A Quick History of Fashion Modeling

History of Fashion Modeling
Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images

Until the late 1800s, “modeling” was primarily a term (from the Middle French word ‘modelle’) used to describe people posing for a portrait.  Upon the invention of the camera, people would pose for more than painted portraits, and soon, ads featuring pictures of men and women were added to newspapers. Before this, Charles Frederick Worth, who is considered by most to be the “father of haute couture,” had his wife model his designs in the early 1850s.

Until then, mannequins were used to “model” clothing. Worth’s wife, Marie Augustine Vernet, was his “live mannequin,” and is considered the first ever fashion model. Not only was Worth the first designer to use live models, but he was also the first designer to sew his label onto clothing.

The First Modeling Agencies

After Worth had begun using live models, modeling as a profession was established, and others began to follow suit. After the invention of photography (including fashion photography), the industry boomed. In 1946, Ford Models was created by Eileen and Gerard Ford. Ford Models is one of the first and most prestigious modeling agencies in the world, and it opened many doors for models looking to build a career out of what was once just a hobby.

While there were very successful models in the 1950s, being a successful model meant being known within the fashion community, rather than in pop-culture as a whole the way models are now known.

Some of the big names at the time were Dovima, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Wilhelmina Cooper, and Dorothea Parker. The most successful models would make up to $25/hour, which was considered a lot of money at the time.

In the 1960s, modeling agencies started popping up all over the world. Most models did not travel much for work, so they tended to work within whichever industry was thriving where they lived.

London became a fashion hub in the 1960s thanks to the models it produced like Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, and Joanna Lumley, and it remains a fashion and modeling hub to this day. 

Modeling As a Legitimate Profession

The 1970s and 1980s brought better wages and working conditions for models, as well as models landing cosmetic and hair endorsements. Modeling competitions were popular ways to find new models in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1980, the first Ford Supermodel of the World Competition was held to discover fresh faces from around the globe. The 1970s also meant marking significant milestones in the fashion and modeling industry. In 1974, Beverly Johnson became the first African-American model to grace the cover of American Vogue, and model Margaux Hemingway signed an astounding million-dollar contract in 1975. Her contract led to her covering Time magazine, which further solidified the legitimacy of modeling as a profession. 

The Supermodel Era

The 1990s is known as the decade of the “supermodel,” and their famous faces were everywhere. Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Stephanie Seymour were, and remain, some of the most recognizable supermodels of the time. When Victoria’s Secret and Sports Illustrated rose in popularity, so too did the demand for sexier and curvier models like Heidi Klum, Claudia Schiffer, and Tyra Banks.

 

The Digital Age and Social Media

The 2000s brought a whole new aspect to the modeling world: social media. Now, models are more involved than ever with their fans as they share parts of their lives no one got to see before. Models like Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Cara Delevingne have millions of followers on their social media accounts, and this is often a big factor in a brand’s decision to hire them. The 2000s also brought a new and improved market for models who look different than “traditional” models

The modeling world is constantly evolving, and today there is an enormous market for models of all ages, sizes, heights, and shapes!  There has never been a better time to get seen by top model agents and scouts and live your dream of becoming a model.