Audrey Hepburn to Kim Kardashian: The Evolution of Women’s Fashion
Reading Time: 6 minutes
From royals wearing corsets to singer Billie Eilish’s baggy outfits, our idea of female beauty has evolved greatly in the past century. In the early 1900s, people used fashion as an indicator of wealth. Similarly, most trends today are spread by influencers with large fan bases that emulate whatever their favorite celebrities are wearing. Here are a few examples of the fashion trends that spread among women in the past 100 years.
In the Roaring Twenties, clothing reflected a time of rebellion among young women. A large wave of women, known as flappers, were introduced. They opposed societal norms by dancing, smoking, cutting their hair short, and wearing makeup and short skirts.
Throughout the past, women were expected to wear a corset to create a tiny waist, while maintaining a large bust and wide hips (sound familiar?), and they dressed extravagantly with large, long skirts and tight tops. However, the twenties were the complete opposite. Everyday clothing consisted of casual, calf-length skirts with flowy tops. Women also took on a boyish appearance: they had short hair and slim bodies, without the hips and bust that they previously desired. Coco Chanel designed the first little black dress in this era, which was worn by actresses, such as Clara Bow. At night, the style flipped, as flappers adorned themselves with beads, feathers, headpieces, and shapeless dresses to party in. Silent film actress Greta Garbo popularized the glamour of flapper fashion.
Though the twenties were a time of fashion that catered mainly to the upper class, this period spread a crucial message to women: whether you are feminine or masculine, flaunt your body however you want.
During the Great Depression, fabric was rationed by the government. Because of this, the bikini was introduced as an attempt to conserve fabric. However, war did not stop designers from expanding designs and women from expanding closets. Practicality and modesty, expressed in longer skirts and simple jackets or blouses with wide shoulders, were the themes that women followed. Blazers and trousers were worn by Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman. The preferred body characteristic was natural curves, due to the fact that no one wanted to look starved and poor. Actresses wore long, silky, and tight “bias-cut” dresses popularized by designer Madeleine Vionnet. Icon Bette Davis, who wore many of these dresses on screen, gave struggling workers a break from reality with her extravagance. Since there were bigger problems at this time, however, fashion was not a priority for women around the time of World War II.
The fifties were a period in which women left the house looking flawless. With the rise of Hollywood, women wanted to mimic actresses, such as Marilyn Monroe. Monroe’s hourglass figure, perfect hair, and spotless makeup became a standard for women. Women wore swing dresses that cinched at the waist and puffed out below. One of the largest fashion influences of all time, Audrey Hepburn, displayed both a classy and wild persona in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Wearing a tiara, gloves, and a sleek black dress, Hepburn displayed a sophisticated style; however, she wasn’t afraid to rock cropped pants, a plain turtleneck, and a pixie cut hairstyle. Both the elegance and confidence displayed in icons of the ‘50s inspired, but also pressured, women to appear one specific way.
In the early sixties, Jackie Kennedy, like any first lady, had to maintain a sophisticated and poised appearance. Women had so much respect for Kennedy that they started to copy her boxy suits and geometric patterned dresses, which were inspired by the last decade. Later on, the controversial, bright-colored miniskirts were the trend among women. Despite backlash from many conservative critics, who disagreed with the provocative piece, miniskirts were seen on everyone, from college girls to business women. Mary Quant, the pioneer of miniskirts, claimed that girls of the streets actually invented the “mini” by cropping long skirts to be above the knee. Twiggy was a model whose twig-like body shape and doll-like eyes inspired women to go to great lengths to be super skinny, a phenomenon still around today.
In the late sixties, the hippie fashion rose in popularity, with the widespread wear of bright colors, bandanas, floral print, and headbands. The seventies carried on most of the fashion trends and body types of the sixties, in addition to natural faces, platform heels, and disco fashion. Cher was a disco enthusiast who displayed a lot of skin with mesh, mermaid dresses, feathers, and large earrings. Her style is highly apparent in high fashion events, like the MET Gala, Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, and red carpet events.
The ‘80s were a prominent era for fashion and still have a great impact on trends today. Many new designs spread, including the widely-loved leggings we wear today. Women complemented them with leg warmers, scrunchies, and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts. However, the key component of the ‘80s was the hair. Large, crimped hair was a necessity for women in this time. Models still known today, such as Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell, dominated the modeling industry and spread the idealistic tall and lean model body. Madonna popularized the fashion concept of “bigger is better,” with her large hair, colorful outfits, glam makeup, and shoulder pads. Many business women wore the broad-shouldered suit, empowering them in a male-dominated business industry. Madonna’s messy, punk rock style popularized bustier tops, conical bras, black highlighted hair, layered necklaces, and so much more.
The younger generation in the ‘90s mainly wore baggy flannels and floral prints, both found in abundance in vintage stores today. Actresses Winona Ryder, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, and designer Marc Jacobs were a large influence on this carefree, grunge wave of girls. The glam fashion of the ‘90s featured minimalism, inspired by Jacobs and the movie “Clueless.” Classic silk slip dresses, soft makeup, and neutral colors dominated runways and streets alike. With the rise of hip-hop, singers like Aaliyah popularized denim and baggy clothing among African American women.
The early 2000s were an era of low-rise jeans, tight crop tops, tube tops, and yoga pants. Hair was pin straight and sometimes topped off with a headband, like Blair and Serena from the TV show “Gossip Girl.” A major icon was singer Britney Spears, who spread all these trends with her relatable and affordable style. “Sex and the City” had a large impact on middle-aged working women with its inspiring storyline of four single working women living in the city. The Spice Girls, each representing a different persona, peaked in the 2000s because girls could relate to at least one of the five styles. Leopard print and latex, among the other 2000s trends, were always worn by this girl group. The urge to dress over-the-top and to value designer brands were ideas started by this period.
Look around. Fashion remains an outlet for diversity and expression. Many trends today were introduced in past decades, such as scrunchies from the ‘90s or the hourglass figure of the ‘50s. Celebrities, such as the Kardashians and Jenners, play a large role in influencing fashion. Having almost all their outfits duplicated hours after they are released, Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian dominate the fashion industry today.
Body image is an issue a majority of women all around the world currently face. It’s inaccurate to think that fashion is only positive; not all girls can afford to keep up with the latest trends and not everyone loves her natural body. Our close-mindedness to different body types, skin colors, and heights, and the use of Photoshop has fostered a culture of women being stressed and insecure when they look in the mirror and don’t see the body or face posted by models on Instagram. However, many magazine companies today, such as “Sports Illustrated” and “Cosmopolitan,” display women of all shapes and ethnicities. From Marilyn Monroe to Ashley Graham, fashion has been used as a way for women to embrace their body and defy the boundaries that society has placed on them.
While writing this article, I learned that fashion is not about the way you dress and that fashion icons are not the women with money and fame. Fashion is about carrying yourself with confidence and projecting that onto others. The icons are those who inspire us to embrace the person we see in the mirror. Nobody can be Madonna, but anybody can generate the impact Madonna had on women.