You don’t have to be a fashion guru to know that things in the fashion scene have changed a lot since the early 20th century. The summer trends of today would have scarcely passed for underwear in years gone by. Like most subjects, however, fashion is defined by its history, and by taking a look back, you can get a great perspective on how to be fashion-forward.
1916 to 1945 – Working Women
Women’s rights became a more pressing issue in the early 1900s, and elements of women’s liberation are reflected in the clothing of the time. In the late 1910s, women were moving away from the more restrictive Edwardian-era dresses and corsets toward more flexible, work-friendly attire. As women became more empowered in the 1920s, the relaxed clothing style evolved to more than just a functional change. Clothing made a statement with the flapper movement, showing that women could be strong and independent, free to show skin but not being forced into uncomfortable reshaping undergarments — sexy without being tied to the traditional notion of femininity. The 1940s saw the end of the extravagant flapper era, however, with war rationing in World War II limiting access to luxury clothing. The style was pushed back toward simpler materials and designs, but the trend of high hemlines and low waists carried through, melding the more free-spirited flapper look with the functional work clothing of the 1910s.
1945 to1960 – The Rise of the Ready-Made
After WWII, fashion took a drastic turn. Finally freed from rationing restrictions, high-end designers like Christian Dior created lavish, opulent fashions. Of course, not everyone could afford fashion house designs, and this deficit opened up a new opportunity for companies that produced uniforms and other textiles during the war — ready-to-wear clothing. Production companies began buying up the licenses to designs from high fashion houses in London and Paris and mass producing them for sale in national department store chains. This split between fashion houses and department stores would eventually lead to the high fashion scene as we know it now; a showcase of artistic expression, entirely removed from “street fashion” trends.
1960 to 1990 – Music Makes Fashion
It might be difficult to believe, but even with all the different trends in color, fabric and design, one common thread could be found between all fashion between 1960 and 1990 — music. From the loose, flowing tunics and blue jeans of the ’60s to the shiny skin-tight catsuits of the ’70s, and even the seemingly chaotic punk ensembles of the ’80s, fashions were defined by the musicians of the age. With the rise of televised performances, music became seen as well as heard, and fans would show their devotion to their favorite bands by following their fashion examples.
1990 to Now – Fashion in the Mass Media Age
Much like the ’60s and ’70s, modern street fashion follows the media — what we see, we wear. Unlike those days, however, the modern era of fashion moves at lightning speeds. With 24-hour media available via cable and the Internet, the fashion icons are under persistent scrutiny, and as such, change their looks constantly. Gone are the days when a trend could define a decade — modern fashion changes by the season, and sometimes faster.
References and ResourcesLisa's Nostalgia Cafe: Mid & Late 1910s Fashion
Just The Swing: 1930s Women's Fashion
Fashion Encyclopedia: Clothing, 1946-60
ResourcesFashion Era: History, Costume History, Clothing, Fashions and Social History
The Victoria and Albert Museum: Fashion