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20th Century | History Of Fashion And Hairstyling

20th Century


The 20th century has been a time of great change, greater than in any previous century. The First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945) brought about immense economic and social restructuring both in Britain and overseas. Industrial strength, together with the creation of the Welfare 'State and compulsory education for all have helped to improve the standard of life for ordinary people. Women have acquired improved economic status and the vote. Advances in medicine have helped to lengthen our life-span, communication and travel have broadened our cultural understanding, and science has heightened our awareness and understanding of our existence on our planet.

The invention of the mass media and the ability to manufacture clothing cheaply have made the world of fashion accessible to everyone. This, in turn, has stimulated faster change and a greater variety of fashions than ever before.

1900-1910—The Edwardian period Women

King Edward VII was very fashion-conscious and set the pace for men's fashions in this period. His influence also dominated female fashions as he particularly favoured the shape of the 'mature woman'. This involved women wearing an artificial, distorted corset that thrust the bust forward, tightened the waist and pushed the hips backward resulting in an S-shape (Fig. 4.50), which must have been agony to wear and did dreadful damage to the internal organs. It is no wonder that a characteristic image of the Edwardian lady was that she constantly fainted.

Women had a passion for lace to decorate their dresses, but for those who could not afford the lace Irish crochet was a good substitute. The popular colours reflected a new age. The sombre, dark colours of late Victorian dress gave way to pastel shades of pink, blues, greens and mauves.

The S-shape softened slightly in 1908 when a modification to the corset set a new shape of straighter hips. The 'Empire' gown became the fashion, and with it wide-rimmed hats were worn to make the hips look even slimmer.

Another characteristic of Edwardian dress was the high collar that extended to under the chin and was complemented by hair styles that were swept up off the neck and dressed on top of the head. The front hair was usually worn high, dressed over crepe pads, and this was called the `pompadour' style (Fig. 4.51).


Men's fashions followed the preferences of the King. The city gent style was favoured. This included a high collar with bow tie, waistcoat, straight jacket

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Fig. 4.50 Edwardian fashions.

with unpadded shoulders and straight sleeves, and narrow trouser legs with turn-ups. Men's hair was worn short above the collar, and usually parted in the middle or at the side, and oiled. The popularity for side whiskers had disappeared, but most men wore moustaches (see Fig. 4.50).


In 1910 a revolution in fashion began. An adventurous French fashion designer, Paul Poiret, had become inspired by the 1908 Russian ballet performance in Paris of Scheherezade, directed by Diaghilev, with superb oriental costumes designed by Leon Bakst. Poiret was entranced and from his imagination came a totally new shape for women. The theme was oriental, and the colours were garish reds, oranges, lemons and brilliant blues. 'Colour is liberation' Matisse had announced, disclosing the philosophy behind the Fauvist movement in painting, and Poiret was declared the `Fauve of fashion'. The shape of Poiret's new woman was like an up-turned triangle. Wide, loose fabrics swathed the body and narrowed towards the ankles (Fig. 4.52). The

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Fig. 4.51 Characteristic Edwardian 'pompadour' hair style.


Fig. 4.52 Poiret's oriental style with the 'hobble' skirt.

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Fig. 4.53 Example of Art Deco design.

tight restricting corsetry was no longer necessary and was abandoned, to be replaced by the new lighter rubber girdles that he had also devised The new 'hobble-skirts' had liberated the body but at the same time had now restricted the feet. (This was later modified by slitting the skirts in the front or at the sides to allow more freedom of movement.) High waists, straighter skirts, tunic overdresses, turbans, kimonos: all these new styles created a new, younger, thinner shape, offset by new oriental fashions in headwear and accessories, silk turbans, scarves, feathers, etc.

The First World War, 1914-1918, brought everything including the fashion world to a standstill. It did not pick up again until about 1919, when fashion designers realised that women, after the rationing during the war, and with their increased interest in sport, were in better shape. The hourglass figure that had once seemed so desirable now looked comical. Fashion suddenly focused on the younger woman instead of the middle-aged woman.

1920-1930 Women

When fashion did pick up after the war it reflected the mood of the times. The desire to escape from the depression of the war years spurred fashion designers such as Poiret, Coco Chanel and Shiapirelli to launch the new mood of the emancipated woman.

The styles dictated a straighter, shorter silhouette, which seemed to simulate boyish charm. The new 'androgynous look' of the emancipated woman had arrived.

The clothes hung on the body, hiding any suggestions of a female figure underneath and resembling a tubular framework, and, as if suddenly all social rules had gone out of the window, hemlines started to climb up the leg. For the first time women began to show their ankles. Then as the decade went on the hemlines went higher until about 1925-26 when they were up to the knee. There was a public outcry and religious condemnation, hut to no

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Fig. 4.54 The 'flapper' look of the 1920s.

avail; these were women with a mission. Not only did the length of the dress shock, women also started to smoke, wear provocative make-up and do the Charleston dance.

In 1923 Lord Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt. This inspired a new design movement, Art Deco, which influenced fashions, furniture and the decorative arts with simplicity of line, geometric and angular shapes (Fig. 4.53). The new 'flapper' look was completed with a long string of pearls, feather boa, cigarette holder, and head band (Fig. 4.54).

The new emancipated woman was completed when the long, feminine tresses were shorn to shorter, boyish hair styles, such as the short 'French bob', and the more dramatic 'shingle' and 'Eton crop' (Figs 4.55 and 4.56). Most fashionable women would go to barber shops to have their hair cut, sometimes even shorter than the men themselves. The short hair styles seemed to be the subject of many domestic rows and many married women would compromise by cutting the front hair short, but leaving the hair at the back long so it could be wound up into a bun or a coil (Fig. 4.57). Fringes were extremely popular.

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Fig. 4.58 'Cloche' hat.


Fig. 4.59 The 'Clara Bow' look.

Hats lost their elegance, size and popularity, except for the 'cloche' hat, which was an important part of the twenties' look (Fig. 4.58).

Another important influence on fashion in the 1920s was the first glimpse of glamour through the silent films of Hollywood. The dark, Egyptian looks of Clara Bow became the desirable image, with black kohl eyes and Cupid bow lips (Fig. 4.59). Later, towards 1929, women's fashions started to soften slightly. The line was not so harsh and the hemlines dropped to mid-calf.


Fashions for men also changed after the war years. The waistcoat lost favour and was replaced by the double-breasted jacket. But one of the most outrageous changes, in line with the extremities of female dress, was the

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Fig. 4.60 1920s fashions.

onset of 'Oxford bags' — huge, baggy trousers which often covered the shoe. `Plus fours', baggy knee-length bloomers, were also popular (Fig. 4.60).

Flat caps became popular, and men's hair was worn short and combed straight back (Fig. 4.61). Most men were clean shaven. The Prince of Wales set the fashion, favouring wide lapels and padded shoulders with a tighter- fitting jacket and wide trousers.

1930-1940 Women

The early 1930s saw a softer, more feminine female shape in fashions. Although the silhouette still had a tubular shape, the styles gave an indication of the curve of the waist, and the skirts had begun to be cut on the bias so that the garments clung to the hips. The hemline had dropped, and the focus now had moved to the new backless dress (Fig. 4.62). Black, navy and cream were still favourite colours, but also popular were duck egg blue, peach and shocking pink. Large wrap-over coats were also fashionable. There was still a

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Fig. 4.61 Male look of the 1920s.


Fig. 4.62 The backless dress of the 1930s.

trend for masculine clothes, perhaps best illustrated by the man's suit worn by Marlene Dietrich, which epitomised the emancipated woman.

The shape shifted slightly in the mid-1930s from the tube to the pyramid. Wide shoulders and slender hips became fashionable, and so did the tall,

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Fig. 4.63 The 1930s look.

slender shape. This was often enhanced by a hair style worn close to the head, with a small hat cocked to one side. Permanent waving had become popular and many styles had 'end perming', where the front hair was kept short and the back was longer with just the ends curled (Fig. 4.63). The mid-30s saw an influx of small, sometimes strange shaped hats as well as accessories inspired by the Surrealist movement in painting.

Another interesting shift was that fashion trends were now set by the images of Hollywood film stars rather than pure fashion garments. Women wanted the 'look', and with the added bonus of ready-to-wear clothes that were fast becoming available, they found they could achieve it. Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow look-a-likes emerged. Pencil-thin eyebrows framed heavy lidded, half-asleep looks, or outlined eyes and rich, luscious lips strived to find some identity. Blonde hair became very fashionable, and many women dyed their own hair, with harsh bleaches.


Fashions had steadily become more informal and men too enjoyed the influence of Hollywood. Slick good looks, a pencil moustache and short, neat hair seemed to echo the American gangster image, but generally most men still wore wide trousers, and knitted sleeveless jumpers became fashionable, worn over a shirt and tie. `Zoot suits' became a trend amongst the younger men and were influenced by bygone jazz days. Wide lapels, double-breasted, three-quarter length jackets, narrower trousers were worn with jazzy coloured ties, and a trilby hat.

The Second World War (1939-1945) brought the world of fashion to a grinding halt as all resources were poured into the war effort.

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Fig. 4.64 'Utility' clothing and forces uniform of the 1940s.


Fashions during the Second World War did not change very much. The basic silhouette stayed plain and square, which was an inevitable influence of the uniforms. Colours were also plain (green, blue and khaki) because of the lack of dyes. Cloth and buttons were restricted per garment. This range of fashions was labelled 'Utility' clothing, and these were the only clothes available for the exchange of rationing coupons (Fig. 4.64).

Women who went to work in factories for the war effort wore turbans and snoods for safety. These replaced the fancy small hats, and dungarees and trousers replaced the delicate dresses. Practicality suddenly became more important (Fig. 4.65).

The lack of fashion interest meant that more attention was paid to the hair in these war years. Most women grew their hair longer and the long page-boy favoured by Hollywood star Veronica Lake was popular (Fig. 4.66).

After the war rationing and austerity prevailed. It was not until 1947 that a new mood emerged, epitomised by a French designer, Christian Dior, in his `New Look' (Fig. 4.67). It was a nostalgic harking back to securer times and

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Fig. 4.67 Christian Dior's new look launched in 1947.

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Fig. 4.68 Beatniks.

was just what the war-weary public needed. The wasp waist returned with the help of waist corsets (waspies), along with full skirts, a softer shoulder line and a new emphasis on the bust. The female figure had returned.

The new image also revitalised interest in hair styles, and shorter styles became popular, in particular the 'urchin' cut, shaggy and shingled. Ponytails became popular for the younger females as a direct influence from America, also bleached streaks became the rage. An interest in hats returned. Small hats with nets were worn perched on one side and berets were popular.

Men after the war were issued with 'demob' suits and were glad to be in civilian clothes after years of uniforms.


After Dior's new look an array of different styles swamped the fashion world, focusing attention on either the waist, knees, hips or hemline. Most of them were very short-lived.



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Fig. 4.69 'Teddy boy' and rock-'n'-roll image of the 1950s.

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 sparked a gook-a-like' phase.

A new focus in fashion highlighted the growing demand for youthful fashions. Young females as well as males had grown dissatisfied with wearing the same fashions as their parents. They suddenly demanded their own identity. This mood emerged in Paris, Britain and America in literature, fashions, music and films, which all expressed defiance, non-conformity and youthful optimism. In Paris this mood manifested itself as a new 'beat' generation. They held contemporary values in disregard and searched for a purpose in life. Their personal appearance was of little importance to them and the sloppy jumpers, tight trousers, unkempt long hair and jazz-crazy image reflected this. They were nicknamed the 'beatniks' (Fig. 4.68).

In Britain, although the beatnik image grew, it was also the teddy boy image that expressed youth culture, with carefully coiffured DA hair styles, three-quarter length jackets, drainpipe trousers and 'brothel-creeper' shoes (Fig. 4.69). In America it was James Dean and Marlon Brando who set the fashion with macho tee-shirts, leather jackets and denim jeans. The rock-nroll upturned collar and swinging pelvis of Elvis Presley (Fig. 4.70) was an alternative.

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Fig. 4.70 The 'Elvis Presley' look.


This new profitable market of the teenager switched the dominance of the fashion world from Paris and Italy to Britain. Art colleges started to produce new young British designers. One of them was Mary Quant, who opened up the first boutique selling only teenager fashions in 1955.

This search for youthful identity influenced hair fashions also. While mature women wore shorter, neater hair styles, the young experimented with back-combing. Although it was not a new technique and had been used discreetly along with false hair to gain enormous proportions of hair styles in the past, it was now being used blatantly on natural hair and being administered by the wearer's own hands. The styles started off on shorter

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Fig. 4.73 The 1950s look.

hair with the back-combing used to gain volume, but towards the end of the decade the styles had grown to such heights that they resembled the unbalanced styles of the ancient Roman women, intended to be viewed only from the front (Fig. 4.71). Fringes were popular, and one of the most characteristic styles was a straight, long fringe with bouffant crown falling down into 'flick-ups' below the jaw line or lower (Fig. 4.72).

Rollers had been a popular invention and most women adopted them. It became a common sight to see roller-clad women in the streets, in shops and on public transport with their heads covered with a light scarf as a token of self-consciousness, but failing to conceal the mountainous landscape underneath. Use of cosmetics had been on the increase since the war. Max Factor and Rimmel were the most popular manufacturers of make-up at reasonable prices, so that most women could afford it. Lipstick in luscious, shiny reds was the most popular, and lips were the focus of the face, although an interest in the eyes emerged towards the end of the 1950s. Eyebrows were thick and well-shaped. Black eye-liner was worn discreetly, emphasising and shaping the eyes (Fig. 4.73).


In fashion the 1960s saw a breakdown in classic fashion rules. The swing from high couture Paris fashion to British boutique styles had started in the 1950s with Mary Quant. Now they took hold and there was an influx of small, dark, mysterious boutiques offering an alternative shopping experience to a select few. Canned music, strange boutique names and enthusiastic shop assistants suddenly made shopping a social event. The boutiques aimed towards the 15-25 age range and only offered limited sizes, basically because

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Fig. 4.74 The 'mini' dress by Mary Quant.


Fig. 4.75 1960s fashions inspired by current events — space travel, pop and op art.

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the new fashions desired a slim figure, not dissimilar to the look of the 1920s `flapper' styles.

One of the most characteristic fashions of the 1960s was Mary Quant's mini (Fig. 4.74), which has been in the wings ever since, reappearing now and again in some revamped style. The hemlines of the 1920s had shocked; now these minis of the 1960s rose to astonishing heights, revealing as much thigh as possible without becoming indecent. Designers were also inventive with the use and combinations of new materials in their fashions: wool, paper, plastics, lurex and metals. They also dealt with current issues, such as space travel, pop and op art, and anti-war slogans (Fig. 4.75). This revolution in fashions reached through to the Paris fashion houses and some of their young, talented designers broke free. In particular, Yves St Laurent opened up his own Rive Gauche shops, and responded to the voice of youth.

Another revolution took place in the 1960s in hair styling. A young East End-trained hairdresser, Vidal Sassoon, popularised the trend of cutting and blow-drying the hair into style rather than laboriously setting, combing-out and lacquering. He created a range of styles that relied on precision cutting to create the shape and style. All that was needed afterwards was to wash the hair and blow-dry it (Fig. 4.76), which was also a unique method of hair styling. He revamped and popularised the old 1920s bob and was seen to work hand-in-hand with fashion designers to complement the fashions and help produce 'the look'. The prime example of this amalgamation was the creation of Twiggy, who became the face of the 1960s (Fig. 4.77). Twiggy's long, skinny, boyish figure became the desired shape as did her face. The pale, languid complexion enhanced by white lipstick was a stark contrast to the heavy black doe-like eyes. The look was then completed by Sassoon's short `garçonne' or geometric hair style.

An alternative style of fashion to Quant emerged in the mid-60s. Barbara Hulanicki had started off with a successful mail-order business, and then later opened a shop in Kensington called Biba. The dominant fashion colours


were black, plum and brown, and the style was vampish, glamorous and with a sense of mystery. Satin, silks and feather boas gave a hint of the Hollywood of the past (Fig. 4.78).

Another important advance was black fashion. Black models appeared for the first time in 1964. Up until this time black fashions had followed the trends of white ideals. A good example of this is the pop group, The Supremes, who wore straightened hair, wigs, make-up designed for white people and white fashions. In 1966 the Afro cut emerged (Fig. 4.79) and Black fashions became recognised in their own right, towards the end of the decade. 'Black is beautiful' was a well used phrase and black consciousness was slowly emerging. An interest in tribal hair styles produced an influx of fashionable black styles, in particular 'corn rowing' (Fig. 4.80) and Afro wigs, which were worn by both white and black males and females.

It was quite common for males and females to wear the same clothes, more often than not hipster bell-bottoms or 'loons' and `grandad' vests, hence the name 'unisex' fashions.


After the intensity of the 1960s, the fashions and styles of the 1970s sought inspiration from nostalgia in an attempt to capture some kind of identity from the past. It seemed as though everybody was looking for a little niche that suited them, and consequently there was an assortment of different fashions all going on at the same time in a sort of chaotic fashion bonanza. From this mishmash developed an important progression in fashion styling, that of 'street fashion'. Ordinary people started to be the fashion innovators themselves, developing their own unique look rather than submitting to fashion designers.

The general mood, though, in the early 1970s was more romantic than

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Fig. 4.80 (a) Black fashions imitated European styles in the 1960s; (b) then later a total reversal — European fashions imitated traditional black styles, e.g. the 'Bo Derek' look.


Fig. 4.81 Hippies.

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later, when it became more rebellious. The hippy cult hung on from the late 1960s. Their philosophy resembled that of the beatniks of the 1950s, and so did their appearance — plain, loose clothes, no shoes, long, unkept hair. They believed the spirit outshone material details, and their goal was world peace (Fig. 4.81). Other more romantic looks were: the peasant look promoted by Laura Ashley and Liberty prints (Fig. 4.82); the revival of 1930s clinging fashions along with platform shoes; the 1920s gangster moll Bonnie and Clyde look; hot pants; maxi clothes (which were inevitable as a reaction to the extreme '60s minis). The emancipated woman look returned with the popularity of trouser suits in bright colours, such as mauves, greens and mustards.

Black consciousness which had started in the 1960s now became a political force and was reflected in black fashions and hair styles. Ethnic fabrics and prints influenced white fashions. Tribal hair plaiting influenced the white hair styles and the 'Bo Derek' look emerged. Before, black fashions had always followed white fashions. Now the influence was reversed (Fig. 4.80).

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The punk movement was the most important fashion innovation of the late 1970s. The punk look was made popular by designer Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren. Punks aimed to shock and react against the social norm and establishment and they did this by wearing disturbing, threatening styles, materials and accessories — safety pins through their noses, chains, studs, bondage, plastic bags, straps, torn and shredded cloth (Fig. 4.85). The colours also reflected the mood: black and purple. The image was angry and vicious and was completed by severe heavy make-up and unconventional hair styles: bright green and pink mohicans, or short spiked hair that had been severely bleached and partially shaven. Punks boycotted hairdressers and instead created their outlandish styles by cutting and styling each other's hair or they did it themselves (see Fig. 4.86). From this rebellion, various hair salons sprang up such as Antenna, whose aim was solely to satisfy each individual client whether it was using conventional or unconventional methods. Colour was experimental, and the vivid shades were sometimes obtained by using carpet dyes or food colouring. The rigid texture of the

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Fig. 4.85 Punk look.

outrageous styles was achieved by rubbing sugar or soap into the hair to begin with, but later hair manufacturers were quick to catch on and hair gel became widely used.

This movement was interesting because it was the first time that ordinary people actually had control over their own image instead of the fashion designer or stylist dictating it, and that street fashion actually influenced high fashion. Designers such as Zandra Rhodes and Jeff Banks took their inspiration from it and designed collections incorporating safety pins, bondage straps and deliberate rips and tears.


Gothic punk emerged as the older punk styles faded. The image was less severe but still shocked. Gothic punk still favoured black. Styles were longer

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with chains. Studded belts and crucifixes were worn as accessories. The hair styles incorporated very short sides with long layers over the rest of the head, back-combed and spiked out, and the make-up was still in heavy black and mauves but drawn more artistically (Fig. 4.87).

The punk movement had influenced fashion as a whole and the early 1980s saw punk become respectable. Fashions for all ages reflected some influence of punk, and in hair styles too, the prevalent use of gels, sprays and foams enabled all age groups to achieve the unkempt, windswept look. The vivid colouring also affected hair designs. Manufacturers produced a range of bright semi—permanent colours in pink, green and blue which might be put onto bleached hair; sometimes on the tips of the hair; or in a small area in the front or at the back or sides. Certain aspects of the punk fashions were accepted and interpreted into the current fashion trends. Trousers and jeans echoed the bondage image. Tee-shirts were sold supporting tears and holes. Accessories included pins, chains and straps.

In the early 1980s designers soon realised the influence of current pop groups on fashion trends. Along with the powerful vehicle of television, the groups became performing mannequins, selling new ideas and images to an extremely wide audience. Music and fashion became a strong weapon in the creation of new images. One of the designers to utilise this capacity was Vivienne Westwood. She created the new 'romantic look' which was best illustrated by groups such as Spandau Ballet, and the 'pirate' look pioneered and modelled by Adam Ant.

Another strong influence on the fashion scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s came from America. The increasing popularity of jogging, keep-fit and sports brought the trend for jogging suits, sweatshirts, work-out kits,


Fig. 4.86

Rebellious punk image.

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Fig. 4.87 Gothic punk.

leotards, footless tights, and trainers (Fig. 4.88). Sporting clothes also influenced street fashion. Ski pants became popular worn with high-heels in such colours as bright orange, yellows and lime green.

Over the last three or four years fashions have still been dominated by street fashions, although they have tended to be gimmicky — fluorescent colours, hip-hop and acid house crazes appealed to the young while the popularity of wearing black was favoured by the more mature age group and took quite a while to die out. There has also been a strong influence of African prints interpreted into Western fashions (Fig. 4.89).