History of Canine Couture on Bark and Swagger

19th Century Lydiard
Girl w/small dressed dog

It’s fashion season, with New York Fashion Week about to kick off. Just preceding it, the dogs have their day, or I should say night, when the highly anticipated New York Pet Fashion Show hits the Hotel Pennsylvania this Friday, February 7th, and the city witnesses the epitome of doggy dress up. It used to be called the Pre-Westminster Pet Fashion Show because it does, indeed, precede the Westminster Kennel  Club Dog Show, one of the largest and most prestigious dog shows in the world. So, NYC is abuzz this week, and it’s all about dogs and fashion. Got me thinking. We know dog fashion has been around for quite a while now, but when, exactly, and why, exactly, did it start? We’re learning together! Here, then, is the history of canine couture.

History of Canine Couture on Bark and Swagger

Reynolds Portrait of
Miss Anna Ward w/Kimball

A Long, Long Time Ago…

There was a powerful king named Arthur, who ruled over Great Britain in 540A.D. with an iron fist. He was a fearless fighter and dogs played a very important and brave role in his military and law enforcement. They were the first recorded to wear clothing to protect them in battle and against the harsh elements. It’s nice to know dogs were regarded enough to be protected back then.

But if you consider any decorative wear on dogs to be canine couture (and we do), you have to go back even further. Cue up the Wizard of Oz tornado scene, house spinning round, stuff flying by the window, taking us back, back, back…to 3100B.C. Thud! Whew, that was a long, strange trip. Yes, I’m weird. 🙂

Seriously, and this is pretty amazing, an archaeologist uncovered a dog buried with Chinese King Cuo of Zhongshan, which dates back to before Egyptian dynasties existed (3000B.C.).  The dog wore a collar of gold, silver and turquoise, too ornate and beautiful to have solely been used for identification. This was clearly a statement of status and of feeling for the animal. And it’s here where our journey really begins.

In ancient Egyptian civilization, dogs were already being pampered. No wonder they’ve gotten so good at getting us to jump to their every whim; they’ve had centuries of practice! Doggy devotion had become such an issue in ancient Rome, that Julius Caesar gave a public reprimand to citizens, claiming they paid more attention to their dogs than their children! For the wealthy and stylish, collars featuring precious metals and precious gemstones were di rigueur. In fact, Louis XI of France (1423 – 1483), a notorious miser, dressed his favorite Greyhound, “Cher Ami” (Dear Friend),  in a collar of scarlet velvet with 20 pearls and 11 rubies. No expense was spared for pampered pooches, large and small.

History of Canine Couture on Bark and Swagger

Collars from the
16-19th Century

Beginning in the mid-15th century, dog ownership became much more affordable and widespread, including the middle classes, as well as the wealthy. And this is when leather collars started appearing. In the 16th century, those collars were now decorated with engraved name plates and sparkly embellishments.

Word has it that, in the 17th century, Louis XV’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, “Filou” (Rascal) slept on a crimson velvet bed and wore a collar of gold encrusted with diamonds! No wonder Louis would say, “He’s the only thing in the world that likes me for myself.”  Hmm…Filou had a cushy job.

It seems that dog clothing entered the picture sometime in the 18th century, because there are paintings of people with fully clothed dogs from that period. But it wasn’t until the 19th century where it became more popular and books and stores were dedicated to it. It is recorded that, in 1833 in Britain, Princess Victoria wrote of clothing her spaniel, that she “dressed dear sweet little Dash in a scarlet jacket and blue trousers.” Cute! And where was the center of a now thriving dog apparel industry? Paris, of course! There were over a dozen doggy couture shops in and around the Palais-Royal.


History of Canine Couture on Bark and Swagger

1905 Photo of
Tuxedo’ed & Drinking? Bulldog

Authors during that period wrote entire books on how to properly dress your dog, and for which occasion, including day wear, evening wear, beach wear and travel wear! So, while dog bikinis may be relatively new, doggy beach attire is so not! The blog Montecristo Travels has done a great job of researching this topic, so I have to give her props (or Monte, her super adorable Papillon, who “writes” the blog).  She’s found a couple of very cool books from the 1800’s on dog fashion: Paul Mégnin wrote “Nos Chiens” (Our Dogs). He is the author who recommends what dog fashion is appropriate for when. Another French author, Jean Robert, wrote a couple of books on dog care around that period, where he says it’s only common sense to have small dogs wear clothing when it’s cold, recommending le maison Ledouble, located at 29 galerie d’Orléans at the Palais-Royal. And finally, author Alfred Barbou wrote in his LeChien: Son histoire, ses exploits, ses aventures about dogs that wore rich costumes, embroidered coats, silk jackets and seasonal wear.

So, in preparation for fashion season and, more important, dog fashion season, no need to feel uncomfortable, self-conscious or at all like you’re cuckoo for dressing your pooch in the utmost of finery. Bring on the jeweled collars, the designer duds, the gold and silver creations! Remember, it has provenance. It’s been going on a long time before you and me. Enjoy it!

What do you think about the style of these antique pieces? If you lived back in the day, would you have dressed your dog in precious metals and gems?

History of Canine Couture on Bark and Swagger

19th Century Dog

Until next time…

(Disclosure:  If you choose to purchase any of the suggested items in this post, I will receive a small compensation from the company, which goes towards keeping Bark and Swagger up and running and towards the monthly donations I make to animal rights and rescue organizations. Thank you for helping out!)

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Written by Jody Miller-Young
What does stylish mean to you? I’m passionate about animals, fashion, travel, home decor and rescue, and that's what you'll find here. After a recent move to Fort Lauderdale from NYC, we're loving our new life in the sunshine. Welcome to my world! Grab your favorite beverage, curl up and stay awhile.