is actually quite complicated, with much argument regarding who has the right to be called “Inventor of Lace.” Apparently, it’s a coveted title. “The Italians claim the invention of point or needle-made lace. They probably derived it from the Greeks of the Lower Empire who took refuge in Italy,” reads the The Antefix Papers on Art Educational Subjects, written by a load of people associated with the Massachusetts Normal Art School. “Mrs.” Bury Palliser, in History of Lace, however, says the fabric is of Anglo-Norman descent.
Everybody’s probably competing in this area because lace is so sexy. I mean, who wouldn’t want the ability to say, “Yeah, see that sexy Chanel dress? Yeah, I basically made that.”
Anyway, somebody somewhere in sixteenth-century Europe decided to sew nearly-transparent cloth flowers and thought it would be a great idea to stick the things on clothes. Because the process was so intricate (aka couture), it was mainly kings and queens who had access to lace-bordered garments. Like Queen Anne, perhaps.
Obviously, the Victorian era adored the delicacy offered by the lace trend, especially when the Queen was married in 1840 in a lace-adorned wedding gown (the first time such a thing had ever occurred, according to WeddingChannel.com).
The 1890s saw an increase in the demand for lace in America. An advertisement in The Pittsburgh Press cites “the lead fashion writers,” who concluded that “there will without a doubt be an unprecedented demand for laces of all descriptions” in February of 1894.
The following few decades were marked by Queen Victoria-inspired wedding gowns, sheer evening capes and lacy lingerie, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that lace became an everyday fashion detail. A New York Timesarticle printed in 1930 says that “an era of lace is upon us, say the fashion prophets.”
(I’d like to know who these “lead fashion writers” and “fashion prophets” are, but I suppose we can only assume that they are Tavi Gevinson’s great-grandparents.)
The Pueblo Indicator, in December of 1936, published an article entitled “Lace Is In Every Phase Of Fashion.” The newest lace developments convinced the author, Cherie Nicholas, that “in many of its modernized types it is absolutely practical for general wear.” Chanel had recently shown lacy evening and dinner dresses, and Parisian models walked the runway in lace garments designed for the spring of 1936.
The early 1900s was a time of continuously increasing desire to sew lace onto dresses, as people started to realize that it looks just as pretty on the outside of outfits as it does the inside. Basically, as women got sexier (which actually just means they got more comfortable showing off their sexuality), they started dressing sexier. And real people (non queens) could actually afford it.
By 1963, says the Youngstown Vindicator, lace was exploding into Western culture, with garments designed for younger classy women. I imagine inspired housewives ripping lace window treatments from the walls and fashioning them, using the sewing machines from the front window display of AllSaints Spitalfields, into flirty dresses they’d go dancing in.
This dainty-flower-clad-in-lace image continued into the 1980s when, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Barbra Streisand wore a lace-trimmed gown to the Academy Awards in 1987. The second half of the 1900s was very tactful about lace use.
Now a decade into the twenty-first century, you’ll be attacked by lace. It’s still classy and feminine, but simultaneously bold. Dresses are coated in, instead of trimmed with, lace. It’s not something you notice only when you get close to the garment, but rather something that jumps out at you. This season has also witnessed extreme use of lace on accessories, including shoes and bags (as pointed out by MarieClaire.com, which suggests that readers wear only one lacy item at a time). Spring 2011 is big on big lace.
Published at The Lion, The Stitch, and The Wardrobe on March 3, 2011.