Now & Then: The History of Lace

Not so straight laced: Whether you decide to vamp it up in black lace or play modest in white, different colored lace can symbolize either sophistication or naïveté.

One thing you can be certain of this coming wedding season, is that the bride will be wearing lace. If last year’s royal wedding wasn’t enough inspiration, the white-hot trend for lace in ready-to-wear means the delicate openwork fabric is the summer’s signature detail.

The mysterious stranger in black lace.

Soft and feminine, lace – the word itself derived from the Latin laqueus, meaning loop or noose – is never far from the surface of women’s fashions. Lace production first boomed in Europe during the 1700s. Handcrafted needle-made lace was not only a labor-intensive effort, but also involved high amounts of personal skill. Worn as a sign of prestige and wealth, it was among the most valued of a household’s possessions. Some periods of history since then have been more lace obsessed than others, but the strong feeling for it this time around speaks to our growing desire for heritage styles with long-lasting heirloom qualities.

Lace-loving royal brides: Britain’s Duchess Catherine and Monaco’s Princess Grace dazzled in white-on-white bespoke lace.

Beyond expressing itself precious, lace is unique for its ability to embrace the betwixt and between, to narrate an ambiguous sense of femininity that is best told as a story where opposites are free to meet. Can you think of another fabric that encompasses two such opposite ends of the spectrum as readily as lace does? Both traditional and modern, demure and sexy, girlish and womanly, it’s no wonder it’s so popular with royal brides, Madonna and Italian designers, Dolce & Gabbana.

Madonna in her “Like A Virgin” punk phase was shocking in 1984 in a not-so-virginal white lace.

Chantilly, eyelet, guipure, laser cut, appliquéd on canvas or crocheted on cotton, lace in all its many forms was spotted on many designer’s spring/summer runways. Available in white, black, red, lavender and lemon, the variations and connotations possible were as endless as they were easy.

Free spirited Jane Birkin out on the town with Serge Gainsbourg, wearing a low cut white lace dress.

Now & Then: The History of the Platform Shoe

Now & Then: The History of Fitness Wear

Now & Then: The History of the Paisley Print

Now & Then: The History of the Pencil Skirt

Now & Then: The History of the Cocktail Dress

Now & Then: The History of the Trench Coat

Now & Then: The History of the Bold Brow

Now & Then: The History of the Cuff

Now & Then: The History of Turtlenecks

Now & Then: The History of Tights

Now & Then: The History of Skinny Jeans

Now & Then: The History of the Chevron Stripe

Now & Then: The History of Penny Loafers

Now & Then: The History of Go-Go Boots

Now & Then: The History of the Poet Blouse


Rowena Ritchie

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