In 1893, The Strand magazine published a story written and illustrated by W. Cade Gall called "The Future Dictates of Fashion," in which an older gentleman discovers in his library a book that appears to come from 1993 ... 100 years in the future. The tome, Past Dictates of Fashion; by Cromwell Q. Snyder, Vestamentorum Doctor, was "oblong in shape, was bound in mauve morocco," Gall writes, and looks back at a century of fashionable clothes. The readers of The Strand, of course, would be looking forward in time at those fashions.
In the readers' present day, fashion was "thought a whim, a sort of shuttlecock for the weak-minded of both sexes to make rise and fall, bound and rebound with the battledore called—social influence." The clothes in 1893 (shown below) are included in the book, and Gall notes that they "are familiar enough, although we note with surprise that the gentleman's coat-tails seem to have a crinoline cast, and if the turned-up bottoms of his trousers are a little mortifying, it is atoned for by a triumphant attitude which disarms hypercriticism." By 1940, fashion had become a respectable science "governed by immutable laws."
Were these illustrations meant to be true predictions or just satire? We'll never know—but at least we can enjoy them. Here are a few fashions of the future, as imagined by a man in 1893.
Gall first calls this outfit "subdued," then notes that "the ladies may well regard this plate as astounding. There is even a suggestion of 'bloomer' about its nether portion, and if the hat is not without precedent in history, the waist is little short of revolutionary." Here's a good example of what ladies ended up wearing in 1905.
Fashion at this point, Gall predicted, would be about the bows. "Silk bows have been worn about the neck for nearly, if not quite, a century, but never in the body of the attire," Gall writes. "It is true the gentleman as early as 1910 adorns his nether garments with a plain silk band, but in the elderly party of 1911 he has assumed gay ribbons for his shoes as well as at his knees and throat." Sadly, men's outfits in 1911 were without bows.
In 1912, Gall imagined that young men would use shepherd's crooks as accessories and adorn their outfits with ever-bigger bows (which Gall called "wing-shaped objects projecting from his person"). The lady—whose outfit is strangely medieval—"is doing her utmost to look pleasant under the most trying conditions," Gall wrote, but her outfit, despite its "novelty and perplexity ... must still be called plain. One might be forgiven for surmising that the kerchief-shaped article covering a portion of the lady's bust is formed of riveted steel, for surely nothing else could support the intolerable load she is so blandly carrying off." In reality, fashions of this time for both sexes were much more subdued.
In 1922, Gall predicted that skirts would expose the ankles, "short enough to alarm prim contemporary dames"—a shocking thing in his own time. But in the plate from 1929, which depicts "what is presumably a husband and wife on their way to church or perchance upon a shopping excursion ... The prudes ... seemed to have gained their point, for the skirt is considerably less scanty in the region of the ankles." Gall went on to comment that "the lady is evidently looking archly back to see if anybody is observing what a consummate guy her spouse is making of himself, for with all her sartorial shortcomings she has certainly the best of the bargain." Of course, real fashion from the 1920s was decidedly sleeker—and showed much more ankle.
Gall called this poor "middle-aged" guy—who, let's not forget, was of Gall's own imagination—"the greatest donkey in the entire collection. ... [He is] gadding about in inflated trunks and with a fan in his hand. If it were not for the gloves and polka-dot neck-wear we should assume that this costume was a particularly fantastic bathing-suit." Thankfully for the men of 1930s, popular clothes looked nothing like what Gall imagined.
"This skirt seems to have been rather a weak point with our posterity of the female persuasion, for ... we find it rising and falling with the habitual incorrigibility of a shilling barometer," Gall wrote. "The Oriental influence is easily traced in the fashions from 1938 to 1945, but it cannot but make the judicious grieve to note that trousers seem to have been adopted by the women at the same time that they were discarded by the men." No word on why Gall believed the ladies of 1938 would be so inspired by watermelons and Little Bo Peep, or why they'd wear what appeared to be plates on their feet; at any rate, women's fashions didn't look like this at all.
Gall apparently believed that the fashions in 1946—which he imagined would be constructed of patterned materials and rife with ruffles—would be rather ugly, and that women would wear their hair in gravity-defying 'dos. "There is very little beauty about the lady's costume for 1946," he wrote, "or in that of the child in the plate." Real fashion of the era was less frump, more glam.
In 1950, according to Gall's story, fashion would begin to be studied as a science at the University of Dublin. But what Gall imagined is a far cry from the demure party dress and the poodle skirt. "[The costume] for 1950 is a great improvement," Gall wrote, in part because "the exaggerated chignon has disappeared."
9. 1955 - 56
According to Gall, future fashion would go a bit off the rails in the mid-'50s—especially the hats. "To accord praise to either's hideous style of head-dress would be to abandon permanently all reputation for taste," he wrote. Hats worn in the mid-'50s were nowhere near as wacky.
In Gall's mind, not even civil servants would escape fashion's fickle grip in the future. Take this policeman's outfit. "[He] seems to have a very easy time of it," Gall said, "for no man's person can be considered in danger from the mob who habitually offers so many points à saisir as this policeman's head displays." Dealing with the police have definitely been more amusing if they had dressed like this.
Gall imagined that the military, too, would wear new outfits in the future. "It is not customary in the present day for army officers to affect umbrellas, but seventy years hence it may be found necessary to protect one's head-dress," he wrote.
Gall wrote that, according to Past Dictates of Fashion, ladies fashion finally came into its own in the mid-'80s. The guys, though, would not be so lucky. "[The design] of 1984 appears to us to exhibit the contour of the lady's figure most generously, and to have certain agreeable and distinctive traits of its own which are ... lacking in the gentleman's apparel," Gall wrote. The writer couldn't have imagined which way fashion would actually go in the '80s, which was arguably more bizarre.
In the 1990s, Gall predicted, dudes would dress like ladies. This look is probably better on men than a babydoll dress, at least.