1920s: The Roaring ’20s
I wake up to the incessant shouting of my mother at the dressers. “It’s such an important day for my daughter, you cannot mess this up.” Of course. Today is the day – the culmination of my efforts for the preparation of the debutante ball. As I’m standing in front of the mirror, I look at my mother’s reflection, admiring the dress that has had hours of effort put into it. She wanted it to be perfect. “It has got to be from bloody Harrods, it is only the best store in London.” I run my hands over the sleek white silk of the skirt, observing the way the gown glides over my legs in a straight fashion, instead of the traditional hoop skirt. This was one of my only conditions.
Mother wasn’t happy about it. She wanted the gown to be traditional, to follow all the required rules of dress set by the monarchy, but I wanted it to be more modern, something to show my disdain towards being presented to the court as an object. I wanted to channel Colleen Moore and her fashion that embodies confidence and self-empowerment while retaining dainty femininity. Through her short hemlines, ruffles, frills and bold colours, the flapper’s juxtaposition of strength and softness is admirable. Her archetype encourages women to take charge of their freedom and brings the racier side of the women’s movement to the big screen.
Although I couldn’t convince my mother to let me have a black debutante ball or a shorter frilly hemline (“Completely outrageous!”, in her words), I still managed to make the dress reflect a bit of myself, and that is a small victory in itself.
1940s: The War Years
There’s a pall of gloom on the streets. Everyone goes about their day with their heads down, not knowing when one would hear bad news. With the world at war, jobs here at home are hard to come by. After my brothers went away to war, I had to look for a source of income to sustain the family. Earlier, employers were hesitant to give jobs to women, but as more and more men were being drafted into the army, they were left with no choice. Fortunately, I was able to secure a job at the local factory.
Due to the strict rationing of fabric, there is an abundance of shorter dresses in everyone’s wardrobes. Clothes have taken on a more militant look, with shoulder pads and more boxy necklines. Muted colours and softer looks have become more common.
I enter the factory, give a salutatory nod to a few co-workers, and change from my dress coat into denim overalls. My neighbours would be horrified, seeing me wearing pants, but it has become a necessity now.
1960s: Swinging London
“I don’t care what you say, mom, I will go to school like this!”
In the hallways at school, everywhere you turn, you can see a vibrant blur of colours and patterns. Psychedelic tie-dyed t-shirts, miniskirts, flared bottoms, tunics, capes and big poufy hair, with people trying to imitate the Beehive hairdo, are all one can see. For the first time, the boys are trying out more experimental and colourful clothing like stripy Italian suits and trying to grow out their hair.
I walk alongside my friend, who I need to show my secret to. I removed my skirt to reveal the jeans I was wearing under it, with a look of triumph on my face, whereas my friend’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Blue jeans!” she exclaims. “The teachers might even give you detention if they find out!”
“It’s such a mod look, and I look like Catherine Deneuve, I don’t think they would mind.”
I look around me and I see endless racks of clothes. Vintage designs on worn-out racks. I love thrift stores and the thrill of not knowing what you might find in this seemingly endless collection of fabric. Walking around aisles, finding gently used clothes, jewellery, and rare collectables, and having the creativity to give them new life. Clothing at a thrift store isn’t necessarily in-season, but buying from a thrift store allows you to creatively express your personal style in a way that is relevant to what’s in-season. Moreover, buying second-hand is very sustainable, and saves the entire negative impact of production.
Looking around at clothes that have been around for decades, and combining them to make today’s outfits, makes me wonder about the comprehensive nature of fashion, and all that it encompasses. Clothes can tell us about every little detail, from the personal expression of the individual to the social and cultural emotion of the time. From the 1920s touching the brim of freedom through frilly flapper dresses, the focus shifting more towards youth fashion in the 60s, embracing the hippie lifestyle in the 70s, to sustainable fashion today, fashion acts as a window to a particular time period. Like the times, fashion is ever-evolving. Whether it is the shortening of dress hemlines as an act of rebellion in the 20s, wearing pants in the workplace in the 40s, or the peace sign becoming a staple of fashion and culture in the 70s, one thing remains certain: fashion is a reflection of our changing times.
As with any decade, older trends get recycled, and this decade is no different. Early 2000s fashion, with low waisted flared jeans, skimpy tank tops, oversized shirts, hand-knit garments, and claw-clip hairstyles is making a strong comeback.
Fashion today is reaching never-seen-before levels. Androgynous fashion is becoming increasingly common, with men adding traditionally considered feminine elements to their outfits and vice versa. Skirts, dresses, accessories (like jewellery and nail polish) are being enthusiastically adopted by people of all genders to break previously held barriers of fashion. The lines in fashion are gradually blurring, and people are starting to freely express themselves with whatever makes them happy – and that is the beauty of fashion. It encompasses the past, present and future, and accelerates you to be anything and everything you want.
-Poster Credits: Giaa Poddar