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In a recent question in the Spanish language site we have debated about the origin of the Spanish expression último grito in the context of fashion trends. The first examples of it seem to come from the 1920's decade. Before that, the expression dernier cri was used as is, in French, even in Spanish texts like this one:

Habrán ustedes observado que la última moda dernier cri, como dicen en París ahora, y dirá dentro de algunas semanas La Época, es meterse cada cual donde no le llaman y en lo que no entiende.

Madrid cómico. 2/7/1887, page 3.

That text is from 1887 and translated dernier cri as "última moda" ("latest trend").

Nonetheless, searching in Ngram for French texts I have found texts that use the expression literally:

[...] que le dernier cri de Jésus qui précéda immédiatement sa mort. (1865)

Or texts that make a metaphoric use of that "last cry":

D'où le dernier effort, le dernier cri de leur défense, le pamphlet dont nous nous occupons. (1905)

Or with politic connonations:

Il y a enfin des comités agricoles communaux, cantonaux, organisés selon le dernier cri des utopies bolchévistes [...]. (1919)

But given the Spanish text above, the expression dernier cri should have been used in France at least since the 1880's decade in the context of fashion trends. So are there any French texts that show the use of dernier cri with a clear connotation of "latest trend in fashion" or similar, from that period, or even before? When did that expression started to be used in French with that meaning?

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You are right to think that the expression is old. It comes from the time when information in small places was given by the town crier.

A town crier was a person whose job was to make official announcements in a town or village by calling them out in public.

The website Axiomcafe gives an explanation on the expression's origin in France:

L'expression 'dernier cri' remonte en fait au temps où ni la télévision ni les journaux n'existaient, et où les infos exclusives étaient criées sur la place publique. Le crieur parcourait alors les rues des villages en criant les nouvelles et les messages. Une information 'dernier cri' était donc une information nouvelle, d'où l'expression actuelle.

EN : The expression "dernier cri" comes from the time when neither television nor newspaper existed. Exclusive information would be called out on the public place. The town crier would roam the streets, shouting news and messages. Therefore, a "dernier cri" (last shout) information was a new information. It gave the current expression.

When did it start being used?

My research took me as far as 1891:

Ils sont uniquement préoccupés de connaître la « dernière mode », de proférer le « dernier cri ».

Gaston Deschamps, La vie et les livres, 1896: Volume 3 - Page 135

Toujours très petit, il se pose, léger comme un papillon, sur les cheveux très bouffants qui ont été préalablement soufflés, ce qui est le dernier cri de la mode.

François Guillaume Dumas, René Baschet, Paul-Franz Namur, Jules Lamarre, Gustave Ficker, Revue illustrée, 1894, Volume 17 - Page 82

C'était le dernier cri de la mode du temps d'Antoine Avernier.

Imprimerie Lemer aîné., Mémoires de la Société des antiquaires de Picardie, 1891 - Page 310

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    Thank you very much for your answer. The origin seems plausible, but I would like to see actual texts that make use of the expression dernier cri in that context, to see when it was first written. – Charlie Apr 30 at 10:16
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    Yes, I'm currently looking for texts where it is used as a "trend". I think it started to appear in the late 1800s. – Reyedy Apr 30 at 10:18
  • I edited my answer. I got as far as 1891, but I would have liked to find something older than your quote from the Spanish text in 1887! – Reyedy Apr 30 at 11:22
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Walther von Wartburg in the Französiches Etymologisches Wörterbuch has the following about cri in the meaning you're interested in :

  • moyen français, français moderne, cri „manière dont on crie, dans les rues, les choses à vendre ou à acheter“ (depuis Jacques du Puys, Dictionnaire françois latin, Paris 1573), dernier cri „dernier genre, suprême élégance, surtout dans l'habillement“ (familier, depuis Larousse 1907).

So cri referring to a way of advertizing publicly for goods to be bought and sold is quite old and was recorded for the first time in 1573. The figurative meaning found in dernier cri appears for the first time in a French dictionary in 1907, which is in line with the examples given elsewhere dating to the 1890s and with your slightly earlier quote from Spain.

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