Women’s Fashion in the 20th Century

Fashion throughout the 20th century has undergone huge changes with the
times. There has been a revolution throughout this century, many vastly
different styles have become popular, and there have been many changes.
Women’s fashion especially exemplifies this. Hair, makeup, dresses,
pants, shoes, there are so many areas that have undergone massive
overhauls and facelifts, that it is almost overwhelming. The people of
this century have been especially conscious of fashion, and their
concerns have shown in what they wear. Fashion is a bit of a
competition. Each decade has had their own fashion breakthroughs and
mishaps, but each decade has also brought about revolutionary changes in
style, that will affect us for many years to come.
The turn of the century was a very “stiff” era so to speak. Fashion
was being affected by the tight, restrictive, Victorian era. Necklines
were high, hemlines low, and hair was long. Women were afraid to show
skin because it was such a taboo thing during this time period. Women
also wore large hats as in traditional style. Most women wore their
hair up, in perhaps (or most likely) a bun, with a large, wide hat
covering their head. Hats were decorated with plumes of feathers and
meant to go with dresses.
The twenties changed everyone’s ideas and concepts about fashion.
Drastic changes were made, most likely as a result of recent women’s
liberation. The recent right to vote gave women their first glimmer of
empowerment and they felt very independent. The popular hair style is a
very good example of a very drastic change. Many women had spent years
and years growing their hair, therefore, when they cut it, they felt
they were cutting off ties to the old ways. They were also cutting off
ties to the older generation, who symbolized their oppression. Hair was
slicked close to the head and very dramatic.
During this revolutionary decade, women also openly began to wear
makeup, or “paint their face.” The older generation was equally shocked
by this act, and often though of this generation as sexually promiscuous
or loose. In the past, the only women who painted their faces openly
were prostitutes.
Also during the twenties, clothing drastically changed. Dresses were
still what women wore--pants had not taken grasp in the market yet.
The dresses during this era were the beginning of a constantly
metamorphosing century. The lines of dresses were a very loose skirt,
and a somewhat fitting bodice. Also popular was a dress that was very
loose and had a straight cut. Fashions during the twenties tended to
make women look very slender and willowy. The dresses used straight,
long lines to accomplish this task.
By the late 1920’s it was most definitely the time of the flapper.
Dresses came just below the knees and were still in the same
straight-cut manner. These dresses were highly decorated with beads as
were the necks of those wearing the dresses. The dresses also contained
many pleats as added decoration. Dresses during the late 1920’s were
being influenced by one of the most well known and respected designers,
Fashion in the turned a little more conservative, especially in the
early thirties. Hemlines went back down, and hair was grown out
longer. The Great Depression has a large part to do with this. As
times are tougher, people often have less money to spend on flamboyance,
and must choose conservative clothing to last them a longer time. Many
women turned to wearing a longer, looser dress with a sort of draped
neckline and looseness about it. As the decade progressed, however,
styles got shorter and tighter, waistlines got higher, eliminating the
willowy look of the twenties. There were more belts being used, and
dresses were generally more fitted. Hair went from around the ears to
the popular pageboy style (shoulder-length, curled under loosely).
Soon another happening affected fashion, but in another decade, also.
In the 1940’s, fashions were affected quite a bit by World War II and
it's implications. The war caused restriction on yardage used for
clothing. Women went into the work force to supply the men in the
army. A very popular, practical dress for the time period is what
Annalee Gold refers to as the Shirtwaist dress. This dress was a basic
necessity as far as clothing goes.
When the restrictions were lifted from the yardage, the fashion
industry jumped right back in with new clothing styles. Christian Dior
introduced very feminine styles, flattering to a women’s body. Curves
were shown, and tiny waists displayed by belts played off with full
The 1950’s was full of many