World’s First Street Style Fashion Photographs

“I think fashion is a lot of fun. I love clothes. More than fashion or brand labels, I love design. I love the thought that people put into clothes. I love when clothes make cultural statements and I think personal style is really cool. I also freely recognize that fashion should be a hobby.”

– Anne Hathaway

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No matter what your opinion on fashion is, hate it or love it, there is no denying that it is an immensely important factor in cultural development. It is also more important to historians (art historians, at least) than you might think, as the dating of some portraits and paintings is often done, in part, by establishing from what period during the 15th century the clothes are.

Although familiar to the concept of fashion since ancient times, it did not really take root in Western culture until the 14th century, and really went into overdrive during the previously mentioned century, when styles would change, at times, even faster than in our present days.

This rapid change and continuous change of style led to a fragmentation of Europe’s upper classes, with each country’s upper class developing its own distinct fashion. A “re-homogenization” would not occur until the 17th and 18th centuries, when a counter-movement started imposing similar styles once again. This movement originated in the Kingdom of France, and marked Paris’ transformation into fashion captial.

Fashion became big business in Paris, with the whole of Europe taking style cues from the French capital, and by the late 19th century, the first ever haute couture house opened in the city. The man behind the Haute house was Charles Frederick Worth, who many consider to be the first fashion designer, as well as the first ever celebrity fashion designer.

Street style fashion photographs began appearing relatively shortly after this, and they of course first began popping up in France.

The bourgeois would traditionally congregate at horse races, and there were three major venues where this would happen: Longchamp, Auteuil and Chantilly.

The oldest of the three is Chantilly, being opened in 1834, and built abutting the Great Stables by owner Louis Henri. The stable, which is 186 meters long, was designed by architect Jean Aubert and is considered the most beautiful stable in the world. The grandstand was built in 1879 by another great architect, Honore Daumet, and the whole racecourse was donated to the Institut de France in 1886 by the Duc d’Aumale.

Second oldest is the Longchamp Racecourse, or Hippodrome de Longchamp, as it is called in French, and it was opened in 1857, with the first ever race taking place on the 27th of April. Built in the Bois de Boulogne, on the banks of the Seine river, Longchamp was always destined for greatness, being attended at its grand opening by France’s emperor, Napoleon III, and his wife Eugenie.

The youngest course of the three is the Auteuil Hippodrome, located on the Route des Lacs in Paris. Opened in 1873, it is most famous for being the venue that hosts the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil, sometimes referred to as the French Champion Hurdle, since 1874.

Since the early 20th century, these three locations became quite important for people who wanted to see what the fashion was going to be. They were the places you wanted to go if you wanted to see fashionable society women wearing couture gowns, and it did not take long for couturiers to see an opportunity in this.

Soon, fashion designers began sending their models to the races, dressed in the newest designs, in the hope of attracting new clientele. Aside from the models, who were paid by the day, the business savvy designers also got publicity from “fashionables”. These were well-known society personalities (inner circle celebrities, as it were) who got big discounts on the gowns the bought, if they wore them to the races, or other important events.

Longchamp, the course I just mentioned, was were the most important fashion day took place, at the end of June, known as the Grand Prix Sunday. Xavier Demange wrote about Grand Prix Sunday, which eventually got the name, in fashion circles, Longchamp, that it was a day “when new fashion trends were established, when couturiers and fashionables observed a pause and agreed on what would be worn the coming year “.

Magazines, of course, took notice of this from very early on, and began sending photographers to document these events. The first pioneer of street style fashion photography was Des Modes’ photographer, Edmond Cordonnier, being the first to specialize in outdoor photography, and take fashion pictures at the ractracks in 1901-1902.

Cordonnier, together with Louis and Henri Séeberger, represented fashion photography, as was seen in fashion magazines, but there were also hobbyists and art photographers who were interested in the phenomenon, but did not consider themselves fashion photographers. It is these people who captured what women were actually wearing during the period, and the actual street fashions, as opposed to what you would see in the magazines.

If you want to read more about these hobbyists, and about street style fashion photographs during the turn of the 20th century, I whole heartedly recommend this article written by Keren Ben-Horin for On Pins and Needles, where she talks about the subject at large, and also offers short biographies of the photographers.

But now, the reason you are all here, here are some of the world’s first street style fashion photographs, taken at Longchamps between 1910 and 1920:

Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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Longchamps fashion photography

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And with that, I conclude my article on old timey street style fashion photography. I hope you enjoyed my brief history lesson, and looking at the photos I have chosen. I also hope you will continue scrolling down to the comment section, and give me a bit of feedback.

What interesting information have you got about early street photography?

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