Couture Through the Years: From Sleek Silhouettes to Crazy Costumes

While couture shows today often feature over-the-top looks, styles have become increasingly elaborate over the years — a change that occurred alongside fewer designers putting out couture collections and clothing becoming more casual in general.

In the 1960s, couture shows featured floor-length and knee-length dresses in solid colors and simple patterns. Models accessorized with simple jewelry and paired block heels with the classic dresses, adding some height to their looks but not sporting crazy styles.

couture, James Galanos, runway
A model wears a full-length diamond patterned dress with a button front at James Galanos’ Couture fall ’68 runway show.
CREDIT: Nick Machalaba

Through the 1970s, the simple, wearable runway shoe trend continued, with models walking in kitten heels or even flats. Runway outfits became increasingly complex, and heavily embellished dresses reigned supreme.

Emanuel Ungaro, couture
Diana Vreeland and a model wearing a couture gown at the opening of the Emanuel Ungaro boutique on Madison Avenue in New York in 1977.
CREDIT: Darleen Rubin

In the ’80s, models came out in lower necklines, but gowns remained simple in silhouette and material. Models wore strappy sandals and slingback pumps.

With the ’90s came the rise of creative collections. While previous couture looks came together with simple hair and makeup, ’90s couture looks featured elaborate updos and bold face paint. Two designers, Christian Dior’s John Galliano and Givenchy’s Alexander McQueen, led the pack throughout the decade, creating luxurious, otherworldly looks that mixed styles from various parts of the world. Shoes became more complicated as well, and classic styles were updated with new materials and cutouts.

couture, archives, Dior
A model walks the runway of the Christian Dior spring ’98 couture collection in Paris.
CREDIT: Giovanni Giannoni

By the 2000s, couture had reached the absurdist peak it’s known for today. Gone were the subdued colors of decades past; now designers made statements with neon pinks and blues, putting models on the runway in exaggerated silhouettes, outrageous headpieces and bold-colored shoes.

In the 2010s so far, designers have gone back to more simple hairstyles but are playing with shoes more than ever, testing out high platform shoes to elevate models to new heights. As for the clothes? Anything is fair game, and current couture looks to challenge the boundaries of what’s even considered clothing.

Click through the gallery to see more couture styles.

couture, archives
A model on the runway at On Aura Tout Vu’s fall ’11 haute couture show at Jardins du Palais Royal.
CREDIT: Giovanni Giannoni
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