Fashion is not only a creative and unique way to express ourselves and embody our own aesthetic but can be used as a powerful tool to ignite change socially. When we look at garments of clothing, there is certainly a hint of the times they were designed in.
Trends have been utilised to shake up the existing industry standard — particularly for women, and such fashions have since become symbols of bold, revolutionising moments. Let’s take a step back in time and revisit the styles that shook things up, the trends that changed our fashion journey.
1920s androgynous dressing
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was one of the most iconic designers of all time, switching it up from the rigid men’s and women’s fashions. Her iconic suit designs changed all this, disrupting the idea of gendered fashion and giving women the option to wear something other than a dress. Her style creations were inspired by the traditional masculine wardrobe along with sportswear designs, that allowed the wearer to be comfortable as well as fashionable. She favoured tweed fabric, which was associated with masculine styles, practicality, and most certainly not with glamour.
A masculine dimension infused into women’s fashion facilitated comfort, creativity, and a move away from the norm. Through these means, Chanel’s suit became a symbol of First Wave Feminism in the 1920s. However, Yves Saint Laurent took the design to the next level decades later. The creation of the Yves Saint Laurent “Le Smoking” tuxedo, aligned with the ideas behind female empowerment and sexual liberation. In an era in which very few public places even allowed women entry when wearing trousers, the tuxedo design was ground-breaking, disruptive, and provocative.
1960s sexual liberation
The 1960s — a decade of sexual liberation, particularly Mary Quant’s iconic mini skirt. Despite Chanel’s earlier pioneering fashion efforts, even she expressed shock and disbelief at this radical thigh-grazing style, famously questioning: “Have they all gone mad?”. The mini skirt was created in the context of female empowerment, and it encouraged women to reclaim their bodies and be able to express themselves however they desired. The cutting-edge mini skirt fast became a symbol.
As well as considered risqué, it was also designed to be comfortable, easy to wear, and affordable to the masses. It signified the fact that women could now wear and do whatever they liked.
1970s punk culture
When the punk movement came, everything we thought we knew about fashion was flipped on its head. The anti-establishment subculture was expressed boldly using fashion trends such as tartan jeans, intentionally ripped clothes, and paperclips. As punk progressed into the 1980s, street punk style brought us even more extreme versions of the iconic look, incorporating studded chokers, mohawks, tattoos, and facial piercings.
Anarchy and chaos are accurate definitions of the revolutionary punk look — a subculture centred around toppling the establishment. This was reflected in the untamed fashion which went out to specifically change any previous fashion ‘rules’.
This brand of feminism that we associate with the Spice Girls is partially responsible for yet another fashion revolution. Yes, the Spice Girls brought back Mary Quant’s mini skirt with a big impact, but they also brought us Sporty Spice, and signified that women could, at long last, be fashionable, comfortable, and sporty all at once.
Sportswear has since crept into mainstream fashion, with trainers, leggings, and crop tops no longer limited to the gym. These comfortable clothes allowed women to reject high heels and push-up bras if they wanted to, while still being able to embrace mainstream fashion and make a statement with their wardrobe.
A non-binary future?
With unisex clothing becoming increasingly popular, it would appear that the world’s fashion designers aren’t quite finished with testing the boundaries of fashion yet, and today in 2020 we are beginning to see more and more people throw gender-focussed fashion out of the window. Our current fashion revolution can perhaps be paralleled with the punk movement: the rules have been discarded and people are free to express their style however they like, regardless of their gender.
From well-known celebrities such as Ezra Millar and Harry Styles, to cult fashion publications such as Fruitcake Magazine, the fashion world is beginning to reject gender-locked fashion and brands are following suit. In discussion with the National Museum of Scotland, Fruitcake Magazine founder, Jamie Windust, described their views on fashion and gender: “I think for me fashion was one of the first ways that I explored gender. I was kind of questioning it, and I think for a lot of people that’s quite common; to just play with it, to have a bit of fun.”
Fashion isn’t just about aesthetic but is instrumental in signifying the times. We look forward to seeing what the next decade has in store for revolutionary and eye-catching fashion.