Dresses through the ages

Over the last century dress styles have changed dramatically, from the long, cumbersome styles at the turn of the 20th century to the rocking 60s mini skirt. Inspired by music, art and films dresses have played an important role in fashion history.

As Britain entered the 1900’s dresses hugged the waist and heavy velvets, flannels and taffetas draped across floors; skirts and dresses were usually tulip-shaped sitting close to the hips and thighs then flaring at the ankles whilst v-neck collars and ruffles drew attention to the modestly covered chest. As the years unfolded hemlines rose to show some ankle, flares became straight fitting coat dresses, pleated skirts appeared and variants of the ‘two-piece dress’ fashion remained throughout the 1900’s.

The 1920’s brought radical changes in women’s fashion with hems rising, waistlines dropping and corsets fading. In a matter of years the typical length of dresses and skirts had shot up from the ankle to knee-length, perhaps reflecting British women’s new power in voting booths. Colours and prints got bolder and more vibrant, influenced by art movements such as Art Deco whilst paradoxically the shapes and materials offered simple designs; lines of silk and satin crepe fabrics, often referred to as ‘flapper’ clothing.

The following 30 years entertained the knee-length hemline with styles becoming lighter in construction and material. The 1930’s witnessed ultra-feminine, elegant styles with tailored bodices, puffed sleeves and gathered bust lines designed to highlight the natural form of a woman’s body whilst the 1940’s saw a rationing on clothes so dresses were more practical. Old clothes were hashed together and restyled in attempts to push fashion boundaries.

The 1950’s introduced rock n roll inspired ‘swing’ dresses volumised by layers of underskirts like the poodle dress. Alongside these feminine designs came significant developments in man-made fibres and production making fashionable styles more affordable and readily available.

The 1960’s was a revolutionary decade for fashion sparked by the younger generation setting trends for the first time in fashion history. The radical new styles were heavily influenced by music, pop art and films amongst other things. With kick pleats and paper dresses, the geometric shapes of the mod craze and flowery, flowing dress of the hippies, designers began to push boundaries. But more controversial than this was the unforgettable introduction of the miniskirt, causing quite a stir amongst adults.

By the 1970’s women were starting to wear exactly what they wanted. The hippy trend of the 60s spilled over into the decade with more floral and exotic prints, combined with glamour and sequins. Miniskirts and dresses were still prominent but so was the flowing maxi dress. Halter neck and flared checked dresses were also popular during the decade.

As Britain stepped into the 1980’s women’s fashion was more heavily influenced by TV, film and music, most notably the young Princess Diana and pop queen Madonna. American soaps Dallas and Dynasty both brought the shift dress into the limelight and the fashion world started to see more contrast. Floral dresses teamed with Doc Martins paraded the streets; padded shoulders, tailored dresses, leather jackets, skirts and dresses, oversized jewellery and elaborate decorations were all essentials for an 80’s wardrobe.

The over-the-top 80’s fashion dominated until the early 1990’s with the tube dress enshrined in fashion history, then people started to reinvent past styles. After a brief appearance of the fluorescent colours and styles that accompanied the grunge era, fashion started to relax. Dressing down in casual dresses, jeans and jumpers suited the ‘rolled out of bed’ look inspired by grunge stars like Kurt Cobain. Alongside came the ‘girl power’ craze bringing feminine and courageous styles including the unforgettable Union Jack dress first worn by Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.

The ‘girl power’ craze sparked a new lease of femininity within the wardrobe and we entered the millennium with daring styles that have gradually become more provocative in length and coverage. During the last decade many dress styles and trends have come in and out of fashion. But with so much choice, the modern woman can and will wear exactly what she wants. There are so many old and new styles, shapes, colours and designs for every mood and occasion it is almost impossible to state the dress trend of the decade.


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