The Evolution of the Fashion Model
From Shop Windows to Catwalks: The Evolution of the Fashion Model
Models within the fashion industry have always been a topic of controversy. Early pioneers of the profession were forced to fight prejudice and judgement, while the models of today are revered with stardom. Recent years, however, have begun to prod at the ethical implications of these beauty standards. From a quick glance at the evolution of the modelling profession, it is clear that these ‘ideals’ are transient and ever-changing. What began as a practical means of showcasing clothing has grown into a cult of celebrity. As the industry has flourished, so too have the faces of the era and the definitions of ‘beauty’ they’ve proliferated. Here’s a quick glance at how the modelling industry has evolved.
The early 1850s introduced the first ever ‘model’ as we know them today. English fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth had his wife wear his designs in order to showcase them to customers. The idea of ‘live’ models, as opposed to mannequins, quickly grew in popularity, springing up in fashion houses across England. Modelling was undertaken as a practical display tool. Women of various sizes and shapes would demonstrate the versatility of the designer and appeal to an array of customers.
1946 beheld the advent of the very first modelling agency, Ford Models. After the invention of photography, modelling as a profession really took off. Ford Models remains one of the most prestigious agencies in the world. Photographers were defining figures in establishing a model’s success; they had to rely on being discovered through the industry, rather than popular culture.
This was the decade where ‘big name’ models really began to appear. The 50s was the era that Marilyn Monroe catapulted to fame, making her film debut after having modelled throughout the 40s. She helped cultivate a predominantly feminine aesthetic which centred around a voluptuous figure, and Hollywood glamour.
Modelling was taken to an international stage when agencies began popping up all over the world. London emerged as a modelling hub with household names such as Twiggy, and Jean Shrimpton dominating the local fashion scene. While the 50s were defined by the curvaceous hourglass, the 60s favoured more slender, androgynous looking models. A designer’s choice of a model could really make the difference between success or failure, bringing the profession to new heights of celebrity.
Following the rage of the 60s came the age of scouting and modelling competitions. Ford Models launched the first ‘Ford Supermodel of the World Competition’ seeking out new faces and talent from around the globe. Beverly Johnson became the first African American model to cover American Vogue in 1974, a huge leap for an industry that had previously underrepresented minorities.
As the 20th century came to a close, so dawned the age of the supermodel. Icons such as Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford dominated the fashion scene, defining the face of the decade with the classic ‘girl next door’ look.
The mid-1990s swung in the opposite direction with the advent of the Waif, or ‘Heroin Chic’ look encapsulated by models such as Kate Moss. This ultra-slender body type was favoured throughout the editorial scenes of New York and London but became a hot topic of controversy following a rise in body image awareness in later years.
The 2000s brought back curves with models such as Gisele Bundchen and iconic personalities like Tyra Banks. Media had taken over the industry, bringing modelling to the forefront of pop culture like never before with television shows such as America’s Next Top Model reaching millions of viewers worldwide. However, this decade also saw the rise of body image awareness and the potential detriment of pop culture.
The 2010s onwards have seen increasingly diverse models rise to fame, with individuals of all races, genders, sizes, and shapes dominating the scene. Social media has become an increasingly utilized channel through which to connect with celebrities and their daily lives. Ashley Graham, a plus-sized model, connects with millions of fans over Instagram to spread her positive messaging about self-love and body acceptance.
In many ways, this evolution can be seen as a heartening change. The media is changing to more accurately reflect the people of everyday life, and encompass a more well-rounded definition of beauty. The humanizing dimension of social media creates a space for new movements, opening the channels of communication for positive messaging and female camaraderie. While these are all great signs of progress, there is still work to do.
What’s important to remember is that these beauty ‘ideals’ are, and always have been, temporary and fleeting. The modelling and fashion industry is always adapting and in-flux. It’s in our hands to shape the future of beauty for the better.
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