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Guide to French Fashion from 1871 - 1914 (La Belle Epoque)

A resource guide featuring everything from the material culture, to the social implications of the fashion of this brief but beautiful era.




1908 Callot Soeurs. Silk, bead, linen, metal. (James, 2017).

The Belle Epoque represented many things - the removal of restrictive corsets, restrictive world interaction, and restrictive social norms. The advent of shopping malls, the World Fair and international trade meant that women gained a new and freer role in their society, and their broader reach into the world was reflected through their fashion. Walking dresses were invented, along with bicycle skirts. Even the most sumptuous and ornate of gowns had an element of freedom not found in earlier fashions. Below are resources of books, encyclopedias, articles and websites that will help you learn more about this fascinating era and build a mental image of a beautiful era gone by.

1.) "Art Nouveau and Art Deco." Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Retrieved November 15, 2018 from

This article in the Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion describes the profusion of silk, lace and the S-curve corset that mimicked the signature “swirl” that Art Nouveau became famous for. It not only outlines the fashion of the haute couture, but details how the fashion trickled down into the middle and lower classes.


2.) Dayan, P. (1993). Vanités: Photographies de mode des XIXe et XXe siècles. Paris: Centre national de la photographie.

A French guide containing mostly photographs from the Belle Epoque era, highlighting the fashions of the time through visual examples.


3.) Groom, G., & Brevik-Zender, H. (2012). Impressionism, fashion & modernity. Chicago, IL: The Art Institute of Chicago.

A book that takes a look at early Art Nouveau (1880’s) and the fashion that came right before. This was when the exchange between art and fashion began with the Impressionists, and continued on with the artists who defined the era of Belle Epoque.


4.) Hatcher, J., & Dukovic, P. (2015, March 23). Twenty-One Dresses. The New Yorker. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from

This article describes a unique find for the material culture world, and the overall rarity of finding pieces from this time period.


5.) Haug, J. (2016). Gazette du Bon Ton 1912-1915. Victoriana Magazine.

This article describes a magazine called Vogel released during the height of the Belle Epoque (1914), complete with illustrations that were hand painted, and highlighted the premiere fashion designers of the era, including Paul Poiret, Callot Soeurs, Jeanne Paquin, House of Worth, and Jacques Doucet.  


6.) Jullian, P., & Vreeland, D. (1982). La Belle Epoque: An essay.

Pages 38 to 44 detail Belle Epoque fashion, specifically the influence the French and Poiret had on women’s fashions. In one season, those not dressed by him looked out of date – a transition even faster than our own speedy fashion world.


7.) Mancoff, D. N. (2012). Fashion in Impressionist Paris. London: Merrel.

Featuring famous impressionist paintings that captured early Belle Epoque fashion, this gives an everyday glimpse of how and where the fashions of the time would have been worn, and how beautifully they played across the Parisian landscape.


8.) Nuzzi, C. (1979). Parisian fashion from the Journal des Dames et des Modes (Vol. I). New York: Rizzoli.

Described as the forerunner of Vogue and published for just two years (1912-1914) at the end of what has become known as the Belle Epoque, the magazine's priceless illustrations, known as Costumes Parisiens, were designed by the most renowned artists of the time.


9.) Nuzzi, C. (1979). Parisian fashion from the Journal des Dames et des Modes (Vol. II). New York: Rizzoli.

Contains the second volume of the series mentioned above.


10.) Peacock, J., & Lacroix, C. (2007). Fashion since 1900: The complete sourcebook. London: Thames & Hudson.

Drawings from 1900 until 1915 that are shown in full color, before the advent of color photography, help bring an accurate picture to mind what fashion of the Belle Epoque era would have looked contemporarily – without the worry of aged materials and fading. Each drawing is meticulously researched and expertly drawn.


11.) Rose, C. (2014). Art Nouveau fashion. London: VA Publishing.

This gorgeous book shows heavily embroidered and intricate clothing, noting that the Art Nouveau era overlapped with Arts and Crafts, and thus a focus was put on the art of craft, even for clothing.


12.) Saillard, O., & Zazzo, A. (2013). Paris haute couture. Paris: Flammarion.

A book that describes fashion from the 1860’s onwards – contains a section on the Belle Epoque era that defined Paris fashion.


13.) Majer, M. (2018). Plus que Reine: The Napoleonic Revival in Belle Epoque Theatre and Fashion. Theatre Symposium, 26(1), 11-39.

Focusing on a smaller area of fashion within the Belle Epoque era, this article discusses the influence of Napoleon and Josephine on the theater scene – the costumes expertly maintaining the styles of both the Belle Epoque and Neoclassicism.

(Beautiful Parisian, 2018).