As people are encouraged back into the office, they will be swapping out the relaxed leisurewear they have been wearing for Zoom meetings to more formal work attire. For many women this will likely mean finding a combination of skirt or trousers and a blouse. This maybe an item which is today considered a staple of a smart woman’s wardrobe, but it has a history far more complex.
Origins of the blouse
The word “blouse” has its roots in French, with the term originally referring to the blue shirts work by French workmen in the nineteenth century. Over time, the term was generalised to describe the various smocks and tunics worn by peasants and farm labourers. However, by the 1870s, as women started to enter the workforce in greater numbers the term had morphed from describing an item of male clothing to one made for “a young lady”.
By the start of the twentieth century, over half of all single women in Britain worked outside the home and with blouses becoming astable of the working woman, it soon became a fashionable garment for women across the social strata.
Blouses in wartime
The outbreak of the First World War changed the blouse. Prior to 1914 blouses were becoming increasingly elaborate, with new materials such as artificial silk being utilised for production. However, with factories repurposed for the war effort and most materials being sent for the production of military uniforms, blouses became simpler once again so as to use the least amount of fabric. The scarcity of metal, with almost all of it being diverted to the war effort, also heralded the shift from hooks and eyes to buttons and a garment closer to what we think of as a blouse today emerged.
Style and fashion
Since the 1950s, a wealth of fashions in blouses have come and gone, from the huge rounded collars of the 1970s, to double cuffs, and with the invention of new synthetic materials such as polyester. Today, women can choose from a huge variety of styles of blouses created for every occasion from the timeless button-down blouse that never goes out of style, to more trendy crop blouses, or chic off-shoulder blouses that are designed to highlight the feminine physique and are designed for dressier occasions. Whether dressing up plus size blouses for special occasions or aiming for a casual yet stylish look, there will be a style of blouse to match.
Whilst there may be hundreds or even thousands of blouse styles to choose from, women are increasingly choosing to avoid fast-fashion trends and instead investing in high-quality garments that are made to last, and will likely remains stylish for years to come. As a result, a number of more ethical and eco-friendly brands have emerged, which prioritise sustainable practices, environmentally conscious materials, and fair wages for everyone involved in the production of the garment from the farmers growing the cotton to the factory workers stitching the hems.