Fashion can change rapidly in a short space of time; here is a brief timeline, documenting the evolution of fashion during the 1900s.
During the Edwardian era, it was common for women to wear boned corsets, squeezing waist sizes down to 20 inches or less. Corsets were designed to push the upper body forward while pushing the hips back, forcing the body into an s-shape. However, this s-shape decreased as the years passed, and by the end of the era, dresses were designed to create an empire line (fitted just below the bust).
By 1905, cars were also growing in popularity, leading to an increase in demand for fashionable car coats, also known as manteaux automobiles. This was particularly the case in the colder months of autumn and winter, when it was essential to wrap up and keep out the cold.
The early 1910s saw the introduction of Orientalism, which was heavily influenced by the bright colours of the Far East. With higher waistbands out of fashion, the column shape rose in popularity.
The start of World War I in 1914 played a big part in the shift of the typical silhouette, and womenswear became more practical as women prepared to enter work. Shirtwaists were introduced, as were tailored suits. The war also affected colour schemes; the sombre mood, as well as an increase in funerals and visits to the injured, meant that colours were kept simple and dark.
With World War I over, some fabrics once considered luxurious became more affordable and people began making fashionable garments in their own homes. During the 1920s, handmade clothes were still extremely common, and women often experimented with different – some would say daring – new styles.
Flapper dresses were one of the most popular garments of the decade; straight cut and loose fitting, the flapper dress left arms bare. Waistlines were generally dropped to the hips, with hemlines just below the knee by 1927. Stockings were often worn underneath, held up by garters.
Long strings of pearls and fur collars are among popular accessories of the decade, as were T-bar shoes.
Influenced by Hollywood movies, 1930s fashion was sleek and sophisticated. Deep colours such as maroon and plum were widely worn, as were pastel colours and geometric patterns. Hemlines of daywear skirts sat around mid-calf length, and the most common necklines were crossover, v-neck and scallop edge, many with lace accents.
Evening dresses were longer and more elegant than day dresses, reaching either ankle or floor-length. Designs were usually backless, and frequently decorated with flowers or bows on the shoulder or waistline. Towards the end of the decade, silk dresses became more popular.
Brimmed hats wore often worn outside of the house (titled at an angle), as were gloves which were synchronised with shoes and handbags. Elbow length gloves were often worn with evening gowns.
World War II brought with it a rationing on fabric, and typical dress length rose from mid-calf to knee high. Necklines varied from square and sweetheart to keyhole and cross front, and day dresses showed very little skin. Evening dresses were a little more risqué, often with spaghetti straps, showing shoulders and chest.
Fitted shoulder pads became very popular in the 40s, as women’s fashion began to take more of a military style. Many dresses, jackets and blouses came with shoulder pads extending further than the shoulders themselves.
After the war ended in 1945, fabric became more readily available and many women embraced colourful, patterned fabrics.
With rations well and truly over, women’s fashion became more luxurious; skirts had pleats and gatherings, and bold colours and patterns remained popular. Commonly used materials included nylon, rayon, wool and leather.
Glamour became an important part of women’s fashion – empire dresses were worn day and night, and petticoats were often worn under dresses and skirts, creating more shapely figures while also providing the practicality of an extra layer for warmth.
Stilettos and beehive hair styles were used to complete the most stylish looks of this decade, making the 1950s one of the most glamorous periods of the 1900s.
Fashion designer Many Quant influenced the rise of miniskirts during the 1960s. In 1961, hemlines typically sat just above the knee, climbing higher in the following years; by 1966 some mini hems reached the upper thigh, and the end of the decade even saw the introduction of the micro-mini. Stockings were replaced by coloured tights for practicality.
Mary Quant and her miniskirts were closely associated with mod fashion, which also covered bold patterns and go-go boots. Such trends always started in London, and were heavily represented in Carnaby Street and the surrounding areas.
Other iconic pieces from this decade include buckled shoes, pantyhose, and the pillbox hat which grew in popularity after Jackie Kennedy made them her signature.
The 70s is often described as a fun era for fashion. Some of the best elements of 60’s fashion made it into the 70s, only more flamboyant than the previous decade. Seventies style has been described as a blend of mod and hippie. Flares and bells bottoms were staple trends (especially in the first half of this decade), as were platforms.
Maxi dresses and wrap dresses brought a more bohemian style to the 70s, and it was often hard to tell which dresses were designed for daywear and which were designed for evening wear. Jumpsuits offered a fashionable alternative to dresses.
Other popular trends of the decade included cowl neck sweaters and chevron prints.
A fitness phase which took over in the 1970s carried over into the early 1980s, with a heavy focus on aerobics. Leotards, tights and velour tracksuits were incredibly popular, as were legwarmers and sweatbands worn around the forehead.
The early to mid-1980s also brought with it the New Romantic age, influenced by the punk scene. The style incorporated bold eyeliner, spiked or backcombed hair, as well as historically influenced clothing.
Other trends of this decade included trench coats, turtle neck jumpers, embroidered jeans and faux fur.
The beginning of the 90s brought with it a style heavily influenced by the grunge scene. Denim jackets, ripped jeans and Dr Martens were three of the top trends during the first half of the decade, led by fashion icons such as Courtney Love and Winona Ryder.
Rave culture rose in popularity towards the end of the 90s, with neon colours and smiley faces heavily featured in any wannabe-raver’s wardrobe. Baseball caps also became a must-wear, with the peaks often bent into a tight curve, or turned towards the back.
Other trends that made an appearance during the 90s included the crop top, dungarees, Capri pants and chokers.
If you are interested in a career in fashion, a degree in Fashion Design or Fashion and Textiles could be your first step.