Discover the fashion evolution through decades, the ever-changing cycle of trends and styles – revolutionary by all means! This fashion evolution is something that expresses one’s true character, personality, aura, and creativity.
Fashion evolution is something that indicates the current time in history. One gets to know about the shift in politics, social norms, technology, and culture through fashion evolution itself. The world of fashion will keep turning just like the wheels of time. It’s like a pair of jeans, whose quality enhances as time goes by!
While a century isn’t particularly a long time in the course of history, when it comes to matters of fashion trends through decades and style, it sure is a loooong bridge between ankle-length pleated skirts to high-waist ripped shorts.
There is always a minor conflict in our minds regarding what to wear for school, work, or party. Just like society, fashion evolution too, happens over time to cater to one’s current needs and wants. Besides this, factors like culture, media and even politics play a role in fashion evolution.
From V-neck flapper dresses and T-strap heels to bodycon dresses and daddy-sneakers, there is an exclusive collection of exquisite and funky looks that are serving an inspiration for fashion designers all over the world.
So read on to take a look at some of the most trending fashion evolution exemplars from every decade starting from the 20th century, and let’s see which ones still intrigue you to wear today…
Fashion Evolution Through Decades
The 1920s: Exquisite-Moi, Please!
Be it the matters of fashion evolution or morals, the 1920s’ clothing was primarily centered around revolutionary freedom. All the poised and proper ideals of the Victorian era were left behind as the 1920s’ ladies took more interest into casual and free-spirited wear. Due to gaining the right to vote in the 1920s, followed by tremendous social changes post-WWI, women felt empowered and radiated the true quality of the decade.
This fashion evolution marked a trend of the “boyish” style, a result of the popular bust-suppressing-waist-disappearing flapper garment designed by fashion mogul Coco Chanel, and the incorporation of the short hairstyle with it. The cloche hat too, especially gained popularity during this era. Caroline Reboux, a well-known Parisian milliner and French fashion designer popularized it.
While workwear was utilitarian and menswear inspired, party-wear was gracefully feminine. The styles were majorly designed by the influence of Jazz culture, popular among the youth. The dresses were adorned with beadings and fringes to reflect both charm and recklessness.
Along with this, the short bob hairstyle was often paired up with the dresses. Movies like “The Great Gatsby” and series like “Peaky Blinders” are well known for their portrayal of the 1920s vintage era. While the former showcases the famous studded-headbands, the latter the eccentric costumes.
Additionally, the swimwear were made of a stretchy ribbed jersey that fit snug and defined the curves. The workwear was mostly ankle-length dresses, and day wear commonly included polka-dotted garden-dresses. Some of the popular shoes were Mary-Jane and T-strap heels.
The 1930s: Holly, Holly, Hollywood!
This era marked the onset of Hollywood, and as a result, the 1930s fashion evolution was mostly influenced by the film world and its movie stars. While the 1920s fashion was characterized as boyish, the 1930s, in contrast, celebrated more of the feminine culture through long and lean silhouettes.
While the Americans were dealing with the stock market crash and the Great Depression, the length of the dresses became longer again. However, this time they were tighter and more fitted. Film icons such as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Jean Harlow dazzled in tailored skirt suits and glamorous gowns.
The only motto for dresses during this time was “the slender beauty”. It was incorporated with an elongated torso and wide shoulders. The typical ones were the bias-cut sitting gowns for evening parties popularized by Madeleine Vionnet, with a fur stole wrap around the neck and shoulders. In addition, the Oxford shoes picked up pace in the fashion evolution as the universal dancing shoes.
All in all, this decade was a representation of the old Hollywood glitz and glam. Usually these dresses and shoes were paired with a pin-fork bun holder and heavily studded hair pins to further add to the glittery aura. Day-wear was mostly loose fitted pants with tucked in t-shirts and the popular swimwear were romper-style one-piece with tie-up detail at the waist.
The 1940s: Ah! The Era of Fashion-on-a-Budget
While this decade experienced deep changes, it also created some of the most flattering designs of the 20th century. As the world entered the World War II phase, so did the fashion industry, in a budget of cotton and nylon.
Clothing were rationed as the materials wool, satin, and leather were needed to make parachutes for the military. The most famous of the lot were the classic shirtwaist dresses, broad-fit pants, skirt-style swimsuits, and pin up styles.
Shorter and tighter skirts took root and patterns were a bygone as most women opted for plain and practical colors, inspired by the riches and cinema. Celebrities began dressing casually, even to parties and events. As thousands of men were sent off to war, there was a rampant need of women in the workforce. This is the sole reason why women’s fashion evolution put its foot into the military style like slim silhouettes, first introduced by Christian Dior.
Women began wearing boiler-suits and cover-alls for physically demanding jobs. These styles became popular not only for women to appear masculine and more powerful, but for creating comfort while working in and through.
It was this phase of the century when the feminist movements began to gain power and weight. New York City became the hub of the fashion world and these looks were soon imitated in all the boutiques of the world. Open toe heels and pumps, and foiled cute hair pins garnered popularity too.
The 1950s: The Timelessness & The Class
This decade was characterized by cool youthful styles and freedom fashion evolution. The 1950s were the time when most of the fashion moguls emerged or became larger forces than before – Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, and more.
While women’s wear still went on with the same lower-ankle fit and flare, and slim waist designs, what changed or rather emerged were patterned colors. This time, women could choose from a varied style collection unlike before. While some went for dresses, others stuck to the masculine styles like business suits and peter-pan collared dresses. Ankle-length skirts, sundress, and bathing suits gained popularity very quickly.
The housewives of the 1950s played a crucial role in setting the trend of ultimate feminine styles. They mixed and matched hair tie-ups with colorful ribbons, classic French hair updo, cat-eye sunglasses, and pearl necklaces. Feminine styles became popular again with cinched waists, halter-necks, bows and full skirts.
Famous actresses of that time popularized some of the major styles. Audrey Hepburn promoted the pearls, while Marilyn Monroe the colorful one-piece bikini and Grace Kelly the sweetheart neckline. Mary Janes gave way to classy pumps with embellishments and bows.
The 1960s: Behold! The Sophistication Arrives…
The 1960s was the period of timeless elegance and beauty. It was power in femininity. The tops or dresses were usually made in the peplum style, that is, straight fitted till the waist with a wide collar and flared bottom. Even the shirts and sweaters were knitted and had a turtleneck style. More and more women began to wear high waist and slim-fitted pants during the 1960s.
During this time, flat shoes and low heel pumps were in style. The trend of the ‘Pillbox Hat’ set by Jackie Kennedy, wife of Late John F. Kennedy (former U.S. President), was widely embraced by all women.
This decade also marked women coming out of their shell and showing off some skin through mini skirts. The New York Times reported this quote by designer Mary Quant, ”If I didn’t make them short enough, the Chelsea girls, who had wonderful legs, would get out the scissors and shorten the skirts themselves.”
Golden Globe winner Janet Leigh, lead actress of Psycho (1960), also popularized off-the-shoulder satin dress, igniting the spark of the off-shoulder tops and dress trend. Short bobbed hair and round sunglasses became the norm. This era was popularized again through TV shows like Mad Men.
You’ll be surprised to know that what you see and wear today is heavily inspired by the 1960s fashion evolution. For example, knee length shift and swing dresses, wiggle dresses, mini skirts, and flared jeans are all trends that are currently back in style straight from the ’60s.
The 1970s: The Disco-Decade
Furrowing out of the swinging 60s to enter the disco decade of the 70s, everyone at that time was presented with a fabulous new wardrobe filled with colors, retro patterns, shine and texture.
Women wore hippie-style or granny-style polyester jumpsuits, tunic tops, graphic tees, hair pins, and colorful dresses. Polka dots were back, but this time not for garden dresses, but for button-up shirts and minis. For the workplaces, women wore pant-suits (dress pants) and silk blouses paired with blazers.
The bell-bottom pants, originally worn by sailors during the War of 1812, re-emerged, and this time served less a purpose of function and more of fashion. People either wore them casually in the form of flared denim jeans, or specifically out to the disco in wild patterns or flowers. Bell Bottom Blues, a popular 1971 music single by the blues-rock group Derek and the Dominos also mentions them.
The ’70s also popularized platform heels and translucent over-sized gradient sunglasses. These style statements were a result of the disco culture being at its peak. The footwear and sunglasses began to match the excessiveness that came with the outfits. These were associated with the dancing phenomenon.
1970s fashion was also inspired by the hippie culture. Hippies popularized loads of low-maintenance styles that are now considered classics. Examples include fringe suede jackets, sleeveless vests, peasant blouses, flower crowns, headscarves, tie-dye tunics and bold patterns.
Knitted vests worn on tops were in high demand. German actress Karin Dor, best known for her role as Helga Brandt in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, popularized the headscarf that became a statement of the 70s. Swimwear were multicultural and featured a tie-up design around the neck. Workwear consisted of the same bright-colored flared pants with blouses or button-ups.
The 1980s: The Black and “the Blues”, Colors and Hues!
With the fade of the disco decade, the rise of the death metal era took place. This created another drastic shift in aesthetic and a major fashion evolution.
In contrast to the bright florals and loose styles of the previous decade, 80s fashion brought the trend of black leather jackets that were usually layered over band T-shirts. This color also garnered fame through the world renowned band, The Blues Band, formed in 1979, as all they ever wore were black and blackety black!
Upon releasing her 1986 music video, Papa Don’t Preach, Madonna brought the punk style via leather jackets more into the mainstream. This decade also heavily relied on bright colors and hues. Other styles that became popular were stacked bracelets and tangled necklaces, sheer tops, bustiers worn under jackets.
Workwear including dungarees and casuals comprised more of multicolored tees or jackets with metallic leggings. All credits to the aerobics craze of the decade, the spandex fashion became a bona fide trend!
Actress Pamela Anderson, on the other hand, brought about the trend of high-leg opening and scoop neck swimwear through her very famous American TV show Baywatch. Shoes, on the other hand, were gaudy and splashed with colors, be it sneakers or block heels. More practical shoes, made for dancing to the pop and metal music, came into fashion!
The 1990s: The Teeny-Weeny!
This was the youth oriented culture that embraced the motto “Teen Spirit”. It was a fertile ground for the grunge fashion to make its impact, just like Marc Jacobs’s collection for Perry Ellis of the SS’93 collection, followed by the Vogue spread .
The teenagers and people in their 20s embraced floral prints and baggy flannels. These styles are snapped up in vintage stores all over America today. Supermodel Cindy Crawford, with her famous Pepsi commercial, popularized the white tank top with blue short-shorts. Plaid blazers too, become a cool closet staple. Cher and Dionne’s coordinating plaid skirt-sets in the movie Clueless defined this fashion era.
The workwear consisted of pant-suit sets with cropped bermudas or full-length pants. This style was popularized by Julia Roberts in the 1990 movie Pretty Woman, following which women began to embrace it more. Tube tops with straight-cut jeans and mini-skirts paired with denim shirts also became a thing.
Although this was the teen-decade, clothing was loose fitted but not as colorful as the 80s. One-piece swimsuits with a zipper in the front became popular, and the shoes were mostly colorful and sparkly platform boots. Nike’s Air Jordans were most famous during this decade.
The 2000s: The Mash-Up Decade
During the 2000s, women’s fashion became greatly feminine once again. Everywhere people would look, their eyes met with women wearing halter tops, low-rise jeans, capri pants, and denim miniskirts. Designers began to mix and match styles from different decades.
As trucker caps made a comeback, so did boot-cut jeans. Every second celebrity owned a pair of velour tracksuit. Britney Spears, queen of pop, and our very favorite Jennifer Lopez popularized it greatly.
This was the time of the Juicy-Couture that Paris Hilton brought to the mainstream fashion. And also almost every young celebrity or pop-star would have the word “Juicy” written across their buttocks! Despite the intentionally casual appearance, the colorful head-to-toe look could be worn just about anywhere and at any occasion.
The Von Dutch and the Trucker hats, in particular, were one of the major trends in the fashion evolution of this decade, popularized after Paris Hilton wore them on her reality show The Simple Life. The man behind the Von Dutch label was Kenneth Howard, and people were willing to pay upwards of $40 for it. It was that popular!
The block heels came back in fashion from the 60s and the new additions were the “Crocs” (slip-on shoes). Workwear included pant-suits for the men and senior management, as Meryl Streep proudly displays in the 2006 movie, The Devil wears Prada, incorporating them with fashionable belts. Other staff wore more casual ensembles like knee-length skirt suits or trousers with shirts. Choker necklaces were worn with all casual, formal, and party attires.
Swimwear added the same twist. Yes. Belts. That’s right! The contribution of the Bond girl Halle Berry from Die Another Day. Additionally, the hippie tiny-framed sunglasses came to power, inspired by Neo’s character in Matrix, a 1999 sci-fi film.
The 2010s: A Little Bit of Every World, perhaps?
The Pretty Woman blazer and crop pant style came to light again during the 2010s. Only this time, they were paired up with daddy sneakers! Not just this, square shaped oversized sunglasses from the 60s and 70s came back to make an impression too.
Inspired by the social media era, street style became a thing when women everywhere began to share their outfits of the day. And the startup culture popularized casual wear everywhere – at work, at parties, on red carpets, and even in the dating scene.
Women started wearing shirts and ankle length floral skirts to work again, inspired from the 20s and 30s. They even embraced the fur trend specifically inspired from the 30s, and made coats and jackets out of them. Inspired by the 50s and 60s, the stilettos came to life again, only this time, they incorporated fringes or beadings on top. In addition, the heel height also increased from 2 inches to 4 and above.
But make no mistake, everything was not copied. There were some new additions too, like the Aztec prints. Well, they’re also inspired by 15th century’s Aztec Empire, but still. There was also the fashion evolution of casual wear. Other workwear consisted of striped and checked pants, skirt-suits, cropped trousers and blazers.
Bucket bags came into notice, as more size meant more style! Some other styles in accessories included novelty jewelry, embellished sunglasses, back-packs and fanny packs. Geometric sunglasses and minimal jewelry also came into play. Chokers came back, with subtlety this time. They became layered and slim-chained rather than broad and heavily studded.
The 2020s: Ooh! Here Comes the Gen-Z!
Now let’s talk about our decade, shall we? The decade is off to a pretty practical start, when fashion is designed first for working women. Lounge wear like fleece sweatshirts, crew-neck tees and sweatpants are gaining popularity due to this work-from-home culture of today.
One major shift in fashion evolution could be how fashion serves its purpose in the Coronavirus and post-Covid world. With loss of jobs, we may expect fast fashion to give way to reusable clothing and multi-purpose styles. And with nature taking its hold on our lifestyle and mind-space, we may also see a wave of organic fabrics, sustainable fashion and natural silhouettes. We’re already seeing this trend both on the runways and in the beauty world.
Social media is here to stay, so we’ll still see attitude in subtlety.
This is the time of ripped and boyfriend jeans, bodysuits and rubber dress! From the Kardashian and Jenners to the Hadids, the fashion evolution is swept up by a blow of swift, yet rebellious wind. We may also start seeing new materials and silhouettes. From colorful leather to strong suits and knitwear, the biggest hits of 2020 definitely intrigue us all.
Kim K, the queen bee, brought the trend of body-hugging nude wears, be it a dress or an off-white tube bodysuit with dark beige pants that are still trending. Side striped trousers, doodled and embroidered pants, and joggers too came into fashion.
Kylie Jenner normalized a full face of daily-wear makeup, where everything from foundation to liquid lipstick is matte and chic. This decade will also further underline inclusion in fashion, be it for sizes or for skin-tones. Rihanna, with her makeup line Fenty Beauty, understood the value of makeup for every skin tone late last decade. Soft illuminated makeup, pops of blue eyeshadow, white and graphic eyeliners too, are creating a huge spark right now.
The fashion evolution today, just like yesterday, has never failed to surprise people at every chance.
The most surprising of all things is how far we’ve come. Who’d have thought we’d transition from a flapper or feather dress to body-con dress and ripped jeans?! But make no mistake, this is not the end of it. There’s more to come, more to see.
You can always try wearing these styles today with a bit of modern twist. For example, pairing up the 1980s leggings with a short dress or tunic top, or the 1970s polka dot tied up shirt paired with boyfriend jeans. There’s so much that one could experiment with. Try it out and do share the pictures with us by tagging us @shilpaahujadotcom on Instagram.
So which decade’s style caught your eye the most? Don’t hesitate to comment and share with us your thoughts on Twitter @shilpa1ahuja! 🙂
Prerna Sharma writes about the latest fashion, beauty and dressing. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Film, T.V. and Radio and did her Bachelors in English Honors. She also has a PG Diploma in Media and Public Relations from St. Xavier’s College.
Prior to working as a Fashion Journalism Intern at ShilpaAhuja.com, she started her career as a Travel Writer and Digital Marketer, where she wrote for different spheres like medical services, film review, information technology, and real estate. This experience fostered her awareness around travel and tourism, and creative writing, but her keen eye for trends made her transition into fashion writing.
Originally from Kolkata, Prerna loves staying up to date in current fashion and culture trends, be it movies, music, or social media. When she isn’t staring at a screen, you can find her spending way too much time writing poetry or trying out new outfits.
She can be found @i.am.prerna on Instagram.