Women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds have looked to past fashion trends and icons for inspiration. Emulating looks of previous decades is part of what keeps fashion — and our own personal styles — interesting and true to ourselves.
Though one could argue we’re better off today in our evolved way of life, you can’t deny that the fashion trends of decades past should still be honored today, even if we put a modern spin on them. That’s all part of the fun of developing a personal style: drawing inspiration from the fashion pioneers that have solidified certain looks into classic staples of any modern working woman’s (or man’s!) wardrobe. Many women throughout history have become fashion icons inadvertently and represent a particular decade simply because of their fame and recognition at the time.
You may find yourself identifying with a particular era or period of time or being drawn to certain events or icons from that decade. It could be that you were inspired by a movie, a music genre or figure from a certain era. For many of us it could have been sifting through photographs of our grandmothers, raiding our mother’s closets, or repeatedly watching classic films that have shaped our wardrobes and fashion choices.
Your style is highly personal and can be very individualized. It’s what makes fashion such an exciting hobby to pursue. Developing your unique style is something that likely began as a child or young teenager. There have been different inspirations throughout our lives that have influenced our personal fashion preferences and what we’re willing to try. Fashion isn’t so much about trying to pull off a look. It’s about what keeps you feeling confident and self-assured, whether it’s a 40’s pin-up look or the well-known 70’s flower child.
Timeless Fashion throughout the Years
As we get older, we become more confident in our personal styles and have pretty much narrowed down what we like — or at the very least eliminated what we don’t like. An exciting part of maturing is knowing how to tastefully experiment with new fashion trends while still holding on to classic, timeless looks.
As busy working women, we need a wardrobe that’s simple, yet always looks polished. That’s why you can’t go wrong by sticking with these timeless trends from the fashion pioneers before us. They’ve done all the leg work — we only need to take queues from them and add our own twists.
Some women think it’s fun to take risks and try new fashion trends, but others find it a challenge. To make it easy, we’ve assessed past decades to locate timeless fashion trends that never went out of style.
1920s – Fun-Loving Fashion
There’s something alluring about the decade of the 1920s that makes us wish we could have experienced life during that time. We’ve all seen the chic flapper girls with their delicately beaded dresses and highly detailed hair accessories. This classic look was young, fresh and a symbol of a world reborn post-war with hope and prosperity. The roaring twenties were a time for women to let loose and break free of the floor length dresses and corsets. It was a time to experiment with hair styles as well. Short finger waves and bobbed cuts were the trends of this decade that have carried on ever since.
The flapper look with long beaded necklaces is a beautiful evening look for today’s modern woman. The cut of the dress is straight-lined and designed for smaller-framed women with narrow hips. Fascinators, head pieces, long necklaces and delicate wraps, however, are timeless looks that suit virtually any woman. All you need is a dash of confidence.
Fashion 1930s – Holding on to Luxury
This was the decade of the Great Depression. People from the roaring twenties were suddenly and tragically plunged into financial turmoil. Though many people struggled to hold onto their assets, they continued to dress with an air of luxury. Women wrapped themselves in lavish fur stoles and elbow length gloves made of beautiful fabrics like suede and silk.
Women began to take pages out of the wardrobe books of Hollywood’s glamor girls like Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. A conservative elegance was primarily the trend throughout the 30s.
Women today use inspiration from old Hollywood in certain evening gowns that are cut narrow at the waist and flare out slightly. The calf-length skirts that became more popular among women in the thirties are certainly making a comeback today as women look to recreate the dignified and sophisticated look of this era.
1940s – Simple for the Working Woman
During the war-torn era of the 40s, women around the world began to fill a gap in the labor force as men went off to serve. By 1944, 37% of women entered the workforce, which left them opting for more comfortable and practical fashion styles.
Suits for women, with skirts not pants, were very popular in the forties as they were well coordinated yet simple to style. By the middle to end of the decade, women were beginning to wear their suit pieces as separates. Though fur was still popular, fabrics like wool became more broadly used as textile manufacturing slowed in response to the war.
Women of the 1940s continued to idolize the style symbols of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Stars like Barbara Stanwyck, Lauren Bacall, and Bette Davis inspired women then and now with their elegant gowns and tailored suits.
Simple and practical fabrics continue to be popular today. Their easy care regime makes them ideal for busy working women. Women today who want greater flexibility out of their wardrobe investment appreciate wearing suiting separates. Mixing and matching suiting pieces is another method of expanding your wardrobe that is also drawn from the practicality of 1940’s fashion.
1950s – Post-War Liberty
The 1950’s post-war fashion trends loosened up once more. Women began to feel free in their fashion choices. By the late 50s, styles and trends started to change even more. Skirts began to evolve into more interesting shapes, with added design elements such as flares and pleats. Cinched waists with full skirts and petticoats were popular among younger women of the time.
Towards the end the decade, Parisian fashion had grown in its influence. While hemlines grew shorter, the cut of dresses grew straighter — meaning waists were no longer cinched in. Similar in cut to the 20’s flapper style, this “new look” dress was more relaxed and was offered in an array of patterns, prints, fabrics and colors. This modern style shook things up in the fashion world and changed the game for decades to come.
Because the 50’s were a decade of dramatic transition in style for women, there are several mid-20th century looks that are still replicated today. Full skirts, cardigans, and shift dresses as well as cropped jackets and looser fitting dresses are still available as timeless fashion pieces today.
1960s – Mod & New Look
Androgynous styles from the twenties — which first appeared as a result of women winning the right to vote — recirculated in the sixties as more women headed into the workforce. Women weren’t afraid to experiment with colors, patterns and silhouettes. High-waisted trousers and crisp white shirts with bold cat eye glasses are 60’s trends that are fierce and sophisticated even to this day. Block patterns, box-shaped handbags and classic two-piece tweed suits were giant sixties looks that eventually grew into the mod look.
Though the little black dress dates back to the 1920s, it was Audrey Hepburn that truly brought the LBD into ubiquity. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a cultural symbol that has lasted for six decades and will continue to be replicated as a symbol of grace and elegance. A simple black dress accessorized with traditional jewelry or modern pieces is a go-to for any woman and should be a staple in your wardrobe by your thirties.
1970s – Style Revolution
The seventies are, of course, known for flower power and the birth of the hippie movement, but this was also a revolutionary decade for fashion. The decade started out with style remnants of the sixties mod feeling, which included straight cut dresses and trouser-style tailored pants available in bold, bright colors.
Women began to feel more comfortable in their own skin and styles grew more casual. Wide-legged denim became a staple look, as did layered sweaters. In terms of textiles, polyester came to life in the seventies along with soft fabrics like chenille and cashmere.
Casual and carefree looks became widely accepted thanks to iconic celebrities like Farrah Fawcett. A bohemian look has resurfaced in our modern times with wide-legged pants, platform shoes and denim jackets making a comeback.
One-piece pant suits that are the epitome of seventies disco style have been relaunched into today’s fashion scene with varying cuts, including drop waists, sleeveless tops and harem pant legs. Fringe and suede are two other seventies trends that have resurfaced today, yet they’re maybe seen as trendier as opposed to classic.
1980s - Bigger Is Better
Big shoulders, big hair and big attitude were fashion trends that ruled the eighties. Deep and bold hues and highly tailored suits helped a growing number of businesswomen feel powerful and strong. By the mid 1980s, over 70% of American women were participating in the workforce. Clothing styles of this time were designed for the busy working woman who still wanted to remain professional and feminine.
For causal looks, women of all ages opted for higher-waisted pants when clothing manufacturers such as Lee, Levi’s and Wrangler became go-to brands. As it became more economical to produce clothing, the development of fabric blends like polyester-cotton really took off in casual attire.
Today, some people may look at the eighties as an enigma for fashion. While some trends that are uniquely eighties have certainly made their way back into our modern wardrobes, some looks were pulling in several inspirations and mixing them together. Though our shoulder pads might not be as big today, the structured and embellished blazers and high-waisted wide leg pants are considered classic looks that work for today’s business woman.
In terms of causal looks, leggings worn with an oversized sweater is a look that has been revitalized to meet the needs of today’s on-the-go gal. Animal prints were also popular toward the late eighties, and they’ve been reintroduced in today’s style in more subtle ways, such as used as neutrals.
1990s –The Grunge Look & Basics
The nineties began with traces of influence from the eighties. Lighter fabrics and athletic wear were shaping the ultimate nineties look. In this decade, basic t-shirts, sweaters and jackets grew to become wardrobe staples and they remain so for casual outfits today, only stylized differently. In fact, fashion styles became quite causal in the nineties. The grunge look is something that we’ll all remember well with loose-fitting, button-down plaid print tops and torn, faded denim. Military-inspired pieces and camouflage prints became popular as well when the anti-war protest grew once again into a movement.
By the late nineties, women were tired of the casual rut and wanted to pursue glamorous or more put-together looks. Embroidery and embellishment became a way to add more intrigue to basic pieces like denim. While today’s looks are slightly more polished, we still gravitate toward more causal items that were well developed throughout the nineties.
Honoring Timeless Fashion Trends Today
When we look at timeless looks from decades past, it’s clear that trends that have lasted for specific reasons. They’re elegant, simple, feminine or practical. They are also flexible and include particular cuts that work in any number of fabrics, colors and patterns. The shift dress, for example, which became popular in the sixties as a mod style, is today an absolute staple in the working woman’s professional office attire. And these very same women throw on their eighties inspired leggings and oversized sweaters when they get home and need to be comfortable while doing laundry, cooking and playing with their children at night.
On the weekends, women throw on their broken in denim or straight-legged pants and a motorcycle jacket to run errands. At night, they head out for date nights sporting their fifties-style flared skirts or twenties-style head pieces.
While we may still look to fashion icons who are long since gone, today we have plenty of stars who recreate timeless looks from all previous decades of fashion. Celebrities like Taylor Swift and Kate Middleton draw from the classics in their everyday wardrobes. It is easy to create a sophisticated and mature wardrobe today simply by building off the timeless fashion trends through the decades.
Cataloging timeless fashion from the last 100 years, you can see how it has evolved, but the basic rules of confidence, fit and elegance will always remain. Stick with the classics and you can never go wrong.
It may be difficult to come by true vintage pieces to incorporate these timeless trends. Thankfully VF Outlet offers a women’s section that provides timeless, on-trend looks, with new pieces added regularly. Look for our new arrivals in the women's section.