Fashion trends through the ages
Even if you’ve never considered yourself to be a person who cares deeply about what you wear, fashion has likely affected your life in one way or another.
Many fashion lovers rely solely on their clothes and accessories to make a personal statement. At the very least, keeping up with the latest fashions can tell others that you care about your appearance and help you to put a professional foot forward in your work environment.
What is fashion, you ask? Fashion is used to describe a certain style of clothing worn by a particular generation or culture. Fashion can also denote how pieces of clothing are put together to form a unique outfit, complete with accessories.
Fashion may be called a fad, a trend, or a style, but one thing is for sure: Fashion provides a way for people around the world to express their individuality in color, print, fabric, and design.
If you weren’t interested in fashion before now, here are a few fun facts
about fashion trends that might just change your mind
The thong is rumored to have been invented in New York City at the end of the Depression.
The most expensive shoes in the world are ruby slippers from Harrods in London, valued at $1.6 million.
The world’s largest producer of jeans, Levi Strauss, started by making denim work pants for gold panners during the California Gold Rush.
Clothing could be used in the Middle Ages to pay taxes.
The cardigan was first made as a military jacket out of knitted wool.
Men were the first of the sexes to wear jewelry.
The dress that Marilyn Monroe wore during JFK’s birthday serenade sold for $1.26 million.
The Birth of Fashion Timeline
By now, you’re probably asking yourself the question:
Where did it all begin?
To answer that intriguing question, we’re going to roll on back to the 1800’s, where fashion was drastically different than it is today. While 1800’s fashion may seem antiquated to some, the era set the scene for modern fashion as we know it. Historical fashion trends started in France and the UK and moved across the pond to influence the United States.
Think empire dresses, long hair, parasols, and hats
In the 1800’s, you were most likely to see a woman in a floor length dress at any time of day or night. It was within this century that the high waisted empire gown was introduced as an iconic fashion piece; by the time the 19th Century rolled around, the empire dress was altered to feature a square neckline.
Dress sleeves were worn long or short and puffed at the shoulders.
Dresses were often embroidered in a variety of colors, but white empire dresses were considered to be a status symbol worn only by the upper class.
Who doesn’t love a good hat? Since women in the 1800’s wore their hair long and curled, a bonnet or hat was needed to protect a hairstyle when a woman ventured outdoors. Hats and parasols were often perfectly coordinated with a woman’s empire dress. Beyond fashion, a hat in the 1800’s served a dual purpose of keeping a woman’s head covered when out and about as a sign of submission and respect.
For both style and shade underneath the midday sun, a woman in the 1800’s would carry a beautiful parasol to keep her skin fair and pale - as was the trend at the time.
(Father of Haute Couture)
The notable designer of this time period was an Englishman named Charles Worth, who created the first haute couture fashion house in Paris. Now named the Father of Haute Couture, Worth designed the Court Presentation Dress for a debutante to wear when she was presented in court.
1800’s Fashion at a Glance
Flowers/bows on dress skirts
Bustle gowns, Evening Gowns
Silk gowns for the wealthy
Thanks to the inspiration of Charles Worth, the turn-of-the-century was known as the rise of haute couture, translated literally as “high sewing,” in Paris. New haute couture garments in the early 1900’s were custom-made and hand-sewn with a remarkably high price tag, as remains the custom today.
These new Parisian styles quickly transformed the fashion trends of the Western world as upper-class women sought after haute couture garments exclusively. Women were known to debut their latest wares at the horse races, providing the prime opportunity for an impromptu fashion show.
In this era, fashion began with haute couture and changed drastically to include pants for women
and the well-known flapper style
The iconic flapper style of the 1920’s consisted of a short skirt, a low waistline, and a bobbed hairdo. Dresses were tighter and shorter than ever; cloche hats without rims were worn as a trendy accessory.
Once the 1920’s rolled around, a new brand of woman broke the mold in the US by trading in confining corsets for pants, normally worn by men only. This gender-crossing fashion paved the way for short skirts worn by the flappers of the 1920’s.
Haute couture in the 1900’s represented exclusivity at its best with custom-designed garments produced by fashion houses. Women were known to wear full skirts and corsets to emphasize a tiny waist, as well as elaborate hats that reached new heights.
In 1913, Coco Chanel first opened her boutique in France, where she quickly became a staple in women’s fashion by selling her trademark tailored suits, quilted handbags, and jersey knits with chain belts. Today, Chanel still remains the most copied fashion designer throughout history.
1900’s Fashion at a Glance
Because of World War II, many haute couture fashion houses in Paris were forced to close their doors. In this era, fashion had no choice but to respond to the dismal state of the economy; women had to make do with materials on hand and create new clothes from scratch.
Since most fabrics were rationed for wartime use, materials were limited. Women’s hemlines climbed even shorter, and nylon stockings were almost obsolete. Women began wearing ankle socks and were frequently seen out with bare legs. For shame!
World War I and World War II fashion also brought with it pinup styles and
the influence of London fashion designers
In 1942, the London-based
Incorporated Society of
Fashion Designers produced
30 different utility clothing
designs to provide more
options in simplistic
wartime style. Women were
provided with more
feminine jackets and short skirts that
contoured to the body, like the siren suit made from tartan fabric.
As World War I and World War II took their toll, clothing became more functional and military-inspired; women’s jackets were made with square shoulders and worn with short skirts. Since fabric was rationed, women often wore suit skirt uniforms in public.
In this era, the American pinup was born as The Gibson Girl, created by artist Charles Gibson. The pinup was a national emblem that fell in popularity in World War I and returned again with gusto in World War II. Pinup girls were used to boost military morale and also influenced women’s fashion in high waisted trousers, shorts, bathing suits, and heels.
Christian Dior brought fashion back to Paris in 1947 by reviving haute couture. He replaced minimalistic wartime trends with New Look glamour by creating garments with billowing skirts, stiff petticoats, and slim waistlines.
WWI/WWII Fashion at a Glance
Skirt and sweater sets
In the 1950’s, designers and fashion lovers were ready to break free of the no-frills style inspired by both world wars. Thanks to the introduction of New Look fashion by Christian Dior, luxurious garments returned with elaborate accessories. The 1950’s was also the decade where clothing began mass production, and standard sizes were created for a woman’s figure.
A 1950’s woman was likely to be seen in a circle skirt, a cocktail dress, or even a Chanel suit
1950’s fashion had a strict set of rules when it came to eveningwear. Women would wear a trendy cocktail dress in the early evening and then change into a dinner dress; afterward, they would wear an even more formal evening gown to attend the theater. Of the three, cocktail dresses were shorter and less formal, made of tulle, silk, chiffon, or satin.
The classic 1950’s circle skirt was often worn by teenagers atop multiple petticoats. Circle skirts were easy and inexpensive to make at home and were customarily decorated with appliqués, like a record or a poodle.
The Chanel Suit was a top trend in 1950’s fashion, worn by none other than Jackie Kennedy. The suit was first introduced in 1954 with a boxy jacket and slim skirt that created a brand-new silhouette for the glamorous 1950’s woman. As always, a number of chain retail stores copied the standout Chanel Suit to sell similar designs at a cheaper
Cristóbal Balenciaga was the hot designer of the decade that created semi-fit dresses with softer, rounded shoulders in 1954, a clear contrast to the boxy suit style designed by Coco Chanel.
1950’s Fashion at a Glance
The 1960’s was a decade of youth-centric culture and rebellion, especially when it came to fashion trends. Before the 1960’s, fashion designers normally created exclusive styles intended for runways only. In the 1960’s, the younger generation turned the tables by rebelling against conventional clothing from the 50’s and starting their own fads.
As a result, fashion designers had to race to keep up with the new youth trends to manufacture
popular clothing for sale, like bellbottoms, go-go boots, and psychedelic prints
In the 1960’s, women began sporting white go-go boots as a top trend. Knee-high go-go boots most often had a low heel and were intended to flatter a woman’s leg, worn with a short skirt.
With inspiration from Woodstock, fashion at the end of the decade took a turn toward the psychedelic with hemp clothing and tie-dyed prints. Designers like Emilio Pucci quickly jumped on the trend to manufacture mini dresses made of velvet, cotton, or chiffon in a psychedelic pattern.
Yves St. Laurent
Despite the 1960’s counterculture, the era also brought us notable fashion designers like Yves St. Laurent and Calvin Klein. In 1962, Yves St. Laurent opened a fashion house with ethnic-inspired designs; Calvin Klein began producing tailored, sophisticated clothing in a wide palette of neutrals in 1968.
1960’s Fashion at a Glance
Long hair for men and women
When you think of the 1970’s, does Saturday Night Fever immediately come to mind? The 1970’s rode in on the heels of the wild and wacky 1960’s to provide trendsetters with a slew of new flashy fads, synonymous with the disco era. Because of body-hugging clothing worn to the disco, garments were now broadly manufactured in polyester; clothes for men and women were worn tighter than ever before.
In the 1970’s, you were likely to see disco-inspired clothing, glam rock trends,
and pantsuits for women
The pantsuit was an ever-popular 1970s fashion trend worn by women as business attire. A typical trouser suit or pantsuit was likely to have flared pants in a variety of colors paired with a straight or flared jacket, a waistcoat, or a tunic.
When you think of glam rock in the 1970’s, think David Bowie. Typical 1970’s styles were adorned in rhinestones and glitter, covering halter tops, high waisted trousers, hot pants, and much more. 1970’s glam rock was primarily inspired by early 70’s styles in the UK that soon made their way to the masses in the US.
1970s fashion lovers embraced the motto that “anything goes,” especially in terms of disco clothing. A typical disco look could consist of a three-piece suit for a man or a stylish wrap dress, leotard, tube top, or split skirt for a woman.
Both sexes were likely to wear platform shoes up to 4 inches thick for both style and mobility on the dance floor.
The quintessential designer of the 1970’s was Halston, a popular creator of sweater sets, knitwear, clingy dresses, and - you guessed it - pantsuits. Esteemed fashion designer Giorgio Armani also arose in 1974 to create a popular menswear line with his signature Italian tailoring.
1970’s Fashion at a Glance
If you grew up in the 1980’s, you were likely to be a Material Girl living in a material world. Compared to the 1970s, 1980’s fashion changed drastically. As the US economy boomed in this decade, women turned to designer labels and shopped ‘til they dropped.
The 1980’s also brought with it the birth of MTV, providing teens everywhere with
the opportunity to copy the styles of their favorite pop stars in fashions like miniskirts,
shoulder pads, and legwarmers – oh, my!
The motto for miniskirts in the 1980’s was the shorter, the better. Miniskirts were most popularly made in denim, as well as other trendy materials like leather and knit. Women frequently paired miniskirts with leggings in a variety of bright neon colors.
Essentially footless socks, leg
warmers were originally worn
by dancers until the style was
picked up by 1980’s
trendsetters. Inspired by the
movie Flashdance, women of
the 80’s wore leg warmers with
tights, jeans, leggings, or
Shoulder pads made a major statement when it came to 1980’s fashion. Shoulder pads were most often paired with the power suit of the 1980’s as women joined the workforce
and dressed for success. Shoulder pads could be found in almost any type of woman’s garment, including overcoats, suit jackets, sweaters, and more.
Donna Karan was a standout designer in the 80’s that launched her line of casual, multipurpose knits in 1984. Her clothing line popularized the color black for any occasion.
1980’s Fashion at a Glance
Fingerless lace gloves
The 1990’s was all about laid-back, comfortable style, focused on more neutral colors paired with black compared to the bright neon prints of the 80’s. This twist in the fashion industry gave birth to grunge style, inspired by an uprising alternative rock culture in Seattle. In the 1990’s, women were less likely to wear elaborate designer clothing and instead preferred ripped jeans, flannels, and baggy pants.
Some of the most popular 90’s fashion trends included grunge,
hip-hop fashion, and retro hippie styles
Flannel was a staple of the 1990’s grunge culture, worn with baggy, ripped pants or cut-off jean shorts. Grunge trendsetters were likely to wear Doc Martens, Converse All-Stars, or Vans skater shoes. Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain also brought back the popularity of the oversized, grungy striped sweater for men and women alike.
Inspired by the popular TV show Fresh Prince of Bel Air, hip-hop fashion became mainstream with overalls worn with one strap, baggy jeans with one pant leg rolled up, track suits, and oversized bomber or baseball jackets.
The hippie culture was back with a vengeance to complement the overly casual style of the 90’s. A typical 1990’s woman could have been seen wearing a lace blouse, gypsy top, or flowing floral print dress.
And don’t forget mood rings - a popular, must-have fashion accessory of the 90’s!
Alexander McQueen was the hottest new designer of the 1990’s, introducing never before seen styles in quilted dresses, rabbit-skin garments, and ultralow rise jeans - all featured in elaborate, theatrical fashion shows.
1990’s Fashion at a Glance
With the dawn of the new millennium came a number of recycled fashion trends, proving once again that what you have lurking in the back of your closet is likely to come back in style - if you’re patient.
In the 2000’s, we saw the rise of indie music that inspired the fashion resurgence of bohemian clothing, as well as a 1980’s revival. Vintage clothing from all decades, starting in the 1940’s, was mass-produced by fashion designers and snatched off the shelves at thrift shops.
2000’s fashion trends included boho-chic style, vintage garments, and 1980’s inspiration
Vintage clothing in the 2000’s came with inspiration from almost any decade, ranging from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. Women were likely to wear paisley hippie dresses, 1940’s blouses, or 1960’s peacoats in any combination.
1980’s punk was back in the spotlight in the mid-2000s with bright neon prints, fishnets, metal studded jackets, and stonewashed skinny jeans. Once this trend was embraced by the indie artists of the decade, fashionistas could be seen wearing ballet flats, leggings, miniskirts, and slap bracelets as accessories.
Celebrities like Mary Kate Olsen kicked off the boho-chic fashion trend that consisted of modern bohemian clothing. Women could be seen wearing natural prints in earth tones with flowing skirts and tops. Boho-chic shoes included beaded
vintage andals, as well as cork espadrilles. And the hair? The longer and messier, the better - with oversized sunglasses to complete the look.
Zac Posen got his big break in 2000 after designing a dress for Naomi Campbell. He soon became a favorite of A-list celebrities with his strong yet feminine garments and eventually produced a ready-to-wear clothing line for Target
2000’s Fashion at a Glance
Low-rise pants Skinny jeans
What can we say about today’s fashion? The 2010’s have barely begun, and we’re already seeing retro hipster trends making a splash in the fashion scene. Because of the hipster counterculture, vintage clothing continues to remain in-demand as a spillover from the late 2000’s.
As indie pop gains an even greater following, today’s alternative fashion trends become
more mainstream to include 90’s revival pieces and the return of leggings
Hipster fashion is hard to pinpoint since the heartbeat of the hipster culture is thinking and living outside of the box. Yet indie artists continue to inspire retro clothing trends, like nerd glasses, skinny ties, and cardigan sweaters. For women, hipster style means vintage floral and lace - or anything else you’d find in your grandmother’s closet.
Capri or full length leggings remain a fashion staple in the 2010’s, perfectly paired with tunic tops, T-shirts, dresses, and oversized sweaters. Leggings fit in seamlessly with the black and white designer trend, once again promoting minimalism amongst flashy fads.
Hipsters in this era have started to embrace the 1990’s influence in polo shirts, blazers, sweater vests, and even flannel. Baggy jeans and Bermuda shorts are another returning trend to combat the ever-popular skinny jean.
Stella McCartney, daughter of Beatles legend Paul McCartney, is a trendsetting designer of the new millennium with a fashion house, signature perfume, skincare line, lingerie line, and kids’ collection. McCartney offers the millennial generation the best of both worlds in retro prints and vintage silhouettes, like 1980’s blazers, oversized glasses, and bellbottom or skinny jeans.
2010’s Fashion at a Glance
Skinny stretch jeans
Victorian vintage clothing