The Art of Fabric – A Retrospective of Fashion Style

The Art of Fabric Guest post contributed by Elise Morgan


The Art of Fabric: A Retrospective of Fashion Style

The clothes humans wore in the past (and that they still do, today) are not merely fabrics that covered their bodies: they represent a reflection of the spirit of one time. To illustrate this with a few examples: before the 20th century, new clothes were accessible only to rich people that used it to show off their wealth and clothes were even used as currency in the trade system. In the Colonial Period, clothes were directly associated with person’s social position and class. Fast forward through time and think about the period of 60s, the era of mini-skirts: it was the time of sexual revolution and severe changes in society’s attitude towards women and their bodies. The way fashion changed throughout history can tell us a lot about economic, social, and cultural values of different eras. Here are the fashion highlights of the most interesting ones.

The 1920s: jazz, flappers, and break with tradition

The aftermath of the World War I spawned a specific set of values for the upcoming period. The Roaring twenties were marked by parties, heavy drinking (in spite of prohibition), freedom of the body, and morally questionable behavior. It was the age of new technology that included automobiles, radio, and the moving pictures. It was the first time in history women began to smoke in public. Flappers redefined what femininity meant: they wore their hair in a bob, used excessive makeup, enjoyed driving, smoking, drinking, and dancing – flouting all the previously set norms. All of this reflected on fashion: chemise dresses were in, as well as shorts skirts. Cloche hats with feather accessories and pearls were seen on every woman. With the rise of the women’s right movement, women refused to wear corsets. Coco Chanel was the first to reject it as she cut her hair short and wore pants. Men wore suits as everyday attire, but given the fact that twenties were the time of sportswear emerging – men’s fashion became more casual as time went by. Little boys were dressed in suits too, while girls wore dainty dresses with ruffles and collars – below the knee and or right above the knee, that typically gave them straight silhouettes.


The 1940s: outbreak of war and government restrictions

During the World War II, fabric was rationed because countries needed to invest in war supplies. All of this influenced fashion hugely: Paris lost its status as the fashion mecca and New York was established as the new fashion center. American designers used fabrics that were not in demand by the military such as cotton denim, jersey, gingham, etc. This was the era where the term “teenager” was coined: boys were dressed similar to men, while girls had a distinctive school girl look. This look is popular in today’s fashion too in the form of the vintage (or nerdy) style. You can still find cheap girls clothing and copy the authentic 40’ look: think sloppy Joe sweaters (or sweaters worn over a blouse) combined with a plaid skirt. Women clothing was all about the square silhouette and they were typically modeled after the utility clothes. The previous decade was all about the half-calf dress length, while the 40’ brought the midi-length, below the knee. Tailored suits, masculine square shoulders, narrow hips and small waists were in the focus. In 1947, Dior presented a new silhouette that changed the face of fashion with full skirts and waist-cinching jackets. And the bikini made its debut. Men continued wearing suits, but also made a new step towards the casual wear. Vests were considered to be a waste of material as they weren’t that functional so they were pushed out of the fashion scene. Men started wearing high waist trousers and shirts, especially Hawaii and plaid ones.


The 1960’s: sexual revolution and anti-war movement

The first style icon of the 60’ was Jackie Kennedy with her simple tailored dresses without collars, one button jackets, and a pillbox hat. After JFK was assassinated, this era found style icons in Brigitte Bardot and the model Twiggy – which triggered a new fashion wave. This was the time of the civil right movement and the rebellion against the establishment. New technology created stretch fabrics that became extremely popular. Women demanded equality: as the birth control technology advanced, they became liberal with sexual behavior. This can clearly be seen in the fashion world: mini-skirts were worn for the first time in history, it was the time of experimenting with fashion, vivid patterns occurred, as well as new materials such as vinyl, synthetic ones, polyester, etc. The antiwar movement spawned a generation of hippies with “anything goes” being their fashion motto. Think bell-bottom jeans with flower patterns, headbands, artisan accessories, jewelry with peace symbols that marked a protest against Vietnam War, and micro skirts with high boots. Subcultures identified themselves through fashion and showed shared values through the choice of clothing.      


Today, we are witnessing designers who are continuously pushing the limits of fashion forward which has a lot to do with the presence of new technology, the lack of inhibitions in today’s world, and the way boundaries between the two genders has became vague and insignificant. A new subculture of hipsters defined their own distinctive fashion, by satisfying their need to feel as a part of the group, but also to maintain their uniqueness and individuality.

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