Hello Mademoiselle readers! I’m Jean, from over at OBERJEAN (click here to view her blog) , and probably two of my most favourite things in the world are knitting, and fashion, so what better to display my enthusiasm than to showcase the interesting history knitting has had in the
fashion world? It’s not always been that comfortable and fashionable knitwear has existed, and even as recent as the 1980s, knitwear was seen as dowdy and old fashioned. So, what changed?
Knitting itself has existed for hundreds and hundreds of years, and the practice itself saw a sharp decline in popularity in the 19th century when the industrial revolution began and the use of machines caused many families to stop hand-making clothes and
undergarments, because many had to instead spend most of their time working. Knitwear never really came to the fore until Coco Chanel completely changed the course of fashion. Chanel is of course known for the classic Chanel suit, now seen as being made from tweed, but it was her use of jersey, a type of loose knit (which, at the time, was made from wool) primarily used for men’s underwear which caused a furore and a change in women’s clothing. Instead of suffocating and constricting clothes, Chanel herself wanted to wear more comfortable clothing which allowed ease of movement. Her answer was to use a cheap fabric like jersey (because she hadn’t much money) with quality techniques in order to appeal to her clientele. Using the jersey in her Chanel suits and in striped tops saw the beginnings of not only knitwear in fashion, but also the beginnings of modern fashion for women.
Now with knitwear seen in fashion and not just in lacework, underwear and hosiery, knitting’s popularity grew with leaps and bounds as the First World War saw many women “Knitting For Victory”. Knitting soon was seen less as a hobby and more a
valuable occupation, as many knitted socks, jumpers and hats for soldiers. Then, in the 1930s, knitwear became practically commonplace as the Great Depression meant many people then resorted to knitting their own jumpers, cardigans and more, just because knitting was a cheaper option than buying already made clothes. Just as in WWI, the Second World War saw women breaking gender stereotypes and working in hard, laborious jobs that previously only men were seen “fit” to do. Again,
using knitting, a hobby increasingly seen as being “feminine”, to help the war effort was hugely liberating.
The 50’s and 60’s saw colour being injected into fashion and along with that, knitwear became very fashionable. Chanel, after being seen as too luxurious during the 30’s and 40’s, re-introduced her Chanel suits which cemented it as a classic, and continued
to use innovative fabrics. However, what changed in these decades was that knitwear began to actually be seen
on the catwalk. This was thanks in part to the so-called named “Queen of Knitwear” Sonia Rykiel. Her re-invention of the bulky, dowdy, jumper which became known as the “Poor Boy Sweater” literally took the world by storm when fashion was quickly
adopted when introduced through magazines and television.What was different about her sweater? It clung to the figure (much to the dismay of the older generation) and used a much lighter type of knit which allowed for a far more comfortable experience whilst wearing it. It clung to the figure (much to the dismay of the older generation) and used a much lighter type of knit which allowed for a far more comfortable experience whilst wearing it.
“The Rykiel skinny-rib jumper was born. It was short, finely knit, close-fitting and fluid, brightly coloured
and with long sleeves. No one had ever seen anything quite like it.”
However, the rise of a consumeristic and materialistic culture which began in the 1970’s, saw knitting and knitwear suffer a brutal period in the 1980’s. Mass-production meant it was so much easier just to buy clothes rather than to make them yourself, so the love for hand-knitting plummeted, and with that knitwear began to be seen as drab and old-fashioned. A popular culture against the old-fashioned meant knitwear was superbly unpopular in the 80s, but countering against that meant knitting became much more “artistic” than “fashionable” and this decade saw the beginnings of guerrilla knitting and yarn-bombing, which are now still seen as popular ways of making comments on society and politics.
Despite decades of knitwear being seen again as dowdy, the latter part of the 90s saw the rise of the “Handmade Revival”. This can be explained in part because of the spread of the Internet and people sharing patterns, stories and more about knitting. Hand-knitting again became more popularised, and with celebrities seen knitting it only increased more in popularity. The 21st century has seen knitwear become a staple in fashion, regularly seen in runway shows and championed by hundreds of fashion designers.
Knitting and its past of being seen as dowdy has enabled its future to be seen as innovative, and if you walk into any retail shop today and you will see a knitted item within seconds. I just hope this love for knitwear and knitting itself continues to grow and grow. My only problem is that I can’t wear a jumper in summer!I hope you found this little post on the history of knitting in fashion interesting, and if I sparked anyones interesting in knitting that would be absolutely amazing.
Thanks so much for having me on Mademoiselle!