"Throughout the centuries, fashion has been used as a powerful tool that has driven change. "
Delilah Kealy Roberts
Designers are notorious for rewriting the rules of fashion and creating fashion staples that include some rather striking design elements- many that have sent shock waves around the world. Ultimately, these iconic clothing items were used to reflect societal changes and circumstances at the time they were introduced into the world.
Throughout the years, the women’s fashion industry in particular has been used as a catalyst for revolutionary, and bold statements that have took the industry by storm and have shaken the stereotypical standards that previously existed. Let’s take a step back in time and revisit the styles that shook things up, the trends that changed our fashion journey.
The 1920s Pantsuit: Androgynous Dressing
Dating back to the 20’s before the likes of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ chanel, there was a distinct and definitive difference between men and women’s fashion. 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.
Striving from a move away from the norm, these typically masculine styles allowed for creativity, comfort, and a new trend to emerge in women’s fashion. 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.
The 1960s Miniskirt: The Emerge of Sexual Liberation
After Mary Quant’s iconic mini skirt took the fashion industry by storm, this moment championed sexual liberation in the swinging 60s. 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?”.
Used as a method of encouragement for women to reclaim their bodies and express themselves however they please, the mini skirt was a symbol for female empowerment. The cutting-edge mini skirt fast became a symbol.
Other than the piece being comfortable, affordable, and easy to wear, it was also deemed risqué by many. It signified the fact that women could now wear and do whatever they liked.
The 1970s Punk Culture: The Anti-Fashion Movement
Put simply, all we previously knew about fashion was subverted by the famous punk movement. 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.
Since the punk look centered around collapsing the establishment, naturally chaos and anarchy played their part in this revolutionary period. This was reflected in the untamed fashion which went out to specifically change any previous fashion ‘rules’.
The 2000s and Sportswear: Changing the Game
The concept of ‘girl power’ that we often associate with the Spice Girls is a particular brand of feminism that drove yet another revolutionary fashion movement. 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.
With the likes of women’s trainers, leggings, and crop tops being no longer associated with just sports clothes, they have gained a solid place in mainstream fashion. 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.
The Future of Fashion: Non-Binary Clothing
As far as fashion goes, the world continues to live through revolutionary times in 2020, whereby people are placing an emphasis on throwing gender-focused clothing out 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.
The fashion industry is beginning to reject gender-locked fashion as more and more brands are following suit- from cult fashion publications such as Fruitcake Magazine, to celebrities such as Harry Styles and Ezra Millar. 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.”
The fashion world is both powerful and consistently driving change. Clothes have long allowed people to be their most authentic selves, and with the lines of ‘right and wrong’ in fashion being constantly challenged and blurred, the world of fashion is sure to take us to some weird and wonderful places in the years to come.