skip to Main Content


Fashion is both exciting and ever changing. From Medieval times to the present, 20th century fashion history has created timeless inspirations behind the season’s hottest trends and has created a legacy throughout history.
20th century fashion history impacts every aspect of our life; from the workplace to the beach, we develop a sense of personal style which is a reflection of our unique self-being and personality. Our closet is the canvas upon which we create a portrait of our own individuality seen through the designs, textures and colors we choose to wear. Clearly, 20th century fashion history has influenced our tastes over time and has become the extension of who we are. It includes not only the clothing we wear, but also accessories, cosmetics, perfume and body art.
The term “fashion” itself represents the personal mode of expression and can be used in a positive light to define glamour and style, or, in a not-so-fashionable light, as in fads, trends, and even materialism. 20th century fashion history is ever changing and can vary widely depending on the demographics of a society. Many people, especially the younger generation, embrace such industry change as it provides them with opportunities to experience something “new” and “exciting” in the world of fashion. With others, however; this may considered wasteful as it promotes unnecessary spending on things they may not ordinarily need.
The evolution of 20th century fashion history and the dramatic changes in design from century to century create a fascinating portrait of how the world of fashion emerged starting in the early 1900’s leading up to 20th century fashion.
20th century fashion history has brought fame to many fashion designers throughout the world. Such 20th century fashion icons and the fashion houses they represent have played an important part in the evolution of fashion as they impact the direction of fashion change from year to year. Equally important in 20th century fashion history is fashion journalism which provides editorial critiques and commentaries and can be found in newspapers, magazines, television, websites and, more recently, fashion blogs. Founded in 1902, Vogue Magazine has become one of the top leading fashion magazines, helping to bring fashion into mainstream America. Although television and the internet play a role in fashion, press coverage is still considered the most important form of publicity.
20th century fashion history is best described by Coco Chanel, one of the leading fashion designers in France, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
Understanding the phenomena of fashion and 20th century fashion history opens the doors and touches so many other aspects of our culture and way of life. From architecture to music, from entertainment to politics and religion, 20th century fashion history will forever shape the world we live in and leave an indelible mark on all of our lives.

1920’s Fashion

Prior to 1920s fashion, most all high fashion came from Paris and London. The fashions of this era were notably referred to as “La Belle Epoque”, and reflected the elaborate, hour-glass shape of the 1800s. The silhouette, known as the S-Band, dominated fashion with a tiny corseted waist, full sway-back hips and a pigeon-breasted bosom.

 In the early 1910s, fashion gave way to a more fluid and soft look, influenced by the Art Deco movement. By World War I fashion was dictated more by necessity and the need to be better dressed for the lifestyle of the time. Darker colors and a monochrome look emerged, and by 1915 hemlines had risen above the ankle, eventually leading to the mid-calf. This would eventually lead the way to1920s fashion and its historical change.
The 1920s fashion saw a radical change in fashion, due in part to the advent of the automobile. Dresses began to include dustcoats, which protected clothing from the dirt in the road. Contrary to the S-Band, 1920s fashion gave way to a straight, curveless silhouette accompanied by embroidery, feather boas and other showy accessories. The bob haircut replaced the bouffant hairstyles of the early 1900s. The “flapper” style, as it was called, became extremely popular among young women. The colors worn in 1920s fashion included browns, blues and grays, however; pastels and more lively colors were worn, especially in evening wear.
1920s fashion was popularized by several French designers, including Coco Chanel (known for the bob hairstyle, the little black dress and the two-tone show), Jean Patou and Jeanne Lanvin. Jeanne Lanvin reached her height of success in 1920s fashion for her creative use of embroideries, trimmings and beaded decorations. She produced many different products including sportswear, lingerie and interior designs.
There were many stars of silent film era that had a significant impact on 1920s fashion, including Gloria Swanson, Colleen Moore and Louise Brooks. However, the radical changes of 1920s fashion soon ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and were replaced with a more conservative style.

1930’s Fashion

With the onset of the Great Depression, 1930s fashion transformed from the daring style of the Twenties to a more romantic and feminine silhouette. Hair was long and waved and shoulders were emphasized by padding, especially as World War II began. Most women desired a long, sleek appearance as 1930s fashion restored the waist line, lowered hem lines and gave way to slim-fitting day dresses and backless evening gowns. 1930s fashion became a time when athletic bodies came into vogue, thus creating fashion for outdoor activities which became known as sportwear. Boutiques were describing such clothes as being ‘for sport’.

 Some of the more influential designers of 1930s fashion were Elsa Schiaparelli, Madeleine Vionnet and Mainbocher, the first American designer to live and work in Paris. Elsa Schiaparelli was famous for her exciting and inventive designs, creating the first pullover in 1930s fashion which she displayed in her windows and caused a huge sensation. Artist Salvador Dali designed embroidered motifs for many of her creations as well as for the other major designers of 1930s fashion. Madeleine Vionnet was inspired by ancient statues and became know as the queen of the bias cut. She created timeless, beautiful gowns that reflected a flowing and elegant line. Her ability to drape such fabrics as chiffon and silk gave her unparalleled success and a sterling reputation in 1930s fashion.
Hermes, the luxury goods manufacturer, began selling handmade printed silk scarves in the early 1930s and also popularized the zip.
Many common designs reflected in 1930s fashion included bias-cut, high-waisted evening dresses and nightgowns, unusually cut day and evening dresses with puffed, fitted sleeves, and two-piece suits with square-shaped jackets, large buttons and narrow, slim skirts. Throughout 1930s fashion, a standard look included the two-piece belt or jacket clasp which was worn at the center waist. With the possible influence of Elsa Schiaparelli, the end of 1930s fashion took on a more broad-shouldered and imposing silhouette.

1940’s Fashion

World War II brought a close, tailored look with uniform-like sophistication in 1940s fashion. Padded shoulders, short skirts and the fitted jacket and skirt suit became the trend of 1940s fashion. With the occupation of Paris during World War II, many of the fashion houses closed, including Maison Chanel. Many of these designers permanently relocated to New York. From 1940 on, material was in short supply for most all clothing, from blouses to coats. Despite the fact that so many fashion houses closed or moved away, many new houses continued to thrive, defying the occupation, including Nina Ricci, Jeanne Lafaurie and Jacques Fath. During this time, hats of every shape and size became a hot fad of 1940s fashion, all in effort to add color to drab outfits. Many were made from scraps of material along with bits of paper and wood shavings. Other “hot” items reflecting 1940s fashion included platform shoes, alligator accessories and fox stoles.

The isolation of Paris during 1940s fashion led the way for Americans to exploit the creativity of their own designers. Boots became a major fashion accessory by Bonnie Cashin and Vera Maxwell introduced the simple cut outfit along with new designs for men’s work clothes. 1940s fashion also gave notice to three remarkable designers, Anne Klein, Claire McCardell and Tina Leser, who introduced American sportswear, thus showing that ready-to-wear was an elegant and comfortable way for women to dress. During this time, Christian Dior rose to fame with the unveiling of his first collection of dresses in 1947. This time, 1940s fashion saw a transition to elegance and femininity with designs that reflected tiny waists, full skirts and regal busts. This style was very similar to that of the Belle Epoque and was extremely appealing to the post-war clientele. Such was the debut of the “New Look” depicting the height of 1940s fashion. 1940s fashion was also impacted by many actresses of the time including Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth. Their sophistication and style was emulated in the New Look and created a new fashion craze in 1940s fashion in America.

1950’s Fashion

 The 1950s brought the return of the full skirt and corseted waist. The designers of Hollywood greatly influenced 50s fashion andmany of the outfits worn by such stars as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Lauren Bacall were copied by women of this period.

 During the 1950s, fashion trends were again dictated by the Parisian haute couture. The three most prominent Parisian couturiers of 50s fashion were Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Balmain and Cristobal Balenciaga. In 1951, Balenciaga transformed the silhouette by widening the shoulders and eliminating the waist. He designed the tunic dress in 1955 and by 1957 he designed the timeless chemise dress. His work ultimately culminated with the Empire line, reflecting high-waisted dresses and coats styled like kimonos.
Hubert de Givenchy established his first couture house in 1952 and created a fashion stir with his separates, which allowed women to mix and match, a first for 50s fashion. His success led to the opening of boutiques throughout Europe and the world. His understated elegance helped to define 50s fashion.
50s fashion also saw the return of the notable designer, Coco Chanel. She made a comeback in 1954, following the closure of her salons during the war years. She introduced a collection that would soon be copied by women around the world. Her array of designs included the famous braided suit with gold chains, shiny costume jewelry, silk blouses which coordinated with the lining of her suits, tweeds, quilted handbags on chains, evening dresses and furs. The simplicity of her styles made a remarkable impact on 50s fashion in the United States as well as around the world.
Hollywood designers created their own type of glamour in 50s fashion for American film stars. They focused on designs that were timeless, flattering and photogenic. Clothing reflected a simple cut, with the use of luxurious materials such as chiffon, sequins and fur. Some of the most influential designers of 50s fashion in Hollywood were Edith Head, William Travilla and Travis Banton.
Common designs of 50s fashion included one and two-piece dresses with fitted blouses and full knee-length skirts, more casual dresses with tied should straps or halter straps, and fitted eveningwear with a sheer silk or nylon overbodice.
The end of 50s fashion saw mass-manufactured clothing which gave women access to an array of fashionable styles.

1960’s Fashion

1960s fashion revealed a decade of change; a change which occurred in the fundamental structure of fashion as it was known. Despite new and different fashions, everyday clothes were simple. From the 1960’s on there would never be one single fashion or trend, but a multitude of possibilities which transcended in all other areas of peoples lives. The youth, with a power and culture all their own, had a powerful impact on the fashion industry. The women of 1960s fashion adopted a girlish style, with short skirts and straightened curves, similar to the look of the 1920s. At the beginning of the 1960s, skirts were knee-high; however, they steadily became shorter and shorter and in 1965 the mini-skirt emerged.
Many of these radical changes began in London. Popular designers of 1960s fashion included Mary Quant, who was known for designing the mini skirt, and Barbara Hulanicki (founder of the lengendary boutique Biba).  Paris also had its share of new designers including Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent and Emanuel Ungaro. In the United States, Rudi Gernreich (known for futuristic designs) and James Galanos (known for his luxurious ready-to-wear) became popular among a young audience, selling their outfits through small boutiques with a limited range of size and colors.
The basic shape and design of 1960’s fashion was simple, clean-cut and young. Synthetic fabrics became widely used during this period. Typically A-lines or shift dresses were worn between high thigh and the knee. Hats became somewhat obsolete, only being used for special occasions. 1960’s fashion saw a transition from stilettos and pointed toe shoes to a lower kitten heel and chisel shaped toes. By 1965, flat boots became very popular with short dresses and eventually they rose up the leg and reached the knee.
Two influential designers of 1960s fashion were Emilio Pucci and Paco Rabanne. Emilio Pucci’s sportswear designs and prints were inspired by Op art and psychedelia and his clothing became part of a movement to liberate the female form and is today synonymous with 1960s fashion. Paco Rabanne produced very modern designs, using aluminum, Rhodoid and pieces of scrap metal. As well as being experimental, his clothes were in line with what the modern adventurous women of 1960s fashion wanted to wear.
1960’s fashion became known for the influential “partnerships” of many celebrities and high-fashion designers such as Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, and Jackie Kennedy and Oleg Cassini. Also, many models had an impact on 1960s fashion, most notably Twiggy, and Jean Shrimpton. The beginning the 1960’s culottes and the bikini and the hippie movement later in the decade also had a strong influence on clothing styles, including tie-dye and batik fabrics, paisley prints and bell-bottom jeans.

1970’s Fashion

  70s fashion became nicknamed the ‘me’ decade and ‘please yourself’. The decade began with the continuation of the hippie look of the late 1960s, with flower print tunics, afghans and Indian scarves. Tie dye was still very popular and fashion for unisex unfolded.

Back To Top