Lace. An Iconic Style Detail of Yesterday… and Today!

Whether it secretly decorates your bra, trims your lingerie or ornately hems a dress, lace  always adds a sense of luxury, romance and femininity. Through the centuries this gorgeous weave of swirls and twirls and delicate details has also gathered an intricate heritage.


This luxurious openwork fabric was painstakingly created by hand as early as the 15th and 16th century. Its beauty has truly stood the test of time, and its craftsmanship matches or exceeds even today’s sophisticated manufacturing techniques. Once only made by hand, most lace is now machine made but still just as gorgeous!

The origins of lace are murky. We may never really know where it originally started but there are some interesting facts that may help. Claims have been made by the Italians, Belgians and Flemish, but Venetian lace (lace made in Venice, Italy) is one of the earliest recorded forms. The first known lace pattern book, Le Pompe, was printed there in the 1550s. Amazingly enough, a later edition, but still from the 16th century, is available today,  Another interesting tidbit that points to Italy as the birthplace of lace: the author states in  the Nüw Modelbuch, a lace pattern book published in Zurich in 1561 that lace was brought to Zurich from Italy in 1536.

Because the method of creating lace patterns was laboriously slow during the earlier centuries it was quite expensive and only used initially at the ends of clothing like sleeves or on collars, and as decoration in royal and clerical dwellings. A symbol of power, its popularity exploded in the later 16th century when only the wealthy could acquire it.

During the Georgian era (1715 – 1830), one wore it proudly like peacock feathers, on lapels, around the neck and billowing out of coat sleeves. Just call it the logo wear of  yesteryear! And, it wasn’t just a feminine detail as it is today. When a man wore lace he was announcing his wealth and power. One only needs to look at Frans Hals great masterpiece, The Laughing Cavalier, to see the prominent role lace played in a wealthy man’s “strutting his stuff.”

In seventeenth-century France, lace was in such great demand that many lace makers were brought in from Italy and Flanders to both produce and teach their craft. Lace, like fine wine and cheese, became characteristic of the regions where they settled. In turn, those regions became synonymous with lace, e.g. “Chantilly lace” from Chantilly, France. Who can forget the iconic Audrey Hepburn in, How to Steal a Million, where she is wearing a black lace mask and dress made with yards and yards of gorgeous Chantilly lace.


Audrey Hepburn in her famous Chantilly Lace dress, jacket and mask designed by Givenchy for the movie How to Steal a Million

5660780270_9de19b04ff_bWith lace in fierce demand, techniques for creating it trended toward automation with the introduction of machines during the industrial revolution. Early machines like the Heathcoat and the Leavers machine would pump out simplified laces beginning in the early 1800’s.  With constant improvements over sixty years, virtually every type of hand-made lace could be made by machine.  By the early 1900’s the handmade lace industry in England was effectively over. Soon other countries would abandon hand-made lace for machine made.

Fashion has always driven lace production and when men’s clothing became less ostentatious and more utilitarian, lace became more of a feminine detail. Now, more abundant thanks to machining, lace is used to detail high-end cocktail gowns, evening wear, bridal fashions and became acceptable on everyday wear and of course, on intimate wear.

And, speaking of intimate wear… what detail could be as sophisticated and feminine as lace?  The light weight of the fabric, the intricacy of the pattern and its tantalizing sheerness lends a sense of mystery – perfect for lingerie. The way lace is cut, laid out, and sewn together can become an integral part of a nightgown or camisole so it is no longer just a detail, but the component that turns a garment into a true work of art. And, because it is so sturdy, it can also be used strategically for support, as it is in bras and panties.

Let’s face it, we adore lace.  At Julianna Rae we think it is the perfect merging of technical complexity with breathtaking beauty. As you can see, we use it often, and we are always on the hunt for exquisite, beautiful laces. With so many different lace patterns, colors and uses, we know lace will continue to be the power accessory and style detail it was originally created to be!