Fashion has the ability of reflecting who we are on the inside – our character, our interests, our emotions. If we look at the evolution of fashion through time, we can see how the trends portray the overall mood of various eras. The grave, business like attire of the 40s juxtaposes the vibrancy of the 50s which welcomed a new post war era of hope and relief. The quirky, laid back style of the 70s exhibits progression and mobility to a period of wide self-expression.

Ball gown by Dior, silk taffeta, 1954. Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Ball gown by Dior, silk taffeta, 1954. Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Although there are many similarities in the ways in which fashion evolved in England and the USA (particularly in London and New York, as the fashion bases of the two countries), certain factors influenced the development of style and set different paths which distinguished the styles.

Britain saw certain strains on fashion during the second world war on account of rationing. Emphasis was placed on attire which would be durable and convenient to work in, as well as clothes that would last longer. Often seen in civilian clothing were elements of the army uniform, such as blazers and grey and beige colours.

the history of fashion
This is a good example of a Utility Suit. It is from the Utility Collection by the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers for the Board of Trade. It may have been designed by Victor Stiebel. The simplification and economy of material match the conditions laid down by the Board in relation to the manufacture of civilian clothing during the Second World War of 1939-1945. The bloused jacket with square, padded shoulders closely resembles the battledress top of an army uniform. (Victoria and Albert Museum)

The late 1940s as well as the early 50s welcomed a new hopeful period accompanying the end of the war. Rationing on clothes ending in 1949, and Christian Dior’s ‘new look’ campaign spread rapidly, ushering in a modern perspective on clothes. Garments became more feminine, emphasising the hourglass shape by accenting the waistline.

The style in London during the 1960s was mainly determined by ‘The Chelsea Set’, a group of artists responsible for setting the trends of the decade. A member of The Chelsea Set was Mary Quant, who opened a boutique aiming to capitalize on the production of comfortable yet stylish clothing and introduced the hype of the mini skirt. Another major trend-setter from this period was Twiggy, a young model from London who surprised the world with her display of bold colours and patterns.

historical fashion, fashion evolution,
Twiggy, photographed by Bert Stern, 1967. (Flickr) Lesley Lawson, widely known by the nickname Twiggy, is an English model, actress and singer. In the mid-1960s, she became a prominent British teenage model of swinging sixties London.

The 70s in London saw a modern revolutionary lifestyle which expressed itself through fashion – punk. This included dark clothes, leather trousers and jackets, dog collars and other hyperbolic items of clothing that definitely made a statement. This style was so iconic and powerful that it quickly spread to the United States.

punk fashion sex pistols
Johnny Rotten, Sex Pistols. (nico7martin via Flickr)

Fashion in New York during the late 30s and early 40s was greatly affected by the Depression and the Second World War. Designers largely made use of manmade fibres such as nylon in order to conserve natural, now less attainable, fabrics. The large emphasis on practicality restricted the freedom of fashion designers and greatly decreased the influence of French fashion, which stood for elegance and vibrancy – the opposite of the now almost total utility based clothing.

history of fashion design, Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn. (Ubé via Flickr)

However, this ‘fashion depression’ was soon overthrown by a sort of style renaissance; in the hopes of trying to come away from the horrors of war, people did everything they could to add colour and brightness to their lives. Dresses became more feminine and were often covered in detailed decoration. French influence re-emerged as Dior’s ‘New Look’ campaign spread overseas. High society figures greatly changed people’s perception of fashion – Audrey Hepburn capitalized the comfortable yet elegant look of capris pants and flats.

This fast progression paved the way for further developments as New York welcomed the Hippie Movement in the late 1960s with wide hemmed jeans and tie dye. The climax of this movement was seen in the 1970s, with prominent figures such as Elvis Presley and John Travolta spreading the trend with their disco unique style. David Bowie moved to New York in 1974 and captivated the American audience with his modern and quirky way of expression.

Despite being located on different continents New York and London share many aspects of fashion and it is clear that one would not be the same without the other. The power of fashion and the message it relates is so great that it has the ability of traversing oceans in the hopes of reaching more people and instilling in them a passion which provides them with a common interest. In such a way, fashion can truly bring people together.

Written by Anna Yefroyev 

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