History of Fashion

Fashion is defined as a style of dress that is popular during a certain time or era (“Fashion”, 1). It often changes and reflects a persons’ social class in old days. In modern times it reflects personality. Fads come and go as people find new and different things to like. Until the 20th century fashion changed very slowly. In the 20th century fashions change as quickly as lightning because of mass production and fast moving society. About every 10 years a totally new kind of dress is in style. Fashion is affected in many ways. Inventions and good economy bring many changes with it. Wars and bad economy bring plain fashion that stays for a while (“Fashion Through the Ages”, 1). Fashion often seems to go in a big loop repeating itself over and over again. Women’s fashion has changed and gone from fancy to simple and easy to wear. Here is a quick view of fashion from BC times to the future!
In ancient times clothing was simple, based more on function than style. Men and women wore a big rectangular piece of wool six feet wide and about a foot and a half taller than the person. The wool was wrapped around the person and pinned on the shoulder with a broach. Fabric was mainly white or off-white, but never bright colored. In fact red was forbidden for commoners. Hair was mainly worn in braids or covered by fabric draped like a hood.

With the spread of Christianity, clothing in medieval times became modest. Although the basic tunic style dress was still used, it became longer and sleeves were added. Heavier fabric was used and shoes replaced sandals. Increase in trade made for more extravagant fabrics and embellishments on clothing. Hair was worn down often with a jewel in it. The really wealthy and nobility experimented with extreme styles from vibrant color to hooked shoes to cone shaped hats in order to separate themselves from the middle class.

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Many changes came with the Renaissance period, with the rise of art fashion changed. Dresses became shorter and princess cut. Puffed sleeves, high collars and hoop skirts were the thing to wear. Slashing, or wearing two layers and cutting the outer layer was fashionable.

Modesty came back with Elizabethan times. Queen Elizabeth had clothes covered every part of a persons body sleeves became tight instead of puffed and waist lines were straight. Gowns were worn by all social classes. They accentuated the persons’ small waist and square shoulders. Hair went back up usually in Snoods or similar designs of hair nets.

Modesty went out with the Cavalier style of the Baroque period. Although styles became simple with only buttons and lace for decorations, more skin was shown than ever. Necklines dropped dramatically, they were cut square and wide to accentuate the breast. Sleeves became full and draped softly below the elbow, revealing the lower arm for the first time since BC times. Waistlines heightened and satins and silk replace heavy stiff fabrics.

Deception is the word for Georgian times. To make them appear more beautiful women had false hair, teeth, bosoms, and calves. Eyes were also falsely dilated with a deadly plant extract to make the eyes look large. Fake hair was added to make styles reach up to 30 inches high. Shirts or knee length undergarments and elbow length sleeves were worn under corsets adorned with lace and bows. A hoopskirt was worn over the “eschelle stomacher” or corset.

The Regency era was influenced by the Greeks and caused many changes. Light weight clothes in neutral colors were worn by the rich and the poor. The waist line rose drastically too just below the bosom and set off with a sash tied in the back with a bow (“Fashion Era”, 4). Ladies always wore a jacket over their dress.

Victorian dresses got rather complicated. The cut, material and color of the garment revealed the wearers social class. Bust lines rose and waist lines dropped. Women wore corsets to achieve the ideal hourglass figure (“Fashion Era”, 9). The sewing machine was invented during this time. It made it possible to produce clothes faster. Women could also make their own clothes more to their liking. Fashion therefore, got more personal.

Feminism caused women to cast out corsets and fancy uncomfortable clothing in the Edwardian times era, or the 1900’s. Dresses began designed in the “S” curve to accentuate natural curves of the body. Also the “Gibson Girl” look became very popular (“Fashion Era”, 15). It was a suit and tie, brought on by feminist movements.

The 1910’s brought on an item that has been very important to modern day fashion. In 1914 the first bra was patented (“Fashion Era”, 18). Although the bra was little more than a strip of material so it did not support very well. Color became bright with the Tango craze that swept the nation in the first half of the 10’s. By the late 1910’s skirts got shorter out of material conservation for the war, they reached mid-calf for the first time. Colors also faded as WWI dragged on.

The 1920’s aren’t quite like any other era fashion wise. Poorer women embraced high fashion because of the simplicity of style, which could be made easily by them selves. A masculine silhouette was popular. The bust was suppressed often by wrapping or special bras (“Fashion Era”, 21). The waist got a little bigger. Broad shoulders and narrow hips were thought cute. Hair was cut short often to the chin or above and covered in a cloche hat. Dresses bared the whole arm and the leg from the knee down. The shape of clothing became more mannish with a shapeless square fit. Clothing was bright. Heavy makeup was unabashedly put on in public. Women were rarely seen without the fashionable long cigarettes in their mouths.

The 30’s brought back a more ladylike appearance. Glamorous evening wear became popular. Gowns were made of silk and were usually backless to show off the popular sun tan (“Fashion Era”, 23). A more feminine shape came back and it was essential to have a slim figure because the body hugging dresses showed every flaw. Hemlines reached the calf and tended to be longer in the front. In the late 30’s tailored suits came in to play because of the war.

The high fashion clothing of the 30’s was thought of as bad taste in the 40’s. WWII had caused a ration on fabric because of a shortage and people were only allowed a certain amount of clothing (“Fashion Era”, 25). A standard utility suit was designed for the simplicity and became the only right thing to wear. Wedge sole shoes, the turban and kangaroo cloak became other essentials. Hair became the only really fashionable thing. Although it had to be kept up in a turban for work, at night ladies were able to let their long curly locks loose.

Until the 50’s teenagers had never been targeted by fashion designer, suddenly they dominated style. Teens were finally starting to separate from their parents. This was thought to be rebellious by people, especially the new “crazy” fashions. There were two main looks for teens, greaser or preppie (“Fashion Era”, 28). Greaser had the rebellious slick hair and long side burns. They wore black leather jackets and denim jeans. Preppies wore poodle skirts, scoop neck blouses and cardigans. Formed pointed bras were a must for under a sweater. Stiletto shoes were also in for both. Cat-eye glasses studded with rhinestones were popular. Simple pony-tail started the decade and beehives ended it.

Truly the half of the 60’s, 50’s style was still in. But, in the late 60’s the hippie movement came through with its anti-authority mind set and brought a totally wild fashion with it. In 1966 the mini skirt came in with a bang. Bright colored skirts six or seven inches above the knee were all the rage. Tights in patterns and bright colors were worn under the mini skirt. Knee boots and Dr. Scholl’s sandals were a footwear fad (“Fashion Era”, 31). Baby doll dresses came in fashion in the late 60’s and sweaters worn under bright pinafore dresses were thought to be happening.

The 70′ were all about choice. Women could bare it all in a mini skirt or leave more to the imagination in a maxi skirt or hot pants. Cat suits and long dresses were fashionable at night. Peasant and Gypsy tops, ponchos and macrame burst in the fashion scene. Bell bottoms, hip-huggers, and platform shoes came briefly with disco. Color schemed tops and bottoms were also all the rage.

There were 2 main styles in the 80’s. For the more mature power dressing was fashionable. Tailored suits with shoulder pads were the thing. Bright colors and lots of jewelry made the suit a little more feminine. Clutch bags and shoes came in every color to match your suit. Punk also emerged in this decade. Torn jeans in every color became in style. Shirts worn off the shoulder, leg warmer tights and lots of lace were thought cool. Doc Martin boots were the new and hip shoes to wear with punk clothes (“Fashion Era”, 37). Hair got big, the bigger the hair the better.

Because of a busy lifestyle less became more in the 90’s. Sleek simple or choppy hair styles were seen as cute. Jeans were narrow and black in the beginning and became flared or relaxed with everything from glitter to studs to dress it up at the end of the 90’s. Any kind of shirt could be paired with jeans, from revealing belly shirts to classy blouses to comfortable t-shirts. Animal prints and camouflage were just a couple of prints that made their home in the 90’s (“Fashion Era”, 41). No matter what you were wearing in the 90’s it was sure to be a designer brand.

Fashion has and always will repeat in a cycle. It seems to be cycling from elaborate to minimal as our lives become more complex due to technology. I think fashion will continue to be unpredictable. Many times movies and television have predicted how the future population would dress with no success. One thing is for sure, fashion will continue to be unique to the individual who wears it and express for them what they may not say with words.


Works Cited
“Fashion.” Encyclopdia Britanica. 2002 ed.


“Fashion Era.” Fashion History and Costume Era. Fashion-era. 23 Nov. 2003
“Fashion Through the Ages.” The Evolution of Fashion. Bharat Textile. 19 Nov. 2003