The History of Fashion: Trends & Design

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  • 0:04 Why Is Fashion Important?
  • 0:26 Parisian Fashion
  • 1:01 Changing Hemlines
  • 2:17 Rebellion
  • 4:39 The 90s and Beyond
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Since the 1900s fashion has changed dramatically. From Victorian style to bell bottoms, the evolution of clothing reflects the change of people and their behaviors over the years.

Why Is Fashion Important?

Fashion is a form of self-expression and identity. Are you sleek? Business minded? A hipster? Vintage? Fashion is clothing that becomes a trend, which tends to reflect a behavior, mindset, or circumstance. There are odd fashion trends all over history, telling a story about the people of that time and culture. Let's take a closer look.

Parisian Fashion

During the mid-1800s, Paris started haute couture, a new trend in fashion that elevated mere dressmaking to the luxurious status of high-quality, customized fashion. During this time, individual designers made their mark in the fashion industry with their one-of-a-kind creations that wore the designer's name on the label.

Many haute couture dresses had small trains, and were decorated with many buttons, ruffles, and ribbons. Although the fashion started in Paris, it moved over to other countries as well, especially the United States, and the concept and practice carries on to this day.

Changing Hemlines

Flapper Dress

During and after World War I, women's fashion started to evolve drastically. Dresses became more casual, and hems were raised to the knee. During the 1920s we saw fashion like the flapper dress where the waistline was dropped and there was a lot of fringe and sequins.

Women's suffrage influenced fashion all around the world, as women were trying to be stronger and more independent in their choices. They tried to look more androgynous by wearing fewer undergarments that accentuated the female form. Instead the clothing was straight and even, and hair was chopped to masculine lengths, giving a more boyish appearance. This was accompanied by behaviors like smoking, drinking, and dancing in new and exciting ways.

By 1929 the Great Depression ushered in a time of even more functional clothing. Women wore female suits and military-inspired clothing. Everything was determined by money, so clothing needed to be durable and able to be worn for everything.

Once World War II hit, clothing was in short supply and rationed out by the government. Women everywhere were experiencing a loss of fashion and an excess of functionality. This inspired women to use whatever fabrics were available, including curtains, old men's clothes, and sheets.


After World War II in the 1950s, fashion took on an air of rebellion. Cloth and clothing were available again, so fashion designers and customers were breathing a sigh of relief and rediscovering personal styles.

Between Dior gowns, poodle skirts, and saddle shoes, the clothing was unique. The hem lines had moved back up, and femininity was back to being popular after so many years of more serious clothing. In Europe, they had started to focus on ready-to-wear clothing and cocktail dresses, which were the new evening wear.

Colors were also brighter, and patterns were floral and feminine. The music during this time also had an influence over the clothing; since rock and roll required the ability to move, swing, and bounce around, the clothing had to allow this. Another odd fashion choice during this era was the cone-shaped bra, which was popular in Hollywood.

During the '60s and '70s, fashion changed drastically. Women wore pants, mini-skirts, bell-bottoms, and flowy clothing. There were hippies that wore what was considered bohemian: bell sleeved, tie-dyed, or easy flow material.

The freedom mindset of these days made the younger generation a large influence in clothing industries. Music also became influential, as disco music created a need for clothes that would reflect the lights in the clubs, and tightness became universal for men and women.

In contrast, Jackie Kennedy became a fashion icon all over the world, inspiring women to wear slim dresses, small jackets, and pillbox hats.


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