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Vintage Women's Fashion

Updated on May 24, 2016

Women's Fashion

Women's fashion, more than men's, has been known to change very rapidly, even throughout the slower moving 19th century.

In spite of that, there were subtle but significant changes even through that time period, which rapidly grew at the turn of the century and onward, depending on the economic circumstances, especially in the 1930s with the effects of the Great Depression.

There was an ebb and flow in the first decades of the 20th century, as changes from the latter part of the 1800s spilled over into the new century.

With the outbreak of the first world war, which had an effect on the psyche of everyone, that affected fashion, which afterwards led to the roaring 20s and the flapper influence.

It calmed down in the 1930s, as the depression deepened and women had to scale back and get more crafty and creative with their own fashion designs. Even so, there was still a specific look for that period of time.

In this article we'll look at the 1800s through the 1940s in women's fashion. Period pieces from all of these times are highly sought after by collectors.

Women's Fashion in the 1800s

What is interesting for women's fashion in the 1800s, is it largely embraced two influences; those of the Victorian age and romanticism. That of course resulted in some blending of the two, or in some cases, very different looks.

For those of us seeing paintings or photos of women of the 1800s, know there are some very specific elements of their wardrobe, including hoop skirts, lace, bonnets and bodices.

At the beginning of the 19th century, women's fashion started off on a very conservative foot, based upon Victorian and French influence.

Remember the gowns with the high waists? They were usually white in color. Winter dress included shawls and overdresses.

As the century move on, women adopted corsets to accentuate their waist, along with fuller skirts. '

From about 1825 through 1850, women's fashion didn't make a lot of changes, although fabric choices migrated to silk, cotton, linen and wool.

Once fashion change during that period for women with the dress was to have a more puffy sleeve design, along with ruffled collars. The hat of choice became the bonnet. Waistline skirts were also introduced, as women continued to wear tighter bodices to create the bell-shape we're all so familiar with.

1850s and Onwards

After the 1850s, bonnets became less popular and were eventually dropped by most women. Instead, they focused more on their hair, with ringlets and letting the hair down becoming the fashion. Those desiring hats changed to a much smaller hat which was placed on the crown of the head.

This was about the time hoop skirts became the fashion trend, when the cages were added to create the desired look. Corsets continued to be in vogue.

Near the latter part of the 19th century, as with the times in general, women's fashion began to change at a more rapid pace. It was here, after a long period of time, that the corset began to diminish in popularity.

Interestingly, the high-neck collar became fashionable, and long, flowing skirts the choice of most women. Also of importance, was women started to employ straw brimmed hats for head wear.

Women's Fashion Early 20th Century

1920s Women's Fashion

Women's fashion in the early part of the 20th century didn't change much. But with the advent of World War I, that was no longer the case.

After the war, the "happy days are here again" crowd released its pent-up emotions, and the roaring 20s were the result.

What was the fashion of women? Just one word: Flapper. Most of us know what that represents, and below is an example.

1930s Women's Fashion

The 1930s were unique because of the effect of the depression on everyone, including women and fashion.

By now the sewing machine had been invented, and women got creative, being forced to work on their own clothing because of the lack of money.

Another major difference from the 1920s, was the flapper look, which had for some, become scandalously boyish, changed completely around, embracing a more feminine look.

During this decade, hemlines fell to around the ankle, and that was the fashion until around the middle of the decade. At the same time, interestingly, the opposite was true of necklines, which dropped along with the hemlines. They also included a collared which were ruffled or a wider scalloped edge.

Also of import for the period was the introduction of squared shoulders which helped accentuate tighter torsos. Skirts were sometimes a little fuller in order to make the waist and hips look smaller.

Fur was also a major part of the ensemble a women put together in this time period.

The photo below shows fashion a little different than a wider skirt, but most of the rest remains in place for the period.

1940s Women's Fashion

The fashion pattern as far as women's clothing goes in the 1940s wasn't a lot different than the prior decade. What was different was the way women wore make, which was on the more compelling side, to say the least.

This was probably the result of the influence of Hollywood, as you can ascertain from the many movies of the 1940s. The lipstick was bright red, the brows accentuated, and a lot of powder was used as a base.

Another significant change was the hairstyles of women, which moved from subtleness to being more demonstrative.

Concerning the dress, it was much more modest in appearance, and not really something that had a major impact on fashion.

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, original vintage women's clothing is highly collectible and sought after, as it is a major part of the history of America, and of any country where women's fashion has developed, based upon the unique culture of each region.

In our day and age, fashion for women can change from quarter to quarter and season to season, and what some buy today, especially in some circles, isn't safe to wear tomorrow.

But the old adage remains true, if you hang onto your clothing long enough, it'll eventually come back into fashion.

Of course the trick there is if it can still be fit into! Ruffles may not be the only thing that have ridges:-).

While this images are generally representative of the period, there are always exceptions to the rule. But overall, it does give a good overall view of the change in women's fashion from the 1800s through the mid-1900s.


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    • celebritie profile image


      6 years ago

      This is really lovely, I have always been inspired by vintage fashion.


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