Fashion Trends From Each Decade, 1920-2010
Fashion trends come and go (and come again, and go again), but there are certain styles that will always be irrevocably tied to the era that made them popular.
Let’s go back in time and remember some of the biggest fashion trends from each decade, from the Roaring ‘20s to Y2K.
1920s: Cocoon Fur Coat
A 1920s fashion trend that’s never gone out of style is the cocoon fur coat.
Designed to be worn over-sized to create a curved “cocoon” shape around the woman, it usually came with a large fur collar, a center button, and little by way of embellishment.
1920s: Cloche Hat
Women never left home without a hat in the ‘20s. Woven straw and cotton hats with wide brims were big in summer, but the most iconic headwear of the Jazz Age was the snug-fitting cloche hat, typically made of felt or handsewn.
However, it wasn’t for everyone – the cloche (French for “bell") was best suited for a woman with a small head and short bobbed haircut.
If it was too warm for a cocoon coat, a fringe wrap was the answer.
But all types of garments had long fringe in the ‘20s – from scarves to kimonos.
These elegant pieces looked great over sleeveless dresses, and were typically made of silk or velvet.
1920s: Mary Janes
Arguably the most popular shoe of the ‘20s was what we now call the Mary Jane – a pump with a single-buttoned strap across the top of the foot.
Named after the character in the New York Herald’s Buster Brown comic strip, the flat, round-toed version was a staple for little girls and boys. It also came in a more sophisticated heeled model for women – perfect for dancing.
1920s: The Flapper
Famous for their energy, freedom, and style, the flappers of the ‘20s were young women who pushed boundaries in the name of female independence.
Their signature dropped waist dress also became known as “the flapper,” with designers like Coco Chanel and Jean Patou embracing the trend.
1920s: Ornate Decoration
The typical ‘20s wardrobe might have consisted of simple lines and fuss-free pieces, but when it came to eveningwear, the more decoration, the better.
Beadwork, sequins, and embroidery added interest and ramped up the glamor on evening gowns, wraps, scarves, and headpieces.
1930s: Bias Cut Evening Gown
One of the best sartorial inventions of the 1930s is the bias cut, which involved cutting the fabric at a 45-degree angle instead of straight.
According to The House of Foxy, this “allowed the fabric to hug the body naturally by giving horizontal stretch and thus emphasizes a woman’s natural shape.”
1930s: The Blouse
There was a blouse to suit all tastes and social events in the ‘30s, from the simple, cotton floral-print button-down blouse to the less formal long-sleeved wrap over blouse with fitted waistband.
Patterned blouses were hugely popular, especially polka dots, plaid, and stripes.
1930s: Bows and Frills
Blouses and dresses often featured oversized bows, flounces, ruffles, and frills.
It didn’t matter whether the detail was at the neck, on the sleeves, around the waistband, or on the back. All that mattered was that it was there.
It may have been the decade of the Great Depression, but there was still a lot of fun in ‘30s fashion.
1930s: The Beret
By the mid-’30s, the cloche that was everywhere in the ‘20s had been replaced by a new hat obsession – the beret.
It may not have been a novelty for French women, but it was an exciting new accessory in the U.S. and other countries.
Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow were two of the famous style icons who liked to complete their look with the beret.
1930s: Puff Sleeves
In the ‘30s, women wanted to be tall and slim, with a tiny waist and narrow hips.
If that wasn’t their natural shape, they created the illusion with puff sleeves, ruffled cap sleeves, and shoulder pads to make their waists and hips look smaller.
1930s: High-waisted Sailor Pants
By the time the ‘30s came around, it was acceptable for women to wear pants in several different social situations.
A common look for watching or taking part in sports was the so-called “sailor middy” – knit tops and high-waisted pants with a double button “sailor” front.
1940s: A-line Skirt
Skirts in the 1940s were all about simplicity, due to war rationing and restrictions. So it was goodbye to the frills, bows, and ruffles of the ‘30s – as well as pockets and belt loops.
Colors were muted, fabrics were typically wool and rayon blends, and the shape was a boxy A-line, hanging smooth over the hops with a slight flare at the hem.
1940s: Victory Suit
An iconic wartime look was the two-piece “victory suit,” a practical, versatile tailored skirt and jacket.
Common fabrics were wool blends and wool-weight rayon, and wartime dye restrictions meant colors were limited to black, grey, brown, red, green, and navy blue.
Patterns added some interest, with plaids, checks, and pinstripes the most popular choices.
1940s: Workwear Overalls and Jeans
Women were recruited into all sorts of jobs in the ‘40s while men were training and fighting overseas. Victory suits might have been suitable for the office, but not for factory or shipyard work, which called for overalls and jeans.
Many women embraced this casual, comfortable style, and incorporated it into their at-home look as well. For inspiration, look no further than the allegorical, cultural icon Rosie the Riveter in her denim overalls and polka dot headscarf.
1940s: Sharp Shoulder Pads
Perhaps inspired by Joan Crawford’s powerful shoulders and cinched-in waist in the 1945 film “Mildred Pierce,” the ‘40s woman went crazy for a well-defined shoulder pad.
This went well with the decade’s utilitarian, military styles, and on a cultural level, the shoulder pad was a reflection of the assimilation of women into male-dominated environments.
The history of gingham in the U.S. goes way back to the 17th century, when it was exported from Malaysia, Indonesia, and India.
By the ‘40s, Hollywood stars were posing in gingham shorts, tops, and swimsuits, and women made their own from simple patterns. Katharine Hepburn’s gingham dress in the 1940 movie “The Philadelphia Story” might well have revived the trend.
1940s: White Button-down Blouse
The blouse trend continued into the ‘40s, but the look was quite different than the feminine 1930s shape. Instead of flounces and frills, the preference was for a simple silhouette, a comfortable fit and minimal decoration.
However, one feminine touch was gathering on the top of the shoulder sleeves, which created a subtle “puff” effect. When the war was over, blouses became a little more delicate, with lace inserts, pi tucks, and pleats reminiscent of the Victorian era.
1950s: Tea Dress
With the Great Depression and World World II over, the 1950s was a time to embrace new fashion trends.
Women aspired to an hourglass figure, which they created with full-skirted tea dresses – they often added petticoats underneath for even more volume, with hoops or crinoline cages providing the support necessary for all that weight.
1950s: Capri pants
Women continued their love affair with pants, wearing a range of styles.
The casual but chic Capri pant, introduced by designer Sonja de Lennart in 1948, ended at the lower calf. It was typically paired with a tucked-in blouse or shirt tied at the midriff.
1950s: Twin Set
The twin set (a matching sweater and cardigan) was first introduced by knitwear designer Otto Weisz in the early 1930s, when he created the duo for Pringle of Scotland.
In the ‘50s, the trend was adopted for women who worked as secretaries and teachers. Hollywood leading ladies like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn gave this previously boring look a glamorous edge.
1950s: Swing coat
The hugely popular swing coat took its name from the large pleats on the back of the garment – these added plenty of extra room for movement, which “swung” as the woman walked.
It usually had buttons from the chest to the waist, and was sometimes double breasted.
1950s: Kitten Heels
No outfit was complete without kitten heels, so-called because the style was considered a training heel for “kittens” – young girls who weren’t quite ready for high heel stilettos.
Easier to walk in but still elegant, kitten heels were usually made of soft leather or reptile skin, and had pointed toes.
1950s: Hostess Gown
One of the more unusual dress options in the ‘50s was the hostess gown, a trend that started when Lucille Ball wore a black lace hostess gown in “I Love Lucy.”
A cross between a dress, skirt, and Capri pants, it combined comfort and style.
1960s: Mini Skirt
In the early 1960s, hemlines rose to above the knee. The mini skirt was a product of the mod fashion movement, which was born in London but quickly spread across the world.
British models Twiggy and Sara Crichton-Stuart were often seen in mini skirts and dresses in a wide range of colors, from neon pink to deep green.
1960s: Hot Pants
The name Mary Quant is synonymous with the ‘60s, and one of the British designer’s greatest contributions to the fashion of the decade (and beyond) came in the form of super short shorts, known as “hot pants.”
They came in every color and fabric and could be worn over bare legs (if you were brave enough) or white or pastel-hued stockings. The only rule was they had to be short. Very short.
1960s: Shapeless Dress
Much of ‘60s fashion seemed to be inspired by little girls’ wardrobes, with oversized bows, delicate trim and shapeless or boxy dresses that didn’t accentuate a woman’s natural curves.
The “skimmer” dress fit straight on the body, with a high neckline, and it often had a belt to define the waist – but not shape it.
1960s: Bold Prints
Colors and prints in the ‘60s were inspired by the mod culture and pop art.
Although black and white was possibly the ultimate mod look (e.g. a black shift dress with an oversized white collar and cuffs), eye-catching prints were everywhere.
Checkerboard, horizontal stripes, large spots, psychedelic flowers, and even Campbell’s soup cans appeared on skirts, dresses, tops, and pants. Matching headscarves were common, too.
1960s: Futuristic Fabrics
Fashion designers were keen to explore new technologies and use material in innovative ways.
Newly developed materials in the ‘60s, such as patent and shiny PVC, were used for everything from mini skirts to thigh-high boots. A prevalence of white and silver added to the “space age” theme.
1960s: Maxi Skirt
As popular as the mini skirt was, by the end of the ‘60s the skirt had gone to the other extreme.
The floor-sweeping maxi skirt reflected the emerging laidback “hippie” style and culture, and was paired with an Afghan coat or suede waistcoat. Accessories like headbands and long beads completed the look.
1970s: Bell Bottoms
Bell bottoms, also known as flares, were one of the biggest trends of the 1970s and graced many a famous frame, from Sonny and Cher to Diana Ross.
Basically, if you had any hippie sensibilities, or liked to cut some shapes on the dancefloor, you had a pair. They were typically denim, often embellished with embroidered flowers and peace signs and worn with a military-style jacket, tie-dye T-shirt, or Mexican “peasant” blouse.
A sparkly sequin or sumptuous velvet jumpsuit was the perfect attire for the disco, and if you really wanted to stand out, you’d go for a full-on chiffon affair with flowing palazzo pants and an attached cape.
This stylish one-piece also worked in more practical fabrics, like cotton, denim, and polyester, for more casual occasions – the casual look often had a zip or button up front.
1970s: Platform Shoes
If there’s one shoe that epitomizes the ‘70s, it’s the platform. It’s been around since Ancient Greek times, and was famously worn by Marlene Dietrich famously in the ‘30s, but it found its true home beneath maxi dresses in the ‘70s.
And this ankle-breaking shoe also served a practical purpose for bell bottom-wearers – the massive sole stopped the cuffs from dragging along the ground.
1970s: Oversized Accessories
Hats, earrings, sunglasses... there was one rule when it came to ‘70s accessories – the bigger, the better.
Think Lynda Carter on “Wonder Woman” in her enormous specs, Diana Ross rocking chandelier earrings, and Farrah Fawcett in her wide brim floppy hat.
1970s: The Pantsuit
Women had to look the part if they wanted to compete in a predominantly male professional workspace, and the pantsuit was a perfect choice.
Woody Allen’s 1977 movie “Annie Hall” showed them how it was done with Diane Keaton’s gender-bending wardrobe of menswear-inspired pants, shirts, and jackets. Flat shoes, glasses, and a loose bow tie completed the look.
1970s: Sleeveless Vest
The vest was one of the most versatile items in the typical ‘70s wardrobe.
You could go for the long knit cardigan style, layered over blouses and pants, either hanging loose or belted at the waist.
Or you could go down the hippie route with suede and fringing, crochet, or faux fur. From a practical perspective, a vest helped to keep you warm without being too bulky.
What’s more 1980s than Jane Fonda in a leotard and leg-warmers?
Workout fashion – bold bodysuits, headbands, and bike shorts – reigned supreme, and you didn’t have to be doing aerobics to make it work.
Grace Jones strutted the red carpet in spandex on more than one occasion.
1980s: Hip Hop Style
Inspired by stars like Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa hip-hop fashion was a unisex look.
Think baggy “parachute” pants, sports details, bright colors, and vivid prints. And don’t forget sneakers, socks, snapback caps, and plenty of attitude.
1980s: Over Accessorizing
If you couldn’t decide whether to finish your look with a statement necklace, quirky glasses, a hat, or long gloves… well, you just threw them all on.
And while you were at it, you probably layered a bracelet or two – maybe even a chunky ring – over those gloves. The ‘80s definitely weren’t about minimalism.
1980s: Laura Ashley-inspired Dress
The ‘80s weren’t all about neon and spandex.
Those who preferred a more low-key, wholesome look stocked up on Laura Ashley-style dresses for a true “Little House on the Prairie” vibe.
They looked great with white Keds or Sam & Libby flats.
1980s: High-Waisted Jeans
The ‘80s wasn’t the first decade to embrace high-waisted jeans, but the power of advertising took their popularity to another level.
Basically, everyone wanted to look like Brooke Shields in the Guess campaign. This tight-fitting denim worked well with a blouse or T-shirt (tucked in, of course) and a classic leather belt to cinch the waist in even more.
1980s: Stirrup Pants
Another popular ‘80s pants style was stirrup pants – basically leggings with a band of material that went under the foot.
These came in every color of the rainbow and were best paired with an oversized sweater.
(FYI, they were first worn in the ‘20s by horse riders, but most people who wore them in the ‘80s had never been anywhere near a stable.)
1990s: Sheer Dress
Kate Moss’s sheer dress from 1993 will go down in fashion history, but she wasn’t the only one to bare all on a night out. Those who didn’t want to show everything went for sheer sleeves or panels, or layered a sheer dress over a simple, spaghetti-strap slip.
You didn’t have to be a punk to rock a chunky leather or chain choker in the ‘90s. Or maybe you preferred a delicate ribbon choker, perhaps with a silver charm? Whatever your style, the neck got plenty of attention during this decade.
1990s: Little Black Dress
You can never go wrong with an LBD. And it will never go out of style. But it probably won’t ever be as popular as it was in the ‘90s. Every celebrity style icon, from Naomi Campbell to Jennifer Aniston, relied on this wardrobe staple to make a red carpet impression, again and again.
1990s: Hair Accessories
Scrunchies, zig-zag hairbands, thick velvet hairbands, silk scarves, bandanas… your '90s look wasn’t complete if you didn’t have something in your hair.
Alternatively, you could go for a large, quirky hat, a la Mayim Bialik as “Blossom.”
1990s: Black Combat Boots
The footwear trend of the ‘90s were black combat boots – namely Dr. Martens.
The grunge scene was huge, and combat boots looked amazing with a floral dress and oversized cardigan, or leggings and a plaid shirt. The more beaten-up your boots looked, the better. Don’t forget the knit beanie…
1990s: Corset Top
The corset top went with everything from a short suit to a glamorous red carpet skirt.
Madonna’s 1990 “Blonde Ambition” tour helped this look go global with her pink satin Jean-Paul Gaultier design, and her love of the bodice was shared by everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Victoria Beckham.
2000s: Tube Top
There was a lot of flesh-flashing going on in the 2000s, and stars like Christina Aguilera helped set the tube top trend.
This basic piece of material was hugely popular, even if you had to spend the entire time tugging it up. Paired with low-rise jeans, it ensured that the belly-button ring was on display.
2000s: Denim Everything
Jeans had been a style staple for decades, and there had already been brief flirtations with denim shirts and skirts, but the ‘00s was the decade that really did denim.
We’re talking hats, dresses, coats, bags, and even shoes. If you don’t believe us, see Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake at the 2001 American Music Awards.
Maybe you had them running down the sides of your jeans, or applied the stick-on kind to your sunglasses and phone case.
Spelling out slogans on your T-shirt or adding all the bling to your hair accessories. However you liked them, rhinestones were huge.
See Hilary Duff in “Lizzie McGuire” showed us all how it was done.
2000s: Trucker Hat
Owning a Von Dutch or Ed Hardy trucker hat was everything in the early ‘00s. Gwen Stefani, Ashton Kutcher, and Nicole Richie were just a few of the slew of celebrities who sported a trucker – often at a jaunty angle – for their public outings.
With its wide brim, mesh panels, and foam front, it certainly wasn’t the most sophisticated of hat trends. Nonetheless, it took the fashion world by storm.
2000s: Wide Belt
No early ‘00s outfit was complete without the addition of a large wide belt. Various options were available, from shiny plastic to woven leather.
Some people favored the disc belt for a boho look, others preferred a studded vibe. Whatever your belt looked like, it had to be worn slung low on your hips.
2000s: Juicy Couture Tracksuit
Made famous by the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, the Juicy Couture tracksuit was unleashed in 2001.
If you liked low-maintenance fashion with an emphasis on comfort, you loved those velour separates. They came in every color under the sun, but baby pink was definitely the favorite.