24 September 2008

The Change of a Decade

Looking towards the fashions of the past, and how they evolved over time, is something that has always interested me. However as is often the case with history, it is only with the benefit of hindsight that one is able to spot overwhelming trends and major patterns. It is also with the benefit of having this hindsight that one is able analyse the past, within reason, objectively. Understandably, no historian can ever be totally objective, issues from one's personal school of thought regarding history to one's actual aim and purpose for researching specific events, has an undeniably huge impact on their analytical perspective.

Therefore, whilst briefly looking at the major 'fashion trends' of the first decade of the 20th century, or more specifically women's fashion, I would like to pose a question to my readers:

What would you consider to have been the major trends thus far in the first decade of the 21st century?

The issue I would like to address, is that, is it only with hindsight and the benefit of knowing what came after that one is able to spot an overriding 'trend'? Or can we honestly point out as of now, how history will document this decade in fashion? Indeed we can all easily look back to the recent decades of the '90s and '80s, and state what the predominant trends and changes in fashion were, however is that only becuase we know how those 'lines' in fashion, so to speak, evolved following those certain decades. We know that trends died out after certain periods, and therefore are able to say it was, for example, exclusively an ''80s trend'.

For my own opinion, the major change in fashion I would have to say I would document, is undoubtedly the decade of the 'skinny' jeans and legwear. This has been a trend for both men and women, from ultra hip fashion designers, to classic designers and to even the high street. Fitted garments seem to have a key theme throughout the decade thus far, only recently have we seen the re-emergence of the wider and relaxed cuts. Indeed this also has lead to, in denim, the favouring of washed and faded designs over deep dyed and 'raw' fabrics. However could one merely catalogue this to be another brief cyclical trend, or indeed is it something more dominant for this decade?

With the first decade of the 20th Century, one is able to look back and clearly see a predominant trend in women's fashion. Generally speaking, it was the last real era for the corset. However would one have considered this a major trend at the time? No doubt without the knowledge that the favour for the corset would end by 1907, one may have come to the conclusion that it was not a major trend, as it was simply something that had to that date been a staple in women's fashion.

For the majority of this decade, the 'health corset' was employed, seen as relieving the dangerous stresses of the previous designs. Although this was, by the end of the decade, to be dropped altogether for a more natural silhouette, the Swan-Bill ('S-curve') corset was undoubtedly one of the key garments of women's fashion of the time. The full bust and curvy hips of the more 'mature' silhouette was seen as the most attractive feminine shape.

This S-Curve female shape was promoted by the emergence of the 'Gibson Girl' during this period. The Gibson Girl was the personification of the feminine ideal, with a curvaceous figure, oddly missing from high end fashion today, and ephemeral beauty. Her hair piled up, as opposed to falling loose, with fashionable hairstyles such as the bouffant and chignon. The Gibson Girl was immortalised in drawings and comics, as a woman on equal with men, or often chiding them playfully in dominance. To an extent, this ideal was not to return for the 1950s pin up. Indeed by the end of the decade, a more natural and simple silhouette was to be favoured, promoted by the likes of Coco Chanel, in response to the threat of war. This sombre turn in fashion was to continue until both wars ended and the world economy was able to recover in the 1950s, where they would look back to this period of 'Belle Époque'.

The Belle Époque would see the last of elaborate and highly embellished womenswear, as for example designed by Charles Worth. Following this period, women began to favour more practical garments, and the shadow of war would see to that austerity and economy played the major influence. Yet at the same time womenswear was to become empowered, with a woman no longer needing outside assistance to simply get into her clothing and dressed. The end of the corset would also prove healthier, with the removal of such great strain on the female torso. The idea of the corset was however to continue, to the version we see today, a far cry from the almost torturous designs of the past.

Currently playing: When You Were Young - The Killers / Stop & Stare - One Republic



  1. To me there is always the trend of the shape of the woman through the decades. It seems we really are trying our best to work toward straight lines. Just a thought.

    Great post!

  2. I think this time, the early 21s century, will be remembered as 'we tried everything and struggled with accepting everything'. Sure the main stream is with skinny jeans and leggings but we now have a big long tail happening everywhere and it is set to get bigger.

    Another thought tho.. how the economic turmoil will play out in fashion in a short-term as in 2-3 years will be interesting. What's been happening in the past two weeks has been truly epic. What's going to happen really is really unknown I think...this will play big in fashion no doubt.

  3. Personally I see the case that women were previously styled in ways that flattered, emphasised and made the most womanly shape of the body they had (corsets, bustles, embellished necklines, etc, etc, the list of course goes on!) whilst this very rarely seems the case nowadays.
    With the fashion world one often finds (and of course this is no rule, just a very general generalisation!) that many fashion designers are men, and often homosexual men, and the clothing designed often seems to be designed to best flatter the specifications of the bodies of slim, attractive young males! The female models employed are slim to the point of endorsing this feeling through retaining very few of their natural feminine curves, which were previously the focus of any female's adornment.

    As a result, clothing has taken a much more androgynous turn, which I would see as the major 'trend' of the past, say, 100 years. Personally I like this 'trend' as it allows for more freedom for both sexes: the more 'masculine' female clothing items become equally as suitable for men, and the lines between 'suitability' for each sex blurs to a liberating degree. However, I also find it slightly sad that the natural shape of the female body receives such bad press nowadays, and that so few designers seem willing to really embrace it.

    Very interesting post! I love the kinds of post that really make me think, as this did!

  4. It's so funny, since you say that you taste of strawberry, I have decided that I taste like Mango (my other favorite fruit!)

    Thanks for the outfit comment and compliment. You're a darling!! :) Makes my day every single time, really and truly. So thanks for that!

    xo/ fashion chalet

  5. Great post. I love Paul Poiret for giving women a natural shape. I couldn't wear an 's' bend corset!

  6. Hi dapper kid!
    this is my new blog, my last one was amndab.blogg.se (Amanda says) :)

    I can't think of any particulary trend in the 21st century. Hmm...

  7. this post was awesome, so well worded.
    I'm also fascinated by the progression of fashion, or rather its cyclicity - I have so many "how could my mom/older sister/aunt wear that?" moments, and then it goes back in style and I love it.
    In regards to your question - I think the 00s will be the time when things moved to the individual and the exaggerated. I don't think any past collection took such ventures into "near-ugly" territory as the past three years of NY fashion weeks.

  8. I was actually just thinking about this the other day... I think it's easier to look back on things and see trends because it's like, "Oh, I did wear a lot of that..." I can't put a finger on any trends of the 2000s.

    And ugh, really, I hate that people are so against the female body and stuff nowadays.

    I showed my boyfriend Erin Wasson's amazing dress the other day (http://yeeeah.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/10432_erin_wasson_model_7_big_122_1174lo.jpg) and instead of being in total aw of the complete awesomeness that is that dress, he was all like :O SLUTTY, SLUTTY, :O :O :O.

    Seriously folks.

  9. the trend of the shape of the woman always keep changing-- right now, It seems like everyone is really trying to work toward straight shapes. love the pictures!!!

    ps: don't know if i said this, but if i did or not, thanks for always stopping by with nice comments!!!


  10. You are such an amazing writer!!
    I've read in books that the s-shape was also thought to be influenced by the Art Noveau movement. And I find the transition from the 1910s into the 1920s to be a fascinating time because of the changing economy and ideals and how it affected the dress of the 1920s! While not everyone can be grouped into these most dominant trends, it's interesting to look at how the silhouette went from an s-shape to a a tubular shape.
    I think this decade has seen lots of trends that will be hard to pin down. We've seen a resurgence of vintage, baby doll tops, sky high heels... And I think the erogenous zone has shifted to the chest and clavicle area for men and women- seen in all those v-necks!!

  11. I think it's interesting how we went from exploiting and exagerrating the female body to suppressing it--extreme curves to no curves. It's probably the influence of gay designers.
    As always, a very thought-provoking post.

  12. Another winning post! I'm fascinated with history so when you throw fashion into the mix, I'm hooked. Love the content!

  13. This is such a detailed and well written post, it's so fascinating how women's shapes has changed since then, great post

  14. lovely photos, however your writing is stunning. Very interesting, informative and eye opening.

  15. THis is well detailed and written, and interesting at that!
    thanks for posting, ive always been fascinated by these things
    lotsa love

  16. Wonderful insight, I really loved this post!

  17. those images are haunting... i wish i was curvier

  18. Oh..does this mean we've always liked big butts?

    I've been watching project runway this season...and its been fun that one contestant wants to make everything a bit fiftish. And really is it true that HIGH waist is in. Very unusual.

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  20. I have to agree on "skinny" as a general topic. Skinny jeans, skinny models, skinny heels, skinny everything.

    I also think low-rise is a big part of this decade.

    Additionally, this decade is one of re-runs. We've seen just about every decade from last century repeated in this one, single decade!

    Very nice essay, DK.

  21. very good post.
    interesting question.

    trends i can think of are ripped jeans, skinny jeans (as you mentioned), leggings, vests, boho.

    my new post is on the killers.
    do you like their new song, human??

  22. this is a great post, and really well put together. i love the images and the whole story line.

    my first thought would be the complete move to casual clothes and more skin being revealed. i live in new york, and in the past 10 years, especially in the summer, people wear less and less clothing.

    flip-flops, midriff tops, low rise jeans, tatoos as decoration instead of clothing. women of every shape and size now dress like this everywhere. it wouldn't have happened 20 years ago.

  23. Very insightful post! It would be a huge task but I think designers should start making clothing that would flatter a variety of body types, not just skinny or hourglass. Only then, will women really feel comfortable with their natural bodies. No one wants to feel left out.

  24. The major trends so far have been recycling the old trends...

  25. the way those women are slanted in the second to last photo just get me

  26. Waw, interesting post! I also think that there has been nothing "new" or "exclusive" of this decade. We have recovered trend from almost every decade of the last century. It is like everything is trendy if you want to wear it! I am wating to see when we will coe back to the minimalism of the 90's. I guess it will be soon.

  27. Aaah, another great fashion history entry! I love the shoes/boots in the previous one, but no more for me this time around. London broke my bank account, haha, I had a blast!

  28. I must agree with the skinnies but I would also have to say that another trend would have to be the drastic change in desirable female's physic- which became much more frail, boy like,and skinny. And then of course, the striving for visual perfection :)

  29. love this post!! on these photos you can see how much fashion has changed and it is really clear that in the past woman with nice curves were models and now there are the tiny ones..

  30. although women in the past were indeed very beautiful, i somewhat do prefer the 'ideal' body that are portrayed by models in this time. ofcourse by this i don't mean anorexic bodies but healthily skinny ones! perhaps this my view is biased being born in this time, maybe if i were from the past i would say the opposite:) who knows ~ nice post

  31. what a great post! i love fashion history too, looking back and seeing what's reflected upon today. there's something so great about the classics from each era, i can't even pick a favorite...i try to incorporate them in my outfits...after all, vintage rocks!!


  32. Well thought out post but regarding the question you posed about trends of the 21st century, I would say there has been nothing that has significantly emerged because everything is mostly rehashed from the second half of the twentieth century...skinny jeans had their roots in the 80s....
    Perhaps the rehashing/mix and matching itself is a trend?

  33. a very cool collection of pictures and paintings!

  34. hmm, yes, no strong original trends, except perhaps deconstruction? but i think a lot of the belgiums/japanese started doing that in the early 90's?
    and would like to add that the embracing of the skinny aesthetic is most likely not related to a designer's sexual orientations but is a much more complex issue tied into changing societal mores & the history of the live model shape, relating to practical necessity and visual aesthetics.

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