Volume 91, Issue 14

Friday, September 19, 1997



History of fashion

Graphics by Janice Olynich>

By Donna MacMullin
Gazette Staff

Fashion throughout the 20th century is characterized by the social, industrial and economical influences of the time. Throughout the century, women and men responded to these tendencies in many ways, but possibly none as interesting as the way they chose to dress. Whether fashion influences came from upper class pockets of society or the youth punk generation, the tone of the decade is reflected in what people chose to wear.

1900 - 1910
Taking the best from the Edwardian age which preceded this time, the first decade of the 20th century holds on to traditions of hand craftsmanship and elaborate dress. Women can be seen splendorously prancing through gardens dressed in full-length gowns of lace and embroidery, holding parasols and topped with decorative and stately hats. The period emphasizes an hourglass female shape to an extreme, as tightly-laced corsets highlighting the curves of the breasts and hips were not only the norm, but the bane of female existence. Clothes at this time are usually custom-made and men often sported tailor-made suits, decorated with pocket watches and conservative hats.

1910 - 1920
While the decade before dramatized the female figure, during this era women take a more upright stance in appearance with straighter skirts which are more narrow and of full or ankle length. Now there is a movement away from elaborate frills, as the sports coat becomes increasingly popular and high necklines are the norm. The use of rayon starts to work wonders for stockings and undergarments and boots and shoes remain fairly elaborate in style.

1920 - 1930
During these years a greater distinction is drawn between daytime dress and evening wear. Ready to wear women's fashions are characterized by straight and simple lines, smaller fitted hats and knee-length skirts. For evening, dresses are often longer or have dipping hemlines in the back and emphasize a waistless, curveless look, much different from the styles earlier in the century. Fashion influences were most often drawn from the French, and women wore feathers and pearls to accessories the simple and elegant look.

1930 - 1940
These years see a return to a more feminine look for women, emphasizing waistlines, longer skirts with more shape and backless evening gowns. Women finally see more variety in day clothes, as three-piece dresses become more apparent along with built-up shoulder lines. Gloves are often worn and now the trend of fox fur being slung over the shoulders is popular and chic.

1940 - 1950
Greatly influenced by the war effort, men and women everywhere turn to more utilitarian styles of dress. Larger-scale production makes clothing more easily accessible, though any use of extra material or production of fabric-wasting items is outlawed. Material which has checks and different patterns is popular, as well as skirts which spread from the waist, balloon sleeves and full-skirted coats. For the first time, television becomes influential in spreading the latest fashion trends.

1950 - 1960
The '50s see well-designed, wearable clothes gracing the bodies of both men and women. For day, women are often seen wearing slim-fitting skirts or slacks and stirrup pants are introduced as the latest trend. More diversity is expressed in the fashion scene, as clothes are designed to express different attitudes and to suit a variety of occasions. There is a greater disregard for conventional categories of day/evening wear as well as the distinction between formal and casual clothing. At this time, schools of fashion are popping up across the world, indicating a need for trained designers.

1960 - 1970
The '60s start to see a revolution in fashion as individuals are determined to unshackle themselves from the conventional categories of dress which were set decades before. Hemlines are dramatically raised for women's dresses and for men, the emergence of bell-bottom pants and wide neckties take centre stage in the fashion theatre. Use of fabric becomes varied, as wilder, more eccentric prints and a mixture of colours mirror the more liberal tone of the decade. For women, A-line dresses and skirts worn with knee-high socks is the dominant trend. Shopping for these items also becomes revolutionized, as specialized boutiques hit the fashion scene.

1970 - 1980
Feelings of love, peace, freedom, drugs and rock 'n' roll, are definitely reflected in the fashion of the '70s for both men and women. From hot pants and gogo boots, bell-bottoms, bra tops, butterfly collars and sarong skirts, an individual style is emphasized and the wider the bells the cooler you are. Here, fashion influence emerges from the music scene, as youth punk and disco stars inspire modern designers. Increasingly individualistic style expressing the personal taste of the wearer is reflected in almost all clothing. Some styles are reminiscent of the 1930s, like high-waisted empire dresses for women. A few new must-have unisex items of the decade include denim pants and T-shirts.

1980 - 1990
Lately dubbed the most tacky decade for fashion, the '80s highlight many new styles and take influence from a variety of sources – most notably, the music scene. If it weren't for artists like Duran Duran, Platinum Blond, Wham, Cyndi Lauper or Michael Jackson, the world would probably have never seen such fashion items as moon boots, acid washed jeans, fluorescent T-shirts, pointed shoes and red leather jackets with tons of zippers. While the style of dress is still highly diversified, it is definitely dated. The development of lycra and increased use of cotton spark a variety of trends which further expand into the next decade.

1990 - 1997
Here in the '90s you might say we've come a long way from the fashion trends inspired in preceding decades. Hemlines are no longer a great issue for women's clothing and dressing is more a way to express a sense of individuality than ever. Scientific development of new and interesting materials has taken fashion to new and unexplored dimensions. Emphasis on fashion designers and diversity in clothing is at an all-time peak. Still, some very distinct trends mark this age – like shorter shirts which emphasize the midriff, tank and halter tops, pant suits, square-heeled heavy shoes, an emphasis on layering clothing and metallic coloured materials, just to name a few. Another interesting trend for the younger generation is retro dressing – wearing what was cool from decades past.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997