History of the Fashion Show, Runway and Catwalk

When a designer comes out with a new collection or an important Fashion Week comes around, a fashion show is just around the corner. Even if we’ve never been to a fashion show, we all know just what it entails.

There are some gorgeous, skinny (or plus-size) models walking down a runway, with tasteful music in the background. They show off all the latest creations, wowing us with their glitz and glamour. There’s usually a showstopper, where the outfit/model is an exquisitely crafted surprise for the audience.

These fashion shows are now familiar sights to us, but how did they actually emerge? If we’re interested in fashion, we should know how, when, and why these shows came about. Let us find out more about some important events in the history of fashion shows here:

The Dangerous Sound

The music at fashion shows can be a bit too loud. This adds to the experience, but it could also be quite dangerous at times.  In 1990, the world of fashion was rocked by not one, but two near-tragedies. Both of them were related in some way to the sound produced by fashion events.

The first incident occurred when Fern Mallis, of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, attended a Michael Kors show in a loft. There, the sound caused the ceiling to collapse

And almost around the same time at another show, the sound caused the generator to break down. This signifies that there is a risk factor in fashion shows, be it the loud sounds or flimsy runways.

And almost around the same time at another show, that sound caused the generator to break down.

About Fashion Week

Fashion Week occurs in the world of top fashion destinations, including New York, Milan, Paris, and London at various times of the year

A fashion week is held usually once a year by the fashion design “houses”. These are among the most influential events in fashion, as they dictate the latest trends in fashion for both current and forthcoming seasons.

A Lack of History

Fashion scholars have penned histories of the high heel, the corset, and the little black dress. However, a few of them have also written about how fashion shows began to exist.

The First Fashion Shows

In the late 1800s, periodic fashion parades were held in some couture salons in Paris. The models of these fashion parades — called “mannequins” during this period — were trained to walk and pose in the salon attended by onlookers.

This show was also an opportunity to display and feature different body types that were the trend during that time. “Thin is in” was not the case here, as fleshy, full-figured models were more favored.

High Cost of Showing

In 2009, the cost to show in the main Bryant Park Tent was $1 million. Fashion shows usually last for only 10 minutes. That makes the cost equivalent to $100,000 a minute!

The Start of Runway Modeling

Americans started runway modeling in the early part of the 20th century. American department stores launched runway shows that mimicked the French counterparts but focused more on women’s fashion.

It won’t take too long before these runway shows became more popular. Most department stores featured runway shows that carried a particular theme or storyline.

The Issue With Documenting Fashion Shows

The topic of fashion shows remains to find its historian. This is probably because the nature of fashion shows is fleeting. It might also be because everyone involved in these shows is more eager and interested in watching out for the next trend rather than to look back where, when or how fashion shows began.

The Fashion Calendar

Ruth Finely founded the publication ‘The Fashion Calendar’ in 1945. This was in response to the lack of coordination to the then-developing fashion industry in the US.

The publication lists all of the time and locations of the all upcoming fashion shows as well as related events in the New York fashion scene.

And these fashion shows were then referred to “fashion parade” which occurred inside French salons.

New York: The Evolution of American Style

New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Fashion is authored by Caroline Rennolds Milbank and first published in a hardcover edition in 1989. It has become one of the defining books on the history of US fashion. A must-have for every fashionista and fashion industry experts!

The Importance of Fashion Shows

The fashion show is not only the promotional linchpin of a multibillion-dollar industry but is also vital to the growth of the department stores in the United States. It’s thus a major contributor to the rise of American consumer culture.

The Move of Fashion Week

In 2010, the New York Fashion Week moved to Lincoln Center. Before this, it used to be held at the white tents in Bryant Park, Manhattan. It was in 2010 that the event, also known as IMG/Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, moved to the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts. At least now they won’t be bothered with unpredictable weather.

The Fashion Shows of the Year

We may not have a perfectly chronicled history of the fashion show, but we do have a lot of them on video. The FNL Network has enabled us to experience several of the most stunning fashion shows that are held in Paris, Vancouver, and Ukraine. Check out the latest season of this offering here:

With the season above, you’ll get subtitles, closed captions, and a runtime of about 3 hours, 21 minutes. This is more than enough time to experience the magnificent fashionable items that these cities have to offer.


Fashion shows are certainly a sight to behold, even if you’re not that interested in fashion. These shows are what represent our fashion industry and enhance the economic contributions of this sector. While it’s a pity that we don’t know more about the history of this important genre, there’s enough information to make a start.