The “fashion leaders” of past generations were those in the very highest society-royalty, aristocrats, and their wives and mistresses, such as Napoleon’s wife Josephine, the Prince Regent, the famous Beau Brummel, King Edward VII and his elegant wife Alexandra and many of his mistresses (Madame Standish of Paris, who was the first to wear the new “tailor-mades” by Creed to the Paris racecourse; and Lillie Langtry, the music-hall actress, who was a favourite of the popular press). Furthermore, there was no court in 17th century Europe that was as fashionable as the Sun King’s at the glittering Palace of Versailles.
Marie Antoinette’s first encounter with French fashion was certainly a daunting one. Marie Antoinette turned to fashion as a way to express herself. Known for her extravagant tastes as queen, Marie Antoinette was often ridiculed for her lavish clothing but women across the country flocked to copy her style.
The last Empress Consort of the French, Empress Eugénie, was one of the biggest trendsetters of the 19th century. Known for her love of exquisite jewels and luxurious gowns, Eugénie’s tastes were also influenced by her fascination with Marie Antoinette, with the empress even posing for a portrait dressed as her iconic predecessor. Along with English designer Charles Frederick Worth, Eugénie dominated every aspect Europe’s fashion scene from the cut, colour and fabric used right down to the length of hemlines.
Edward, Prince of Wales
There was still a role for royalty-men and women were fascinated by the dress of Edward, Prince of Wales, and his Oxford bags, plus fours, and Argyle sweaters were widely copied. He even had a fabric pattern named after him-Prince-of-Wales check. His long-term mistress, Freda Dudley Ward, embodied the flapper look of the 1920s, but in the following decade he abandoned her to marry the stylish American divorcée, Wallis Simpson. It was she who formulated the fashion dictum, “A woman can never be too rich or too thin.” Although the public was distressed by his abdication, they nevertheless bought mass-market copies of her Molyneux wedding dress.
It is not an overstatement to say that Coco Chanel revolutionised fashion during the early 20th century. Taking inspiration from menswear, Chanel created simple, comfortable, yet elegant clothes that suited the rapid changing times in which women lived, drawing them away from the rigid, corset-style dresses that they were used to. For example, Chanel pioneered the use of jersey as a clothing material because it was affordable and draped well – at a time when it was generally reserved for men’s underwear. She also popularised trousers amongst women as well as costume jewellery, such as fake pearls, believing that outfits should be properly accessorised.
Audrey Hepburn – One of the most beloved actresses of the 20th century, nobody embodied elegance and class quite like Audrey Hepburn. After meeting Hubert de Givenchy in the early ’50s, she quickly began a love affair with clothes that would last a lifetime; her delicate, slender frame was the perfect medium for showcasing the designer’s haute couture collections. Of course, she as the muse for French designer Hubert de Givenchy, Hepburn wore many of his designs in both her personal and professional life, including the iconic little black dress from the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Some could argue that Audrey Hepburn is the reason for fashion’s obsession with the Little Black Dress. The simple Givenchy column gown, 3-strand pearl necklace, large tortoiseshell sunglasses, sleek updo, diamond earrings, and long cigarette holder will forever be known as an Audrey Hepburn-inspired look! Renowned for her simple style and classic looks such as sailor stripes and ballet flats, Hepburn remains a fashion icon today.
One of the most well-known actresses of the 1950s, her classic, sophisticated style was always impeccable. Her iconic feminine dresses and tailored ensembles made her one of the most influential fashion icons of her time. In fact, Hermès renamed one of their purse designs, the Kelly Bag, after the actress was spotted toting one on numerous occasions. She practically defined what most of us now consider “classic” styles.
Perhaps, the most well-known actress and singer of the 1950s introduced sex appeal into the fashion industry. From high waisted bikinis to her classic, the white halter dress, in The Seven Year Itch look, Marilyn paved the way for Hollywood luxurious trends and created a legacy that continues to be impersonated on a regular basis.
Regularly touted (peddle, sell, advertised, market) as one of the most stylish men to have ever lived, actor Steve McQueen was an icon both on and off the screen. Known for his casual and masculine sense of style, McQueen was the American anti-hero who wore everything from biker leathers to double denim, with a penchant for timeless sharp suits. He popularised the combination of a turtleneck and a tweed blazer, which became one of the most iconic looks of the 1960s.
Diana Ross, the original diva, has been celebrated throughout her lifetime for her glamorous taste in clothing. With her love for sparkling gowns, sequin jumpsuits, glittering jewels and coloured furs, Ross has been a fashion-forward woman ever since she burst onto the Motown music scene in the 1960s. Known for embracing her natural afro, she is a style icon for women of colour everywhere. Although Diana Ross’ style changed over the course of her career, Motown would not be what it is today without her influence. From extravagant wigs to embellished gowns, Diana shed a positive light on the term ‘diva’ and blurred the line between costume and everyday wear.
Jackie grabbed the public’s attention with her chic, yet simple fashion sense. From boxy Chanel suits to Halston pillbox hats, she reshaped fashion’s view of conservative clothes and left a noteworthy fashion legacy behind. Gucci’s classic Jackie bag, was named after the First Lady when she used the luxury purse to shield her face from the paparazzi. Though it’s her polished presidential look that has been immortalised in our wardrobes, her ’70s attire is what captivates us. But, forget not that, she was also a writer, photographer and socialite before that. She is the epitome of class and style.
One of the most idolised actresses of her generation. On-screen, Katharine fashioned her very own personal style that embodied the American look, whereas her off screen wardrobe favoured sportswear. Her signature menswear look strayed from the typical dresses of the time, making her choice bold. She would typically wear trousers, collared shirts, and blazers.
No one defined ’60s fashion quite like Dame Lesley Dawson. One of the most well-known models of the era—especially due to her thin frame, big eyes, long eyelashes and short hair. The model had a kind of androgynous look that was new and exciting, and the entire world loved it. The model’s long legs and doll-like features quickly made her the face of Mary Quant mini-skirts and mod style, which dominated this particular era. Her star quickly rose to stardom after being photographed with drawn-on lashes, which was a trend that had yet to be explored. Once she had established herself as an ‘it’ girl, she became a notable fashion icon known for her daring and trendsetting 60s styles, her influence didn’t end as the 70s begun!
The queen of diamonds, as the fearless fashion icon, she gave off a hint of glamour everywhere she went with her plunging necklines, fur wraps, feather boas, and eye-catching headpieces that would likely be considered over-the-top next to today’s styles. Still, Elizabeth Taylor’s love for glitz and glam resonated with her at all times, and her impact on the fashion industry is still evident.
The artist born Prince Rogers Nelson blurred the lines of gender and sexuality with his androgynous style, just as he blended different genres of music. He cultivated his own distinct look, characterised by sequins, fingerless lace gloves, cravats, cropped tops, high-heeled boots, and much more. From 1984, he became forever associated with the colour purple following the success of his film and song of the same name, Purple Rain. With his unapologetic style, Prince encouraged his fans around the world to be exactly who they were.
The pop diva of fashion. Madonna has been making waves in both the music and fashion world since her debut album. Lauded for her continual reinvention and influence, the singer’s style choices can still be felt on a street style and catwalks today. Although she originally adopted a casual tomboy look in the 80s – the combination of her bleach-blonde pixie and grunge style evokes a feeling of casual beauty, with a hint of “don’t try me” attitude – she quickly evolved into one of the most influential fashion gurus in the industry. In fact, concerts wouldn’t be as extravagant as they are today if it weren’t for Madonna’s on-stage fashion choices that changed the way people view artists.
There’s an undeniable theatrical element to dressing; it’s the chance to express yourself, don (put on/ dressing) a different personality, and escape the realities of everyday life. As one of our resident fashion icons, David Bowie takes this theatrical aspect and runs with it—far. His affinity for manufacturing alter-egos and using them as a medium of creative expression has positioned him as one of the most influential fashion minds of all time. From the bright palette of his Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane days to the louche (scandalous, disreputable or sordid) looks of the Thin White Duke era, Bowie’s outfits are still the topic of the conversation and the driver of trends. That’s why the singer was known for his incredibly bold on-stage fashion choices, further he defied gendered fashion norms in the 80s.
Among no less influential people belongs also, Colleen Moore her bob haircut alongside the classic “flapper” look that so many people associate with the 1920s, Rita Hayworth, Princess Diana, Cher, Farrah Fawcett known for her thick blonde hair flipped outward, flare jeans, and tennis shoes, Victoria Beckham, Grace Jones, Michelle Obama, Josephine Baker, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bianca Jagger attired by Halston, and the Sex Pistols wore clothes designed by Vivienne Westwood, provocative and fetishistic.
The Propellerheads: Winning Style
BADBADNOTGOOD: Eyes Closed
Boards of Canada: The Devil is in the Detail
Renee: Change Your Style
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Girl From Ipanema
Frank Sinatra: The Way You Look Tonight
Louis Armstrong: Body and Soul
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.