Charles Fredrick Worth is known by many in the fashion world as the “Father of Modern Haute Couture”. Born in Lincolnshire, England in 1826, Worth began his career working for London textile merchants. In addition to learning about textiles, Worth also studied portraits at the National Gallery and was always inspired by the beautiful gowns he saw in them.
In 1845 Worth moved to Paris and found work with Gagelin, a successful textile firm that sold shawls and some ready-to-wear fashions. He would go on to become the head salesman and eventually Gagelin would open a dressmaking department for Worth. This was his first job as a dressmaker. He continued to be successful with Gagelin and displayed many award winning designs from 1851-1855. He left Gagelin in 1858 to open his own design house with a business partner.
Worth’s rise to success coincided with the rise of the Second Empire of France. In 1852, Napoleon III transformed Paris into the showpiece of Western Europe and made Paris the location for many state events and elevated it to a level of luxury not seen since the French Revolution. When Napoleon III married Empress Eugenie, her taste in fashion set the trend for Paris Haute Couture, and her loyal patronage of Worth for the 1860’s onward ensured his continued success.
Worth became famous for his use of lavish fabrics and trims and his incorporation of historic dress. Worth was also a pioneer in the way that couture fashion was purchased. In Paris at the time, designers would custom make fashions for their wealthy clients. Worth pioneered what we know today as the fashion show. He would create several designs and have them modeled for clients, at which time clients could order the designs they wanted to be handmade by the House of Worth.
An extensive collection of Worth’s gowns still remains today in American museums, a testament to his popularity with American socialites as well as the royalty and aristocracy of Europe. It was not uncommon at the time for wealthy American women to travel to Paris to have an entire wardrobe of morning, afternoon and evening gowns, in addition to tea wrappers, nightgowns, wedding gowns and ball gowns. Worth also dressed many of the stage entertainers of the day.
The House of Worth survived its namesake, run by his son’s and grandson’s until the mid-1950’s, when Worth’s great-grandson Jean-Charles retired. Worth's importance lies in the innovations he brought to fashion and the creation of haute couture. Many of Worth’s silhouettes can be seen in wedding fashions today.
Be sure to vote for your favorite dress for 1921. A lovely Charles Worth dress is in the running.