Styles of Dress as Reflections of Social Conditions

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Styles of Dress as Reflections of Social Conditions

Something that becomes very apparent when studying the topic of fashion is that clothes and style are related to so much more than merely an individual’s appearance. For thousands of years, fashion and style have been primary indicators about a person’s social status, sexuality, wealth, individuality, and overall personality attributes. Deep rooted in all of us lies an inescapable process of perceiving who an individual is based on what our eyes view. Although this process may be labeled as "superficial," it is no doubt a mechanism that exists, particularly when there is limited additional "information" about someone to go on.

In this century alone, each decade has been marked by distinctly different manners for dress for both men and women. Our Halloween tradition exemplifies this very clearly with "costumes" such as a 1920’s "flapper girl," the 1960’s "hippie," or the 1980’s "punk rocker." With deeper consideration, however, these differing fashion styles can be viewed as representative of the related social conditions occurring at the time. As stated by Pasacoe (1998), "The fashion of the [20’s] reflected the Jazz Age perfectly. It was made for fast automobiles and the Charleston. For the first time in western fashion the knee was socially acceptable." Although there are many theories regarding what causes fashion to change, the fact that social climate is reflected in styles of dress has a great deal of support. Perhaps the reason why so much change occurred in women’s dress in the early decades of the century is because so many changes occurred regarding women’s roles and rights within that same time frame.

Another decade in which fashion was strongly indicative of the underlying social conditions is the turbulent 1960’s. One of the most noted developments accredited to this decade is the introduction of the mini skirt, eventually evolving into the "micro mini." Many social historians relate the introduction of the mini skirt to the introduction of the birth control pill. Women became sexually liberated and the "free love" era began. These mini skirts came to symbolize the new liberation for women and the social climate of the decade. As stated in Vogue at the end of the decade, "The length of your skirt is how you feel this moment" (Hoeymakers, 1999.) Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent gained immense recognition for his highly innovative designs during this decade. Heavily inspired by students in Paris, he introduced see-through shirts to the rest of the world, causing an initial global shock.

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