Throughout history, fashion has been a powerful means of expression, making use of garments to reflect both personal and cultural identity. From the flapper dresses of the 1920s to the bright, retro psychedelic style of the 1960s, each decade brings its own unique trends that become iconic looks synonymous with that era. This article looks back at some of the most defining fashion moments of the last century, celebrating the powerful ways in which fashion has been used to dress, impress and express.
1. A Look Back at Timeless Fashion Statements
Fashion is becoming increasingly present in our society, and taking a look back at the timeless fashion statements that have created a buzzing presence in the locals and societies alike is a must. From the world of nipped-waist gowns of the twenties to the eighties shoulder pads; each era has allowed us to reflect back on certain characteristics unique to their culture and lifestyle as it shows in the fashion at the time.
- Roaring Twenties
Inspired by the Jazz Age of the 1920s, the fashion of this era allowed women to express more freedom with their style. With the corset tossed out the window, women were able to adopt a sleeker look. The dresses were designed with dropped waists and exuberant fabric portrayals, like fringe, tinsel, and sequins. Hats were the head accessory of choice and commonly feathers, turbans, and headbands were spotted.
- Swinging Fifties
The 1950s allowed aspects of femininity to make its way back to the forefront. Finer materials such as silk, velvet, and satin replaced poodle skirts, and pearls were all the buzz. Peter Pan collars, fitted sweaters, and structured coats took precedence. To exchange individuality, women were often seen wearing structured cardigans, flats, headscarves, and mid-length skirts. Also, fitted hats or fascinators were all the rage.
- Psychedelic Seventies
The fashion in the 70s encapsulated the climate of the times. Bright colors, unique patterns, and wild prints saturated the garments of the era. Women sported afro-inspired hair, hot pants, bell-bottom pants, and more. Also, disco-inspired jumpsuits and turtlenecks were popular in the late 70s. Fur coats and ponchos were common while platform shoes created a look from their predecessor.
- Powerful Eighties
The ’80s saw the embracement of shoulder-pad silhouettes, bright neon colors, and punk-rock inspired pieces.Women commonly wore off-the-shoulder tops, leg warmers, parachute pants, and body suits paired with combat boots, bowler hats, and neon mesh gloves. Accessories like plastic bangle bracelets, jelly shoes, and scrunchies also became popular during this era.
2. Making the Cut: Standout Pieces that Changed the Fashion Scene
It’s no secret that fashion has been in a state of constant flux since the dawn of time. From the classic haute couture of the late 1800s to the recent streetwear craze, so much of modern style has been shaped by the iconic pieces that changed the face of fashion.
Teddy Boys’ Look:
In the 1950s, a group of mod-inspired British teenagers known as Teddy Boys popularized a new masculine style. These rebels of the era wore tailored suits, velvet jackets, and long, lank hair. Though criticized by some conservative groups, their fashion became a huge influence on the generations that followed.
The Halter Neck Dress:
Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy’s iconic little black dress introduced the concept of simplicity and chic to fashion in the 1950s. This dress, which featured a halter top with a cinched waist and a full skirt, became an instant classic that still holds up today.
When the bikini debuted in the early 1950s, it caused a cultural revolution. Its skimpy cut celebrated the body as a work of art and elevated confidence to a whole new level. A far cry from the corseted garments of the past, the bikini forever changed society’s views on swimwear.
Mary Quant made the miniskirt a global sensation in the 1960s. This daring new style was embraced by millions of young people who wanted to express their individuality through fashion. From its conservative beginnings, the mini gradually grew shorter and soon became a wardrobe staple.
The oversized blazer, popularized by Erykah Badu in the late 1990s, ushered in a new era of stylish oversized pieces. From button downs to chunky knits, this trend has become a mainstay in modern fashion and continues to inspire stylishly androgynous looks.
3. Setting the Scene: Capturing the Cultural Significance of Iconic Looks
The world of fashion is often inspired by the zeitgeists of the day, as designers inject their creative vision to construct and express their culture. Iconic looks transcend time that become permanent staples of their era. Here we take a look at making the culture of physical apparel tangible in our memories.
Physical Apparel as Cultural Currency
Fashion is often synonymous with the societal trends of our time – whether it’s daring streetwear or plush couture -and the physical garment serves as a mirror of the era. It encapsulates the iconography, symbolism, and general sentiment of the people in the time. Its people’s story in wearable, tangible pieces.
It’s the burning timepieces tied around the cities of the Edwardian-era or the ringing of the bell bottoms in the jungles of Vietnam. Even a generation before, when dressmakers and tailors designed and assembled garments without the power of electricity, the clothing was a visual representation of the era. In recent years, the cultural significance of the hoodie – which first rose to popularity nearly 70 years ago – still holds true today.
- Fashion is often linked to the trends of time.
- Physical apparel serves as a mirror of the era.
- Iconic looks become staples that are remembered through time.
Making the Culture Permanent
The garments that carry the identity and culture of a certain era are more than just threads and zippers, they are the physical embodiment of the attitude and sentiment of the time. It’s why they become a lasting cultural memory – how a certain item can be immediately associated with its time. Whether it’s the bandana of the 60s revolution or the baggy jeans of the early 2000s, our fashion memories are rooted in physical apparel.
Iconic looks like the little black dress or tennis shoe can become the metaphorical representation of the age that we reference when we want to evoke the nostalgia of the past. It is why fashion is such a powerful medium – it is immutable and it is universal. It transcends the elapse of time and carries memories with it.
4. An Eternal Influence: The Legacy of Fashion’s Most Memorable Moments
It’s no wonder why the most memorable moments in fashion can leave an everlasting imprint on our culture. From the red-carpet dazzles to the protest statements made on the runway and beyond, these iconic fashion instants continue to shape our evolving fashion landscape.
The Enduring Aesthetic of Audrey Hepburn
This timeless beauty of the 1960s had a significant influence on style trends with her simpler fashion statements. Whether it’s her iconic little black dress, or her signature cat eye glasses, we continue to look back on the black-and-white elegance of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s-era Audrey as a source of inspiration.
The Precocious Political Statements of Vivienne Westwood
This celebrated punk fashionista has used her platform to state her opinion on everything from environmentalism to regressive politics. She’s the bold designer behind the infamous bondage trousers and the iconic safety pin dress. Who can forget Melissa Mcarthy’s show-stopping Met Gala outfit––an homage to Westwood’s canary yellow corset worn in 1991. It’s crystal clear her designs will continue to inspire us for years to come.
The Colorful Curtains of Yves Saint Laurent
This French designer spearheaded the ‘60s mod movement with his couture creativity and fearless spirit. His use of modern fabrics, vivid colors and bold shifts in silhouettes forever changed the course of clothing culture.
It’s evident that decade after decade, fashion continues to be an integral part of our history and culture. We can’t honor the legacy of fashion without acknowledging the influence of a few of the greatest:
- Coco Chanel
- Oscar De La Renta
- Diane Von Furstenburg
- Alexander McQueen
- Mario Testino
Each of these legendary figures has shaped fashion in a unique way. From pioneering the art of ready-to-wear fashion, to dressing some of the world’s most celebrated icons, their legacies have transcended the fashion runway. Let’s keep the lasting trends alive by continuing to celebrate innovators of the past and present.
As we have demonstrated, iconic fashion moments are more than just mere apparel—they capture a moment in time and culture, representing larger societal shifts. It is only fitting that part of our fashion legacy is seen in these timeless looks, reminding us of those moments and the people who set such stylish trends.