The History and Evolution of Feather Dresses

Feather dresses have been a popular fashion choice for centuries, with their history dating back to the days of ancient civilizations. The use of feathers in clothing can be traced back to the Aztecs, who used feathers to create intricate and colorful garments. In fact, feathers were so highly prized by the Aztecs that they were reserved for the elite class, who wore them as a symbol of their wealth and status.
Moctezuma’s feather headdress in Vienna’s Museum of Ethnology
Moctezuma’s feather headdress in Vienna’s Museum of Ethnology
As time went on, feathers continued to be used in clothing, with European aristocracy adopting the trend in the 16th and 17th centuries. Feathers were often used to trim hats and gowns, and were seen as a sign of opulence and luxury. In the 19th century, feathers made their way into ballroom fashion, with women wearing elaborate feathered headdresses and dresses to attend high society events.
Basel Woman with Ostrich Feather Hat, Hans Holbein the Younger: The Basel Years, 1515–1532
Hat by Alphonsine, October 1911
It wasn't until the 20th century that feathers really took off as a fashion trend. In the 1920s, flapper dresses featuring feathers became all the rage, with women using feathers to add movement and drama to their outfits. This trend continued into the 1930s and 1940s, with actresses and fashion icons like Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker wearing feather-adorned dresses on the silver screen.
Flapper feather dress 1928. Designer: Louiseboulanger (French, 1878–1950)
Marlene Dietrich Destry Rides Again, 1939
Josephine Baker 1930 Chorus Girl, Feathers Costume
Today, feathers are still a popular choice in fashion, with designers incorporating them into a variety of clothing items. From feathered skirts and tops to dresses and accessories, feathers continue to add a touch of glamour and elegance to any outfit.