The standard clothing of girls and women was for centuries a dress and a skirt with a blouse and within these types of clothing designs for special occasions and festive events were created.
The social restrictions imposed on women lost their control around 1910 in the Western world; women gained more independence and started careers. The mass production of clothing developed rapidly and made women’s fashion accessible, affordable and with more variety. Before this, fashion was reserved for the rich and rich.
Receiving more rights and codetermination in society and public life, women realized the need to reflect their new adapted role in the clothing they wore. Equipped with a growing self-esteem and a desire to dress in styles that denote their different personalities, new fashion styles were needed.
Until 1920, women’s skirts reached to the ankles and in the era of the “roaring twenties” there was a sudden change. The first kilometer was reached, when women discovered the beauty of their legs and that they were worth showing off. The result was that the hem of dresses and skirts began to fluctuate between the ankles and the knees.
Physical limitations, such as corsets, were removed and replaced with bras that flattened the bust. The focus on the waist disappeared completely, instead the hips were adorned with loose belts to sit on, creating a style without curves. The “youth look” became a women’s revolution, not only in the history of women’s fashion but in the general role that women played in society.
The first short hairstyle in the history of women, called “the bob”, was introduced and welcomed with enthusiasm by the female gender. For many it was a symbol of liberation from traditional long hair, for others it was simply the fact that keeping hair short is more convenient.
Separate sweater and pleated skirt sets became more popular by the day, and the suits dressed working women and girls. Participating in business and being part of the office staff, the lawsuits were like a declaration of change as women were looking for a way to find their self-determined place in a world that was ruled by men. The trendy straight cut style lasted for a full decade and the liberation of traditional clothing proceeded with great speed in 1930.
In 1930, women replaced the straight-cut fashion with a style more in keeping with their femininity. Sleek, slim lines and a natural waistline were growing in popularity. The female forms were again accepted and also emphasized. The length of skirts and dresses was maintained for almost a decade in the mid-calf, which today we refer to as “Midi”. In the late 1930s the hem ended 6 inches below the knee where it remained until the 1940s. The lightly padded shoulders hinted at what would be in style in the 1940s.
In “the forties” attention to fashion did not have as much space as many women wanted. Women had to replace men’s workforce in factories and service industries because men left to fight in World War II. Women had to be the mother and father of their children and keep the Nation running. They assumed roles that until then were reserved only for men. Fashion then remained simple; the clothes had to last a while. However, attractive fashion was able to showcase and the most striking difference from previous styles was the padded square shoulders, which are something of a symbol for these years – a woman had to stand her ground and needed wider shoulders to carry the load. Skirts and dresses ended just above the knee and were tailored for a small waist. The most popular at this time was the suit consisting of a skirt and jacket.
Trousers, until then reserved only for the male gender, also became a garment for women. Featured in a movie by an actress dressed in a suit with pants and tie and looking stunning and sexy, he created the “Marlene Dietrich Look”. The pants fell to the waist and closed with a zipper on the side. Using a fly for women’s pants did not even cross the minds of the designers; it was simply out of the question. Still, the pants’ success was certain; they conquered the hearts of women in the western world by storm and have been great fashion items ever since.
In 1947, the “New Look” caught the attention of women, replacing the “utility fashion look” of wartime. With the return of men, femininity in fashion also returned. Women wanted to look pretty and desirable; therefore, the feminine style of the “New Look” created by Christian Dior was enthusiastically welcomed. Rounded shoulders, accentuated bust lines, and clearly defined waistband marked on dresses, coats, and suits. Dresses and skirts with semicircle ruffles were extremely popular. The collections offered more versatile designs, from braided skirts above the knee to dresses that ended just below the calves.
Created on the streets of the United States, it was the fashion of teenage girls. Bobby socks, knee-length skirts, and sports sweaters were her favorite fashions in the late 1940s. This was quickly picked up by the fashion industry upon discovering a new target group.
The teenagers had the feeling that they were very different from their parents. Rock and roll, the film industry, television and magazines in the 50s confirmed this sentiment since all these trends in most cases were not understood or approved by parents. The fashion industry gladly fulfilled these teens’ need to be different. Jeans, T-shirts, leather jackets and denim were introduced and teen fashion took off. The more rights given to young people for their own decision-making, the more variety and fashion styles could be found in shopping malls and boutiques.
During the 1950s, the way of presenting fashion changed dramatically. The collections did not last a decade, but instead switched to two collections in a year. There was a variety of clothing available ranging from full circle ruffled skirts, supported by starched petticoats to the popular dirndl dress. The 50s brought stylish new patterns to choose from for women. Cotton skirts with a tropical landscape that shows palm trees, beach and a sunset printed around it or the cute polka dot skinny pants ¾ that emphasized a pretty figure. Creativity exploded in Paris, after a time of hunger and fear of not surviving the next day. Life was lived to the fullest in Western Europe and America.
Fashion accelerated in the 1960s. From a revival of the “Marlene Dietrich Look” to the introduction of the miniskirt that celebrates her success to this day. Gypsy followed by the hippie style, that is to say: the girls wore transparent Indian cambric shirts without bras and long skirts or velvet bell bottoms with embroidered blouses that left the belly uncovered. Jeans had achieved evergreen status and were worn from teens to dads. Adult women could wear whatever they wanted, whether it was a miniskirt or ankle-length skirt, tight figure-fitting skirts, or a suit with a rainbow-colored blouse, almost everything was in style.
In the mid-1970s a loop back to a more conservative style was attempted. Convincing women to choose a mid-calf skirt as the only fashionable length available above a mini skirt failed miserably. Women sued both and the fashion industry has since offered both.
The children of the late 70s were finally heard and since then designers also create children’s fashion. Children can choose from a wide variety of styles and trends and have a voice in how they dress and have a clear idea of how they want to look.
Fashion is picking up social trends and reflects the roles of groups within a society. It is an extension of the personality of the people and a tool to express self-realization. It seems to also reflect the extent to which these groups can express themselves freely in a creative and unhindered way.