Making predictions for the future is like trying to pierce a veil; we can keep jabbing at the possibilities, but predictions do not often yield realistic results. This can be seen in our modern age of uncertainty, as well as in the past. Such an example can be seen in the “Past Dictates of Fashion,” an article by Cromwell Q. Snyder, a “Vestamentorum Doctor,” which is a fancy man’s lingo for a “fashion doctor”. In this article written in 1893, Snyder predicts the future of fashion over the next 100 years, ending with 1990. His predictions may seem laughable, but the logic behind the influence of each decade is not as far-fetched as his designs. Perhaps he missed the mark on the streamlined designs we’ve come to know of the 20th century, but the lunacy of his designs expresses the uncertainty and evolving nature of the human condition as well as fashion.
We begin this epic with the present: 1893. Besides the cuffed pants this image is accurate of current styles. More curious is the dramatic change that will occur in the next 10 years at the turn of the century. Snyder credits his predictions through the “immutable laws of fashion.” Snyder believes fashion is a whim, a sort of shuttlecock for the weak-minded of both sexes, bound and rebound by social influence.
Certainly, all prejudice aside, this does hold some truth. We can trace the trends of fashion in the 20th century with the trends in the political, economic, and social environment. In regards to this article, people were not putting on whacky hats and adorning their pantaloons to be perceived as ridiculous, but to express the social expectations and movements of the predicted future. Additionally, Snyder thinks that fashion is cyclical in a sense, which is why most of his designs draw from earlier centuries, particularly the Renaissance and Tudor Era. According to Snyder, the new century, at its birth, saw black relegated to the past and the affection for color will return with a fierce vengeance. Men will wear purple and blues, while the women will range from pink to green to everything in between. For men, we can see a bit of gender-bending, as accessories such as silk bows can be worn on different parts of the body, such as the shoes or wrists, as flashy haberdashery becomes the new status quo.
As for women, female costume seems to have always been regulated by the same waves and rules which governed male costume, but in a different degree. Women would find new freedom of expression through hat-ware, while the accentuation of the waist remains steadfast throughout female fashion. Indeed, some of these costumes are quite scandalous, with the 1920’s presenting alarmingly short skirts that show off a woman’s calves (a trend we see in reality for 1920). The designs labeled 1920’s are embodied around the idea of novelty and the desire to find new ways to push the fashion envelope. As for the male model on the left, we are told that the upper portion was of crimson plush, and the lower part of a delicate pink, with white stockings and orange boots. Though it may seemed inspired by a French clown or a court jester, this outfit expresses the future interpretation of masculinity in fashion. Meaning, less black and more bravery when it comes to the color palette.
Moving forward, we see a cyclical revival during the 1930’s to combat the novelty of the 1920’s. Women accentuated past fashions with over-sized bonnets and bows, while crinoline is used to create large skirts. Though we still see the fashion of the future with the combination of these ageless styles with new, daring patterns such as polka dots and pin stripes. Men will look even farther back, reviving trends common for the Tudor period.
Interestingly enough, as we move towards the 1940’s, we see a revolution paralleled to that of the feminist rise during the WWII era. In Snyder’s future, trousers seem to have been adopted by the women at the same time that they were discarded by the men. The prosperity of the female cannot be defined by the rising and falling of skirts, so pants are the logical next step. Additionally, we begin to see a strong Oriental influence in Snyder’s designs, particularly in the adornment of tunics and inflated, untailored pants. However, since pushback is only natural, we see a colonial fashion revival as we move into the 1950’s.
The 1950’s sparked a revolution in fashion for both men and women, causing a throwback to the “glory days” of England. We can see influences from the Tudor and Imperialist Eras with cloaks, heeled shoes for men and women, as well as lace collars. Today we may see these items as inherently feminine, but in Snyder’s vision, the men were the only ones stern enough to enforce such a brave trend. In this society, masculinity is flaunted by the man’s ability to wear flashy clothing and still look masculine. Like a contest with oneself, it is a constant struggle to one-up yourself with even more daring and colorful clothing. It also demonstrates and equality of the sexes in a way, as competition in fashion was no longer reserved just for wealthy women, but was a possibility for the common man and woman as fashion between men and women became more similar and comparable to one another.
The examples provided for 1960 differ from previous because they depicted working men, rather than fashionistas of the future age. The policeman shown in the drawing for 1960 seems to have a very easy time of it, for no man’s person can be considered in danger from the mob with officers to protect them that habitually offer as many spikes and accessories as this policeman’s head displays. We may likewise suspect the military gentleman depicted in the image for 1965. It is not customary in the present day for army officers to affect umbrellas, but seventy years hence it may be found necessary to protect one’s head-dress. As government officials, it seems only logical to keep the trend of revival going, nodding to the renaissance era. This renaissance style is will begin trending in the 1960’s during the rebirth of society, Snyder predicts. This age of rebirth continues into the 1970’s as we see a turn for the better. Though, none of us are likely to be caught dead wearing neckties of this magnitude. We see a return to the streamlined trouser, as well as a new, feminine spin to the tail coat with its long, exaggerated train perfect for strutting it on the runway or to the grocery store. There is even a militaristic aspect to these suits, but with an edge of hilarity common of our new age.
After the 1970’s, only two images remain. Perhaps Snyder’s imagination grew tired, but this did not keep him from holding back on these last two designs. All that can be said of the male figure from 1984 is the continuation of accessories for men, which seem to grow larger and larger as the century goes on. However, the women of the 1980’s show a new kind of silhouette that contours women’s bodies, something that has been absent from the collection until now. This emergence of bodycon was seen prior to 1980 in reality, but Snyder’s expectation is still significant in his interpretation of the future of females and their rights. Additionally, we again see the common theme of revived haberdashery, combining styles from three different centuries into one grotesquely amazing hat.
The final image brings us into the 1990’s and thus, the end of the century. The male design is clearly influenced by the East, marking the beginning of the global age. Snyder predicted that as time continues, fashion will become more and more cohesive globally. Trends will go beyond the bounds of country and will be found in different corners of the world. The man in the photo is quite pensive as he thinks intensely and puffs on his pipe, but we can only guess if he knew what he looked like he might be thinking a little less about the state of the global economy and more about his reputation in fashion.
At the end of the article Snyder notes his general prediction and logic for the future of fashion: “The 17th century is famous as the brown century; the 18th is with us the yellow century; and the 19th we term the black century. I am asked my opinion of the 20th century. It is motley. It has seen the apotheosis of color. Yet in worshiping color we do not confound the order of things. As is the 20th, so was the 15th.” From a glance, Snyder’s predictions look like a French clown’s dreamscape, but in reality this circus of fashion is based on logical claims about the future. The idea that fashion is often recycled with a combination of current, revolutionary ideals is not a new one, but it goes to show the difficulty in applying theory to practice and predictions to reality.