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Prêt-à-Porter: Making Luxury Fashion Accessible to All

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The expression prêt-à-porter refers to clothing produced in series and ready to wear. This means that prêt-à-porter garments are not personalized or exclusive and are available in stores or warehouses.

Also linked to the English phrase ready to wear, the prêt-à-porter element is attributed to Pierre Cardín. It began to be used in 1950 with the intention of making fashion more accessible.

The prêt-à-porter style uses cheap materials (at least compared to those used in haute couture) and the manufacturing is industrial. The creators of prêt-à-porter work with standardized sizes.

In prêt-à-porter the designs are not unique. Multiple garments are massively produced and the same models are offered in different sizes. These characteristics make fashion more accessible to those who cannot go to a dressmaker.

In the 1950s, many designers opposed the development of ready-to-wear. The referents of the “Haute Couture” defended artisan work and custom garments created to order.

For decades, fashion was a luxury within the reach of a few. The designers Charles Frederick Worth and Rose Bertín, fathers of haute couture, designed their creations exclusively and made them by hand for a select audience. For years, couturiers reproduced this elitist work model, which had its highest representative in Christian Dior.

The prêt-à-porter collections make it easy for people to get new designs and clothes in tune with the latest trends in numerous stores. Thus, the objective of bringing fashion to a greater number of sectors is fulfilled.

Pierre Cardín was its promoter, democratizing fashion and making it available to everyone. Born in Italy in 1922, trained with Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior, he had a futuristic vision not only for his designs, but also for his business model, which brought about an important social transformation.

We must situate ourselves in the context of post-war Europe to understand that only a few could afford to buy bespoke garments and that haute couture was becoming less and less important.

It was then that Cardín created this system that consisted of making more practical and accessible clothing for almost all consumers. Pierre Cardín was a pioneer in proposing a pattern-making system, through which designs could be mass-produced and displayed in stores, in different sizes, ready to be worn.

It should be noted that this model, which was a revolution almost a century ago, is the most common today: we go to a store, either out of economic convenience or out of affinity with its trends, and we buy a unit of a garment that is mass-produced for hundreds and thousands of people to enjoy.

Despite the fact that prêt-à-porter was very poorly received by haute couture designers, the idea was very well received by the public. Pierre Cardín’s first designs were exhibited at the Printemps department store in Paris, a completely revolutionary concept for the time. Over time, designers joined this new way of working and most of them combined their haute couture collections with prêt-à-porter lines, with rare exceptions such as the Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga, who refused to to design prêt-à-porter.

When prêt-à-porter emerged, its distribution took place in boutiques, which are equivalent to today’s department stores or shopping centers.

It is curious to think that the vision that high society had at that time of those who were forced to purchase these mass-produced products has not changed so much over time, although today’s prêt-à-porter consumers also have people with high purchasing power.

Today, buying clothes made to measure by a dressmaker is still something for the wealthiest consumers, but among those who consume ready-to-wear there are also clients with deep pockets. The nuance that remains to be applied to this equation to understand the differences between today and the mid-20th century is the great diversity of brands, ranging from the most accessible (with stores that really resemble department stores) to the exclusive (where the price of a t-shirt can be equivalent to that of several sets of one of the above).

Competition has always been a key element in the success of almost any commercial venture, and in the case of prêt-à-porter products it also happened: although it was not well accepted as soon as it was introduced to the market, this improved over time as big names joined, such as Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.

Currently, few designers maintain their haute couture lines, governed by regulations issued by the Chambre de Commerce et D’industrie de Paris (Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry), and their business is increasingly exclusive and elitist. The lines of large fashion firms such as Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana or Óscar de la Renta present their luxury prêt-à-porter collections each year, more accessible than exclusive haute couture designs, but of high quality. Mass-produced, available in stores in a variety of sizes, but still not within everyone’s reach.

At Sirena Elite, you have the opportunity to receive a free monthly pattern of your selection made by the designer Tommie Hernandez. They are accessible and practical patterns in the prêt-à-porter style where sizes range from extra small (XX Small) to “plus” sizes (XX Large). The club also offers the opportunity to publish your creations, win prizes with monthly challenges and share with other members. Join today and enjoy two weeks free here

Article written by

Sitka Shabelly

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