Charles Frederick Worth

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Charles Frederick Worth
Charles Frederick Worth (Mars 1895).jpg
Born (1825-10-13)13 October 1825
Bourne, Lincolnshire, England
Died 10 March 1895(1895-03-10) (aged 69)
Paris, France
Nationality English
Occupation Fashion designer
Known for Creating haute couture
Spouse(s) Marie Vernet Worth
Children Gaston, Jean-Philippe
Parent(s) William Worth and Ann Worth, neé Quincey [1]
Labels House of Worth

Charles Frederick Worth (13 October 1825 – 10 March 1895) was an English fashion designer who produced his designs in Paris. He is now considered the father of haute couture.[2][3]

Early life (1825-95)[edit]

Charles Frederick Worth, age 30

Charles Frederick Worth was born on October 13, 1825 in Bourne Lincolnshire [4] to William and Ann Worth. He was their fifth and final child, and the only child other than his brother, William Worth III, to survive to maturity. Charles’ father, William II, left his family in 1836, after falling into bankruptcy, speculatively from gambling or alcoholism. Charles soon found a job in a printer’s shop. After only one year, he expressed boredom in his current trade and his interest in fashion. Ann Worth died in Highgate, London in 1852, at the age of 59. At this point in time, Charles was a sales assistant at Gagelin in Paris.[5]

In 1838, Worth worked for Swan & Edgar, a textiles shop in Piccadilly Circus, London. Seven years later, Lewis & Allenby, another leading British textiles shop, employed Worth. Still, he sought a more fulfilling life and, in 1846, Charles Frederick Worth moved to Paris.[6]


Early career[edit]

Worth moved to Paris in 1846 and was taken on by Gagelin-Opigez et Cite as a selling clerk. Gagelin-Opigez was one of the most prominent clothing establishments in Paris (sold only the finest goods) and specialized in shawls and wraps. Charles Frederick Worth began sewing dresses to complement the shawls advertised at Gagelin-Opigez. His expert tailoring caught the eye’s of clients, leading him to design dresses of his own. Generally, dresses were designed to please the client, but Worth designed and created his own visions, innovating the fashion world in a contemporary direction.[4]

In the 1850, Worth began designing and creating dresses for Gagelin. He initially made simple dresses to accompany Gagelin's shawls and wraps; but women noticed the expert creation of Worth’s dresses and wanted to buy them as well. Eventually, Gagelin granted Worth permission to open a dress department, officially marking his entrance into the dressmaking world.[6]

Family and Career[edit]

Marie Vernet Worth

After marrying a Gagelin employee, Marie Augustine Vernet, Worth was eager to establish himself apart from the Gagelin name. Marie was one of the few people who would model his latest creations on the Parisian boulevards. Together, Marie and Charles Worth had two sons, Gaston Lucien, born in 1853, and Jean-Philippe, born in 1856.[6]

Worth acquired a partner, Otto Gustaf Bobergh, and the two developed their own brand at 7 rue de la Paix, naming the it “ Worth and Bobergh."[4]

House of Worth

Height of Career[edit]

Within a decade, Charles Worth’s designs were recognized globally and were in high demand because of expert detailing and unique design. Worth’s dresses became excessively popular in the 1850’s. He offered a new approach to the creation of dresses, offering a plethora of fabrics (form Gagelin’s)and an expertise in tailoring.[6]

In 1858, Worth’s name was recognizable and he decided to open his own business. He sought a financial partner, Otto Gustaf Bobergh, and "Worth et Bobergh" opened on 7 rue de la Paix. Worth's clientele was astonished by his beautiful creations. His clientele widened and he, most notably, gained the admiration of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. With the support of Empress Eugenie, he fully launched his universal career, from New York to Wales.


Constantly looking to innovate couture, Worth set the edge for popular trends by initiating the various silhouettes, lengths, and designs of skirts, hats, shawls, and capes. Worth’s dresses were worn at a variety of occasions, from aristocratic royal events to masquerades. Lavish dresses and costumes were created using precious stones and colorful fabrics to complement various themes and events.


In 1864, at the full height of his success, Worth reformed the highly popular trend, the crinoline, due to its absurdity in the everyday world. The crinoline was growing increasingly larger in size, making it difficult for women to do even the most basic activities, such as walking through doors, sitting, caring for their children, or holding hands.

Worth wanted to design a narrower and more practical silhouette for women, so he made the crinoline more narrow and gravitated the largest part to the back, freeing up a woman’s front and sides. Worth’s new crinoline was a wide success.

Eventually, Worth abandoned the crinoline altogether, creating a straight skirt. After thirteen years of the cage crinoline trend, Worth had finally abolished its impractical absurdity in the everyday world, giving women a sensible option of dress.[7]


Additionally, Worth adopted a shorter hemline, as suggested by Empress Eugenie, who enjoyed long walks but hated the long skirts. Worth shortened hemlines, at first causing upset, but people began to see the practicality of this design.[7]

Worth as a Couturier[edit]


Empress Eugenie wearing a gown designed by Charles Frederick Worth.

Gagelin supplied fabrics to the most esteemed women in Paris, including Empress Eugénie de Montijo de Guzman, the wife of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte; providing Worth with extremely prominent clients. Later, Worth became the Empress’ official dressmaker and ensured the majority of her orders for grandes toilettes; extravagant evening wear, court dresses, and masquerade costumes. Worth’s Maison de Couture was full of formality, wealth, elegance, and aristocracy.[4]

Socially ambitious women from all over the world were drawn to the wealth that was displayed by Worth's showpiece creations .[4] Worth loved working with American clients because his French language skills never reached fluency. He explained that American women “have faith, figures, and francs--faith to believe in me, figures that I can put into shape, francs to pay my bills.” [4] His most notable royal patrons were Empress Eugénie; Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary; Louisa, Queen of Sweden; Margherita, Princess of Usedom; Maria Cristina, Queen of Spain; and Ranavlona, Queen of Madagascar.[4]

Empress Eugenie highly valued Worth’s creations; and constantly had him on call in order to make a dress for every event. With Worth's help, she unspokenly creating the rule that no woman should wear the same thing twice. Often seen and important in society, Empress Eugenie became a model for Worth’s dresses, leading women around the world to purchase Worth’s designs, fully launching his career.[6]

Survival Through the Franco-Prussian War[edit]

The Second Empire boomed alongside Worth’s brand, until 1870, when the Prussians invaded France. During war time, Worth was driven into exile in Vienna, as “extravagance was a vice, luxury a crime, and dress a device unfit for a ‘moral republic’”.[4] Worth was forced to close his business in 1870, but was able to reopen a year later. He had difficulty finding clientele during the war, but managed to stay in business with lines of new maternity, mourning, and sportswear. Worth’s company suffered in the financial difficulties of the 1880s, and like all other dressmakers, he made very few ball dresses as the demand was gone.[4]

Final Years[edit]

In 1874, Worth’s sons Gaston and Jean-Philippe joined him, helping with management, finance, and design. As his sons became accustomed to the business, Worth was free to take more time off, focusing on health problems and migraines. On March 10 1895, Charles Frederick Worth died after a serious case of pneumonia at the age of sixty-nine. His death racked the fashion world, causing a great deal of sadness to his family and devoted followers.[8]

The House of Worth’s most successful years were those flanking 1900. During this span of time, women were ordering 20-30 gowns at a time. By 1897, one could order a garment by phone, by mail, or by visiting one of Worth’s branch stores in London, Cannes, or Biarritz. In the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, Worth displayed garments for the first time in almost 50 years.[4]

Legacies and Achievements[edit]

Worth changed dressmaking forever; it was no longer a trade, but an art and took a great deal of talent. His legacy and impact on the world of haute couture are still relevant, as some of his revolutionary changes in the fashion world still remain.

Worth completely reinvented the production and sales of women's clothing. Worth regarded clothing as an art, and for the first time, designed clothing, not for a client’s taste, but based on his impression of what women should wear. He presented finished designs to clients and dress buyers in similar fashion to the modern-day haute couture market (copying and copyrighting). He presented his designs on young women, inventing the profession of the fashion model.[9] This afforded him the opportunity to shape women’s views on dress and style of the time. Worth was the first designer to label his clothing, sewing his name into each garment he produced. This made him the first person to develop a brand logo on clothing.


In Bourne, Lincolnshire, where Charles Frederick Worth was born, a gallery dedicated to his life and work is located at the Heritage Centre administered by the Bourne Civic Society.[10]


Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Marriage certificate, Horbling, 2 December 1816, and other primary sources; A Portrait of Bourne by Rex Needle (2014), section “The family background of Charles Frederick Worth”; note that de Marly, p.2 is incorrect.
  2. ^ Jacqueline C. Kent (2003). Business Builders in Fashion – Charles Frederick Worth – The Father of Haute Couture The Oliver Press, Inc., 2003
  3. ^ Claire B. Shaeffer (2001). Couture sewing techniques "Originating in mid- 19th-century Paris with the designs of an Englishman named Charles Frederick Worth, haute couture represents an archaic tradition of creating garments by hand with painstaking care and precision". Taunton Press, 2001
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Coleman, Elizabeth Ann.
  5. ^ A Portrait of Bourne by Rex Needle (2014), section “The family background of Charles Frederick Worth”
  6. ^ a b c d e de Marly, Diana
  7. ^ a b Saunders, Edith.
  8. ^ Olian, JoAnne. The House of Worth: The Gilded Age, 1860-1918. New York: Museum of the City of New York, 1982. Print.
  9. ^ Gilles Lipovetsky, The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy, Trans. Catherine Ponter (Princeton U.P. , 1994)
  10. ^ "Charles Worth at the Bourne Civic Society". Bourne Civic Society. Retrieved 26 February 2014. 


  • Coleman, Elizabeth Ann (1989). The Opulent Era: Fashions of Worth, Doucet and Pingat. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 9780500014769. 
  • de Marly, Diana (1991). Worth: Father of Haute Couture. Holmes & Meier Pub. ISBN 978-0841912427. 
  • Saunders, Edith (1955). The Age Of Worth - Couturier to the Empress Eugenie. Indiana University Press. 



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