‘Garments and accessories have always been a key part of how humans show respect for one another, how sexuality and gender are established, and how values and traditions are honored. Not least of all, clothes are central to personal aesthetics and individuality.’ // Laine Bergeson
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Fashion is an indicator of gender identity and an opportunity to express your individuality. As its fluidity reflects changes throughout time, trend and style were tailored to represent your social status. This shifted to a movement of freedom due to the end of World War One and greater independence for women. From the rise of screen/film stars, the emergence of youth and pop culture, fashion is heavily reflected by what’s happening during that time. Today, the greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and the use of social media has released a new movement of self-expression, empowerment, style and approval for choices.
The First World War brought out significant changes in fashion design. By 1914, as realities of war took hold, men left the country to fight, which left the role of working in the mines and factories to women. This led to the traditional style of women’s clothing becoming less fitted and formal.
In post-war times, the impact of the war saw an intense shift in social norms, especially for women. Free to work and participate in the war effort, many women were unwilling to return home to become a full-time mother and wife. American women were able to vote by 1920 and British women had the right to vote by 1928. During this time, the military look soon went out of style, as the 1920s shifted to popularise a fashionable silhouette that was slim, youthful and boyish.
The term ‘Roaring Twenties’ was popularised in the United States and Western Europe. This was a time when shorter and more revealing styles were worn by women. Dresses and skirts were now just below the knee, which at the time was very sexualized.
Due to the dramatic shift in the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929, people were making their own clothes from old materials. During this time, many people went to the cinema and were inspired by Hollywood’s golden age. A famous designer called Elsa Schiaparelli said that ‘cinema was not only telling stories, it was shaping the public sense of fashion.’
In America, attitudes changed for men’s wear as they became less formal. Many men were influenced by actors such as Gary Cooper, whereas British fashion still put emphasis on sophistication and formal wear.
With the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, rations impacted fashion as the fabric was essential to making uniforms, tents and parachutes, so people were encouraged to ‘Make do and Mend.’ Suits were everyday wear for men; in Britain, many people kept wearing their clothing from the ’30s as it was a sign of support for the war. Military clothing inspired both men and women’s fashion, as blazers and military skirts were commonly worn by women who were undertaking war work.
After the war, European countries were at the point of bankruptcy, which means that it took a long time for fashion houses to re-open. During the post-war years, many men returned to their pre-war wardrobes. The outbreak of Hawaiian shirts became popular. Women’s fashion transitioned to a soft and romantic image, which ironically was at a time when many women were returning to being full-time mothers at home.
The ’50s was a time for rock ‘n’ roll, film stars and the civil rights movement. It was an era like no other for spotting future fashion and beauty icons. For Elvis Presley, the clothes he wore became very well known. He introduced his own brand of preppy rockability.
Marilyn Monroe is arguably the most referenced 1950s pin-up. The iconic white dress is a signature look, which features in the 1955 film ‘The Seven Year Stitch.’
Generally, it was seen as un-masculine for men to be preoccupied with clothes, so conservative men’s wear continued to be very stylish. However, men no longer wore formal business suits outside of work. Casual trousers, knee-length shorts, sweaters and cardigans were fashionable.
The 1960s was still a golden age for pop culture and the introduction of the youth and hippie movement. Young people were able to create their own identity, separate from those of their parents. The hippie movement began in America, where youths started reflecting on social values. They were anti-war and promoted peace and love as being the answer to all things.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and greater racial acceptance increased interest in African culture. This included the dashiki tunic (which is often a colourful pullover tunic) and kanga prints.
The 1970s was a decade where flared trousers, jumpsuits and bright colors became popular. Disco styles introduced platform shoes, glitter and satin. During the cold war, hippie clothing reflected opposition to hatred. There were protests to ‘Spread love not hate.’
During the ’70s, the divorce rate rose. Because of this, the number of women who worked had risen higher than it had ever been before. Business suits such as tailored jackets were a go-to choice for women. During the mid-’70s, the hippie look seemed to be less popular. Many men and women wore ethnic inspired clothes, turtlenecks and bell-bottom trousers.
The 80’s fashion was all about colour, and experimentation. It was the year leisurewear first went mainstream, driven by the explosion of gyms and fitness videos. As well as this, the emergence of the new music style ‘hip-hop’ greatly influenced the urban fashion scene. In many ways, the lines between men’s and women’s fashion blurred. Many of the biggest fashion trends of the ’80s were unisex, such as Members Only jackets and cargo trousers. Punk music inspired 80’s fashion; where many were wearing worn band tee-shirts, tartan skirts and leather jackets.
Princess Diana was an icon of 20th-century glamour. Whatever she wore, sold. People viewed her as an icon as she was relatable for people as she wasn’t the traditional royal. Diana connected with the people on a more personal level. She wore beautiful dresses, such as the famous form-fitting black silk dress. However, the princess also sported bicycle shorts and oversized jumpers, which was very interesting and refreshing for people to see.
Due to the increased availability of the internet and supermodels, who dominated the fashion industry, fashion had become more globalised. Top models, like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, who was the first black woman to grace the cover of French Vogue, became the faces of fashion.
Hip-hop fashion went mainstream in 1992. Oversized jackets, baggy jeans and tracksuits became popular for teenagers.
The 2000s saw a rise in the consumption of fast fashion. Affordable high street clothing was appealing to many. Asos, which was launched in 2000, and PrettyLittleThing, which was launched in 2012, are retail companies that have played a significant factor in fast fashion.
Recently, environmental issues due to fashion have been talked about more frequently. The fashion industry is the second largest cause of pollution in the world, just after the oil industry, this has led to people becoming more mindful of the clothes that they buy.
The growing consumption of social media has allowed many people to show off their newly made purchases and inspire people to shop outside of their own comfort zone. Genderless fashion is a current movement that is always growing and often shown on the runway. Perhaps in years to come, having gender-separate sections won’t be so obvious, as people can choose self-expression as the number one trend.