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Analyzing the Trend: A Historical Perspective



featuredimageSubject to the never-ending cycle of fashion, trends repeat themselves in increments of approximately 10 years. They’re never interpreted exactly the same as they were the decade prior, as fashion trends evolve with the surroundings and happenings of the modern world.

Although there are at least seven distinct trends for fall/winter 2013, the most notable and consistent throughout fashion history is that of the “masculine influence” on women’s fashion. In the 20th century alone, one can identify the trend of the “masculine edge” occurring most prominently in the 1920′s, 1940s, and 1980s, all decades shaped and propelled by various social climates, all manifesting the trend with extremely different results.

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This, the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution, officially opened the floodgates of freedom for women in 1920. Not only were women finally given the heady sense of new-found freedom, they were literally released from the confines of corsetry. During the First World War, women’s apparel showed military references, while other women were literally dressed in civil uniforms as part of the war effort. By 1916, skirts had reached the knee, and hovered at this length for the next 10 years. Due to vacancies in the workforce created by WWI, women found their place earning their own money, and enjoyed disposable income while savoring the intriguing taste of independence for the first time. They were smoking, drinking, and dancing to the syncopated rhythms of the Charleston “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This, the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution, officially opened the floodgates of freedom for women in 1920. Not only were women finally given the heady sense of new-found freedom, they were literally released from the confines of corsetry. During the First World War, women’s apparel showed military references, while other women were literally dressed in civil uniforms as part of the war effort. By 1916, skirts had reached the knee, and hovered at this length for the next 10 years. Due to vacancies in the workforce created by WWI, women found their place earning their own money, and enjoyed disposable income while savoring the intriguing taste of independence for the first time. They were smoking, drinking, and dancing to the syncopated rhythms of the Charleston while wearing slinky silks that skimmed the body. The 1920s introduced a highly desired, boyish, cylindrical silhouette. In many cases, women had bound breasts, de-emphasizing their natural female contours, which had been overtly emphasized in the previous decade. Shellacked shingled and bobbed hair served to complement the overall mascullnity-infused aesthetic of the decade.

Surface masculinization of women’s fashion revealed itself strongest in daytime fashion, and while women were finally having their turn in modern times, their clothing began to expose more skin much like menswear. At the same time, women’s clothing was tempered with clearly feminine design elements. The erotic forces of female body movement and shapes were enhanced and emphasized by modern apparel design. The modern transformation of women was a lengthy process and, although the social revolutions of the same period were substantial, It was the sexual and aesthetic changes that highlighted the differences in female shape and form.

1940s fashion trends were influenced by the dictates of WWII. Once again, women found themselves filling positions in the workforce left vacant by recruited men. The rationing system dictated the design and construction of apparel, as fabric restrictions of three yards per ensemble were employed. Fashion fabric details were kept to a minimum on the surface, while shoulders were wide, padded, and strong jackets were gently nipped in at the waist, while hemlines of A-line skirts hovered around the knee. It was not uncommon for a woman to re-cut a suit left behind by her soldier into an appropriate ensemble for herself, recycling the garments already hanging in their closet.

This strong silhouette was reminiscent of a soldier, and lack of embellishment and feminine detail made for a sober garment forever known as the “Victory Suit”. The logic was that by adhering to wartime fabric restrictions, one would be contributing to the victory of the U.S. over Germany. The overall fashionable silhouette was appropriate for work and daily activities while remaining patriotic. As private cars became unavailable, a return to the basics was necessary. Women bicycled and walked to work in their Victory Suits while fulfilling their patriotic duty.

With restriction comes innovation. Hats, the ultimate accessory, were created from alternative materials, such as wood shavings and any other byproducts that could lend themselves to a fashionable image. Purses evolved into shoulder bags, and with the absence of leather, shoes, the ultimate necessary accessory, were constructed using wood or cork platform soles. No wartime restriction was to come  between a woman and her shoes.

The next three decades—1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s—produced fashions that were clearly defined by gender. This was achieved in more natural silhouettes and feminine fashion details.

The 1980s was a decadent decade under the influence of the cult of conspicuous consumption. In this era of inequality among the classes, conspicuous consumption was the norm, helping to increase distances between social hierarchy strata. Economically, the 1980s were booming, especially for those in the upper economic echelons with amazing increases in disposable income.

Politically, tax reform and privatization of some industries served to further enrich the wealthy; in a perfect world, the wealth would trickle down to the lower economic strata, benefiting all in between. While great in theory, the trickle-down reality proved different, as the rich got richer and poor got poorer. One sub-stratum to greatly benefit from all of this was the “young urban professional,” or “yuppie,” as they found themselves with more disposable income than ever, and lavished themselves in luxury brands and expensive “toys”. Caught up in the whirlwind of bounty, yuppies kept on spending, assuming this economic climate would never end. “Whoever dies with the most toys wins,” read one of the slogans of the time.

The “Dress for Success” motto was prevalent throughout the 1980s, as employees began dressing for the position they desired, not for the one they filled. Women were competing with each other, not just against the male sector, and they wanted to dominate the field. Desperate to blend seamlessly within corporate ranks, a woman’s corporate uniform became a mirror reflection of the men’s “power suit”. Seen in somber colors, suits were the necessity, with no options. Silky underpinnings were virtually utilitarian garments: devoid of pattern or color, sans frills or trim, they were used to cover up any sign of femininity, synonymous with weakness.

A woman’s image in the corporate world became a disguise, as she minimized makeup, cut her hair to a manageable length above the shoulder, and eschewed any sign of a high heel. These women hailed cabs and marched down sidewalks in single file, donning the typical khaki trench coats of their corporate counterparts while arming themselves with a scaled-down version of the man’s briefcase in classic black, brown, or cordovan. Wanting to blend in with the masses, women’s fashion was no place for flashy colors.

In today’s fashion world, the masculinization of women’s fashion in 2013-14 is a soft trend, meaning that the male aspect of fashion as seen on women’s runways arrives in the form of silhouette and fabrication—the more “Wall Street,” the better. Menswear- inspired checks, plaids, and stripes have made their way into the design rooms, and are coming out in draped dresses, flirty peplums, and boxy jackets with strong shoulders. Although its masculine inspiration is evident, women’s fashion is still touched by all that is feminine, like crystal beading, feather embroidery, delicate strapping, and gold hardware. Hairstyles are used to balance out bolder, stronger silhouettes, and makeup is strong in application, yet subdued in color. Gone is the day of the 6” platform heel, as flats begin to creep into the fashion scene. When the heel has reached its apex, it must return to its point of origin.

What sparked the return of the masculine edge to women’s fashion for 2013-14? Well, one cannot say for certain, but perhaps we can point to the political climate, the state of the economy, or the remake of “The Great Gatsby,” with its fine tailored suits and ultra-feminine dresses. In any case, take comfort in knowing that the fashion industry is not trying to dress women as their male counterparts. This time around, it is all about femininity with just a touch of the masculine edge.

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