The term “haute couture” is French. Haute means “high” or “elegant”. Couture literally means “sewing”, but has come to indicate the business of designing, creating, and selling custom-made, high fashion women’s clothes. Made from scratch for each customer, haute couture clothing typically requires three fittings. It usually takes from 100 to 400 hours to make one dress, costing from $26,000 to over $100,000. A tailored suit starts at $16,000, an evening gown at $60,000.
During fashion’s “golden age,” after World War II, some 15,000 women wore couture. Socialites such as the Duchess of Windsor would order whole collections at a time. Despite the small market, designers maintain haute couture operations partly because the prestige helps sell other products, such as perfume, cosmetics, and their ready-to-wear lines available in stores.
Today only 2,000 women in the world buy couture clothes; 60% are American. Only 200 are regular customers. Often, designers will loan clothes to movie stars or other public figures for publicity.