Historical Groundbreakers in Fashion Design – 10 People Who Changed the Way We Dress

When people dress in the morning, they probably don’t think about the groundbreakers in fashion design who have influenced them, either directly or even subconsciously. But fashion would not be what it is today without these designers, tastemakers, and entrepreneurs. They’ve changed the way we think about clothes, the way we wear them, and the way we buy them.

Charles Frederick Worth. Considered the Father of Haute Couture, Worth was the first fashion designer to make a name for himself. Before he opened his Paris fashion house in 1858, fashion design and construction were handled by anonymous tailors and seamstresses. He was the first to display model dresses at fashion shows in which customers placed orders, rather than letting customers dictate the style of their garments. He is also credited as the first designer to put labels on his designs.

Levi Strauss. During the California Gold Rush, Strauss was a retail store owner. Gold prospectors at the time wore cotton pants that tended to rip easily, so Strauss and a tailor, Jacob Davis, created more durable pants that were reinforced by small metal rivets. Jeans were born, and the rest is fashion history.

Coco Chanel. She may be known for the “little black dress” and classic cut suits, but women can especially thank Chanel for making clothes comfortable. Opening her first shop in 1913, her menswear-inspired designs freed women from the constraining corsets and uncomfortable long dresses that were in vogue at the time, ushering in an era of modern, casual dress.

R.H. Macy. The founder of Macy’s department store drastically altered the way people bought clothes when the first Macy’s opened in 1958.. While consumers previously went to small, family-owned shops or general stores primarily if they needed new clothes, they went to department stores more often just to peruse the wide variety of merchandise. And if they happened to find clothing that appealed to them on display, they would then purchase it. For the first time, clothing became an impulse item.

Edith Head. From the late 40s to early 70s, eight-time Oscar winner Edith Head was the designer of choice for some of Hollywood’s most well-dressed leading ladies including Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. Largely because of her influence, audiences became captivated with the love affair between movie stars and fashion design – a fascination that exists to this day.

Eileen Ford. The founder of Ford Models was responsible for discovering pretty women like Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley and turning them into household names, thereby creating the concept of the “supermodel” in the 70s. Supermodels have come to define American beauty – the way we aspire to look and dress.

Richard Blackwell. When Mr. Blackwell first published his “Worst Dressed List” in 1960, he pretty much invented the notion of “what not to wear.” His biting remarks of stars’ fashion sense, or lack thereof, created a cottage industry of fashion criticism, eventually leading to today’s red carpet commentaries and post-awards fashion blogs.

Ralph Lauren. Fashion giant Ralph Lauren was a pioneer in turning a fashion design label into a lifestyle brand. Through aggressive advertising, he was not just selling clothes, he was selling an image: aristocratic, preppy, with a touch of the rugged West. He started a hunger for labels, as the public bought up anything with his polo player logo, especially his iconic short sleeve mesh shirt, introduced in 1972. And through numerous licensing agreements, consumers could own a little piece of luxury, even if it was just a pair of socks or a towel with a polo player on it.

Donald Fisher. With his wife Doris, Fisher opened a little store called Gap in 1969 that would grow to become an American institution. While Gap popularized khakis and casual Fridays, its legacy is much more far-reaching: Gap has become the epitome of the “mall store” concept, in which no matter what city consumers may be in, they have the comfort of knowing that the Gap store there is just like the one in their hometown. Practically every clothing retailer has followed this business model, resulting in a fashion landscape that is rather homogenous throughout the country.

Anna Wintour. Considered one of the most important, and intimidating, people in fashion today, the Vogue editor-in-chief since 1988 is known to set trends and anoint new designers. If Wintour puts a designer in her magazine, the implied endorsement can make his or her career. Because of her influence, John Galliano became the head designer of Dior, and Brooks Brothers collaborated with Thom Browne. Her clout in the current fashion scene is simply unrivaled.

Although this list of influential figures is short, the fashion school history annals could provide hundreds of additional names of people who have influenced the way we dress. Our hats are off to all of them.


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