Beauty is fluid. For proof, look no further than the varied beauty and fashion trends popular in the United States in the 20th century. Depending on the decade, the ideal man or woman looked quite different. While men’s styles focused largely on clothing and less so on their bodies, 20th century beauty trends for women were heavily influenced by the size and shapes of their figures.
As television and film became more popular midway through the century, Americans began looking up to 20th century beauty icons for fashion cues. Women pined to look like blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe in the ’50s, and waiflike Kate Moss in the ’90s. Men first looked at silver screen stars and later bulked-up bodybuilders as influences.
Some of these fashion trends in the 20th century look outdated to modern eyes. But whether the look was understated and tailored or over-the-top and glamorous, these trends were all the craze at one point. Just remember – beauty was, and is, in the eye of the beholder.
The Early 1900s Championed Voluptuous Figures And Stylish Suits
During the early 1900s, women wore S-bend corsets to emphasize their figures. The aim was to show off one’s curves by pushing the hips back and the chest up. Illustrator Charles Gibson popularized this look, which became known as the Gibson Girl. Women wore puffy blouses embellished with lace and ribbons. Large, wide-brimmed hats covered their hair, which was often parted in the center and made fuller with extensions. In the 1910s, frilly shirts were still in fashion, as was a higher waistline; skirts, however, became tighter.
Young men preferred trimmed mustaches and short hair, while only older gentlemen sported beards in the early 1900s and 1910s. Three-piece suits were common, along with narrow jackets and starched collars. After the onset of World War I, men commonly posed for photographs in military uniforms.
Curves Went Out Of Fashion In The 1920s
The Flapper-style dress, with its straight silhouette and shorter hemline, came about in the mid-1920s as women opted for more casual attire. The aim was to have a boyish figure and a flat chest. Most daringly, women also began to wear their hair short as a way to express themselves. The Jazz Age was all about excess and partying, and exposed skin and non-traditional femininity expressed a carefree attitude.
Men of that era started wearing suit pants with cuffs, and the lapels on their jackets were smaller compared to the wider lapels popular during World War I. Shoes became more lavish, with wingtips and fringed tongues. Like the women, Jazz Era men aspired to be thin.
Hats Were All The Rage In The Roaring ’20s
In the early 1900s, women preferred wide-brimmed hats. By the ’20s, they started wearing the close-fitting cloche hat, which was perfect for women who opted for short hairstyles. These rakishly tilted hats were often paired with chic flapper dresses.
Men wore all sorts of hats in the 1920s, depending on the occasion: straw boaters, panamas, bowlers, or fedoras. The bowler was particularly popular; towards the end of the decade, men wore these hats in brighter colors.
1930s Fashion Was Glamorous, Despite The Depression
By the 1930s, women had abandoned the boyish look. Now they favored clothes that accentuated the natural waistline and fitted more closely to the body. Narrow hips, however, were still greatly desired. The economic hardships of the era led to the rise of cheaper factory-made clothing, particularly garments featuring zippers. But evening dresses were all about glamor; silky, clingy, bias-cut dresses showed a woman’s figure off.
As for men in the ’30s, they wanted to be Superman – literally. The athletic figure was greatly sought after, and clothes emphasized broad shoulders and narrow waists. Military-inspired jackets and coats were popular, as were high-waisted, pleated pants. As for evening wear, Fred Astaire’s tuxedo tailcoat was the must-have look.
Practical ’40s Fashion Highlighted Shoulder Pads And Broad Chests
During the 1940s, women started wearing knee-length dresses. They also began wearing shoulder pads under their dresses, blouses and jackets, creating a boxy, masculine appearance. It wasn’t uncommon for women to remake men’s suits into women’s wear while the men were overseas fighting in World War II. Cleavage was a no-no, but women’s clothing did feature cut-outs and sweetheart necklines. The apparel of this era was less geared towards fashion and more towards durability.
Men commonly wore suits, sport coats, trousers, and sweaters during the ’40s. The typical outfit consisted of dress pants and shirts. They also opted for fitted sweaters, sweater vests, and waistcoats. The clothing was meant to emphasize their figures; actors like Clark Gable and bodybuilder Charles Atlas inspired men to build strong, muscular chests.
1950s Women Showed Off Hourglass Curves While Men Lounged In Leisure Wear
Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe greatly influenced women’s beauty standards in the 1950s. The hourglass shape and curvaceous figures were sought after, as was perfect skin. After the strict regulations of wartime, hyper-femininity became all the rage; women wore dresses and sweater sets and skirts when out and about. Their dresses featured wide skirts puffed with crinolines, and small collars with a variety of designs on them. Closer-fitting dresses became more popular later in the decade.
Men loosened up with their fashion in the ’50s. They wore Hawaiian shirts, trousers, and loafers. Polo shirts also became popular both on the golf course and off. The younger generation wore cardigan sweaters and letterman jackets. The James Dean look – a leather jacket, white t-shirt and jeans – was relegated to the “bad boys.”
An Androgynous Look Dominated The Early ’60s
The economy was still strong in the 1960s, so fewer women made their own clothes and opted to shop for them instead. What people wore often indicated their social class, and casual clothing became king. Women strived to be thin, like model Twiggy, and many aimed for the androgynous look.
Women wore miniskirts and imitated British-inspired “Mod” fashion. Both men and women started wearing bright colors and clothes featuring geometric patterns. Men wore flared pants, knit shirts, and sweaters.
Hippies Broke The Fashion Rules In The Late ’60s
The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York City were full of hippies during the 1960s, who wore clothing in direct contrast to the Mod look popular during the ear. Women rebelled against wearing makeup and shape-defining articles of clothing, such as girdles, padded bras, and stockings. Instead, they opted for peasant shirts, tie dye garments, bell-bottomed jeans, and long maxi skirts. Both men and women preferred wearing sandals and growing their hair long. Men also grew unruly beards.
Individualism And Texture Filled The ’70s
By the 1970s, people were less concerned with fitting in with the crowd and more interested in expressing their individual personality in their clothing choices. Leisure suits, overalls, bell bottoms, tunics, giant collared shirts, and pant sets were common. People also wore bright colors and tactile fabrics, such as velvet and corduroy. Sparkling fabrics were perfect for nights out at the disco.
Daisy Duke from The Dukes Of Hazzard mesmerized fans by showing of her stomach in crop tops, while working women wore power suits with silk blouses. Fur was also a popular add-on to many outfits. Men and women often wore double denim, pairing denim shirts with denim pants. Turtlenecks and belted tank tops were also in style.
As far as the bodies under all those vivid fabrics, a more natural look was favored. Health rather than thinness became the focus.
The ’80s Ideal: Supermodels And Super-Fit Bodies
The ’80s was the decade of excess. The bigger, the better, regardless of whether it was the car you drove or the clothes you wore. Disposable income and yuppies greatly influenced the fashions of the decade.
Super famous supermodels like Cindy Crawford, Naomi Cambell, Christy Turlington, and Iman typified ‘80s style with their glamorous cover shoots. But women commonly wore leggings and spandex as well, channeling the fitness craze sparked by exercise gurus such as Jane Fonda.
Men modeled their look after popular shows, such as Miami Vice, and wore pastel suits, jackets over t-shirts, and shoes without socks. As for body type, men strived for huge muscles – action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone ruled the box office.
Thin Was In And The Everyman Reigned During The ’90s
Extremely thin models filled the runway during the early ’90s. The term “heroin chic” was introduced during the decade, which was dominated by thin fashion icons like Kate Moss. Women wore casual slip dresses and more relaxed silhouettes; flared and low-rise jeans became popular.
Men strived to look like an everyday type of guy – neither too big nor too thin. Plaid was the pattern of choice, thanks to the rise of grunge. Plaid was super popular in the ’90s among both men and women. Other popular trends of the decade included oversized sweaters, overalls, and cargo pants. Casual silhouettes predominated, even in formal wear.