Street Style Origins Found: French Impressionists Connected Art and Fashion


Is this the world’s first example of street style?  A new exhibit at Chicago’s Art Institute takes a look at the painters of late 19th-century Paris responsible for capturing the beginnings of the fashion industry as we know it today. 

“The latest fashion . . . is absolutely necessary for a painting. It’s what matters most.” —Édouard Manet, 1881.

From Marc Jacobs and Stephen Sprouse to Elsa Schiaparelli’s work with the Surrealists, the crossover between the fashion and art worlds is a long-established source of inspiration for designers and artists alike. A stunning new exhibit, Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity at Chicago’s Art Institute dates the exact period in history when these worlds first collided, and shows how art and fashion go hand-in-hand in capturing the subtitles of modern life.

If you’ve ever wondered when the fashion media’s seductive hold over women began, the world’s first-ever street style was copied, or even the first supermodel pose struck, it’s all here in late 19th-century Paris as documented by the Impressionist masters like Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georges Seurat and James Tissot.


The Parisienne by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Over 75 major works of art are on show alongside pristine examples of the rapidly changing fashion trends that inspired them. The immersive installation brings to life the story of Paris from the mid 1860s to the mid 1880s – then emerging as the world’s undisputed style capital –and how its new department stores, ready-to-wear clothing, fashion magazines, and burgeoning middle class inspired artists seeking a new way to define the times through their art.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Loge, 1874

In addition to the selection of period dresses are delicate shoes, hats, fans, parasols, finely-boned corsets, photographs, and fashion plates that vividly illuminate the booming demand for affordable fashionable clothing, (which before the invention of the sewing machine in the 1850s was purely the prerogative of the very privileged).

Organized in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the exhibition broke attendance records in Paris and due to the enthusiastic response by visitors, the Art Institute of Chicago have extended the exhibit’s viewing through Sunday, September 29, 2013.


Example of period Roger formal dress

All Images: Chicago’s Art Institute

Related on Ecosalon:

Ecosalon at NYFW: Street Style

Now and Then: A History of Fashion Media

Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.