Clothing styles & popular apparel fashions are constantly in flux, & the fashion world is continuously inundated with runway innovations & fly-by-night fads. Over the last century, fashion in the Western world in particular has experienced continual upheavals & major changes. From 1900 to 2007, popular fads have included such fashion statements as rear-enhancing bustles, short flapper dresses, wide-leg bell bottoms, & deliberately ripped jeans. These & other major fashion trends make up the fascinating history of twentieth- century women’s clothing.
Haute Couture Era: 1900-1920
Women’s fashion in the early 1900s highlighted the silhouette of the mature, full-figured body. Low busts & curvy hips were flaunted by the dress styles of the era (Pendergast 2004). In the early years of the first decade, skirts were long & full & often contained a small train, similar to what is commonly seen in today’s wedding gowns.
However, as the decade drew to a close, skirts gradually grew shorter & began to reveal tantalizing glimpses of the ankle. The overall silhouette of dresses moreover changed slightly, moving toward a narrower, straighter line.
The early 1900s moreover marked the flowering of the haute couture movement in Paris. Parisian designers set the fashion tone for the rest of the Western world, & their designs were highly sought after by women of the upper classes. Quite frequently, horse races served as a debut for significant new fashions, as well-known designers sent models to attend these races wearing their latest creations (Pendergast 2004).
From 1910 until the start of the First World War in 1914, fashion continued to move toward slimmer, narrower silhouettes that emphasized flat busts & slim hips (Pendergast 2004).
Bustles & trains were removed from dresses, as fashion designers played with the length of skirts to reveal enticing new areas of skin. However, as the war began in 1914, attention & materials were drawn away from fashion design, & no significant fashion developments occurred again until peace was declared at the end of 1918.
Modern Era: 1920-1940
Flapper styles of short skirts, low waistlines, & bobbed hair characterized fashion in the late 1920s. During the 1920s, clothing styles officially entered the modern era of fashion design. During this decade, women began to liberate themselves from constricting clothes for the first time & openly embrace more comfortable styles like pants & short skirts.
While popular fashions remained relatively conservative prior to 1925, short skirts, low waistlines, & revolutionary styles of the flapper era characterized the latter half of the decade (Hall 1992). Dresses were made to fit close to the body in order to emphasize youthful elegance. Hems were cut to the knee, & waistlines disappeared almost entirely. Cloche hats without rims moreover became a key popular clothing item during this period (Pendergast 2004).
[adrotate block="1"]The fashion styles of the flapper era lasted throughout the 1920s & into the early 1930s before the hardships of the Great Depression forced more conservative trends.
During this time, skirts became longer & the natural waistline became a more significant part of dresses as society began to move back toward a more traditionally feminine look (Hall 1992). While some trends of the 1920s, such as cloche hats & bobbed hair, lasted slightly longer, the difficult times of the 1930s unquestionably called for more conservative wear.
The decade of the 1930s moreover saw the first true distinction between day & evening styles. During the affluent era of the 1920s, women could easily wear impractical clothing during the day without worry, so long as domestic servants took care of the chores (Pendergast 2004). However, the complex times of the Depression caused many women to do more work at home themselves & necessitated more practical clothing for the daytime. Simple skirts & pared-down outfits allowed for ease of mobility in the daytime, while new fabrics such as metallic lamé became popular for more luxurious evening wear. The newly improved, synthetic fabric rayon became an significant part of many designers’ fashions during the 1930s, & cotton moreover moved into more stylish clothing designs; however, silk remained the primary fabric of most fashion designers.
Rationed Fashion & the New Look: 1940 – 1960
As Europe, & after America, entered the landscape of World War II, fashion responded to the restrained mood & economy of the war. Drabness & uniformity in clothing were embraced, & people were encouraged to make do with & mend the clothing they already had. Service uniforms were constantly seen on both men & women at all types of social functions, as the reality of the war became impossible to ignore.
During the war, all types of cloth were needed for a variety of wartime purposes, & material for clothing was severely rationed. Women were issued a limited number of ration coupons to use for clothing purchases each year, & this number declined steadily as the war progressed. Due to the limited materials, fashions of the era emphasized shorter skirts than ever before & short, blocky jackets (Pendergast 2004). Buttons for any type of apparel were limited to three per clothing item. Nylon stockings were very scarce, & women were encouraged to make do with ankle socks & bare legs. During the war & its aftermath, there was rarely an adequate amount of any clothing item available, & women were forced to do the best they could & dress as femininely as possible with the available stock.
By the late 1940s & early 1950s, designers had quickly grown tired of the utilitarian, minimalist clothing of the wartime era. Longings for elegance & luxury that had been suppressed during the war years began to creep out again with the “New Look” of fashion in the late 1940s in which clothing styles emphasized rounded shoulders, full skirts, & narrow waists (Hall 1992). The garments were often lined with luxurious, expensive fabrics, & ornate accessories became necessary items. Although critics complained approximately the extravagance of the clothing while rationing was still mandated, women throughout the country clamored for the revitalized femininity of the New Look. And it would prove to be popular enough to last well into the affluent decade of the 1950s.
Fashion Revolution: 1960 – 1980
Youth of the 1960s rebelled against traditional styles & created their own trends.
The 1960s & 1970s witnessed a youth explosion that completely revolutionized the fashion system. Prior to 1960, designers generally created styles for runways, & clothing manufacturers mass produced the designers’ styles for the general public. However, during the 1960s, youth throughout the Western world began to rebel against traditional clothing styles & create their own trends. Soon, fashion designers & manufacturers were madly trying to keep up with the trends & implement the youths’ popular creations into clothing for the masses.
During the 1960s & 1970s, a huge variety of clothing became popular, including bell bottoms, increasingly short miniskirts & hot pants, & blue jeans (Pendergast 2004). It was no longer shocking for women to wear pants on a daily basis, & many of the styles of the era were somewhat androgynous. By the 1970s, it was nearly impossible to tell what was in fashion & what was not, as the choices for available clothing had become very diverse. During these two decades of rapid social revolution & change, it was “anything goes” in terms of fashionable clothing. By the late 1970s, popular styles had turned somewhat more conservative, yet the freedom of choice inspired by the two decades would live on.
Present Era: 1980 – 2007
While high fashion had greatly declined during the free-for-all of the 1960s & 1970s, the 1980s saw a definite rise in the popularity of designer styles. Wealthy people across the country flocked to New York boutiques & Paris fashion shows to purchase directly from designers’ lines, while mass producers replicated the high fashions for the general public. Power & money dominated the styles of the 1980s, with women donning expensive business suits & dresses during the day & extravagant designer gowns in the evening (Pendergast 2004). While not everybody could afford the expensive designer clothing, some top fashion designers such as Calvin Klein & Ralph Lauren moreover produced ready-to-wear lines to appeal to less-affluent customers. During the 1980s, clothing was a sign of power, & the top designers reigned supreme with their fashionable apparel.
But by the 1990s, women had begun to reject the moneyed, designer styles of the 1980s & opt for more comfortable, casual clothing. Flannel shirts & ripped jeans inspired by the grunge movement in rock & roll became popular, while the rising hip-hop movement brought baggy pants into fashion (Pendergast 2004). Whatever its expression, comfort remained the key factor in clothing choice for most women in the 1990s & 2000s. Even standards for work relaxed somewhat, & casual dresses & pants became popular workplace attire.
Today, while expensive designer clothing is still sought after by some women, casual, comfortable clothing styles at reasonable prices are the popular choice at the start of the new century. But one never knows what new trendy or outrageous style will emerge next on the fashion scene.