What today’s fashions owe to a history of style

This is a feature written for my fashion coursework. I take you through every fashion era since the sixties, with a nod to the trends still seen today, including the ones we’d rather forget – shell suits anyone?

Fashion is often influenced by society, politics and advances in technology, seen with the ‘peace and love’ hippie trends, war slogan tees and high-tech, space age designs. Designer debuts, iconic models, music and art helped change the once elitist face of fashion. From successful eras to the downright problematic, what era was your favourite?

The 60’s that swung
The 1960’s brought a new lease of life, many changes were made and fashion, in particular, made a breakthrough. Where fashion had once aimed at Britain’s mature, wealthy elite, now the tastes of the younger generation became important. Fashion now catered for the young, alongside music and art to create a sense of freedom and happiness. In the early 60’s there was one name that changed the face of fashion for good, Mary Quant. In designing collections in relaxed styles in bold colours for the everyday woman, Mary Quant opened her own shop, Bazaar. Quant then discovered the mini skirt and filled her store with these and typical styles of the time including the a-line mini sleeveless shift dress. Prices at her King’s Road store were affordable and she was popular in enticing young people inside with interesting and eye-catching window displays. Mary Quant spoke in 1966 how “Snobbery has gone out of fashion, and in our shops you will find duchesses jostling with typists to buy the same dresses.” By the mid 60’s Carnaby Street and Chelsea’s King’s Road became synonymous with the young and fashionable. They were the equivalent of today’s Oxford Street (on a smaller scale) and East London’s Brick Lane. London at this time was branded the home of the ‘swinging sixties’ a fun and happy comparison to the couture tailoring seen in Paris and Italy. By the late 60’s a variety of fashion boutiques were available, providing trends and styles to suit the young subcultures of the Mods and Rockers. The Mods idolised English bands such as the Beatles and dressed in clean-cut, classy attire compared to their rival Rockers who loved rock n’roll, black leather biker jackets and of course their greasy motorbikes. Clothes designers praised this modernity and introduced space-age metallics in boxy dresses, goggles and white patent go-go boots. This trend was mixed with primary colours, inspired by Pop Art to experiment with shape and psychedelic prints. Shape didn’t stop with clothes either; women’s eyes were made bigger and bolder with the use of kohl, mascara and false eyelashes against pale foundation on the skin and lips. Hairstyles were also shaped into a neat bob or a ‘wedge’, created by hairdresser Vidal Sassoon. Young people also took influence from fashion magazines, especially when photographer David Bailey paired up with model Jean Shrimpton to spread magazines such as Vogue with the latest styles shot in casual poses. Another influential model at the time was Twiggy; with her child-like frame she carried off the miniskirts, short plastic raincoats, shift dresses and colourful swing coats of the decade. Many, if not all of these trends are used as inspiration for the designers that deliver on the catwalks today. Anne, 62, a retired care worker, described the sixties as her favourite decade, her most loved outfits from the era were “My green ¾ length leather jacket. Hipster trousers/jeans. Mini shift dresses with tights instead of stockings and suspenders.” Inspirations at the time included “Cathy McGowan the presenter on Ready Steady Go, Twiggy, Mary Quant and Dusty Springfield for panda eyes and pale lipstick.” With her favourite places to shop being, “London boutiques, the West End, Fenwick’s and C&A.”

Disco diva 70’s
The 70’s were a decade of experimentation, giving more variety with new styles and cuts to a young, fashion-conscious crowd that had emerged in the 60’s. The late 60’s hippie culture had extended into the 70’s with bell-bottom trousers and jeans, tie-dye vests and shirts and fringed suede and leather pieces at the height of fashion. The boho era saw the emergence of Eastern paisley prints, cotton flared “loon pants” and three lengths of skirts and dresses, the mini, carrying on its fame from the previous era, the midi and the maxi. By the late 1970’s, celebrity glamour, club nights, show business and Hollywood movies created the arrival of disco fever. Satin trousers, jumpsuits, hot pants and platform boots that glittered, sometimes garishly, with sequins and rhinestones, were all the rage. One place which stored all of this under one roof was Barbara Hulanicki’s Biba, which started as a small shop in Kensington in the 60’s and soon expanded into an old department store on Kensington High Street. Each floor had its own theme and was a palace of great wealth and design that became a tourist attraction overnight. Kate, 51, a receptionist from Essex described her favourite fashion era as the seventies. Her favourite outfits? “My French cut, high-waisted, flared trousers, Sterling Cooper jackets, gypsy tops, platform boots and hot pants.” Her inspirations at the time included “Jean Shrimpton of course, but mainly the styles I saw on the street.” At a time of great fashion variety she shopped in “Stacey’s in Ilford selling expensive French womenswear, the West End and Biba.”

Fitness first 80’s
The 80’s took a more body-conscious approach to fashion trends. The exercise and fitness look was one that anyone could carry off; whether you broke a sweat was beyond the point. Fashion got physical, so much so that Olivia Newton John would be proud. Lycra cycling shorts and leggings were teamed with leotards or cropped sweater tops. It was the ultimate lifestyle choice, where Converse were swapped for Nike or Adidas. Later in the decade saw the rise of androgynous styles, broadening the shoulders of the female figure and oversizing the whole look. Women were aware of the change in equal opportunities made available to them and therefore wanted to reflect their advances in the image they portrayed. Donna Karen and Thierry Mugler were some of the first to showcase these designs, bearing oversized shirts, sweaters and capes, as well as over-structured shoulder padded blazers and coats. Princess Diana, a huge icon in the eighties, was characteristically elegant and graceful, but was also in favour of this trend and was seen many times sporting a shoulder padded blazer or bow tie. Women were dressing for success, with apparent logos including Chanel’s interlocking c’s showing their new worth. The rise of the supermodel was apparent also to feature in catwalks and campaigns for these designer brands. The girls had tall, lean figures; here models such as Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell were at their prime. Hairstyles included short boyish styles, and makeup was barely there, though eyebrows were just as angular as the decade. Throughout this era the growing emergence of punk rock also influenced Britain, with Madonna and Cyndi Lauper becoming trendsetters. The eighties was a time to go wild, with crazy coloured hair, chains, pink leggings and leg warmers worn with Converse or Dr. Martens, a look which took heed from the fitness trend. Slogan t-shirts also made an appearance, with Katherine Hemnit being the major designer to start the trend. Often slogan’s reflected politics or anti-war campaigns at the time, with some even converting to designer logo’s such as Nike’s ‘swoosh’ tick or the Medusa head seen at Versace. At the time, icons included Debbie Harry of Blondie, whose slogan tees; quirky attire and platinum blonde hair were all influential. Vivienne Westwood also revived the punk look with her fashion collections, especially her use of tartan, black lace, leather and erotic designs.

The forgotten 90’s
This decade if often the least thought of when the words ‘fashionable decade’ are mentioned, but the most laughed at in terms of fashion faux pas. In the late 1980’s and early 90’s, hip-hop clothing reflected the genre in music, particularly rap and urban lifestyles. The trend took inspiration from the fitness and athletic looks seen in the early 80’s, but became more oversized with baggy tracksuit bottoms and brightly coloured, shiny nylon and polyester shell suits. Another faux pas was the grunge era, fashion’s interpretation of the heavy rock ‘n’roll music played by bands such as Nirvana. Marc Jacob’s and Anna Sui were at the heart of this trend in particular. They sourced high quality fabrics only to present to their consumers a dishevelled; ‘I’ve just rolled out of bed and put on the first things I could find’ look. The trend was a failed concept, unlike the androgynous and punk looks seen in previous eras; it was just a mismatch of impractical garments. Advances in technologies such as computers and mobile phones caused fashion to reflect high tech chic. Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chayalan took on the role as fabric artists, using metals, glass and moving parts to create their runway pieces. Even though they were highly inventive, unlike the thrown together look that was grunge, the designs were still highly impractical for the everyday woman to wear. One of the few inspirational things that came out of this era was Kate Moss, a model whose frail exterior caused great contrast to the lean figures of the supermodel age.

The Noughties and the era of celebrity
Firstly, the noughties did not come without extending the fashion faux pas from the previous decade. With the rise in counterfeit goods came the ‘chav’ subculture and London was no longer seen as the fashion capital. Gold chains and sovereigns rings were paired with marketplace knock offs such as Burberry print caps and sportswear tracksuits and trainers. In contrast to this trend came the Goth look. Inspired by the punk and grunge trends before it, wearers would sport heavy, dark make up with full length leather jackets, prom style dresses or corsets and brothel creeper shoes seen in the punk era; all noticeably, in the colour black. As Britain moved into the mid-noughties however, celebrity culture increased, and so did the confidence of the everyday woman to look just as good as those in the magazines. Designer trends on the catwalk were being replicated on the high street at rapid speeds, so everyone could indulge in the celebrity looks for considerably less. Preppy looks, including designer polo tops, checked shirts and designer jeans with a new cut – the skinny, were at the height of fashion. Celebrity collaborations also arrived with the likes of Kate Moss for Topshop, realising how influential she was to potential consumers. And celebrity looks didn’t stop here, hairstyles also changed with the popular ‘Pob’ cut (the Posh/Victoria Beckham bob) and jet-black hair in backcombed, voluminous beehive styles as seen on the late Amy Winehouse.

Today’s teens
Today, British fashion is a mixed affair, taking influence from previous eras and revitalising these into new trends and designs. In the past few years we’ve seen the rise in military styles, taking influence from war eras with trench coats and combat boots. Wet look leggings and jeggings have taken inspiration from the fitness and athletic eras. However the most revolutionary fashion eras of the 60’s and 70’s will always be focused on and revived. Today, we see playsuits and jumpsuits, maxi dresses, fringing and dip dye rather than tie-dye, all with connotations of the hippie era. Also, in contrast with the noughties, we’ve seen an increase in designer collaborations rather than celebrities, with Mary Katrantzou for Topshop and Versace for H&M. Fashion icons such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry have also influenced eccentric fashions, sporting unusual, artistic and futuristic pieces of clothing, as seen in the 90’s with high tech chic. The high street has replicated these sculptural designs in the form of shoulder padding and peplum tops, dresses and skirts. River Island has also re-launched their Chelsea Girl brand. This was the name the company once traded under on King’s Road during the sixties, seventies and eighties. They use their heritage to update vintage inspired pieces and dig into their archives to re-launch some of their once favourite pieces. Furthermore, it is now commonplace to shop in vintage stores to find one off pieces from previous eras. More than ever we are striving for individuality, where customisation has been extremely popular as well as reconstructing vintage garments. One brand, The Ragged Priest has already seen the limelight after doing just this. They adorn vintage Levis jean shorts and leather biker jackets with spiked studs. A take on the punk look, this has been seen on the likes of Jessie J and Rihanna. Jade, 21, a jewellery designer from London says the teens have been her favourite decade. “At the moment I’ve just bought a pair of reworked- vintage, dip-dye studded shorts; these will go with a simple logo tee, some statement jewellery and a fringed cross body bag.” Her inspirations so far in this era have been “Alexa Chung, Jameela Jamil and various Tumblr fashion blogs.” In this decade she shops “mainly at Topshop and its vintage concession brands. For vintage designs that have come back into fashion, including shorts, beaded denim shirts, jewellery and bags I go to Brick Lane.

Overall we’ve seen a dramatic change in fashions through the decades. The styles of some, especially those from the swinging sixties, hippie and punk looks, have stayed with us today. Designers continue to do what they have done for many years, looking at past eras, what people are wearing on the street and what is happening in society to reflect these concepts into new designs. Today, we are also striving for individuality, sourcing vintage items from our favourite eras and customising or reinventing them into a look that will suit the current time. Every past trend has been inspirational to the designs seen on the catwalk to date, even the fashion blunders such as the shell suit or ‘chav’ attire will influence designers to avoid or reinvent those looks.

Fashion timeline2