episode #101 European fashion since 1900

Hanuš Lamr

In the Western world continued the severe, long and elegant lines of the late 1890s. Tall, stiff collars characterise the period, as do women’s broad hats and full “Gibson Girl” hairstyles. The fashionable silhouette in the early 20th century was that of a confident woman, with full low chest and curvy hips. The “health corset” of this period removed pressure from the abdomen and created an S-curve silhouette. 

Women moving out of the Victorian era and into the Edwardian era were starting to dress for a more active lifestyle. The evolving times brought a new fashion trend known as the “New Woman“. In 1894, Irish writer Sarah Grand used the term “new woman” in an influential article, to refer to independent women seeking radical change, and in response the English writer Ouida (Maria Louisa Ramé) used the term as the title of a follow-up article. The term was further popularised by British-American writer Henry James, who used it to describe the growth in the number of feminist, educated, independent career women in Europe and the United States.Independence was not simply a matter of the mind; it also involved physical changes in activity and dress, as activities such as bicycling expanded women’s ability to engage with a broader, more active world.

Fashion in the 1910s, like the decade itself, may be divided into two periods: before the war and during the war. World War I had a profound effect on society and culture as a whole and fashion was no exception. 

During World War I and World War II in the first part of the 1900s, it was hard to get enough cotton. People began to wear clothes made by transforming oil into thread – polyester and acrylic, often mixed with cotton. Clothes were made with a minimum of fabric, few pleats and no trimmings. Women started to wear short skirts instead of long skirts. Men wore tighter pants and jackets. During the war, accessories were important because of their relative affordability; tall platform shoes or sandals, and tall flowery hats were fashionable. In 1947, Christian Dior introduced his ‘New Look’, which revolutionised 1940s fashion. Skirts became longer and fuller, and boxy shoulders were softened to become sloping. Waists were cinched and hats grew wide and saucer shaped. 

Young people’s income was at its highest since the end of the Second World War, creating the desire for a wardrobe which did more than simply copy adult dress. Designers like Mary Quant and Biba label provided clothes that were aimed specifically at young people, of which the mini-skirt was the most distinctive introduction. Women wore pale foundation and emphasised their eyes with kohl, mascara and false eyelashes. Hair was long and straight or worn in a shaped bob or wedge. Towards the end of the decade the hippy movement from the west coast of America emerged, experimenting with colours, patterns and textures borrowed from non-Western cultures. Older or more conservative women still tended to dress in skirts below the knee with tailored jackets, coats or cardigans.

Perhaps the most remarkable development in 1960s dress was the dramatic change in menswear. For the past 150 years, clothing for men had been tailor-made, and plain and sombre in appearance. Now, colourful new elements were introduced, such as the collarless jacket, worn with slim-fitting trousers and boots. 

Fashion in the 1980s was heavily influenced by TV shows, movies, and music videos, as well as celebrities. Many trends such as bright neon colours were found on dresses, and designer underwear became fashionable for women. Casual and exercise clothing was also popular among women. A popular look among men was a suit jacket and casual T-shirt. The trends of leather jackets and jeans were combined, along with Ray-Bans.

Designers such as Versace, Christian Lacroix, and Chanel became known for their formal wear. In terms of casual wear, designers such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein specialised and produced jeans. Designers houses and brands began to become popular as the media focused on both fashion and supermodels.

The beginning of the 21st century saw the rise of fast fashion. The rise of the internet age and technology also allowed brands to begin promoting their fashion online. Fashion trends have always been defined by the elite in society. First, they were defined by the royal families, who would set trends to be followed. Now, celebrities and influencers are the ones who set fashion trends.


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A community radio midnight show Through the Bohemian Looking Glass is aired Sunday, Tuesday and Friday night at midnight (GMT), that means you stay late on Saturday, Monday and Thursday. A new episode is aired every Sunday midnight (the night between Saturday and Sunday) on Wirral Wave radio or AirTime. Later on SoundCloud for some time.