A Quick Look at Women’s Fashion in the 20th Century

by Karen


Fashion defines generations and revolutions. It showcases progress in culture and society as we go through years of improvement and changes. As such, compressing 100 years of fashion into a few thousand words doesn’t truly do justice to the efforts the masses took in the 20th century.

Although fashion has a way of revolving, trends and styles that come back often have a story to tell. The Charleston dresses of the 1920s exuded freedom and beauty in women’s fashion. The looseness of that silhouette was what inspired the shift and mod dresses of the 1960s. Each connects and tells us what the wearer stands for.

In the 20th century, that was the sentiment that reigns supreme in fashion. Every embellishment, silhouette, and even the length of the hemline shows us the evolution of society. It shows us how much women’s fashion has helped the female population grow.

So, let’s have a quick look at the most notable moments of the 20th century that influence us even today!


A Timeline of Women’s Fashion in the 20th Century

- The 1900s

It’s a new century and a change for better opportunities. Unfortunately, the world of fashion wasn’t as ready to take on new challenges, so the change was gradual but promising.

Fashion in the early 1900s was still strict, conservative, and depended on achieving the “ideal body type.” We saw more corsets and stiff collars and puffy sleeves with nipped waists.

Hairstyles during that time took inspiration from ink drawings created by one Charles Gibson, which personified American beauty. These hairstyles require soft, poufy buns on top with tendrils and ringlets hanging down.

And these styles remained constant until the mid-1900s. But midway through, the S-bend corset started taking hold of the industry. These corsets would force the chest forward and push the hips back, creating an S-shaped figure. Women’s hairstyles would also go through a transformation. Middle parts and loops would create a brim around the hairline, making the hair easier to maintain.

- The 1910s

During this age, women’s fashion would evolve furthermore.

Women began to experiment with different styles of clothing. As a result, this fashion began to highlight macho and masculine characteristics in women’s clothing. Long hair was chopped off to achieve bob haircuts. Corsets were pushed away so women could wear more comfortable clothing, and hemlines went up, so dresses became much shorter, with hemlines coming to the ankle or below the knee.

Thus began the time of fashion freedom for women.

Women's fashion between 1900s and 1910s

- The 1920s

The 1920s ushered in a revolutionary time for women’s fashion.

As ladies began experimenting with style, we saw glitter, athletic clothing, and boyish silhouettes start to conquer. Women begin skipping full-length body-hugging clothes for trousers and skirts. Clothing also became less constructive as designers started using breathable fabrics.

It was also during this time that accessories began to gain popularity. Not only statement family heirlooms, but headbands, pearls, large earrings began making an entrance, allowing women to feel more comfortable in expressing themselves.

- The 1930s

As the 1930s progressed, women’s clothing started to mirror the progressive nature of the times. Some dared to wear more revealing clothes, whereas others sought comfortable and relaxed clothing.

Unfortunately, fashion progress had to halt as the Great Depression took over the world, bringing conservative, cost-saving hemlines and traditional features back into vogue.

Women's fashion between 1920s and 1930s

- The 1940s

In a decade marked by war and loss, the 1940s didn’t change in fashion as much as the almost never-ending violence-hit it. Practical fabrics like silk and cotton were no longer getting used, times created shortages, and not as many workers were spending time working in clothing factories.

The name of the game at that time was to show your support for the country and military. As such, military-inspired colours and nautical hues started becoming more popular. In addition, men’s clothing started becoming incorporated in women’s fashion, with women putting away stiff skirts for trousers and shirts with wider shoulders.

- The 1950s

With the war ending, the 1950s began seeing a shift in women’s fashion, focusing on celebrating a women’s figure.

The feminine silhouette became central for all types of women’s clothing. High hemlines, tight waists, patterns, and colours took centre stage. Designers started experimenting with floral and vibrant geometric shapes to highlight how beautiful different bodies and physiques were.

Women's fashion between 1940s and 1950s

- The 1960s

The 1960s revealed a revolutionary time for the women’s fashion industry because it marked change in so many ways.

Civil rights movements were spreading across the United States, women’s rights and liberation were highlighted in otherwise conservative circles. As a result, fashion trends began to break down class structures, with two significant movements joining forces.

Women started expressing their personal fashion choices. A-line dresses and skirts, loose frocks, and statement jewellery became immensely popular. Many designers also used psychedelic prints and vibrant shades to allow the wearer to show off their assets. With so many designs, women had no problem expressing their style.

- The 1970s

The 1970s was a fashion era without any rules.

From bell bottoms to items from glam rock, everything began making the rounds. Disco trends also helped create a boom in the fashion market for bright colours, glitter, mirrors, and satin. It was all about being free and showing off who you are.

The 1970s also saw a flood of inexpensive clothing, so just about everyone had the opportunity to show off their look. Hemlines of every level, jeans with bell bottoms and flares, tops in every design imaginable were all at the public’s disposal.

Women's fashion between 1960s and 1970s

- The 1980s

Women’s fashion changed immensely in the 1980s, mainly because of the constant movement for women to have more freedom. As a result, the fashion industry pushed forth bold styles and more political statements than fashion statements.

As a time of big hair, big shoulder pads, and striking colours, women’s formal wear got an upgrade, creating a path for more practical outfits to be made. On the other side, we also witnessed an increased interest in the Goth punk style and the initial form of athleisure, so everything from colourful thigh warmers to clunky black boots in chains was available.

- The 1990s

Women’s fashion in the 1990s was all about deeper shades, minimalist fashion trends, and grunge and rock looks that showed off a serious persona. In keeping with the style of music and the overall atmosphere, 90s fashion exuded a sense of “we are here, and no one can stop us.”

With hardly any neon or bright shades in sight, women wore any style of clothing they wanted, pairing it with different pieces. The trend of casual chic originated from this time.

Women's fashion between 1980s and 1990s

The Future

The 21st century changed the fashion world drastically. However, considering the fashion choices we’ve made in the past, you could call present-day fashion an amalgamation of the past century.

From bodycon dresses to A-line dresses to leggings and chunky boots, everything seems to be going in a cycle, one that continues to help women express their look the way they want.

And with the global population already well into the 2nd decade of the 21st century, we can at least be sure of one thing. Whatever changes the fashion industry brings, we will see plenty of innovative, breath-taking fashion ensembles that take the style scene to the next level!

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