Feathers and Fashion

There has been a longstanding association between the two in the world of fashion, however feathers have been an ornament of dress throughout history from opulent peacock plumes, exuberant ostrich feathers to demure marabou plumage. Feathers have been long been associated with high society, aristocracy and the fashion conscious throughout the centuries.

The feather was introduced to the world of fashion in the Middle Ages (1066-1482), when men and women of high social standing decorated their headdresses with plumes and jewellery to display their status.

During medieval times fashion was highly influenced by the Kings and Queens of the era, however it was only the wealthy that could afford to dress fashionably. The elaborate headdress worn by people in the Middle Ages, immediately conveyed the high ranking on the social ladder. By the latter part of the 15th century, feather and fur trimmings had become a staple part of the aristocracy’s wardrobes.

In the 17th century, plumassiers (feather workers) would craft ostrich, peacock, or heron feathers into objects or accessories though strictly for those of high social standing. The trend did not catch on for the general populace until the dawn of the 18th century and although feather boas made from ostrich, marabou, turkey and chandelle feathers had emerged as stylish accessories during the 17th century, they didn’t become popular until the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.

During the height of the "plume boom" in the 19th century, the aristocracy began to wear whole stuffed birds on hats and South African ostrich plumes were in so high demand that their value per pound was almost equal to that of diamonds.

While women of high class took to decorating their hats and gowns with feathers, using them as an embodiment of their own fragility, Parisian dancers of the Moulin Rouge used the luxurious opulence acquainted to the ostrich feather to adorn their headdresses, seductively using the ethereal sex appeal we get from feathers to create their visually extravagant erotic shows.

In addition to their sensual nature, when worn feathers are also seen as titillating, a puff of air, a slight breeze, and who knows what might be revealed? Feathers sigh with sex, whether in the flirtatious wave of a feather fan or a Jean Harlow marabou-tipped gown.

The 20th century saw designers, including Yves Saint Laurent and Cristobal Balenciaga, utilizing feathers as a replacement for fur on the collars of coats or to fill entire dresses, celebrating the elegance and refinement of feathers and plumes in the fashion industry, highlighting facets including refinement, luxury, freedom, modernism, femininity and lightness.

Feathers continue to feature inmany designers’ collections today, from milliners such as Steven Jones and Phillip Treacy to garment designers including Christian Dior, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Dries van Noten, and Ann Demeulemeester who have all utilized feathers to exude modernism, glamour, drama, and seduction.
The late Alexander McQueen said. "I admire eagles and falcons. I am inspired by a feather's shape but also its color, its graphics, its weightlessness, and its engineering. It's so elaborate. In fact I try and transpose the beauty of a bird to women.
In an attempt to emula
te in imagery what McQueen so perfectly did with couture, my aim here is to play some small part in this continued fascination between fashion, feathers and female sexuality.

Fashion, you see, is in no small way about sex. Biologists theorize that in nature birds with brighter plumage and longer tails are the more successful when it comes to mating than their more ordinarily attired counterparts.One can call a feathered boa frivolous, but it is indisputably sexy, and sex, after all, is how we go about ensuring the continuity of the species... 

Beauté Aviaire [Avian Beauty] Exhibition 
In Collaboration with Fashionscape Europe 2014
5th-31st August 2014, George Street, Edinburgh, UK.
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