10 decades of fashion to show how women changed with time
Fashion is not runway, not what the celebrities wear, not what the magazines showcase, not what the stores boast of. Fashion, today, is a language, a language to express what we are and what we aspire to be, all of it encompassed into an ensemble that can be white or black, straight or flowing, it can be anything you want it to be. Times changed and so did we, the women, right from the feminine yet constricting corsets to the easy-going hippy style or the new straight and chic corporate women and we are here to enlighten you about how decades of fashion changed marking the evolution and growth of the women of these times.
Vogue launched in NYC in 1892, marking the start of a mode of fashion media so strong that it still impacts our life after more than a century, with a coverline of “Fashion, Manners, Society, The House, Literature, Art, Music, Drama.” The fashion was constricting to be precise, as it wanted women to be feminine “for their men”, thus giving rise to the haute couture movement in Paris. Corsets and full skirts enhanced unnatural curves, and hats grew out of control. 1900s saw women conform to these fashion norms and the Parisian Designs and they completely let go of comforts of easy breathable lives just to look like the perfect woman. Toward the end of the decade this fashionable silhouette gradually became somewhat more straight and slim, partly due to Paul Poiret’s high-waisted, shorter-skirted Directoire line of clothes that was ready to see the independent woman.
The WW1 began in 1914, forcing the men to go fight for the nation and women to do the jobs that their husbands and fathers and sons did. The constricting corseted life was diminishing as the women needed comfort and ease of movement to perform the jobs and earn a living. The hems of the skirts shortened, bold and bright colours took place of the pastel ones, the silhouettes became straighter, more fluid and consequences of war were making androgynous dressing more popular. The first real fashion shows were organized during this period in time, by Jeanne Paquin, one of the first female couturiers and By 1915 fashionable skirts had risen above the ankle and then later to mid-calf.
Women began to wear looser, more fluid garments while hemlines rose to an unprecedented knee-length level, abandoning the more restricting and uncomfortable fashions of the preceding decades. Women left their feminine side by chopping off their hair at the nape, giving rise to the “bob” cut to fit their hair under the iconic cloche, a snug-fit hat made of felt that was worn tilted in order to cover the forehead and, at times, the ears. The image of the woman of the 20s was “the Flapper” that involved women of the “bob” wearing short shift dresses with heavy makeup and had the “luxuries of men” like cigars and alcohol and this style thus was a confluence of modernity and reckless rebellion. Designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel rose to prominence during this decade and thus birthed the “little black dress” in the fashion world.
1930s brought with them the Great Depression, from which the general public escaped through Hollywood. The movies became the new glamorous medium for fashion. But the fact that economy was hitting rock bottom and WWII was underway, clothes became even more restrained and uniforms were mostly visible in the fashion world. Amelia Earhart inspired the boyish look after she vanished and became a sensation. The early 40s saw a lot of breakdown, following the war, as women got out to work and at the same time had to be protective of themselves which changed soon as the men returned and the easy house-wife inspired attire came into being and the most significant introduction of this decade was the bikini, which was by far the smallest piece of clothing introduced for the women to be worn outdoors. The couturier Christian Dior created a tidal wave with his first collection in February 1947 with accentuated busts, tiny waists, and extravagantly full skirts, emphasizing the feminine hourglass figure in a manner very similar to the style of the Belle Époque.
Sensational Christian Dior rebelled against the austerity of the post-WWII time and produced an extravagant design of a fitted jacket with a cinched waist and a full calf-length skirt using ten to eighty yards of fabric and was called the “New Look,” a turning point in the post-war time. Chanel countered the feminine, voluminous look with boxy suits and slim skirts in tweed. Synthetic fabrics (nylon, polyester, and acrylic) became more widely used because they were affordable and easy to maintain, especially after better manufacturing of these. The once short hemlines dropped significantly, reaching mid-calf or even ankle length while the popularity of the hourglass silhouette rose, creating a stark contrast with the much more independent Flappers of the 20s.
While the 1950s introduced teenagers to fashion and society in general, the youth were the leaders of the sixties, which was a versatile decade in many ways as many strikingly different subcultures coexisted during this time. Two subcultures of young British people, the Mods, and Rockers, were popular. The Rockers tended to wear clothes like black leather jackets, going towards a gothic style, whereas the Mods were more stylish and bohemian. While America contrasted this with the very famous hippie movement which showcased trends like bell-bottom jeans and tie-dyed shirts. Replacing distinct differences between the styles of clothing worn by men and women like the previous decades, the 1960’s introduced a new phenomenon: Unisex clothing such as denim jeans and leather jackets that could be worn by everyone. Jackie Kennedy, the Beatles, and many artists and models inspired the fashion world. Designer Mary Quaint popularized the miniskirt, which appealed to bold young women. Two notable and influential designers in the 1960s were Emilio Pucci, known for Op Art and psychedelic-inspired clothing and Paco Rabanne, who used unusual fabrics like aluminum to make clothes. The 60s thus, marked a decade of change.
With an introduction of airplanes and trains to ease the traveler section of the world, fashion started becoming global. The disco dance craze led to widespread use of polyester, which was ideal for creating tight, stretchy clothing that shone under disco lighting, just like many music artists who inspired people. The late seventies gave rise to punk, an anti-fashion anarchistic movement. Having been introduced in the previous decade, unisex clothing hit the market with a strong force as women now wore pantsuits and day wear with a masculine edge were and skirts in a variety of lengths, often opting for tight-fitting miniskirts invented by Mary Quaint for everyday wear, as a significant female population left its household to work. . Becoming a wardrobe staple in the 1970s, blue jeans were worn by men, women, and children across the country, coming in a variety of different styles
As the nation prospered and people started taking care of themselves rather each other, materialism fired this decade and it was indeed one decade of unprecedented creativity. The power suit became a symbol of the eighties, especially when the idea propagated that women would need such a suit to climb the corporate ladder. People flaunted designer brands as symbols of wealth. MTV came to be popularized in this decade, making the music artists ‘ fashion styles accessible to the common folk who were later on also inspired by the style of Princess Diana. Madonna and Cindy Lauper inspired women to push boundaries with creative patterns, funky color combinations, and unique styles, sporting skin-tight cotton leggings, pairing them with chunky sweaters and over sized off-the-shoulder tops. Hair was often permed to achieve high volume and makeup featured bold eye shadow, heavy foundation, and bright lipstick, as now the women were ready for a change that would make them leave even men beyond.
Technology and modernism became popular and fashion became more laid back and comfortable. In contrast to the excessive consumerism and flashy color palette of the eighties, we’re now into minimalism with lots of black and neutral colors. The fashion industry blossomed the most in the United States, where Calvin Klein used overtly sexual advertisements to entice the audience towards his contrasting simpler designs. Grunge was an alternative rock subculture that began in Seattle and spawned a style of unkempt dressing. Relaxed fit jeans with plain T-shirts and knit sweaters while teenage and preteen girls often opted for brightly-colored neon clothing: hot pinks, greens, blues, oranges, and yellows which are still in fashion. Baggy tops with small bottoms and small tops with baggy bottoms enticed the fashion enthusiasts. Clothes by ready-to-wear retailers such as The Gap, Banana Republic, and Eddie Bauer came to the forefront of fashion, managing to tap into the needs of women who simply wanted comfortable, wearable clothes.
This decade is strong evidence that fashion is cyclical as it was a mixture of many styles, small and big, from many fashion decades, popular or minimal. Different fashion eras were mixed and matched to create futuristic combinations. Long lines from the 30s, shirtdresses from the 40s, bohemian skirts from the 70s, skinny jeans from the 80s and even the dreaded eighties shoulder pad that had been reworked as the “architectural” shoulder, now came into being. Current boot-cut and flared jeans are toned-down versions of bell-bottoms. Minimalism was diminishing as designers have now started exploring with silhouettes and fabric types as the world is now all about the new and the quirky. Ballet flats, tunics, jackets, baseball caps in stark contrast with neon knee socks, petticoats, rainbow dresses, knitted leg warmers, hair bows, were being paired together by many. The turn of the century thus called out by bringing back the staples from the past.
As we read through the eras of fashion, we saw how clothing changed for the changing woman and how then women responded to the change in fashion too. After 2000s, 2010s saw a revival of austerity-era period pieces, hipster and alternative fashions, 1980s-inspired neon colors, from 2012 to 2017, unisex early 1990s style elements influenced by grunge and skater fashions. Many RTW fashion brands are now dominant due to excess of mass production and global fashion trends like Forever 21, Topshop, Topman, Uniqlo, Christian Dior, Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, Ben Sherman, Lacoste, Penshoppe, Bench, H&M, Nine West, Burberry, Dorothy Perkins, Coach, Marks and Spencer, Hugo Boss, and Alberto. So the times today simple shout out to the customer rather than the woman, as trends like sustainability and economic feasibility are now the deciding factors in the world of fashion.