top of page
  • Writer's picturekanmani ravindran

Fashion Through the Decades

Fashion is the mirror of society. It reflects the social, political, cultural and economic climate of the world. In fashion, trends are constantly coming back to us in cycles, and in order to make an accurate forecast for the upcoming seasons, it is important that we learn about the trends of the past as well! Moreover, we should know about the icons who made fashion what it is today! Designs from the past can serve as endlessly valuable inspiration for our future.

Womenswear in the West has evolved greatly in the past century. Let’s go through the history and learn about the important hallmarks of each decade!

Queen Mary and ladies 1911

Source: Wikipedia


The 1900s and early 1910s were the period of Edwardian fashion. Corsets made to achieve the desired “S-shape” of the body, and feminine styles of long dresses were the norm. There were plenty of ruffles, lace, silk and higher necklines.

World War I (1914-1918) caused fashion in the late 1910s to become more utilitarian and less fancy. Women working in factories wore uniforms like trousers and overalls.

After the War was over, dresses and skirts became a little shorter and the designs became much simpler.

Paul Poiret, a French designer, introduced orientalism to the West. He popularized the tubular, column-like silhouette. He had a playful and innovative outlook, and invented the “hobble skirt” and “lampshade tunic”.

American actress Bebe Daniels in a flapper dress, 1922

Source: Wikimedia


Simple style from the 1910s continued and the popular tubular silhouette became known as the Garcon look or flapper dress. Practical fabrics were used for daywear, but flapper dresses worn in the evenings were glamorous, and had sequins and fringes. Coco Chanel helped popularize this style and also created the iconic little black dress (LBD) in this era. Sportswear also became popular for women to wear as casualwear, which is often credited to Jean Patou and Coco Chanel. Short bobs became popular as a hairstyle that was controversial but much loved. Chanel also introduced pants to women’s fashion, which were much more wearable. This gave women’s fashion a full makeover, the effects of which lasted decades.

Satin evening dress, Madeleine Vionnet, 1932-1934, at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Source: Vam


In contrast to the 1920s, the 1930s were more feminine. With the combination of the Great Depression in the US and the rise of Hollywood, dresses became longer, but were more slender and fitted. French designer Madeleine Vionnet pioneered the bias cut technique, in which fabrics were cut along an angle of 45 degrees against the grain. This allowed the fabric to cling to the body and also move with it. This created an elegant, figure-hugging silhouette, often used in evening gowns. Hollywood stars like Joan Crawford and Better Davis became fashion icons.

Another notable designer of this period was Elsa Schiaparelli, who was extremely creative and artsy, and introduced surrealist art motifs into her designs.

“Bar suit” from Dior’s New Look collection (Spring/Summer 1947) at Moscow exhibition

Source: Wikimedia


World War II had a huge impact on fashion in the first half of the 1940s. Isolated from the fashion hub of Paris due to the war, Americans had to carve out their own style of fashion. Cheap fabrics like cotton and nylon were used in plain and practical colors. As men left to fight the war, women were forced to join the workforce, and wore simple blouses and pants. The dresses and skirts got shorter and became knee-length. This era was marked by classic and graceful minimalism.

After the War ended, French designer Christian Dior launched his New Look collection. The nipped-in waist, round shoulders, and the long, voluminous skirt was characteristic of this style. This exaggerated feminine silhouette sparked hope after the devastating war, and affected the course of fashion all over the world.

Givenchy dress, 1953

Source: Metmuseum


The same fit-and-flare style continued into the 1950s. There was a variety of styles, both feminine and masculine that women could choose from. Some women also wore corsets again to achieve the much-desired hourglass shape. This era is heavily associated with housewives, thus the heavy, circle skirts and pretty colors. Fashion was elegant and playful at the same time.

Along with Dior, Givenchy and Balenciaga are some of the notable designers from his period.

Pierre Cardin miniskirt, 1969


In the 1960s, we can see clear origins of modern fashion. While the older generation stuck with office wear and classic shapes, the youth moved toward short lengths and the Space Age style. Mary Quant produced iconic styles like the miniskirt, minidress, and hot pants. These sparked controversy when they were introduced but soon, these styles became popular amongst the younger generation and they were adopted by Parisian designers as well.

Designers such as Pierre Cardin experimented with newly developed materials, like shiny PVC.

Yves Saint Laurent made the well-known Mondrian dress inspired by the famous painter’s bright colors and geometric lines.

The hippie style came into existence in the late 1960s, but was not as well-known yet.

Seventeen magazine “Spring Things”, January 1973


The 1970s was the era of disco and bohemian fashion! Bold colors and loud patterns were considered stylish, and handmade crafts like quilting, felting, dyeing, beading, smocking, leather craft and hand-painted fabrics were emphasized. Wardrobes in the 70s were colorful, retro and fun. Bell-bottoms worn in the early 19th century were re-invented in denim and floral patterns. Maxi dresses were popular, and wrap dresses were reintroduced by Diane Von Furstenberg. Gradient sunglasses and platform heels were also a part of the disco culture of this era.

Madonna, 1990 Blonde Ambition tour, wearing Jean Paul Gaultier


In the early 80s, women wore gym wear like colorful spandex leggings in their daily life. These were usually paired with sweatshirts, leg warmers, and scrunchies. This decade marked the rise of rock, metal and punk subcultures into the mainstream. Most notable is Madonna’s 1986 music video for “Papa Don’t Preach” which popularized these styles. A popular look was a black leather jacket layered over a band T-shirt. Designers like Jean Paul Gaultier explored the intersection of glam and rock and defined this era.

As more women started joining the workforce, professional fashion veered towards power dressing—a main characteristic of which was shoulder pads in blazers and dresses, designed to to be a more feminine interpretation of men’s office wear. Italian designer Giorgio Armani became a trendsetter because of his tailored looks for the modern career woman.

Japan became an important fashion center because of designers like Kenzo Takada and Issey Miyake.

Naomi Campbell and Kristen McMenamy wearing Perry Ellis, Vogue December 1992


The 90s was the most casual decade of the 20th century when it came to fashion. Loose oversized clothing and mom jeans became staples as the grunge style became popular. Denim jackets were also key parts of this look. Low-waisted jeans, crop tops, tank tops and flannel shirts became popular as well. In the mid-90s, styles became more feminine, with slip dresses and sheer fabrics. Vivienne Westwood designed plaid skirts for the runway, and when Cher Horowitz wore a plaid set in the movie Clueless, it quickly became a trend.

These are all easily recognizable styles that we see all around us now, as 90s fashion has recently come back in style!

Britney Spears wearing a Juicy Couture velour tracksuit, 2003


As a more revealing take on earlier styles, very short mini-skirts, ultra-low-rise jeans, and tight crop tops were in. Paris Hilton brought the Juicy Couture velour tracksuits into mainstream fashion. This bold monochromatic, low-effort but impactful look could be worn at any occasion! Due to the 9/11 attacks, American fashion became more conservative, which marked the rise of denim jeans. These stayed through the decade and became a classic staple, but the styles kept changing. From low-rise, flared jeans to boot-cut jeans. The distressed, worn jeans look was an important feature of this era.

This decade also marked the rise of fast fashion, with brands and retailers like H&M and Target collaborating with designers to bring affordable versions of their designs to the masses. The growth of online retail further boosted the fast fashion industry.

Billy Porter in a tuxedo gown by Christian Siriano at the 2019 Oscars ceremony.


In the 2010s, fashion became a major mode of expression for the masses. It was an era of experimentation and innovation, and social media gave endless inspiration to designers, celebrities and the common masses alike. People took items from the past and reinvented them to fit the modern lifestyle. It has become the norm for celebrities to wear eccentric or statement pieces on the red carpets and at major events, which create unforgettable looks. Billy Porter’s show stopping Christian Siriano gown at the 2019 Oscars ceremony pushed the boundaries of fashion. Another memorable example is Lady Gaga’s meat dress from the 2010 VMAs, which was designed by Franc Fernández and made of raw beef. This was a symbol of protest against the US military’s anti-LGBTQ policy.

The Future of Fashion

Fashion is a reflection of society. With the world bringing its attention to things like eco-friendliness, technological advancements and movements like body positivity, it is a given that this will be reflected in the fashion as well! Sustainability is becoming more mainstream, and the industry is moving towards ethical fashion. Brands are becoming more size-inclusive. Gender is seen as a construct and is no more considered a restriction on clothing. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual reality (VR) and 3D printing are being researched upon. New materials and novel fabrics are being innovated.

The future of the fashion industry is at the crossroads of invention and responsibility, and holds an infinite number of possibilities!

75 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

All about fabric printing

All about fabric printing Introduction Textile printing is a process in which textile is decorated by applying colour to the fabric in specified patterns and designs. The colours are bonded with fibre


bottom of page