Dating back to the 1700s, magazines were a source for fashion inspiration. The world is always changing, but the importance that fashion has played in the history of our world continues to be omnipresent. Through thick and thin fashion has been around, and I set out to find out how fashion has affected history. My findings will serve as a blast from the past for some of our Sewciety readers.
Among the first of many pieces meant to improve the quality of life throughout the history of fashion, an s-shaped corset was invented to correct posture. Unfortunately, it did a lot more harm than good and was quickly dismissed. There isn’t a lot of information about the early 1900 fashion history, so my findings rev up from the 1920s forward.
Once WWI ended, fashion started to get a bit more interesting. Skirts and dress hems began to get shorter, and rises got lower to support sports like skiing, where knee-length skirts were worn over knickerbockers. Flapper fashion was also on the rise. Coco Chanel introduced the LBD, which created a sense of chic simplicity, instead of relating to servantry or widows. Then shortly after WW1 ended, the stock market crashed, and hemlines lowered again.
As the great depression was ending at the beginning of the 30s, households depended on pop culture and hobbies to keep them busy and inspired. The silver screen inspired fashion featuring Hollywood glamour like evening gowns, bias-cut garments, and diamante accents. These garments were made of chiffon or velvet with slim fits. Casual styles like dresses featured cinched waists and big shoulders.
Once WW2 came, the luster from the glitz and glamour of the 30s quickly died out. The war created strict restrictions on spending and production for garments, so major clothes rationing came about, as well as purchase taxes. Clothing purchases were mindfully thought out. A lot of clothing innovation occurred because of the war and its clothing ration. High waisted bikinis came about because it used less fabric than the traditional swimsuit. Women in the workforce started wearing pants, which became more acceptable. Many items became American-made because French resources were not an option. Viscose and rayon were used a lot in garment making. A blackout was enforced to make it difficult for Germans to attack. As a result, luminescent pins, buttons, and white garments were used to reduce collisions and make civilians more visible. Siren suits were created for fast dressing over nightclothes in case a night raid happened. The clothing rations called for single-breasted coats, reduced lapel sizes, and pocket restrictions.
An economic boom was on the horizon in the 50s. This brought glamour back that was shaped by TV, cinema, and rock-n-roll. A-line and pencil skirts at knee or tea lengths became popular, and dresses were adorned with ruffles or lace. A new style created by, Christian Dior, called “New Look,” hit the fashion scene, which featured a nipped-in waist, structured bustier, and a voluminous layered skirt. Then people began to worry that communism was spreading, so they began to dress conservatively again to blend in. For the first time, teens began to set trends instead of fashion houses. Other popular styles during this period were poodle and swing skirts in midi and maxi lengths, peter pan collars, shirt dresses, and bolero coats (worn by teens and adults). Mod style and bold colors also became popular by the end of the decade.
The swinging sixties took off when boutiques began to rise and sell more vibrant clothing. Drugs were also on the rise in the ’60s, inspiring the beatnik’s style (black slacks, berets, float shoes dark shades). The mini skirt rose in popularity. Popular fabrics were lycra, spandex, and polyester. The Space Race began in the mid-60s making leather, suede, and vinyl popular along with metallic and bold colors. The 60s also saw Op Art, which focused on strong geometric prints and designs. Inspiration from other cultures, such as the adoption of oriental dressing, inspired by the middle east, continued to rise (but began in the late 50s). As troops tripled, the hippie movement began to surface, calling for peace and the end of the war. They wore loose garments like wide jeans, cheesecloth tops, and flowing skirts in natural materials and tie-dye everything.
Flowy clothing from the 60s brought bell bottoms and psychedelic colors right into the 70s. Disco music and dance influenced style. Flashy dresses, tight fighting silhouettes, halter tops, and palazzo pants, flowing skirts, and shimmering fabrics were worn to stand out in night clubs. Opposite from the hippy movement, as a strong economic and political reaction punk style emerged, featuring checkered prints accented by safety pins and leather jackets complete with spikes and studs.
The 80s was a decade full of change, which was reflected by changing styles. The aerobics craze made leggings and oversized sweatshirts popular. Spandex was widely used. As more women joined the workforce, their style got more sophisticated. Women began to wear straight skirts and boxy blazers with wide shoulders creating the power suit, which was inspired by menswear to make a political statement. For the masses, pop culture emerged as MTV played music videos for the first time. People began to dress like the music and movie stars of the 80s. Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Prince-inspired the heavy metal style as shoulder pads, leather pants, and jumpsuits, and parachute (or hammer) pants gained popularity.
Fashion became even more casual as it was heavily influenced by hip hop (which made baggy/saggy jeans popular) and alternative music. The youth evolved this style into grunge fashion with baggy tees, plaid fabrics, and distressed denim. Fashion began to expand— hem lengths varied, and so did preferred styles. Women and men both wore overalls, and minimalism joined the scene with sheer fabrics, white and black color schemes, and slip dresses.
The new millennium was heavily inspired by Y2K. Low rise jeans lacked back pockets but were overwhelmed with bling, and they paired perfectly with a simple tube top. Pop inspired us all to dress in denim from head to toe like Justin and Brittany, while Paris Hilton convinced everyone that wearing velour Juicy Couture tracksuits with booty writing was a good idea. Camisoles were worn alone or layered, and it didn’t matter in what order. What a time to be alive.
This decade just wrapped up, and I think it was loosely about redefining the 80s and 90s as a lot of styles from those decades came back into rotation. Skinny jeans ruled, and most people lived in athleisure. Fashion promoted inclusivity and beliefs. Accepted traditions like white weddings began to become less customary, and the masses began to really challenge societal norms in every way. Fashion designers used their platform to make political and economic stances more than ever using runway shows and their labels to express their beliefs like using sustainable resources to promote a more sustainable lifestyle while other designers celebrate with bold and daring designs.
Fashion and history have worked hand in hand since the beginning. Before my research began, I thought history molded fashion, but now I think it’s quite the opposite. Fashion has certainly molded history and the way that things are today (for worse or for better). More than ever, fashion is a way for people to express themselves and the things that they believe in. Fashion is our art, and I hope that this fashion history-rich takes to through each decade and some of its prominent events to enjoy a taste of the good old days.
Drop a comment below discussing your favorite fashion trends from decades past (and have a little fun with it).