History of Fashion 1900 - 1970


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