In recent years, we’ve learned just how unpredictable the world can be. From politics, to the environment, to even the Royal Family, our society is in constant flux, and our fashions have reflected that. Over the course of history, what we wear has been a reflection of society.
Corsets and petticoats bound women into a life of leisure, their clothes preventing any laborious activity. The role of clothes was as ornamental as the role of the woman. The Roaring 20s then revolutionized silhouettes, dropping waistlines and adding ornate beaded designs and feathered accessories, adorning the riches made in the economic boom. This newfound look can also be attributed to the suffragette movement, as women gained voting rights and began to go to college. Their freedom from the tight constraints of earlier fashion into a more relaxed outfit coincides with their percolation into wage-earning jobs and independence.
Trends continued into the 50s, when North American women felt pressure to focus aspirations back on domestic duties. The phrase “MRS degree” was coined, as it was common for women to go to college with the intention of meeting a husband. There was a focus on women returning to the home, and with that came circle skirts and cinched waists, highlighting the hourglass silhouette. The function of the women retracted to be a mere figure of beauty, and trends in clothing pushed this narrative, encouraging women to stay at home and cater to their husbands. The 60s and 70s saw an age of innovation: capri pants, comfortable slacks, and raised hemlines populated the streets. Tie-dye, peasant blouses, and bell-bottoms were worn by men and women, reflecting the growing equality between sexes, environmental and antiwar movements, and a more casual way of life.
The 1980s were bold and bright, showing the optimism of the wave of baby boomers becoming young urban professionals concerned with making money and buying consumer goods. The 90s saw the genesis of grunge, emerging from a rock music subculture, and grew into an anti-consumerist movement. Fashion trends were more reserved than the decade prior, exuding an attitude to be a little bit smarter and simplistic, perhaps as a grounding response to the massive societal changes and extreme advances in technology.
“Finally, the trends progressed into the decades we may remember the most: the 2000s and 2010s.”
Finally, the trends progressed into the decades we may remember the most: the 2000s and 2010s. As females have begun to assert themselves in the workplace, pants have become more common staples of everyone’s wardrobes. Bare midriffs were simultaneous with female’s embracing their sexuality, and activewear marked the casual turn our society is taking as workplaces are more likely to seem like playgrounds with flexible work hours than rows of cubicles occupied from 9:00-5:00.
Retrospectively, it seems logical that trends emerge as a response to societal flux. However, in recent years, we’ve seen a wave of nostalgia that leaves us more confused than ever. Prada brought back padded headbands, seen throughout history in portraits of Anne Boleyn, Renaissance paintings, and even Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Perhaps this can be explained by our Game of Thrones fanatics; however other accessories, like pearl hair clips, suggest indulgence into femininity after years of success being equated with masculine-inspired trends. TikTok has brought back bandanas, long sleeve layering, and baggy t-shirts, reminiscent of our early 2000s childhood styles. Fashion magazines have long been reporting the return of 70s/80s/90s styles, as designers look back on archives for inspiration. Fast fashion has been attempting to keep up with the quickly changing nature of the fashion cycle, but it seems every few months there are new guidelines we are following. The muddled trend reports of the last five years have me wondering: what decade are we even in?
“I wonder how our fashion is reflected in what is happening around us. Perhaps the resurgence of old trends is a subconscious way of representing our longing for the past – when the world wasn’t literally on fire, and politics seemed more stable.”
As we are at the dawn of the 2020s and are living through some of the most important parts of our world’s history, I wonder how our fashion is reflected in what is happening around us. Perhaps the resurgence of old trends is a subconscious way of representing our longing for the past – when the world wasn’t literally on fire, and politics seemed more stable. Perhaps it is the response of reusing clothes and buying vintage, as more young people become environmentally conscious in the aftermath of the news that we’re entering a stage of irreversible damage to our ecosystem due to our consumption habits. If we can’t create new clothes, why not buy those that already exist?
It may be that the trends we see now mean something greater about the world we live in, and it may be in our best interest to reflect on the wardrobes of those around us to better understand the state of our society, for today and for the decades to come.