Fashion is a way of creating new and distinctive designs that can be worn by different people in different settings. It is often a reflection of the times in which it is created, but it can also be influenced by, technology, culture, even religion. Before the mid-19th century, most clothing was home-made. Occasionally, a village dressmaker was available to make a made-to-measure dress. The wealthy often employed seamstresses who dealt directly, and often exclusively, with their patron. The rapid mechanization of fabric production led to the appearance of ready-to-wear stores that provided the middle classes an opportunity to move away from home-made garments.
Aniline dye printed fabrics were used for many of the garments that were produced in this period. They were woven according to a manufacturing method that caused the dyes to run down the surface of the fabric. This made the garments more textured and interesting. The process created fabrics that contrasted with the smoother, lighter-colored cottons and linens that were also popular at the time. Aniline dyes could also be applied to other materials to give them a more sophisticated appearance. One example is aniline colored velvet which was very popular through the 1890’s. It was made in a range of colors, from soft pink to dark red and sometimes bright purple. The Aniline colored velvet was a soft, comfortable fabric that clung to the body, revealing the wearer’s shape, and giving it an attractive drape. It was especially popular for evening dresses. Velvet was made in a range of textures, from fine to coarse. It was usually trimmed with delicate embroidery, lace, ribbons and beading.
The quick paced development of machines during this century also had a profound impact on textile design. Mechanization allowed for ever increasing quantities of fabric that could be rapidly printed in a single pattern. Once the market identified a preferred pattern, it could be rapidly produced in a multitude of colors to meet demand. For example, rotary printing of fabric effectively replaced handblocked and plate printing. This innovation led to concern, among manufacturers, for the protection of their popular designs. A campaign followed for the implantation of copyright protection to cover designs on printed fabric. A variety of patterns were made on the fabrics that were produced by rotary printing, but the most common was a floral pattern. Floral prints were most often seen on dresses and skirts, and they had a distinctly feminine quality.