A Retrospective: Fashion Through The Decades

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When it comes to the expansive world of fashion, is anything ever really ‘new’? As we venture into the future, we’re constantly taking cues from past decades as inspiration while the creating new trends of today.

How far have we come and how much has the history of fashion influenced present day designers? THE STYLE EDIT takes you back in time, full circle through the decades as we explore the evolution of style through the ages and the most influential trends from the 1920s to today.


When reflecting back to the post-war era of the 1920s, the instantly recognisable ensemble is that of flapper fashion. The flapper look composed of ornately embellished designs, beaded dresses, relaxed drop waists and feathered accessories, was one of luxury. Meanwhile it wasn’t just hemlines that were on the rise, haircuts became shorter as bobbed hair with finger waves was the style to be seen in. While simple waxed mascara and a deep red lip rouge were the only make up staples available.


The Great Depression hit the 1930s and widely affected the spirit of the masses along with fashion trends, casting a shadow on the flapper-finesse of the previous decade. A more subdued, conservative style took hold of everyday dressing. However, the silver screen became a welcomed source of escapism for the more style-conscious, as film icons like Bette Davis and Greta Garbo dazzled in full length bias-cut gowns and tailored two pieces. Hair and make up trends took their cues from Hollywood glamour, as magazines featured regular beauty guides of the stars’ latest looks, including pencil thin eyebrows and heavy kohl eyeliner.


The decade of the 1940s bridged the gap between Hollywood glamour and a fresh approach in fashion soon to come. The war times saw the average woman adopt an increasingly utilitarian style of dress, with work-attire uniforms becoming more acceptable in everyday life. During the war, women dealt with huge cosmetics shortages and turned to home remedies, such as using beetroot juice to stain lips and petroleum jelly to darken lashes and shape eyebrows. Hair was kept off the face in pin rolls or under a head scarf.


The ‘50s saw a fresh take on fashion unfold, as clothing became more playful. The ultra-feminine silhouettes of Christian Dior marked the biggest trend of the times, with cinched waists, structured busts and voluminous midi skirts. Women embraced their femininity, showcasing bold red lipstick, which became the ultimate timeless, beauty look. When it came to grooming, shorter styles, up-dos and pin-up curls proved popular.


The swinging ’60s saw hemlines creep up, as young people made waves with their eclectic and rebellious approach to fashion. The mod look is perhaps the style most synonymous with this decade. Influenced by art and music of the time, bold colours, bright geometric shapes and patent leathers were all the rage. When it comes to beauty, muses such as Brigitte Bardot and Twiggy epitomise the 1960s. The flicked up bouffant and backcombed beehive were the hairstyles of the moment, while full eyelashes became a must, along with the nude lip and extreme eyeliner.


As the ‘70s hit, a disco subculture was born, along with a prevailing ‘hippie attitude’ to both life and fashion. Trousers became flares, heels got higher and synthetic fabrics flooded the style scene, as the likes of Studio 54 brought disco trends like Lurex halter tops and palazzo pants to the masses. Dewy, bronzed make up and long, feathered hairstyles celebrated the natural beauty of muses such as Farrah Fawcett and Jane Birkin.


The 1980s saw the rise of the ‘material girl’, as shoulder pads and MTV launched a fierce female perspective. While Jane Fonda showcased the ideal body shape of the decade – toned and athletic – fashion followed suit. Leg warmers, oversized sweatshirts and scrunchies left the gym and became a main-staple, while the broad-shouldered power suit became an office staple. Make up was bold, bright and heavy to compliment the hairstyle of the ‘80s, the perm.


Youth-oriented culture trends prevailed in the casual-cool decade of the ‘90s. Oversized, minimalistic clothing such as baggy trousers and slip dresses were worn in a paired-back palette of black, white and grey. On the catwalks the ‘heroin chic’ look was embraced by androgynous willowy models who found a fresh spotlight. Earthy shades in make up became popular, while the likes of Kate Moss ignited a love for the smokey, smudged eyeliner.


The decade of the naughties can best be described as “anything goes”. Fashion felt experimental; clashing old and new trends created an unpredictable style of the times. Stand out trends include: the tracksuit, bare midriffs and the birth of logo-printing – think a mish-mash of Britany Spears, Paris Hilton and the cast of Clueless. Rather regrettably, over-plucking eyebrows became all the rage, as did blue eye shadow and crimped hair.


Fashion today is harder to define than ever, with a sense of individuality and self-expression fuelling the rise in trends. So far this decade has celebrated the skinny jean and embraced athleisure apparel. Who ever would have thought it would be acceptable to wear your gym gear outside of the gym? Hair and beauty trends have become more attainable than ever with tutorials on YouTube and hours of scrolling time providing Insta-inspiration. This decade has made the shape of your eyebrow, as well as your ability to contour, more important than ever.

Eve Brannon
Fashion + Features Editor

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