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A Quick Fashion History Lesson


Photo credits:1, 2, 3, 4, 5

So many of you discussed your love for vintage clothing in the comments section of my previous posts, which made me smile from ear to ear because I love history. I think it’s important to understand how fashion has evolved and why it has changed over the years. So I am going to go through the decades starting with the 1920s through 1990 and talk about what was popular in the world of fashion. We’re trying something new this week.

In case you are wondering, I got a lot of the fashion information for this post from Nina Garcia’s Little Black Book of Style. It’s a great read and it goes over almost every aspect of what it takes to be a stylish woman. The historical information also partly comes from my spending too many hours watching the history channel or being over-enthused in every history class I’ve ever taken.


Fashion in the 1920s was all about the flapper girls with their dropped waist dresses, boyish silhouettes, and bobbed haircuts. This marked a period of a booming economy and the emergence of women in the workforce in general. Think Daisy in The Great Gatsby.

Some of the trends included drop waists, long necklaces, hats, and pastel and muted colors. Where I go for 1920s inspired pieces is the 1928 jewelry line at Kohl’s. Here are some more 1920s inspired pieces!

1920s fashion

Product Information: Hat- Nordstrom, Dress – Topshop, Shoes – Charlotte Russe, Necklace – Miss Selfridge, gloves –


So the 1930s were basically defined by the Great Depression. Men and women needed to work together in order to keep their families afloat, therefore almost undoing the progress that feminists had made in the previous decade.

This return to the classic women was reflected through the return to feminine clothing. The decade was also defined by the emergence of the film industry. This is where the term “Hollywood Glam” originated. Here are some 1930s inspired pieces!

1930s fashion

Product Information: Skirt, pumps, and jacket – Forever 21, gloves –


In the 1940s, we were involved in World War II. Women were left at home and had to start doing the more masculine tasks, like working in the factories or tending the farm. I always think of the movie A League of their Own, when the women all played baseball while the men were at war, as a great example of what was going on in the ’40s.

So because of this, fashion was transitioning from ultra-feminine looks to something a bit more practical. Military looks became big, but so did the classic hour glass figure. Also hosiery was very popular. Allie in The Notebook is a perfect example of a movie character who donned 1940s clothing at its finest. Here are some 1940s inspired pieces!

1940s fashion

Product Information: Jacket – H&M, Dress – dELiA’s, top –, headband – Forever 21, Tights – American Apparel.


In the 1950s, the world began to suburbanize and for the first time, middle class families had a decent amount of spending money due to the economic boom. This in turn made shopping a major leisure activity. Things like costume jewelry, high heels, pencil skirts and volume became very popular. Need a visual? Take a look at Loraine from Back to the Future when Marty goes back to the 1950s.

1950s fashion

Product Information: Top –, floral skirt – Old Navy, Pencil Skirt –, Shoes –, bracelet – Forever 21.


Ah, sixties mod! While the world was going through major social transitions, short hems and bright clothing took the world by storm. Style, at that time, was meant to make a statement–think go-go boots or wild prints. Colorblocking and cut outs were also huge. Also, the ’60s marked the beginning of ready to wear clothing lines in stores. When it comes to 1960s clothing, the musical lover in me adores the clothes in Hairspray.

1960s fashion

Product Information: Skirt – Topshop, Top – Forever 21, jewelry – Dorothy Perkins, boots – Baby Girl Boutique.


During the 1970s, social change and protests swept the world, specifically at colleges. People were getting married later in life, women were entering the workforce much more frequently, and the environment became a major issue. The whole peace and love thing also comes from the early 1970s (as well as the ’60s) and the popular styles reflected that. Things like bell bottom pants, natural fabrics, bohemian style and disco were very popular. Jenny from Forest Gump is a good example of a girl whose clothing was affected by the time.

1970s fashion

Product Information: Jeans – Wet Seal, Shoes – Eclectique Boutique, Top – Lucky Brand Jeans, Headband – ModCloth, Bangle – Forever 21.


I love the ’80s simply because I am a child of the decade… well at least for three months. Most college girls these days are ’80s kids! Fashion was hit by the Japanese invasion in the 1980s and style reflected just that. Off-the-shoulder tops, bright colors, shoulder pads and big hair marked this decade. Think of when Brittany Snow plays Lily on Gossip Girl. Not only does that episode have quality clothing, but also some quality music.

1980s fashion

Product Information: Shoes – Nike, Sweatshirt – Forever 21, leggings – Old Navy, Bangle –, Headband – Buckle.


Fashion in the 1990s was most defined by the grunge look. The grunge movement was propelled by music, but grunge fashion first appeared on the runway thanks to Marc Jacobs. Also, grunge was a throwback to simpler clothing (in contrast to the excess of the ’80s) and was inspired by the minimalist movement in art. A good example of a ’90s fashionista is Cher from Clueless.

1990s fashion

Product Information: Flannel – American Eagle, Cargo Pants – J Crew, Cuff –, Shoes – zappos

What do You think?

Are you inspired by the decades? Which one is your favorite, and which resonates with your personal style most? What do you think people will one day be writing about the decade we’re in now?

Posted on on November 14, 2009 / Filed Under: Fashion Tips / Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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46 Responses to “A Quick Fashion History Lesson”

  1. 1
    November 14th, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    I love the 1920s dress and 1930s gloves!

    I’m really a 1920s/1940s with the occasional flashiness of the 1980s.. I remember Liebemarlene had a really good post about how which fashion decades you’re drawn to has to do with silhouettes and your body type, like how the 1920s was a boyish figure, while the 50s were all about the waist (et cetera).

    I can’t imagine what they’d write about fashion today, because most of what I see has some kind of vintage inspiration.

  2. 2
    November 14th, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    amazing article

  3. 3
    November 14th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Aww love this! I think this will be a great resource! I love the decades before the 1960s especially.

  4. 4
    November 14th, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I love the 20s, 30s, 40s. I also love the 80s.
    I love mixing different decades together to make a cute unique outfit.

  5. 5
    November 14th, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    I am so into 20s and 40s kind of styles ! <3

    So nice to know about each period back then..

    This would be really helpful if we wanted to create a style based on a period .. And actually KNOW which period is our style from ..

    Thank you so much.. Great article indeed =) !

  6. 6
    November 14th, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Love the accessories, especially the blue gloves from the thirties and the pink velvet headband from the forties – timeless and would be great even now. But my favorite new accessory is the neck warmer. The knits are great but I saw a fleece one online from a company called nodzzz…looks super cute. I’m thinking about ordering it to walk to class every day. Anybody have it?

  7. 7
    November 14th, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    the twenties up till and including the fifties were definitely true galmour and style :) I’m loving them right now.. So classy!

  8. 8
    November 14th, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I love up until the 60’s, it’s the pre war era that I most love and try to emulate.

  9. 9
    November 14th, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    My fellow history freak, you know your stuff! These are lovely and quite accurate yet modern interpretations; good job. I play with all of them except the 70’s and the 90’s. I also am a big fan of Victorian or Edwardian influences, not that those aren’t pretty related to anything feminine, structured, and ornate.

    I always wonder what people will write about our own decade – I see skinny jeans, the graphic tee for young people, empire “babydoll” tops, statement jewelry, long tops and leggings, converse and such innovative and bright sneakers, and an overall return to girlier things like ruffles and lace and pearls from the 90’s grunge and 80’s power or brights that were more androgynous looks. Those are things that come to my mind as being common around me now and through the years I was in high school. We shall see :D

  10. 10
    November 14th, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    The 40’s are defentitely my favourite! The silouhettes were so lovely and I loved the clothing.

  11. 11
    November 15th, 2009 at 12:29 am

    The 30’s and 40’s are my favorite! I love the feminine silhouettes – I wish people still dressed like that! My least favorite decades (in terms of style) are probably the 70’s and the 90’s.

  12. 12
    November 15th, 2009 at 1:43 am

    Oh this an awesome history lesson in terms of fashion! I especially love the flapper era of the 20’s.. i think that would make an awesome theme for parties since it’s so chic.

    Your interpretations of how we can incorporate these styles today are fantastic!

    Would love to see a whole article on Old Hollywood glam style one day! I’m thinking Rita Hayworth and Audrey Hepburn..classiness personified. :)

  13. 13
    November 15th, 2009 at 2:21 am

    This article was fun, although I think your 90’s section is a bit misleading. You talk about grunge, and then just use Cher from Clueless as an example? I don’t think she fits grunge very much at all! Your little thing about minimalism confuses me, and doesn’t give me enough information I think. Could you clarify?

  14. 14
    November 15th, 2009 at 2:34 am

    I’m very inspired by the decades but then again I think most people are because most of the big trends that fall in and out of fashion are more or less inspired by a decade because fashion trends work in a cycle meaning if something was popular once, it could very well come back in style. My favorite is the 90’s style because my style is very rustic and grungy and inspired by the decade (I wear a lot of plaid, ripped jeans, and converse). I think this decade will be the decade of a lot of name brands being popular (i.e. Hollister and Abercrombie), lot’s of colors in unexpected places (i.e. colored skinny jeans and colored tights) and as far as footwear goes, to many people’s dismay (not including my own) Uggs will be an iconic footwear of the time with many people trying to find a vintage pair thirty years from now to make a statement.

  15. 15
    November 15th, 2009 at 4:50 am

    OMG someone’s GOT to do a post on this decade’s style! After all, the decade’s nearly over.

  16. 16
    November 15th, 2009 at 4:50 am

    Oh, and I absolutely adore this post. :)

  17. 17
    November 15th, 2009 at 5:14 am

    As Cara said, I wonder what people will say about this decade! I can already predict what my (future) children will laugh about: guys with bleached tips on their hair (a la 8th grade for me), Uggs in general, side bangs, Lady Gaga, etc.

    Fun article!

  18. 18
    November 15th, 2009 at 7:09 am

    This is a fun article, and it got me thinking how all of the things they’ll say about this decade are, IMO, quite terrible! lol how embarrassing.

    -Ugg boots
    -tights as pants
    -maternity shirts aka empire waist
    -Hollister and Abercrombie
    -“throwaway fashion” and designer rip offs more than ever before
    -scene hair.. is that even still popular with middle schoolers? I don’t know.

    but I do love skinny jeans. And I also agree with whoever said that most styles today are influenced by past decades. My favorite decade fashion wise is probably the 40s. Least favorite is the 80s- it’s just not my style at all. I’m classic and minimal whereas the 80s is…not.

    I also love way back when women wore corsets. Obviously this isn’t practical at all anymore, but I absolutely love the way they look.

  19. 19
    November 15th, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I love the 20’s and the 70’s!!


    I would have LOVED to live back then.

  20. 20
    November 15th, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Some other things 2000-2010 will be remembered for:

    – Crocs (gross. But they are popular)
    – Zebra/leopard print everything (guilty as charged)
    – Teased bangs/the poof
    – PONCHOS! How awful were those?!

    It’s interesting to see that a lot of the trends today (leggings, plaid, headbands, cardigans, etc.) are all very much 80’s/90’s trends just redesigned, which were themselves trends redesigned from earlier decades. I love the way that happens in fashion.
    It’s like nothing is ever truly “out”, it’s just on hold. :)

  21. 21
    November 15th, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    This. Is. SO. Amazing. Wonderful idea! I’ve been unclear for ages about which decade was what again, so this is great! Loved all the outfits. Maybe you could go a bit more in-depth, though? Like do more than one ‘different’ oufit for every decade, I’m sure some have more than one style. Love how you gave us movie examples!

  22. 22
    November 15th, 2009 at 12:49 pm


  23. 23
    November 15th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Fantastic post!
    For my prom two years ago, I wanted to do something different than the usual puffy princess dress, so I decided to go 50’s! My dress was red and cupcakey- like in Hairspray. I wore pearls and 50’s vintagey heels and red lipstick. It was great; I really stood out.

  24. 24
    November 15th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    i love this article, it’s so inspiring and useful :D

  25. 25
    November 15th, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    wow, I love this article about vintage fashion! as I went through each period, different outfit ideas would pop into my head. I will definitely go back to this article for inspiration! good job!

  26. 26
    November 15th, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    This article is well-researched but the grammar is terrible. Seriously, did anyone edit this?

    Also, some of the historical info makes no sense. Example: “Men and women needed to work together in order to keep their families afloat, therefore almost undoing the progress that feminists had made in the previous decade.” If the men and women are working TOGETHER, how on earth does that undo feminist progress? Wouldn’t that be a good sign that the men and women worked together as equal partners?

    I love College Fashion; I’ve been reading it for a year and a half and subscribing for about a year. That’s why it bothers me to see such sloppy writing. This article is clearly well-researched, so next time, put half as much effort into your writing as you do into your researching! Thanks!

  27. 27
    November 15th, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    Great blog! Especially the historical references. To Carrie about the nodzzz neck warmer…I have one and it’s awesome. Like having a blanky around your neck!

  28. 28
    November 15th, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    I love everything above the 50s! This was a wonderfully informative article – thanks! :)

  29. 29
    November 16th, 2009 at 12:26 am

    I lov e this article! Being both a fashion lover and a history fanatic, I love taking inspiration from past eras. Luckily, a lot of our trends for the last decade have been historically inspired.

    My style is probably a mix of the 30s, 40s and 70s.

    The 30s and 40s are mt favourite silhouette. I have a very hourglass shaped body so the cinched waist works well for me. I also love the creativity of the women from this period. Being the time of the Great Depression and World War II, these women had to great wardrobes out of very litte. because they didn’t have much money and a lot of material went to use in war-related products.

    I love the 70s laid back nature and their appreciation for nature, which came through in their clothing. I try to wear natural products and love the earthy tones and beautiful prints of this era. I love fringing and braid detailing. Long skirts have replaced track pants in my closet.

    I also love the 20s, but my body shape doesn’t work for the silhouette. I mostly steal accessories from this period. I love the fantastic hats and jewellery.

    I think that, when people look back at our decade in fashion, what will most stand out is the emergence of personal style. From Carrie (Sex and the City) to the Olsen twins to stand out artists like Katy Perry and Lady GaGa, the women who have caught our eyes, who we have strived to emulate, have been those with a style all of their own. Eclectism has ruled.

    We have also been the decade of fashion borrowers. Most of our trends have simply been modernised trends of the past. We have stolen from every generation since the beginning of the 20th century, not being scared to clash together seemingly opposite trends. Take a 70s jumpsuit, an 80s style bomber jacket and team with 90s pointy stillettos and you are ready to hang with the cool crowd. This is not a bad thing, on the contrary. The Roman Empire made its legacy by borrowing from the civilisations they ruled. We can only hope that our legacy will be a strong as that of Rome.

    Of course, we have had some ideas of our own. “Masstige” fashion has made its name with great designers like Stella McCartney and Karrl Lagerfeld bringing their designs into the price range of the average women.

    Prestige denim has made its mark designers turning this once humble staple piece into a prestigious statement item, I the last decade we have seen every type of jean imaginable, from skinny to boyfriend, washed out denim to coloured, low rise to high waisted. The

    The “It Bag” and “It Shoe” have also found their niche. As long as your had one of these high-end items hanging of your arm or adorning your feet it didn’t matter if the rest of your outfit was from Target.

    I think that the last era has been an amazing one for fashion. We have thrown out all the rules and declared One Golden Rule. “There are no rules, as long as you wear it with confidence.” I think that we will see this philosophy carried through the decades to come, and who knows what else we will come up with.

  30. 30
    November 16th, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    thank you for an amazing article ! i love the blog !

  31. 31
    November 17th, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I am in LOVE with vintage fashion. 40’s and 50’s is my fav. So classy! Great article!

  32. 32
    November 21st, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Great Arictle! So inspired

  33. 33
    November 23rd, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    I love all the clothing you include in this article, but it really could have been written a lot better.

  34. 34
    November 27th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    This post is so interesting. I really enjoyed it!! What about the naughties though : ) My fave is the 80s!

  35. 35
    February 17th, 2010 at 11:54 am

    hey was up mofu

  36. 36
    March 18th, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    i like the last collocation so much ! very cool!

  37. 37
    September 22nd, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Beautiful article, gave me knowledge on each decade.. though would love to read more descriptively furtehr on each decade’s fashion :)

  38. 38
    September 23rd, 2010 at 5:53 am

    The 90’s were tragic! Ill fitted, tacky, and kitsch! Baggy pants, platform sneakers.. :D

  39. 39
    October 25th, 2010 at 2:46 am

    babygirl, you do a pretty terrible job of representing the styles of the decades.

  40. 40
    January 12th, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    i was trying to find the dress in topshop for the 1920s look couldn’t find it does anyone know where i can find one really similar to this…

  41. 41
    February 9th, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Where’s the love for the 60’s? Mod is one of my favorite styles (minus the boots) but I absolutely LOVE the 60’s for their fashion, pop culture and music! The 20’s were great too and the 80’s, well, you gotta love the 80’s!

  42. 42
    October 25th, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    I’ve always been a big fan of the 30’s and 40’s fashion and style of dress, but ti is hard to find information and references for men’s fashion of that era. Any suggestions where I could find some?

  43. 43
    October 28th, 2011 at 12:55 am

    Really a great lesson about fashion history. I always learn something new when I visit you site.

  44. 44
    January 5th, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Nice little snapshots. I’ve been getting into the 30’s fashion lately, Art Deco and Deiselpunk, so chique and glamourous! Just one quibble, I lived through the 70’s, and I don’t recall ever seeing platforms with stiletto heels, the heels were as clumpy as the sole, sometimes joined onto the sole almost like a wedge. If they’d had stilettoes I might not have hated them so much, it mitigates a lot of their ugliness!

  45. 45
    January 6th, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    my style is mostly 30s and 40s and a little bit of the 50s, in other words i really love dressing feminine and girly:)

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