History of Fashion 1900 - 1970

1900s

Women

The S-bend corset was fashionable during the 1900s. It thrust the hips backwards and forced the chest forward into a fashionable pouter-pigeon shape, emphasised with puffed, frilly blouses that were often embellished with decorations like lace collars and broad ribbon ties. Separates were popular, with skirts fitted over the hip and fluted towards the hem. Hair was worn in a centre parting, often looped around pads and false hair to create a wide 'brim' of hair around the hairline. This hairstyle was worn under vast, broad-brim hats with low crowns, and adorned all over with flowers, lace, ribbons and feathers.

Men

Men wore three-piece lounge suits with bowler or cloth caps. Jackets were narrow with small, high lapels. Most collars were starched and upstanding, with the corners pointing downwards. Some men wore their collars turned down, with rounded edges and modern knotted ties. Beards were now reserved for mainly older men, and most young men sported neat moustaches and short hair.


1910s

Women

During this decade, frilly, puffed blouses and fluted skirts continued to be popular. A slightly high waistline was fashionable, as was a long tunic-like top worn over an ankle length A-line or 'hobble' skirt (cinched in at the hem). During World War I (1914–18), women adopted practical, working clothes and they sometimes wore uniform, overalls and trousers. Hair was worn in a centre parting, often looped around pads and false hair to create a wide 'brim' of hair around the hairline. This hairstyle was worn under vast, broad hats with shallow crowns, heavily trimmed with flowers, ribbons and feathers. Towards the end of the decade, younger women sported short bobs.

Men

The three-piece lounge suit was commonly worn, but from 1914 to the end of the decade, many men were photographed in military uniform. Hair was worn parted at the side or the middle. Older men sported beards, but younger men wore moustaches or went clean-shaven.


1920s

Women

At the very beginning of the1920s it was fashionable for women to wear high-waisted, rather barrel-shaped outfits, and tunic-style tops were popular. However, between 1920-2 the waistline dropped to hip level, obscuring natural curves for a tubular, androgynous look. Young, very fashionable 'flappers' wore their hems at knee level, with neutral coloured stockings and colourful garters. Hemlines drifted between ankle and mid-calf for the duration of the decade. Jewellery was prominent, including large brooches and long strings of pearls. Hair was worn bobbed, sometimes close to the head, and the distinctive cloche hat (a close fitting, bell-shaped hat) was very popular.

Men

Men wore narrow-cut lounge suits, with pointed collars turned down, and plain or simply patterned modern knot ties. Cloth caps were popular amongst the working class, though trilbies or homburgs were worn by the middle classes. Hair was cut very short at the sides, parted severely from the centre or the side and smoothed down with oil and brilliantine, or combed back over the top of the head.


1930s

Women

The drop-waist androgyny of the previous decade gave way to a slinky femininity in the 1930s. Parisian couturiers introduced the bias-cut into their designs, which caused the fabric to skim over the body's curves. Long, simple and clinging evening gowns, made of satin were popular. Often the dresses had low scooping backs. During the day, wool suits with shoulder pads, and fluted knee-length skirts were worn. Fox fur stoles and collars were popular, as were small hats embellished with decorative feather or floral details, worn at an angle. Hair was set short and close to the head, often with gentle 'finger waves' at the hairline. Sports and beach-wear influenced fashionable dress, and the sun-tan was coveted for the first time.

Men

Men now generally wore three-piece suits for work or formal occasions only. Two-piece suits (without a waistcoat) and casual day wear were becoming increasingly common, including knitted cardigans, tank-tops, and soft collared or open necked shirts. For the first time it was not obligatory to wear a tie. Trousers were very wide, with turned up hems and sharp creases down the leg. They were belted high at the abdomen. It was common for men to be clean-shaven, and bowler hats were now generally only seen by city businessmen.


1940s

Women

As a result of the war there were severe fabric shortages, which lasted until the end of the decade. Clothes were made with a minimum of fabric, few pleats and no trimmings. Skirts were a little below the knee and straight, worn with boxy jackets and broad, padded shoulders. Many men and women wore uniforms. From 1942 onwards some clothes were made under the government Utility Scheme that rationed materials. They are identifiable by a 'CC41' stamp, which is an abbreviation of the 'Civilian Clothing Act of 1941'. During the war, accessories were important because of their relative affordability; tall platform shoes or sandals, and tall flowery hats were fashionable. Hair was worn long, with stylised waves and rolls on top of the head. In 1947, Christian Dior introduced his 'New Look', which revolutionised1940s fashion. Skirts became longer and fuller, and boxy shoulders were softened to become sloping. Waists were cinched and hats grew wide and saucer shaped.

Men

During the war, most men wore military uniform of some kind. Hair was short at the back and sides, and most men were clean shaven. Men in civilian clothing were often dressed in lounge suits with broad shoulders, with wide trousers belted high at the abdomen. After 1945 many men leaving the armed forces were issued with a 'de-mob' suit, consisting of shirt, tie, double-breasted jacket and loose fitting trousers.


1950s

Women

The 1950s continued the late 1940s style with very full skirts, cinched waists and sloping shoulders. Another popular silhouette was the narrow pencil-skirt look. Daywear consisted of skirts and jackets or day dresses in tweeds and woollens. Dresses with pencil or full skirts were seen in either plain fabrics or floral prints. Separates were popular, especially waist length cardigans. Hats were either small pill-box styles or large brimmed, saucer-like hats. Hair was often cropped quite short and set in curls, or kept long and tied in simple chignons or ponytails at the back.

Men

Men's fashions still revolved around the suit. Grey flannel suits were common, worn with shirt, tie and pocket handkerchief. Tweed or check jackets worn with non-matching trousers were also popular, and open collars were permitted for casual wear. Hair was worn with a side parting but slicked back with 'Brill cream'. Teenagers began to appear as a separate group during the 1950s. Their fashions were influenced by American stars, who wore leather jackets and jeans. The Teddy Boys, who wore pointed shoes, tight trousers and long jackets with velvet trim, were also a significant teenage group.


1960s

Women

Young people's income was at its highest since the end of the Second World War, creating the desire for a wardrobe which did more than simply copy adult dress. Designers like Mary Quant and Biba label provided clothes that were aimed specifically at young people, of which the mini-skirt was the most distinctive introduction. Women wore pale foundation and emphasised their eyes with kohl, mascara and false eyelashes. Hair was long and straight or worn in a shaped bob or wedge. Towards the end of the decade the hippy movement from the west coast of America emerged, experimenting with colours, patterns and textures borrowed from non-Western cultures. Older or more conservative women still tended to dress in skirts below the knee with tailored jackets, coats or cardigans.

Men

Perhaps the most remarkable development in 1960s dress was the dramatic change in menswear. For the past 150 years, clothing for men had been tailor-made, and plain and sombre in appearance. Now, colourful new elements were introduced, such as the collarless jacket, worn with slim-fitting trousers and boots. During the mid-1960s frills and cravats were worn with vividly printed shirts. Finally, lapels and trousers took on exaggeratedly wide dimensions. Clothing became increasingly unisex as men and women shopped at the same boutiques for similar items.


Learn about the history of fashion from 1840 - 1900

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