FASHION IN 20TH CENTURY
Fashions of the Edwardian period (1901-1910) were characterized by flowing dresses in pastel shades made of light fabrics with extensive lace trimmings. The Parisian designer Paul Poiret is said to have revolutionized fashionable clothes for women with his “Directoire” line of 1908 which was partly influenced by the sheath-like shapes of a century earlier. In 1913 he introduced the Orientalist-influenced divided skirts or harem trousers. The overall effect was a looseness in marked contrast to Victorian rigidity.
The 1920s are recognized as an era of greater freedom for women, and this is reflected in the fashionable “flapper” look established in mid-decade. In general, this comprised shortened skirts and hairstyles, rounded collars, and boyish silhouettes. Ideas about modernity were reflected in the geometrical patterns used by textile designers, and the emphasis on youthful sportiness.
A wider accessibility of fashionable dress through mass circulation of women’s magazines and the expansion of retail chain stores occurred in the 1930s, mass-produced clothing becoming available to a greater number of consumers. One of the most significant influences on fashion was Hollywood, with sophisticated marketing and selling strategies ensuring the availability of styles made popular by leading film stars.
The fashionable outline in the 1930s was long and involved sensuous fabrics. The popularity of more structured clothes such as slim-fitting suits with padded shoulders and narrow skirts increased in the 1940s. Severe rationing was introduced in Britain during World War II. In German-occupied Paris, however, fashions were comparatively extravagant. For couturier Christian Dior to introduce the “New Look” of 1947—ample skirts, cinched waists, padded hips, and boned corsets—was extremely controversial to those used to wartime austerity.
Most aspects of the New Look were adopted by the 1950s, however, and a general conformity in women’s clothes and accessories ensued. Towards the end of the 1950s, casual clothes influenced by American and continental fashions became popular with young people. Black polo necks, flat-heeled shoes, and narrow trousers were typically worn by both men and women. The press drew attention to sub cultural groups with their own distinctive style of dress such as “Teddy Boys” and “Mods”.
Fashions of the 1960s were predominantly youth-oriented. The miniskirt, associated with London-based designer Mary Quant, had a major impact on skirt hemlines in general. Male fashion became more expressive, with the use of brighter colours and more varied forms. The flowing “hippy look” of the late 1960s was characterized by borrowings from various sources such as Eastern culture and 19th-century military uniforms.
Borrowings from an array of sources appeared in both “designer” and “mass” fashions in subsequent decades. With the demise of haute couture clothing, fashion designers have expanded into cheaper ready-to-wear lines and accessories bearing their names such as perfume, aftershave, and make-up. Retail chains have appeared in greater numbers since the 1980s, as have “shops within shops”, franchised areas of department stores dedicated to selling clothes by named designers. In addition, more investment in fashion forecasting and marketing has seen the rise of new professions within the fashion industry.