Every year thousands of people gather across the fashion cities of London, Milan and New York, to witness the latest fashion designs paraded up and down glamorous runways. However while fashion journalists and photographers scramble over each other to get the best shots, they fail to see the real revolution happening before their eyes, the change that’s taking place on the street and in the kennel. It’s the silent but sudden rise of the pooch poncho, the canine cravat and the westie waistcoat. So take a seat and make note, forget the catwalk - venture onto the dogwalk instead.
The very beginning
When people think of dog fashion they tend to think fairly recently. However the tradition of decorating our companions dates all the way back to 3100 BC, around the same period that the finishing touches were being applied to stonehenge. While some argue that a collar is simply a piece of equipment, the ornate detailing, patterns and jewels found on ancient dog collars beg to differ. Indeed, it’s thought that a heavily gilded collar was a sign of status, commanding widespread respect from those in ancient Egyptian communities. Nowadays though, this tends to have quite the opposite effect.
Dog fashion as we know it
After the breakthrough of collars, there really wasn’t a lot of movement in the world of dog fashion. Sure, sled dogs in the North were given ornate harnesses and Samurai in Japan clad their dogs in matching armour (yes, really) – but aside from these, progress was generally slow.
However, dog fashion really began to gain popularity in the 1800s, happily coinciding with the development of the film camera. No longer needed for battle, dog ownership was increasingly becoming a middle class pursuit - and with the rise in availability of mass produced goods, people were finally able to dedicate the time to make their pets look as dapper as they did.
In 1833 a young princess Victoria wrote of dressing up her spaniel Dash in a tiny scarlet jacket and blue trousers, showing a playful side that dispels the stony faced stereotype of her later years. It was the French though, that really took doggy fashion into their hearts first. A number of boutiques sprang up across the affluent arrondissements of Paris from the 19th to the 20th centuries, selling increasingly elaborate clothing for dogs. In the beginning, clothing was thought of more practically with most items being a single sheet of fabric harnessed around the body. However in 1896 Madame Ledouble – the eccentric owner of one of the more famed boutiques – released a comprehensive collection. This included winter dresses made of ermine, yachting gowns and traveling suits, complete with a hood and pockets for handkerchiefs, railway tickets and biscuit – the latter by “way of refreshment en route”.
Not only were the French busy leading the way in canine couture, they were also spending their time writing books about the subject. Indeed, well respected authors in the subject made dog fashion almost as vibrant as its human counterpart. In Alfred Barbou’s classic ‘Le Chien: Son histoire, ses exploits, ses aventures’ (The Dog: Its history, its achievements, its adventures) Barbou explains that cold weather clothing was not only a necessity in the bitter Parisian winters, it was also expected in high society.
The evolution of styles
From small fortunes spent on jewel-encrusted gold collars, to embroidered coats made from the very best fabrics, pooch fashion has been en vogue for centuries. Today, it is quite normal for owners to dress up man’s best friend in a wide range of outfits, from Halloween costumes to matching Christmas jumpers for you and your canine companion.
The internet has only encouraged the dog fashion industry, creating an online community of owners sharing pictures of their beloved four-legged friends dressed up to the nines. And there is no shortage of online doggie boutiques selling anything from underwear and pyjamas to summer swimwear and seasonal jumpers. There are even fashion events centred around showing off your catwalk-worthy canine. From the 2011 Last Bark dog fashion show in New York to the annual Sausage Walk London held this year in March in Greenwich Park, fashion dogwalks are becoming the new catwalk.
With the possibility of creating a whole doggy wardrobe, a dog’s style has never before been as open to variation and creativity. But a pooch’s style has always been a reflection of the taste of its owner, not those of our four-legged friends. Style reflects our personality, our individuality, which we project onto man’s best friend through the outfits we choose to dress them in, turning them into an often crucial part of our own entourage. As the American designer Isaac Mizrahi declared in 1996, "You can’t have any style at all without the right dog".
Moralising the dog mode
The canine fashion industry is now a multibillion-dollar business, but has in recent years brought concerns over the welfare of our beloved doggie companions when being dressed in the latest canine couture. The RSPCA has stated that clothing your dog can be harmful and distressing to them, as clothing can not only inhibit a dog’s mobility but can also be uncomfortable. The advice given is to guard against ‘over-dressing’ your pooch, avoiding clothing such as boots, sweaters, coats, trousers and hoodies.
Yet dressing dogs has been common protocol to aid them in performing their duties for centuries. War dogs were often dressed in protective clothing and even armour, which certainly wouldn’t have been the most comfortable piece of clothing. Even today, working dogs wear protective outfits and matching footwear that can restrict movement yet are a requirement to protect them from their environment. Why should your family dog be any different?
It goes without saying that dressing your dog in a wool sweater in the middle of summer would be strongly ill-advised. Yet in the winter, a well-designed coat will protect your dog from the rain and cold, particularly if they have a thinner coat than other breeds. Similarly, protective footwear can help safeguard your dog’s paws from burning on scorching hot summer days. Much like our own concern over what we dress our bodies in, using higher quality, environment-appropriate clothing on your pooch will ensure high levels of both comfort and style.
Deck out your dog
With winter season upon us and the colder nights closing in, pooches across the country will soon be shivering in their puppy boots when the north wind begins to blow across Britain once again. But here at Archie Foal, we have your canine friend covered. Made out of luxuriously soft merino wool and knitted in the UK, our dog tops are the must-buy edition to every dog’s winter wardrobe. With a ribbed underside to allow flexibility on the chest, the Archie Foal Fairisle dog top allows your pooch to be comfortably toasty and warm this winter while claiming the hot spot of the season’s most well dressed dog. Talk about dachshund through the snow.