Trends can evolve to show the changing climate of a particular decade and can pinpoint the moment a generation started to shift its ideals and change the world for the better. Women ditched corsets in the early 1900s as the suffrage movement gained steam; girls raised the hems of their skirts in the ’60s as the second wave of feminism rolled through the States; and the youth of the ’90s chose “non-fashion” grunge as a “no thank ya” nod to the sellout ideals of “the man.” They weren’t going to follow the business-card-slinging ways of American Psycho, and their thrift-store plaids proved it.
1. The Flappers Of The 1920s
Just a decade prior, women were still widely perceived as obedient, plain-living, pious creatures. The ’20s girl wanted to go against every single one of those traits.
So she applied lipstick in public, smoked cigarettes, kissed boys, and bared her ankles and shoulders, much to the shock of her mother. Flappers were arguably the first youth rebellion in America, and their style reflected it.
2. The Miniskirts Of The 1960s
The 1960s took the cooling-pie-on-the-windowsill years of the ’50s and flipped it on its head. The new decade was all about change and revolution. Beatlemania was taking over, the Civil Rights Act changed the fabric of society, brothers and boyfriends were being sent to Vietnam, birth control pills hit 6.5 million American women by 1965, and some women began burning their bras. As all this was happening, the young generation reflected the wild change by keeping the momentum going and taking scissors to their skirts.
Before the 1960s, young women were expected to dress like their mothers, in full skirts and ankle-skimming dresses — every inch of a businessman’s respectable wife. According to Valerie Steele, fashion historian and author of 50 Years of Fashion: New Look to Now , “Looking back on the late 1950s, the English designer Sally Tuffin recalled that, ‘There weren’t any clothes for young people at all. One just looked like their mother.'”
3. London’s Punk Scene In The 1970s
According to The Telegraph, the debt crisis of 1976 left 2 million people unemployed in Britain. Much of the youth was broke and without work. The new scene that started to unfurl in London’s underground was a direct and angry middle finger to the British ruling class. According to Jeffrey Banks, author of Tartan: Romancing the Plaid, “In the late 1970s punk music was a way for youth in the British Isles to voice their discontent with the ruling class.”On top of that, punks preferred a specific type of plaid when it came to their uniforms: Royal Stewart Tartan, the specific style Queen Elizabeth II favored. Banks wrote in his book that by tearing up the Queen’s tartan, it was another way the young people of Britain could bare their teeth at the ruling class and show their anger for the treatment of the working class.
4. The Power Suits Of The 1980s
It’s hard not to have Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” instantly playing in your head when you think of ’80s power suits. All you need to do is slip your feet into white sneakers, brush back the wings of your hair, and you’re ready to climb your way up that corporate ladder.
But the iconic power suit was more than just a way for women to show their authority in the office: It was also a symbol of their repressed anger about gender inequality. Done were the bra-burning days of the ’60s and ’70s. Since it looked like Mom was putting dinner on the table, the spotlight was turned away from women’s issues.
But underneath it all, women were losing ground. In 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment failed in Congress — something women had been fighting for since 1923 — which likely didn’t shock too many people what with the hyper-masculine, anti-feminist tone of the Reagan administration.
Do hipsters surround themselves with vintage records and throwback sweater vests because they’re jaded over modern society? Do they have septum rings because they’re angry at the world? Do they give off a slightly superior vibe because they’re smart and well-educated…or are they all just pompous asses? No one knows. And maybe that’s the point.