How to Dress from Every Decade
By now, you’ve hopefully seen that super cool YouTube video that covers 100 years of fashion in two minutes (and if you haven’t, check it out!). It’s mind-blowing to see how far fashion has come and what was actually in style over the years. Because we loved this video so much, we decided to do a little more digging into the history of women’s fashion. Here, we’ve broken down each decade for you, from what women were wearing back in the day to how you can replicate each era today. Take a trip down memory lane with us as we explore a century of style!
1900’s: Decade of Opulence
Trailing influence from the end of the 1800’s, the beginning of the 20th century was a time of opulence and elegance when it came to what women wore. If you were anybody respectable, you made annual pilgrimages to the high streets of Paris to shop with vendeuses who helped you pick out your entire wardrobe for the upcoming seasons. Parisienne fashion was the pinnacle of couture and exclusivity, and women everywhere in the world sought it out. Women in the 1900’s donned tight straight and s-curved corsets, snug collars, tons of lace, and skirts with trains. The way a woman dressed was of the utmost importance, and what you wore for your morning errands was different than your afternoon gown and different still from your evening ensemble, and so on and so forth. Your wardrobe on a daily basis would strictly adhere to a set formula of day and night undergarments, Edwardian corsets, and stockings (two different pairs per day, to be exact!). Corsets of the time were designed to restrict and pull waists to a mere 20 inches or less, and were required as part of any respectable lady’s appearance for a majority of the day, each and every day. Hats were also popular staples of everyday attire, and were often adorned with large feathers and an intricate pompadour up-do. Gradually, tailored jackets, “sporty blouses,” and long skirts paired with high heels or tightly laced ankle boots became trendy toward the end of the decade.
Get the Look:
By the early 1910’s, the silhouette of women’s fashion had already toned down significantly. Women wore long line corsets (instead of s-curves) and sported flattering day dresses with high necks. Women also began wearing matching colored blouses, as opposed to the 1900’s light blouse and contrasting skirt combinations. Simplicity and practicality in women’s fashion began in this decade in lieu of the luxe haute couture of the 1900’s.
From 1915 to the end of the decade, fashion began transitioning to the era of the Art Nouveau figure. This meant moving away from women’s undergarments that molded and restricted the body, opting instead for lingerie that supported and accentuated a woman’s figure, like brassieres and the first modern bra that we know (and still hate) today. Soft silhouettes replaced dramatic S-shaped waists, and women began donning more androgynous styles, most likely as a result of the height of the women’s suffrage movement. Bodices were adorned with pretty, cummberbund-style sashes instead of the Empire waist of the previous decade, and flared skirts with raised hemlines that ended above the ankle were “in”, giving rise to fashionable footwear like stylish lace-up boots and trendy accoutrements like bows and lace adorning heels. Everything was neatly tailored, with accentuated waistlines and perfectly fitting coats with matching skirts. Hats and low pompadour hairstyles were still extremely popular and completed a woman’s ensemble.
Get the Look:
Edith Cloche Hat, ModCloth, $45 | Black Lace Top, Zara, $40 | Hair Pin Set, ModCloth, $6 | Sister Jane Misty Morning Embroidered Maxi Dress, ASOS, $130 |Nina Ella Heels, Zappos, $89 | Freshwater Pearl and Crystal Bracelet Set, Kohls, $225
In the Roaring 20’s, women were finally granted the right to vote (hurrah!). Newfound independence for women translated into fashion via looser fits and the revolutionary shapeless “flapper” dresses of the era. For the first time in history, women felt empowered to define how they would portray their femininity, and finally rid themselves of corsets and constricting styles for good.
“Flapper” dresses typically featured drop waists and were loose, shapeless, and did not accentuate a woman’s bust or hips. This trend was a symbolic statement of rebellion and feminine energy in a predominantly patriarchal society. The statement was made even more potent by short hair and short hemlines (a dramatic change from the large, sweeping pompadour styles and ankle-length skirts from the past two decades). Other iconic trends of the 20’s include costume jewelry, t-strap heels, and sequins. However, street style remained extremely tame in comparison to the flapper scene, and was defined by neat tailoring, tea dresses, and cloche hats.
Get the Look:
After the economy crashed at the end of the 20’s, the Great Depression meant that the luxurious fashion, dresses, and accessories of the past few decades were no longer realistic or affordable. In a drastic effort to conserve and save, fabric rations were enforced, meaning slimmer dresses with more movement. Waistlines that were nonexistent in the 20’s came back in full force in the 30’s. In fact, a slim waist and a tall, slender figure was so idealized in the 30’s that exaggerated puff (caplet, ruffled, etc.) sleeves, shoulder pads, and full collars started to become popular for the sole purpose of making waists and hips appear smaller in comparison.
Some say “modern day fashion” was born in the 30’s, because people could no longer afford haute couture. As a result, factory made ready-to-wear garments started to become extremely popular, both because they could be easily mass produced and because they were significantly cheaper. However, having no money was no excuse for looking sloppy, and women were still expected to look pulled together and trendy despite the hard times. Fur stoles, floral patterns, abundant makeup, and shoulder pads were in. Hats worn at an angle on the head were also a big deal, but grew increasingly less popular as the decade came to an end.
Get the Look:
Because of the war, fabric was strictly rationed, and dresses in the 1940’s subsequently became shorter, ending at the knees rather than the mid-calf. It was still in style to accentuate a tiny waist in the 40’s, and shoulder pads that extended just past the shoulder were sewn into almost every garment on the market at the time. This was the decade of the short-sleeved midi dress, which gave women more mobility and comfort while still looking composed and proper. Necklines in fashion began to vary greatly, with everything from square to keyhole to V-neck becoming available. As a response to the men going to war, women took on jobs in the home front and began wearing utilitarian garments like trousers and denim in order to dress the part.
After the war, more fabric became available, and women started wearing lots of colorful patterns and trims as a way to cope with and forget the hard times they just endured.
Get the Look:
In 1947, Christian Dior launched his first ever collection, which was glorified the world over for providing a refreshing change from wartime rationing and war-influenced silhouettes. The Collection introduced outfits composed of full, billowing skirts, waspy waists, and soft shoulders (no shoulder pads). After the war, women were encouraged to become homemakers again, and feminine, impractical styles such as this helped to suggest this. The Bar Suit was Dior’s most iconic silhouette of the time, and was praised for its mature feel, in contrast to the overly frivolous styles of past decades.
As the 50’s went on, two classic dress shapes emerged: full tea-length dresses and poodle skirts, and classier form-fitting wiggle dresses. Both forms featured snug tops and narrow waists.
What was most notable about the decade, however, was that for the first time in history, teens started to become a fashion force to be reckoned with, developing their own style, trends, and market segment separate from adults. Prior to the 50’s, a woman was in her “style prime” when she reached her 30’s – 40’s. and teens would simply dress to reflect their parents’ tastes. Now, teens began creating their own niche with a newfound energy and excitement for trends and style. Poodle skirts, ponytails, ballet flats, bermuda shorts, motorcycle jackets, and denim became really popular at the time.
Get the Look:
By the 60’s, teenagers and young adults were fashion leaders. Rebellious subcultures emerged from this youthful energy to form mod, rocker, and hippie fashions, just to name a few. But it didn’t happen overnight. At the beginning of the 60’s, Jackie Kennedy was the world’s style icon, and she singlehandedly made clean, fitted, outfits with perfectly matched accessories and pill box hats a signature style of the decade. However, after President Kennedy’s untimely assassination, Jackie fell out of the public eye. Icons like Brigitte Bardot and Mary Quant took over and revolutionized the 60’s with bold, lighthearted, “youth-driven” attire. Women grew tired of dressing maturely like they did in the 50’s, and instead aimed to bring back their youth through oversized collars, large bows, super short shift dresses, kitten heels, and “baby doll” makeup. The younger you looked, the better. Hemlines grew shorter and shorter as the decade went on, and women believed that the shorter the hemline, the more confident the woman was with her sexuality and her appearance. Clothes became extremely colorful and prints were increasingly bold, inspired by the pop and modern art movements of the time. Checkers, stripes, polka dots, colorblock, and gingham were everywhere in the fashion scene. Mary Quant invented the jumper dress as a playful, youthful piece that directly contrasted clothes worn in previous decades. Fashion model Twiggy worked closely with Quant and made jumpers and shift dresses iconic by wearing scandalously (for the time) short mini dresses and white vinyl go-go boots wherever she went. Shift dresses took the emphasis off features that were accentuated in previous decades (waists, curves, shoulders), and instead put the focus on a woman’s legs. Other popular trends were cable knit and turtleneck sweaters, knee-high socks, and the infamous little black dress, made popular by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961.
However, along with mod, beehive up-dos with 50’s-inspired dresses, leather-clad rocker looks, and hippie-casual bell bottoms were also common fads in the 60’s. In fact, the ‘60’s was the first decade to produce so many looks and trends that were simultaneously acceptable and popular, as prior to this era the concept of “counter-cultures” in the fashion industry didn’t really exist yet.
Get the Look:
In the 70’s, fashion was eclectic, occasionally political, easygoing, and vibrant all at the same time. One of the most notable fashion developments of the decade was the invention of the infamous Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress in 1974, which was designed to flatter all kinds of body types. Since 1974, DvF has sold over 5 million wrap dresses worldwide.
Increased ease of travel and shipping meant fashion became more inspired by worldly prints and designs, and also that fast fashion could now be accessed almost anywhere in the world via mail ordering services. Natural hairdos, perms, and afros grew in trendiness. Icons like Joni Mitchell and Cher made hippie culture the norm, often being seen wearing sleek, natural hair, bell bottoms, and billowing tunics. High street fashion consisted of bell bottom power suits, smock dresses, loud colors, and bold prints. It was definitely a time of “more-is-more’ styles.
In 1977, the famous flick Saturday Night Fever hit the theaters, and overnight, the world became infatuated with disco. Fashion followed suit, and it became popular to wear glitzy, fringe- and sequin-covered outfits made for dancing the night away. Tight, stretchy, shiny clothes complete with platform boots were very trendy toward the end of the decade. Denim also grew in popularity, with denim-on-denim ensembles becoming the norm.
Get the Look:
The 80’s were a time of dramatic evolution when it came to fashion–everything from fabric to hair underwent extreme changes. Turtlenecks, silk blouses, pants, and denim jeans were trendy during this decade. Jeans began hitting the shelves with crazy bleaching, dyeing, and (for the first time ever) pre-made holes and rips. Printed clothing featuring cartoon and movie characters started to become popular too. By 1985, bright neon colors took center stage, and brand names were a big deal. Hairstyles in the 80’s were huge, and women often permed their hair in order to achieve added volume. Scrunchies and headbands (in every color) were popular for achieving perfect side ponytails and conquering larger-than-life locks.
We affectionately call this decade the “Material Girls” era because it was a period of over-consumption, excess, materialism, and brand name labels. Fashion was abundant and excessive in nature, and society was optimistic, energetic, and a little greedy, honestly. The power suit of the 70’s still reigned in the 80’s as a status symbol reflecting women’s newfound power in the workplace. “Yuppies” (Young Urban Professionals) made casual wear–consisting of collegiate, preppy attire such as khakis, blazers, polo shirts, and cardigans tied over one’s shoulders–a big fad at the time. Prep wear became an elite status symbol for those who were hungry for upward mobility and success. Glamour in the 80’s meant sequins and dramatically teased hairdos, complete with bold, colorful makeup and jewelry.
The economic boom in the 80’s, coupled with people’s new attitude toward success and power dressing, made for a very self-conscious society. Dance and exercise became popular both in practice and in fashion as a result. Icons like Jane Fonda popularized neon leotards and leg warmers, and the look became an 80’s phenomenon. Tight leggings and oversized, baggy sweatshirts that draped off one shoulder became a signature ensemble of the late 80’s.
Get the Look:
Nothing changed much in the early 90’s, but by 1994, everything that was “in” in the previous decade was “so 80’s,” and therefore was no longer cool. Women brought back the 70’s for a little while, with tie-dye shirts and bell bottom jeans having a moment again in the 90’s. Natural hair circa 1970 was also popular, as too much hairspray or teasing was considered bad. The wild patterns and colors of the 80’s were swapped out for solid, subdued colors.
Grunge, hip-hop, and rave subcultures were very popular. These three aesthetics favored baggier clothing and masculine undertones. Flannels, wide-leg pants, and chokers were iconic 90’s garb. However, toward the end of the decade, grunge faded away and was replaced instead with the sexy, form-fitting, often revealing fashions that had their hay day throughout the 2000’s (think teen Christina Aguilera, Brittany Spears, and basically every teen celebrity at the turn of the century).
Get the Look: