Exploring Fashion Trends: Past and Present

There’s a cyclical nature to fashion that can make trend-spotting feel like a journey to the past. Here, we explore some of the major fashion trends in women’s clothing from the 1920s onwards, and discover the modern equivalents we wear today.

1920s – Unrestricted flappers

The early 20th century brought one of the biggest fashion revolutions in modern history. The Roaring Twenties saw women and men throwing off the restricting fashions of old, and opting for comfort over prim. Probably the best-known trend of the 20s was the flapper look. A precursor of the popular shift dress, the flapper dress was loose-fitting, straight-lined and functional. The dress was teamed with the newly popular bob haircut, a close-fitting cloche hat and a devil-may-care attitude.

1930s – Zipping beyond the Great Depression

Clothing in the 1930s turned towards man-made fibres, including viscose for dresses and lingerie. The Great Depression that began in 1929 abruptly halted the light-hearted attitude of the 20s, and women turned to conservatism once again. Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli introduced the zip which would be used extensively throughout the 30s. The angled Eugénie hat saw its popularity soar, alongside gloves, wide shoulders and narrow waists.

1940s – Heading into menswear

World War II meant the first half of the 1940s was defined by the rationing of clothes and the scarcity of fabric. Undeterred, women turned to hats (like the fashionable yet functional snood) and headscarves (like the bandana immortalised by Rosie the Riveter) to show off their femininity. In the meantime, hemlines rose to knee length and women wore jumpsuits and trousers for the first time: a more functional outfit for working in factories.

1950s – A New Look

The fashion world responded with gusto to the end of the war, and elaborate, luxurious and voluminous became the decade’s go-to. In 1947, Christian Dior introduced the ‘New Look’, and his decided opposition to the prevailing simplicity of the early 40s reigned throughout the 50s. Square shoulders became softer, demure skirts became large and billowing, and the military look was replaced by an emphasis on the hourglass figure.

1960s – Minis and hippies

The decade when fashion went mainstream, the 1960s was defined by the social movements of the time. Elite designers were inspired by urban young adults, raincoats became popular, and the hippie movement introduced bell-bottom jeans, paisley prints and tie-dye. Some of the defining styles of the decade included the mini skirt popularised by Mary Quant, the little black dress showcased by Audrey Hepburn, and the pillbox hat famously worn by Jackie Kennedy.

1970s – Breaking the rules

As the activism of the previous decade ebbed, the 1970s became more about individualism and an ‘anything goes’ attitude. Dubbed the “Me Decade”, the 70s was all about expressing oneself without any rules. Major trends included the disco look epitomised by the jersey wrap dress and casual-chic which saw both genders opting for fitted tops and loose jeans. A resurgence of vintage clothing from the 50s also brought back glamour wear.

1980s – The bigger the better

Countering the materialism of the 70s, the early 80s was defined by minimalism, with subdued colours, minimal accessories and a practical approach to clothing. By mid-80s, this gave way to the neon colours, bright athleisure and bold statements we now associate with the decade. Expensive and elaborate was the prevailing theme, with bright, vivid apparel, shiny jewellery and sequins adorning every possible inch.

1990s – Model behaviour

The early 90s once again returned to minimalism, while an anti-conformism movement kept casual-chic in the mainstream. High fashion looked to supermodels such as Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell for inspiration while the neon colours of the 80s and the disco fashion of the 70s prevailed in the mid-90s. Grunge fashion became popular for both genders, consisting of flannel shirts, ripped jeans and combat boots.

2000s – All around the world

Fashion in the noughties was a case of looking backwards and outwards. Vintage styles of earlier decades mixed with global inspiration from Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The decade would also see an interest in ethical and recyclable fashion emerge while the converse ‘fast fashion’ also grew: high-end styles widely available at affordable prices. Designer-branded ‘It items’ became popular, and the now-ubiquitous skinny jeans were introduced in 2005.

2010s – Anything goes

Women’s clothing in the present day is an amalgamation of every decade before it, catering to every body type, taste and personal style possible. Some prevailing trends unique to the 2010s include hipster fashion, onesies, yoga pants, skater style and festival wear. As we prepare to enter the next decade, it’s difficult to imagine fashion becoming anything less than what it is now: a choice-filled world where creativity and self-expression reign supreme.