A Quick Guide To The 20th Century Fashion

Folks! Leave it to me to just ramble about random fashion events in my #Throwback posts each week. So I thought it would be about time to do a guide of each decade from the last century. Noting too in depth, but a quick guide to the 20th century fashion! Do note that this is far from covering, and the focus point is womenswear and fashion of the Western world! Here’s the 20th century fashion story:

A fashion guide to womenswear the last 100 years and the 20th century fashion | The Fashion Folks

20th Century Fashion

Fashion of the 1900s

This decade is called Edwardian fashion. The defining points were the s-silhouette, the puffy chests and the feminine style. A lot of ruffles, florals and decorations in sweet colors such as peach, lavender and dove blue. Lace and silk were two popular features as well.


An everyday outfit consisted of an Edwardian blouse and a floor-length skirt to go with it. Also longer coats for colder days. The blouses came with high collars, statement sleeves and a lot of decoration. A belt to define the waist was common as well as the usage of a hat.


This was a time where warehouses were popular and individual designers with an universal acclaim were few. One person who came about though, was fashion designer Paul Poiret. He defied the idea of traditional clothes and launched several collections with flowy styles and pants.


This decade centered a lot around social events and the old society of the previous centuries. With tea parties and dinings in focus, women still played the role of a social, capable and refined wife.

1900s fashion

Fashion of the 1910s

The 1910s began with a similarity to the 1900s with a high neck, defined waist and long lengths. The decade, with WWI in the middle, ended with calf-length dresses and the straight silhouette of the 1920s. In the beginning of the decade, it was still a lot of romanticism with bright colors and lace. Towards the end, and due to the war, the fashion became more functional and less fancy. Practical clothes were  more important than looking pretty.


High collar blouses were still popular in the beginning of the decade. So was floor-length skirts and dresses. As the 1910s went on, the length of the skirts became shorter and the dresses simpler. Hats were an important accessory and worn to all types of occasions.


Paul Poiret defined this decade too and introduced orientalism to the Western fashion (even though he began with this in the late 00s). Warehouses were still defining women’s fashion and the go-to place for new clothes.


Even though nothing major happened in the fashion world during this time, the fashion was highly affected by WWI. From being conservative and preppy the fashion grew into a reflection of the war’s restriction. Everything from shorter skirts to simple designs and functional fabrics.

Fashion of the 1920s

I’ve talked a lot about the 1920s before, read more here! The style of the decade centered a lot about a more liberal fashion for women. The skirts were shorter, some women wore pants and a more functional fashion was introduced. Often in a straight silhouette and more boyish approach.


The skirts were calf-length and the blouses were straight in their shape. The hips were often highlighted with a belt, which gave a rectangular silhouette. The daily wear was quite functional with focus on practic fabrics and with some sporty influence. On the evenings however, the flapper girls brought the glam life with sequins, fringe and knee-short dresses. A lot of Art Deco patterns were used.


Madeleine Vionnet and Jean Patou are two designers from this decade that did it successfully. Most memorable is Coco Chanel though. This lady proposed a more wearable fashion for women with pants and clean silhouettes. She introduced the LBD, which is still iconic to this date.


This was kind of the first decade where the fashion of women got a thorough makeover which lasted for decades (more or less). Women could move more freely in their new clothes as they didn’t need corsets or floor-length skirts. Another symbol of the liberation is the hairdo, the bob, which was short and sharp. This was a controversial haircut, but loved by many women.

The Fashion of the 1930s

The style of the 1930s had some leading words; luxury was tasteless. This due to the economic crisis of the previous decade. The natural shape of women did a comeback with a slight emphasis on the waist. Instead of luxurious accessories, women counted on patterns and small details to make the difference. A look for the everyday life was a calf-length dress in a chic pattern and a small hat to accomplish the look. Read more about the decade here.


The dresses were in focus and the go-to clothing piece for women. As mentioned, the dresses were simple in their designs but some also had puffy sleeves and shaped collars. This was also a decade where pants for women got more and more popular, even though it didn’t reach the mainstream.


Chanel still had a major influence, but another designer that emerged was Elsa Schiapparelli. She introduced a more controversial and artsy fashion, doing several collaborations with artists. The two women didn’t like each other. In fact, Chanel stood for a minimalistic and functional fashion whereas Schiapparelli stood for innovation and fun.


As for the beauty side, the thin eyebrows of the 1920s lasted! They were supposed to be thin, long and sharp! Kind of a contrast to the crazy patterns and decorations the dresses came with.

1930s fashion

The Fashion of the 1940s

The 1940s were kind of an extinction from the 1930s fashion. The female body was further emphasized with a curvy ideal in focus. This was enhanced by shoulder pads, a defined waist and wide hips. Due to WWII, the skirts and dresses became even shorter (knee-length) and a more masculine fashion for women appeared. As the men were out in the war, women took their jobs and began wearing appropriate clothes for work.


The dresses were simple in their cuts and often defined by the waist. Floral patterns, cute collars and buttons were also popular features for a simple dress. Women in work wore pants and simple blouses. Much of the 1940s was centered to tasteful minimalism, one should be looking nice but only within the appropriate standards for a world in war. Much alike the 1930s, the society and the societal view decided what was acceptable and not.


In 1947 Christian Dior launched The New Look, a collection that would define the entire 1950s. The name is more than suitable as the fashion was unlike anything people had seen the last 40 years. A lot of fabric was used, the body was defined by the clothes one wore and it was a collection of pure elegance.


Women had to be creative when it came to fashion and would make a lot of clothes on their own. Due to fabric restrictions and costs, it was all about staying innovative and use what one already owned.

The Fashion Of The 1950s

The 1950s were a feminine and classic fashion for womenswear. A lot of preppy colors, decorations and patterns! Due to Dior’s collection in 1947, women’s heavily defined waist was back in this decade. For the most dedicated fashionistas, the corset was also back to achieve the right hourglass silhouette. As WWII was over, fashion compensated for the restricted war years by doing a lot of fabric. Women’s skirts consisted of several layers and had a voluminous counterpart in the shoulder pads. This style would define the 1950s.


Clothes of the decades were centered to dresses and skirts (as usual that is). Even though pants had been introduced earlier, the usage was still centered to a smaller scale. Cute cardigans were also popular, preferably in combination with a shirt dress. Even though this is about womenswear, this decade saw a huge development in menswear regarding denim, white tee and leather. Think James Dean and Elvis Presley.


Dior defined this decade, so he was of course one of the leading designers. Other designers that made a lasting impression includes Hubert de Givenchy and Christóbal Balenciaga.


Even though housewives were the norm in previous decades/centuries, the 1950s is heavily associated with housewives. The women were to have the perfect house, raise children and look impeccable while doing so. Quite similar to the historical idea of the perfect woman. So heavy skirts, pretty colors and a perfect look kind of came with the role!  

The Fashion of the 1960s

The 1960s were the first decade with a clear distinction between the fashion of adults and youths. The younger generation lived the swinging 60s life, with short lengths and statement patterns. Twiggy was a leading fashion icon as well as Carnaby Street. Adults dressed rather preppy with refined office wear in focus. The silhouette was A-line or quite neat. Jackie O Kennedy was a fashion icon for the lady style!


The younger generation wore a lot of mini-skirts and A-line dresses. Pencil skirt with matching blazer was another popular look, but mostly popular among adults. The turtleneck was also rather stylish and often worn with a sleeveless dress over. Pairing the knee-length dress with high boots was a chic combo, especially for the ones who embraced the minimalism of the Space Age Fashion.


Mary Quant and André Courreges both contributed to the miniskirt which was kind of revolting at time. YSL also defined the decade with a lot of chic looks that remains iconic to this date (hello Mondrian dress)


The 1960s was an energetic decade with London and its cultural scene in focus. Twiggy was defining for the years, but also Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy as well as Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. A lot of chic icons!

1960s fashion

The Fashion of the 1970s

The decade of the hippies and the disco life (sort of)! The 1970s came with a lot of “bigger is better”, but still far from the 1980s. With the hippie and boho life going strong the silhouette was rather loose and the prints close to nature. Another popular style was the unisex fashion, either matching clothes for men and women, pantsuits or overalls. This was also years of denim on denim, sequins for the disco and definitely some jetset life!


Flare jeans and 70s pants were popular. Also long tunics, vests and maxi dresses for the boho life. Diane Von Furstenberg reintroduced the wrap dress which became globally popular. Sweaters were worn a lot and so was shirts with statement collars and shorter skirts.


Diane Von Furstenberg was of course an important designer. Emilio Pucci launched the jetset fashion and created a lot of statement patterns. Sonia Rykiel, aka queen of knitwear, also contributed to the fashion scene.


The 1970s were the first modern decade where fashion, in relation to men and women, was discussed. How a certain type of fashion was connected to one’s gender/gender identity. That’s why unisex fashion became popular and menswear and womenswear had similarities.

The Fashion of the 1980s

Maximalism, oversize and large silhouettes pretty much sums up the 1980s. Everything was bigger and better with shoulder pads, bold colors and crazy patterns. The 1980s came with different styles, such as: rock, functional and office wear. The silhouette was mainly an inverted triangle with large shoulders and defined hips.


The rock style came with leather, denim and edge. The functional style was rather sporty with sweaters, leggings and bodysuits in funky materials. Office wear was all about the costume, with oversized blazers and tight pencil skirts. Training jackets were immensely popular and paired with matching/mismatching pants in a bold pattern or color.


Azzedine Alaïa, Jean Paul Gaultier and Martin Margiela all defined the 1980s. They each had their own idea of the decade, with JPG exploring the areas of glam life and rock. Madonna’s iconic looks were often created by Jean Paul Gaultier.


The leading ideal for both women and men were the sporty one. People should have defined hips and a muscular upper body. This is why the sporty fashion hit the everyday life as it was in line with the ideal person. Not too far from today’s perception of “healthy is the new skinny”, and the endless amount of sneakers, hoodies and leggings in the everyday fashion.

The Fashion Of The 1990s

So no one has probably missed that the 90s are back in fashion. The silhouette was rather straight with a love for the a-line. The style was often quite edgy with a lot of denim and leather. Other defining factors are the choker and the velvet fabric. Think: minimalism, grunge and rock all in one.


The mini skirt, slip dress and denim jacket are all key for achieving the 1990s look. The mom jeans were also popular for the decade. Both the skirts and the pants were rather low waisted and paired with crop tops. Turtleneck tops were also quite popular.


Defining designers from the decade are designers that most people are still familiar with. John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Versace and Prada. Calvin Klein also characterized the decade with his minimalism and controversial commercials for underwear.


Even though the supermodel era began in the 80s, this was the decade where Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista (to mention some), all defined their positions. Especially Kate Moss in the 1990s is a major inspiration for many 90’s fans today.

And that’s a wrap up on the 20th century fashion. To stress the most obvious, never has a century in history had some many rapid changes in fashion, with clear styles from decade to decade. And as always, fashion is a matter of recycling styles. From the connections of the 1900s and the 1950s, to the 1940s and the 1980s. But more on this another time. Folks, hope you enjoyed reading about the 20th century fashion!

1990s fashion

63 thoughts on “A Quick Guide To The 20th Century Fashion

  1. I have to say, I’m kinda loving the fashion from the 1910s!! I wish we could pull of wearing fancy dresses like these everyday. 🙂 <3 Having said that, I love how much freedom and versatility we get with fashion these days. This was such an interesting post to read, thank you for sharing! x x


  2. What an informative blog post! It really is true that by looking back we can see where so much of today’s current fashion inspiration comes from; both directly and less so. Feeling hugely inspired after stepping into this time capsule!!


  3. I love 90’s clothing – as I was born in 1990 that makes sense! But I have a soft spot for 50’s fashion too, I think it was designed with curves in mind so it tends to look good on me. Great post 😉


  4. Love a quick look back through the ages. I always wonder how we’ll be looked at in this time period once a few decades pass by. I feel like our style is just a hodgepodge of what’s to come before. Maybe I’ll see a distinct difference after some time passes.


    Violet Roots || Instagram

  5. Marvellous and thorough fashion timeline of some of my favourite eras–I love period fashion, since I used to be a costume designer so that always speak to me. The 90s is also a fun decade for me. Looking at some of the older advertisements really shows you how far we’ve come! 🙂 Wish you a great weekend, lovely. x/M

  6. This is a great guide! Some decades really stand out clearly to me (the 20s, the 80s) but others I’m never sure about, like the 40s. This is a great round-up of them all!

  7. Wow, this is such a great comprehensive summery of fashion and style throughout the 20th century! It’s amazing to see how it’s evolved and how the liberation of women has always been translated into the way they dress, rather interesting and a great demonstration for the fact that how we feel is often represented by our style and outfit choices, with or without intention! Thanks so much for sharing, beauty, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead!



    1. Thank you love, I hope people find it helpful!! The 20th century evolution was so amazing and it’s kind of crazy to read about the 00s and then about the 90s and realize and see the evolution of womenswear! And so true that our mood/the tone of society is reflected in the way we dress. It’s hard to see it when we’re in the middle of it, but in a few years we’ll be able to get a grasp around this decade the same way we summarize the 20th century! Xx

      You too babe!

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