What's “Haute Couture”?
The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines “high fashion” as “bringing haute couture to normal people”1 , and if you are reading this, you have probably seen or heard of popular brands like Gucci, Chanel, Fendi, Dior, and many others that fill our outlets and Instagram feeds on a daily, but of course, like myself, refuse to be labeled as a “normal person” — I hear you. High fashion is not something only actors, artists and multi-millionaires can use. The essence of haute couture goes deeper than a brand and instead dips into forms of artistic expression, style, and an understanding of societal norms, wants, and needs. High fashion brands like the ones listed above have been the masterminds behind some of the most sought-after pieces for years and have dominated the fashion industry not because of their name, but because of their passion, dedication and message. Haute couture comes at a price though, and not one that is so easily paid on a regular basis, so how can we encapsulate high fashion without spending the hefty price? First, we must understand the history of what makes high fashion so valuable and desirable. After understanding haute couture’s demanding requirements, we can explore the ways of incorporating these characteristics on daily outfits and gain a sense of respect and admiration for brands that inspire and create so well. Before looking forward, let’s look to the past where it all began— the sensational dauphine of France, Marie Antoinette!
A Brief History:
Haute couture was first coined by Marie Antoinette in the eighteenth century. Thanks to her own personal dressmaker, Rose Bertin, this queen became a fashion icon that inspired and “established France as the center of fashion and couture”2. Because of Marie Antoinette’s own embellished and dramatized style, haute couture was born and centered on being an artistic expression instead of just something to wear. As a result, both men and women began incorporating bright colors, ruffles, jewels, feathers and any other fabrics and accessories to stand out and express themselves to curious onlookers. This became what we know and see today on high fashion runways, but it also gave way to the formidable requirements these high fashion brands must meet today. Some of the most iconic high fashion brands include well-known names like Thierry Mugler, Valentino, Schiaparelli, Chanel, Fendi, Dior, and Elie Saab—just to name some of my personal favorites. Because high fashion, or “haute couture,” is a term that is legally protected by the French government, there are very real requirements that differentiates them from other fashion houses which further supports the notion that haute couture is indeed elite. Below are the requirements that a fashion house must meet in order to be recognized as haute couture and participate in all things related.
- Garments must be made-to-order and by hand in an atelier, or workshop, in Paris
- Said atelier must staff at least 15 full time employees and 20 full time technical
- Two collections must be presented every season
- Collections must present at least 50 original designs
- Collections must present both day and evening looks
- Collections are to be presented in January and July
- Garments are created for private clients that usually require multiple fittings
- Brands can only become a member with haute couture status if they are invited to
presentations for at least 4 seasons in a row
Based on this, it’s easy to see why haute couture is such a close-knit niche that often demands a designer’s total dedication to this elaborate and competitive art. However, haute couture, although close-knit and seemingly cliquish, serves as an inspiration to other fashion brands that can take notes and create a high fashion look without the demanding requirements and cost. As outside onlookers, we fashionistas, style queens, and Instagram baddies can take notes from some of the most prestigious runway shows from haute couture designers and implement similar styles and techniques in our own wardrobe and styling choices. As we have probably seen, haute couture is all about silhouettes, pushing boundaries, playing with textures, colors and embracing experimentation and body confidence! Below are some style tips that can take your dress game from drab to haute couture fab!
How to look/dress high fashion?
- Buy clothes that fit your body well— no oversized pieces— unless it is intentional.
- Buy clothes with natural fabrics— this includes cottons, silks, wool, or —faux—fur!
(We love our animals, and who would really know the difference?!)
- Make sure your clothes are always well-pressed and clean— no wrinkles here!
- Be ready for the weather— don’t wear a leather jacket in 90-degree weather…
- Replace the buttons— a smart DIY to spice up a boring look
- Stop washing your stuff so much— seriously!
- Invest in expensive statement pieces— optional, but makes so much difference!
- Color coordinate! — monochrome will always be a look— unless its denim…
- Mix textures— go against your instinct and experiment!
- Layer it up— our teenage selves knew what they were doing!
- Change up footwear— no Converse don’t go with everything— sorry Demi…
- Play w proportions— remember when I said “intentional”!
- Blazer fun— always a classy option.
- Accessorize— pull out those hats, scarves, sunnies, and jewelry!
- Makeup experimentation— for a bolder look (check out Valentino’s flower lash
Now, go out and rock your local coffee shop, bar, museum, or maybe just your living room— you’re sure to be the envy of the town in no time! But first…
Take this quiz to find out “What high fashion brand are you?”