The standard clothing of girls and women was for centuries a dress and a skirt with the blouse, and within these clothing types, the designs for special occasions and festive events were created.
The social constraints put on women lost their grip around 1910 in the Western World; women gained more independence and careers. Mass production of clothing developed fast and made fashion accessible, affordable, and more variety was available. Before this, fashion was reserved for the wealthy.
Being granted more rights and codetermination in society and public life, women realized the need to reflect their newly adapted role in their clothes. New fashion styles were needed to be equipped with a growing self-esteem and the desire to dress up in styles that signal their distinct personalities.
The first milestone was reached when women discovered the beauty of their legs and that these were worthwhile to show off. Until 1920 skirts of women reached down to the ankles, and in the era of the “Crazy Twenties,” a sudden change took place. The result was that the hem of dresses and skirts started to fluctuate between ankles and knees.
Physical constraints such as corselets were removed and replaced with brassieres that flattened the bust. Focus on the waist completely disappeared. Instead, the hips were garnished with loose sitting belts, creating a curveless style. The “Boyish Look” turned into a female revolution, not only in the history of women’s fashion but the general role women played in society.
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The first short hairstyle in women’s history, called “the Bob,” was introduced and enthusiastically embraced by the female gender. For many, it was a symbol of liberation from the traditional long hair; for others, it was simply the fact that maintaining short hair is more convenient.
The fashionable straight-cut style lasted a full decade, and the liberation of traditional clothing proceeded with high speed in 1930. Ensembles of the separate sweater and pleated skirt grew more popular by the day, and suits dressed working women and girls. Participating in businesses and being part of the staff in offices, the suits were like a statement of the change that women were seeking a way to find their self-determined place in a world ruled by men.-,
In 1930 women replaced the straight cut fashion with a more in line with their femininity. Graceful, slim lines and a natural waist enjoyed growing popularity. Feminine shapes were again accepted and also emphasized. The length of skirts and dresses stayed for nearly a decade on mid-calf, to which we refer today as “Midi.” At the end of the 30ies, the hem ended 6 inches below the knee, where it stayed until the forties. Slightly padded shoulders gave a hint of what would be trendy in the ’40s.
In “the forties,” the attention for fashion had not as much space as many women wished for. Women had to replace the workforce of men in factories and service industries because men went off to fight in World War 2. Women had to be mothers and fathers to their children and kept the Nation functioning. They took on roles that were until then reserved for men only. The fashion then was held simple; the garments had to last a while. Nevertheless, an appealing fashion could be showcased. The most eye-catching difference with past styles was the padded square shoulders, which are a symbol for these years: a woman had to stand her ground and needed broader shoulders to carry the load. Skirts and dresses ended just above the knee and were tailored for a small waist. Most popular at this time was the suit composed of skirt and jacket.
Presented in a film by a female actress wearing a suit with pants and tie and looking breathtaking sexy, created the “Marlene Dietrich Look.” Pants, reserved until then for the male gender only, also turned into a garment for women. The pants reached up to the waist and were closed with a zipper on the side. Using a fly for women’s pants did not even cross the mind of designers; it was simply out of the question. Anyway, the pants’ success was certain; they conquered the hearts of women in the Western World by storm and are since then fast fashion items.
In 1947 the “New Look” caught women’s attention, replacing the “utility fashion look” of wartime. With the return of the men, femininity in fashion was back too. Women wanted to look pretty and desirable; therefore, the feminine flair of the “New Look” created by Christian Dior was enthusiastically embraced. Rounded shoulders, accentuated bust lines, and a clearly defined waist marked dresses, coats, and suits. Half-circle, ruffled dresses, and skirts were trendy. Collections offered more versatile designs, from plaited skirts above the knee to dresses that ended just below the calves.
Created on the streets of America was the fashion of teenage girls. Bobbysocks, knee-length skirts, and sports sweaters were their favorite fashion at the end of the 40ies. The fashion industry swiftly picked this up has discovered a new target group.
Teenagers had the feeling that they were very different than their parents. Rock and Roll, the film industry, television, and magazines in the 50ies confirmed this feeling as all these trends were, in most cases, not understood by parents nor approved. The fashion industry gladly fulfilled the need of these teenagers to be different. Jeans, T-shirts, leather, and denim jackets were introduced, and teenage fashion took off. The more rights for own decision-making were granted to the young people, the more variety and fashion styles could be found in malls and boutiques.
During the 50ies the way fashion was presented changed drastically. Collections did not last a decade but changed to two collections in one year. Various clothes were available, ranging from a full circle, ruffled skirts, supported by starched petticoats to the trendy dirndl dress. The 50ies brought new and dashing patterns to choose from to women. Cotton skirts with a tropical landscape showing palm trees, beach, and a sunset printed all around, or the cute, slim fit, polka dots ¾ pants emphasized a pretty figure. Creativity exploded in Paris after a time of hunger and the fear of not surviving the next day. Life was lived to the fullest in Western Europe and America.
Fashion accelerated in the 60ies, from a revival of the “Marlene Dietrich Look” to the introduction of the mini-skirt that celebrates its success up to today. Gypsy followed by the Hippie Look, meaning: girls were wearing see-through batiste Indian shirts with no bras, and long skirts or velvet bell bottom pants with embroidered tops leaving their belly uncovered. Jeans had reached the status of evergreens and dressed from teenagers to daddies. Grown women could wear anything they wanted, be it a mini-skirt or ankle-length skirt, figure-hugging narrow skirts, or a suit with a rainbow-colored blouse. Pretty much everything was in fashion.
A loop back to a more conservative style was tried in the mid 70ies. Convincing women to choose a mid-calf length skirt as the only available fashionable length above a mini skirt failed miserably. Women demanded both, and the fashion industry provides both since then.
End 70ies children were finally heard, and since then, designers have also fashioned for kids. Children are allowed to choose from a huge diversity of styles & and trends, have a voice in how they are dressed and have a clear idea of how they want to look.
Fashion is picking up social trends and mirrors the roles of groups within a society. It is an extension of people’s personalities and a tool to express self-realization. It seems that it also mirrors how far these groups are allowed to express themselves freely in a creative, unhindered way.