Men and women wishing to keep up with the current fashions could consult a number of specialist fashion magazines that disseminated and commented on the creations of fashion houses, milliners, tailors and those of the department stores. (Le Louvre, Le Bon Marché, La Ville de Saint-Denis, etc). In fact the department stores offered not only the elements to create an elegant outfit but also high quality complete dresses and hats whose styles rivalled those of the best dressmakers in Paris (Mrs Maugas, Ghys, Roger, Camille, etc), who began to call themselves “couturiers”. Following the example of the internationally renowned House of Worth, established in 1858, there was a proliferation of fashion houses between 1875 and 1885.
A crucial figure in developing the designs was the industrial designer, who, from simply creating prints and embroidery, had expanded his field in the 1840-1860s to include making women’s clothes. He supplied a lithographed outline of a dress, coat, short cape, etc, that the manufacturer or fabric wholesaler would complete by attaching samples. From these figures, the designer could create increasingly complex styles that would in fact become patterns that he sold to the couturiers or the department stores, and which would then be circulated in magazines and catalogues. The best known of these designers were Charles Pilatte, Emile Mille, Etienne Leduc and Léon Sault.
Crinoline dresses were regarded as the epitome of fashion under the Second Empire. The market for steel-hooped petticoats grew spectacularly at this time, and resulted in a large number of new patents. The bodice and skirt that made up these rounded dresses were mostly produced as separate pieces. In the 1850s, the bodices worn in town, over a corset and buttoned up at the front, had a small basque and flared pagoda sleeves. From the 1860s on, sleeves became narrower. Formal bodices – worn to the theatre or a ball – had wide, low necklines, small cap sleeves, and came down to a sharp point to flatter the waist.
However from 1866, the trendsetters were starting to move away from the crinoline, considering it ordinary and too uncomfortable. They favoured dresses with trains and shorter, looped up dresses, a style that would reach its ultimate expression in the poufs a pannier dress style with large side puffs, and in the polonaises dress style. Bodices became shorter. The new fashion that developed from 1870 put more emphasis on the curve of the waist, and placed the fullness of the skirt at the back, supported by a hooped petticoat - the bustel. So having been overwhelmed by masses of cumbersome fabric, women were now wearing a complex arrangement of flounces, drapes and panels of fabric that combined lace, velvet, plush and trimmings, with the bust still tightly bound in a whalebone bodice. This long, slim silhouette was at its peak from 1876 to1878.