We all know that styles change over the years, over the decades, and over the centuries. We get tired of certain styles and get anxious to try out new and more innovative ones all the time. But have you ever wondered WHY certain things go in and out of style? Have you ever looked to the styles of the past and saw the reasons behind them? I’ve noticed a few trends about trends, and I’m finding them very interesting.
Big shoulder pads. Of course you’re thinking about the 80s now, the “power suit” that so represents this time. This however wasn’t the first time big shoulders were in. Before that it was in the 1940s, when big shoulders were in style partially to balance out elaborate hairstyles. Sound familiar? The other reason they were in was because at that time women were entering the work force en masse because of the war, something that can also be said for the 80s version of the phenomenon, minus the war of course. On a simplistic level, you could say that whenever women start going to work in droves, large shouldered silhouettes will appear. On a deeper level, this leads us to explore how fashion becomes an expression of our desire to be seen as men’s equals in the work force.
So, feminism and women’s rights has an influence on fashion, right? Let’s look at another example. In the 1950s it was generally considered that a woman’s place was in the home. This was a time of full swing skirts and feminine details. Later, in the 1960s, the sexual revolution began, and so did the era of the mini skirt, and the end of the girdle era. Jeans became popular for more than just the most casual of situations. Unisex hairstyles appeared. While I’m tempted to say that feminism killed glamour, it’s certainly a more complex issue than that. Let me only suggest that we can have both.
The 60s and 70s saw a huge change in clothes, and in its simplest terms you could describe this as rebellion. It was rebellion from what was previously expected and even required, and part of a huge social change. That wasn’t the first time social and style revolutions happened either. Think about the regency period. Before that, in the 18th century elaborate court clothes signified wealth and rank. Women wore huge panniers, men and women alike wore Big Hair, and there was no shortage of extremes.
Once the American Revolution, and even more so the French Revolution hit, these styles became representative of a dated monarchy. To dress this way pretty much meant you thought you were better than everybody else. Now this was a time of equals, and again, of rebellion. The regency period saw a return to simple silhouettes reminiscent of ancient Greece, and the older generation complained that women were running around “in their nightgowns”.
This happened again on a smaller scale during the recent recession. Anyone seen dressed ultra glamorous and ultra expensive was seen as being insensitive to those suffering from unemployment. Celebrities in particular were a target just as the royalty of the 18th century was. The word “recessionista” came into use, and being thrifty was finally something to be proud of.
So now it’s easy to see how major social change will influence a major change in fashion, and one fashion extreme will often lead us to the other end of the spectrum. There are many more examples. 80s glam vs. early 90s grunge, the Victorian age vs. the flapper style of the 1920s, and the simplicity of the Regency period vs. the poof of the 1840s. I could go on, if I did my research.
It’s fascinating, isn’t it? I want to go further into explaining the styles of the 20s through the 50s in another article, but for now it’s interesting to think about the social reasons why we wear what we do. There’s certainly a lot more to do with it than simply what we think looks good at one time or another. Of course we can’t really have an opinion about what looks good without there being some sort of reason behind it. Fashion really does say a lot about who we are in the world.