Evolution of Women's Fashion

Evolution of Women's Fashion

  • By - The Modern Day Wife
  • 09 January, 2021

We all have been guilty of participating in a fashion trend at least once, whether we care to admit it or not. Fashion has been a means of expression and individuality dating as far back as our history books. However, these trends and ways of dressing for certain occasions has most likely already been in fashion before our lifetimes. So let’s take a walk through memory lane and learn all about what fashion trends and pieces defined the decades from the roaring twenties to the “hippie style” in the seventies. 

The 1920s will always be remembered for its glitz and glamour. Think The Great Gatsby with the extravagant art deco and glimmering dresses. This decade was a move towards simplicity for women with shorter dresses and skirts. The roaring twenties could also be popularly remembered as the era of the “flapper girl” with a dropped waist and creeping neckline. A prominent designer still revered today was Coco Chanel who helped popularize this style of dress. If you were going out to a soiree or hitting the town, evening wear consisted of intricate beadwork, plenty of sequins, and embroidery. With simplicity in mind, sportswear became very popular for women with the creation of the tennis skirt. 

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The 1930s saw a heavy influence from films and more specifically Hollywood. After the extravagance and more colorful decade of the twenties, the thirties saw a return to conservatism. Following the more boyish look of the flapper girl, fashion saw a pivot towards a more feminine silhouette. Hemlines descended back to ankle length with a more natural waistline. If you were going out on the town for the evening, dresses consisted of slinky, satin body-skimming silhouettes. However, day wear still held a note of romanticism by donning a variety of patterns including floral, zebra, plaid, and dots. If you wanted a more sophisticated look, smart suits also became an option, consisting of crisp lines and sculptural defined shoulders. 

Photo Credit: Glamourdaze.com

Defined by war and uncertainty, forties fashion was dominated by uniforms. If a woman was not in uniform, fashion meant utility and rationing. These designs incorporated padded shoulders, nipped-in waists, and hems just below the knee. Patterns of tweeds and plaids continued its popularity into the forties along with brighter colors to offset the more neutral uniforms worn for war. Designer Claire McCardell introduced her “Popover” dress, made from jersey, denim, and seersucker. Towards the end of the decade, “The New Look” became the trend, characterized by rounded shoulders, a cinched-in waist, and a long, full skirt. 

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A clear gender divide defined the 1950s. Women’s fashion prioritized elegance, formality, and perfectly matched accessories. In this decade, fashion also saw an increased popularity in couture fashion with the rise of Givenchy and Balenciaga. However, Dior’s “New Look” remained popular until about the mid-fifties. The elegant silhouette evolved, making its way into evening gowns, day dresses, and separates. Since fashion was becoming more divided by gender, the idea of choice became more popular. No longer did women have to follow one specific style. Chanel, Dior, and Balenciaga introduced a new style at the end of the decade; the straight-cut suit, emphasizing a woman’s natural shape. 

Photo Credit: HarpersBazaar 

The 1960s saw an even stronger push towards casual for all genders. Womenswear followed 3 different trends; the continued ladylike elegance as worn by such figures as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the youthful style of Mary Quant, and finally the late 1960s “hippie” style. Mary Quant spearheaded the “youthquake” with her store, Bazaar, in London. Her simple, colorful designs drew attention to teenagers and young people who had more disposable income than the generation prior. This new style of dress included the miniskirt and the minidress. However, the end of the decade saw a different type of skirt take popularity, the maxi skirt. Along with the long, flowy skirts of the “hippie” style were headbands, kaftans, Afghan coats, beads, and other non-Western elements. This movement of fashion also gave rise to secondhand clothing. Fashion in this decade saw a shift from a designer-centric point-of-view to one where the consumer became the center of creation. 

Photo Credit: Groovyhistory.com

The psychedelic seventies saw many bold colors and patterns taking center stage. Womens fashion took inspiration from the 40s by day and the 20s glamour by night. Boutique stores and ready-to-wear clothing became very popular in this decade. With the use of synthetic fabrics, clothing was made easy to purchase at any price point. The 70s also became known as the “polyester decade” with a wide range of popular styles including prairie dresses, flashy party wear worn to disco nightclubs, and the rise of athletic wear as the decade moved towards the 1980s. The hippie movement continued its influence with lots of focus on handmade materials, patchwork, crochet and knitting, and embroidery. This decade also witnessed a newfound sexual freedom for women, allowing their fashion to take a heavy influence from menswear. 

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Bigger was better for everyone in the 1980s. Think shoulder pads, stylish sportswear, and the “New Romantics” style. Dance-wear inspired fashion consisting of off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, leggings, and leg-warmers were made popular by the likes of Jane Fonda. This new style of dressing also included the ever-popular bodysuit. The Romantic style typified by the prairie dress donned puffed sleeves and oversized accessories such as belts and bows. This era also saw a new trend called “power dressing”. This came at a time when women began to work in high-power positions and thus their fashion had to reflect these more serious roles. To balance out the bold colors and statement pieces, American designers like Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis looked towards men’s fashion for inspiration. Their styles consisted of blazers, button downs, and hand-knit sweaters to create casually elegant womenswear. 

Photo Credit: Elle


Casual, grunge fashion defined the 1990s. If you owned loose, oversized clothing and jeans, that is basically all you needed to participate in the trend. This decade also saw high fashion supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford peak. After their heightened popularity, casual clothing became the talk of the town. Sportswear of the 80s continued its influence with biker shorts, leggings, and Keds. Taking inspiration from an even earlier decade, there was a growing desire for vintage clothing, with second hand clothing stores becoming the destination for grunge pieces. Born in Seattle, the trendy look of baggy jeans, Doc Martens, and flannel shirts took center stage. Keeping these military-esque boots in mind, the mid-nineties desired a more feminine look with slip dresses and chunky boots. Towards the end of the decade, fashion tossed aside the oversized sweatshirts and replaced them with undersized sweatshirts, baby doll t-shirts, and knee high socks. 

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