Defining the decades

This article was originally published here on OVERDUE Magazine

Ahead of the new decade, Alice May delves into fashion’s dust-riddled archive

As we approach the eve of 2020, another year closes but so does another decade. Fashion is very much a thing of transformation – taking cultural insights from the world in which it exists. Moving rampantly with the times. Each ten year period crafts its own notorious style, from the Mary Quant miniskirt to Jacquemus minibags and beyond. In tribute to the 2010s, OVERDUE rounds up past hero pieces:

Swinging straight into the 1960s, a decade rich with colour and quirky eclecticism, we see hope. A time when Youthquake made moves in the independence of young people, turning to fashion as a rebellious outlet. Mods and rockers popularised parkas, drainpipe trousers, then the Beetlecrusher shoe. Elsewhere, floral Mary Quant miniskirts caused a ricochet with their precarious hemlines. Girls traded long hair for Twiggy-esque bobs, pulling upon their feet white go-go boots below Mondrian shift dresses. Pop Art jewellery, with its Andy Warhol charm took the form of giant spherical earrings and vinyl pendants. For those with a lavish eye, the Hermès “Kelly” bag became a raging symbol of status. Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot epitomised the sixties through simple elegance; pairing an LBD with pearls or a pillbox hat. The defining motto became one of mould-breaking, of dressing vividly, looking optimistically forward. 

By the 1970s, daisy prints had evolved into disco-ready psychedelics. Bell bottomed trousers, flares too, graced every dancefloor. While brands like Halston and Armani grew to relevancy, the glam rock movement saw a colossal rise of the platform boot. Modern precursors like Ray-Bans and Levi jeans also gained significant style traction. Where the 1960s birthed rebellion, the 1970s saw its fruition through Vivienne Westwood and the leather-clad, safety-pinned punks. David Bowie then tapped into dark arts of Japanese fashion, with avant-garde Kansai Yamamoto designs and early Comme des Garçons. But perhaps the most definitive garments were those of gold medallion necklaces atop turtlenecks and grossly oversized lapels. Excess was rife. Layering of knits: tank tops, Missoni stripes, and cashmere skirts served for the winter months. By stark contrast, Stevie Nicks made flowing boho dresses a hippie pièce de résistance for festival season that echoed the airy, carefree nature of the decade.

The 1980s called, they want their shoulder pads back. No decade did size quite like the eighties. Larger than life, power suiting took charge in the office just as lycra leotards marked the decade’s go-to for sportswear. Neon shell tracksuits were a key piece, as the emergence of FilaReebok and Puma threw fashion into the fitness world. Cult icons like Madonna popularised fishnet gloves, bejewelled bangles and the infamous coned bra. It was a time of great experimentation, not-so-great permed hair. The New Romantics explored pirate culture, making waves with tricorn hats or a balloon-sleeved shirt. Exquisite dressmaking from Alaïa to Mugler elevated the female body to new heights of seduction; clinging fabrics being the most flattering. All the while, casual American cool soared as Calvin Klein debuted its iconic cotton underwear. The raunchy advertising campaigns were unlike any other. Back in Britain, fashion was given royal flourish after Princess Diana donned the preppy kitten heel and blouse as classic decade items. Her influence was extraordinary. In a time of the 1984 political hotbed, the genteel Princess of Wales came to carve out a legacy. Not least for her graceful dress sense, but her philanthropic ways. Monochrome midi dresses with a string pearl necklace were part of this new modern femininity.  

Exchanging sophistication for Spice Girls, the 1990s was fashion’s version of a fun little sister. One that wore stacks of beaded necklaces and stomped around the house in hot pink jelly sandals. Baby Spice and the Olsen twins put forth a babydoll mash-up of dainty slip dresses over cargo pants, much to the dismay of fashion aficionados. Supermodels, both on the runway and off, introduced celebrity glitz to the decade. A history book garment was Liz Hurley’s 1994 black and gold Versace dress at the premiere of Four Weddings and A Funeral. High glamour became synonymous with the likes of designers John Galliano at GivenchyDior and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel who defined the nineties through luxury tailoring. Overall fashion blurred into various subcultures. On one hand, Kurt Cobain and the gritty Doc Marten, ripped-jean grunge dressers. On the other was media mania: v‑hip swimsuits from Baywatch, leather Matrix trench coats, or the co-ord patterned suit, courtesy of Clueless. The nineties debuted perhaps the most nostalgic items of history. Some have even crept back in 2019 – bum bags and chain belts to name but a couple. Fendi’s baguette bag has also been revived by the likes of Olivia Palermo and Emma Roberts in recent seasons.

Upon the millennium, 2000s fashion seemed to take a casual turn. It was now that Juicy Couture and velour tracksuits – think Paris Hilton, Britney Spears – had a shining moment. Leading onto the low-slung “bumster” trouser, famed by Alexander McQueen, or J‑Lo’s iconic green Versace number, this decade was the most promiscuous yet. Sex and the City best summed up the 2000s; effervescent, and full of Manolo Blahnik heels. Crop tops with a layered spaghetti strap camisole made regular appearances, as did patent fabrics, notoriously in pink a la Legally Blonde. Fashion took on unusual proportion, testified by the impractically tiny shrug top or wide-legged skater jeans. Yet accessories exuded a more tacky appeal. Studded belts, Von Dutch trucker hats and satin headbands sold in droves. Sienna Miller and her gypsy-skirt-circle-belt combination are worth an honorary mention. With the expansion of new technologies, plus brands that glorified retail, the noughties exploded with stand out items. The it-bag was a prime example, characterised in the 2000s largely by Dior saddle bags and the Chloé girl, with her “Paddington” top-handled style. Shoppers were quick to absorb new trends, defining this decade as one of high street glamour. 

Alas, the 2010s are reaching the bittersweet end. As the current decade comes to a close, one can appreciate its fashion positives and faux pas. Off-duty model style poised the Bella Hadid slim sunglasses as a key decade item. Likewise, the Jacquemus minibag took a small spotlight in 2019. It was all about the details. Prior to this, athleisure and streetwear reached peak popularity; Kanye and Kim Kardashian West helped to usher in urban dressing through Yeezy, as well as numerous sports collaborations. Gen Z internet culture, street style and scandi-minimalism were other huge influences. From them, staples of the Gucci belt and Valentino “Rockstud” heel were born. Unlike these successes, the early 2010s saw flops aplenty. Aztec leggings, an abundance of flower crowns. Not forgetting the parody of ugly shoes: CrocsUgg boots, fur loafers, dad sneakers. There was a point, too, where “Millennial Pink” rose to fame, most notably with Rihanna’s organza Giambattista Valli gown of 2015. Fashion took a post-modernist stance by way of Rick Owens who favoured deconstructivist design and shunned austerity. Matched by Balenciaga who had a similar premise, coining the unique “speed trainer” as a signature item in 2017. This anti-tradition way of thought translated to unisex everything, as the decade came to embody gender fluidity.

But what does fashion’s future hold? It’s likely, given that sustainability remains at its forefront, vintage clothing will make a sizeable impact. The reworking, recycling, and reassigning cycle may encourage creatives to merge parts of all previous decades. Then, Instagram removing its “like” system could foresee a step away from fast fashion or influencer culture. Logomania is reaching its demise as people become oversaturated by branding. Perhaps something simpler is on the cards, or digital technology may take the creative reigns of 2020. Whatever its direction, here’s to a happy and healthy new decade!

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