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Fashion Eras 1800-2000


Fashion Eras 1800-2000

Postby admin » Fri Jul 31, 2015 3:51 pm

Fashion, Costume and Design Era Terminology


Late Georgian

The period 1800-1837 is really part of the Georgian era. George III was insane after 1811, but alive until 1820. His already Regent serving son Prince of Wales, George reigned 1820-1830, and George's brother after him as William IV. After his death Queen Victoria acceded the throne in 1837. See Regency Taste.

Regency Dress

Dress during the period 1800-1820 is known as Regency Fashion. It was based on classical principles and ornamentation according to the latest fashion.

Classical Greek Dress

Between 1800 and 1803 dress was classical and had classical ornament usually with Greek key borders. See Regency Fashion.

Etruscan and Egyptian Ornament

Between 1804 and 1807 it still had classical lines, but with geometric Etruscan and more exotic Egyptian and oriental ornament. This era was inspired by items brought from the east by Napoleon's expeditions. See Regency Fashion.


Spanish Ornament

After 1808 Spanish ornament was used on classical dress. See Regency Fashion.

Gothic Influence

By 1811 Gothic influence crept in debasing the classical lines gradually up until 1820 when the dress lost all classical form and took on a Gothic line. See Regency Fashion.

Romantic Era

The Gothic influence remained during the Romantic Era between 1820 and 1837. This era has a chocolate box image about it, as military male dress can look very romantic next to female dress. The romantic spirit in clothes lingered on until 1850 running parallel to the early Victorian Era.


The Victorian era lasts 64 years so in fashion history terms has to be subdivided beyond the length of reign.

Early Victorian Era

When Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837 the Romantic Era drew to a close. Dress styles between 1837 and 1856 are known as Early Victorian. Sometimes it is also called the Crinoline Era which came about at the time when Charles Worth was making a name for himself as the first modern Couturier.

Mid Victorian Dress

Mid Victorian dress lasts from 1860 to 1882. Sometimes it is called the First Bustle Era.

Late Victorian Dress

Late Victorian Dress spans the period 1883 to 1901 and covers the Second Bustle Era, Gibson Girls and tailor made suits.

Naughty Nineties

Within the late Victorian time frame are secondary periods such as the Naughty Nineties, the final decade of the 19th Century. See Late Victorian dress.

Fin de Siècle

The last decades of the 19th century from 1870 to 1914 the French called Fin de Siècle.

It culminated in Art Nouveau linear curves in dress, decorative arts and design. It should not be taken literally as the end of the century. It heralded the mood of change from an old world to a modern era. Art Nouveau embraced new ideas in changing technology, cultural, social and political changes, urbanization and a lingering nostalgia for the old and valued.

Metaphysical thought implies that the last 25 years of a century heralds a new energy. See The Aesthetics and Jewellery.

La Belle Époque

This period from the mid 1890s to 1914 was the era the French called La Belle Époque and J. B. Priestley called the 'Lost Golden Age'. Although mainly covering the Edwardian Era it puts La Belle Époque into a time capsule. La Belle Époque captures the mood in that indefinable time of beautiful dress and luxury living for the few in the two decades immediately before the outbreak and devastation created by World War One.

The 20th Century

The 20th century has rarely had the name of the monarch or the name of a royal house lent to any era. There was an attempt in 1953 at the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II and later in 1977 after 25 years reign to use the term New Elizabethans. Also the global nature of communication means that eras are more likely to be named after a war or technological era than a British queen or king as happened when Britain ruled the waves.

So in the 20th Century we heard the terms space age, antibiotic age, technological society, computer age, age of Aquarius, new age and the communications era.

We began the year 2000 by calling the new era the millennium era, but since the the repercussions of Sept 11th 2001 have caused waves across the world various phrases have been applied such as the freedom age, carpe diem age, or simply after nine eleven. Now we are more happily referring to it as the double meaning term the noughties.

See my page Major Innovations of the C20th.

Art Nouveau Era

Art Nouveau was a decorative art form which followed on from the Arts and Crafts Movement. It spread throughout Europe and was a dominant art form in 1900 at the Paris Exhibition. It primarily covered interiors, architecture, jewellery and furniture design. But its importance filtered through into fashion and fabrics.

The long stylised flowers and flowing embroidered borders with trails of organic forms of Art Nouveau are all reflected in the clothes of the Edwardian Hostess. Their skirts belled out and flowed like blossoming opening floral forms. The embellishment captured the graceful Art Nouveau forms. These fashions in textiles were revived in the 1960s by the House of Liberty.


Oriental Era

Orientalism has appeared in and out of fashion history several times, but it is particularly associated with the movement in dress inspired by artist Léon Bakst the costumer and set designer of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russes in 1909.

The dress designers Paul Poiret and Paquin were very influenced by the ballet and separately created garments with oriental influences. Poiret's designs of 1910-1911 were thought scandalous.

First World War Era

This is the era between 1914 and 1918. It is a period of great change internationally in Europe in particular. It is a time of female emancipation when skirts first shortened to show calves and more practical clothing emerged as women did war work.

1920s - The Flappers and Bright Young Things

A flapper was initially a derogatory term, but soon was used to describe any young woman of the mid 1920s who wore cloche hats, bobbed her hair and favoured shorter skirts whilst she shimmied the night away dancing the Charleston. The same mixed partying set was sometimes called Bright Young Things.

Art Deco and the Roaring Twenties

Art Deco originated in Europe and became known after the correct name of the 1925 Paris Exhibition. The exhibition was called The Great Exposition Des Arts Modernes Decoratifs Et Industriels. The style was most popular in the Stylish Thirties as well as between 1920 and 1940 by which time it had refined itself.

The artist Erté was a master of Art Deco. The sets and costumes for stage and film that he designed influenced other fashion designers between 1915 and 1936.

The Era of Utility Clothing - World War II - 1939-1945

This period covers rationed clothes under the Civilian Clothing Utility Scheme particularly in Great Britain during the 1939-1945 World War. The period extends beyond the war's end and it is only in the 1950s that austere garments were replaced en masse by more lavish use of fabrics and full skirted dresses. Basically this can be seen as a modern use of the old idea of sumptuary laws.


The New Look Era

After Dior launched his new fashion designs in 1947 Life magazine dubbed it 'The New Look'. Although dated from the 1940s, it is quite a separate look from the austere military influenced garments of wartime. The New Look remained fashionable for about 10 years well into the late 1950s. Christian Dior would have been 100 in 2005.

Hollywood Glamour Girls

Hollywood Glamour is a style associated with about 30 years of film from the early 1930s to the late 1950s when the great female stars and studio starlets set the trend in hair, make up and clothes in the thirties and 1940s. In the 1950s colour films helped fuel the fascination for filmgoers. The stars lived and breathed glamour on and off set. After World War II , Hollywood glamour helped define the groomed consistently glamorous look of the 1950s. It is a look that few film stars still manage to pull off continuously. The best survivor of the starlet era for glamour in the 21st century is the actress Joan Collins.

Era of Ready to Wear - Prêt-à-Porter

Mass production improved so much between 1945 and 2000 that the period ever since has been one primarily of ready to wear rather than Haute Couture. In France ready to wear is known as Prêt-à-Porter.

1950s - Era of Rock and Roll and Teenagers

For the first time ever during the 1950s, fashion was specifically designed for young women and men. It was the first time the word teenager was coined. The clothing separates that were popular were inspired by American university campus fashions young people wore when jiving and rock and roll dancing. Elvis Presley and James Dean typified the angry young man in the teen uniform of jeans.

Era of the Mini in Swinging Sixties London

In 1966 Britain earned the label 'Swinging London' from Time magazine. Mary Quant exported her youthful short mini dresses to America. In London strings of individual retail outlets followed her, producing clothes for the new teenage mass market.

The mini era of the 1960s was born and taken up by the generation of baby boomers. Because British pop music, in particular that of the Beatles was also so fashionable worldwide, Britain was seen as having its finger on the pulse and the new mini fashion was all part of that.

Op Art Era

Op Art was a term coined in 1964. Bridget Riley popularised this with optically distorted geometric patterns in black and white produced a whole range of movements on a surface. When applied to fabric it created a new bold look in fashion and accessories. Many garments were split into sections with colour contrasts after the paintings of Mondrian and this was an important fashion look in the 1960s.

Flower Power Era and Ethnic Folkloric 1960s- Early 1970s

In the USA, by the mid 1960s flowers, clothing, music and freedom protests established an era. Garments from far flung parts of the middle and far east became the adopted uniform of a generation. From Afghan coats, Romanian and Indian peasant embroidery, cheesecloth, safari and Nehru jackets to Art Nouveau, flower power took hold of hippies or flower children. Watered down versions were adapted by Yves St. Laurent and reached the mass market, but they never had the authenticity of the looks individuals produced by fashioning their own ideas. Elements of the ethnic look are also know as the 'Hippy Era'.

This look in various new formats was regurgitated through 2005 as the eclectic ethnic bohemian look.


Disco Fever Mid 1970s

Disco clothes were never for work, but for a weekend of fun, posing and dancing. Trousers that flared, figure hugging shaped sharply cut jackets in pastel colours that glowed in the disco light were elevated to new heights by platform shoes. Silver and shimmering Lycra, sequin boob tubes and stretch catsuits sum up an era that was set alight by the film 'Saturday Night Fever' and the Bee Gees singers.

New Romantics Era 1980s

The New Romantics chose themes from Hollywood, fiction or history and then adapted it to make a personal look. The look was dramatic, flamboyant, colourful and very dressed up with great attention paid to detail. The wearers appeared to have made an effort to look sartorially interesting using frills and fabrics associated with historical periods. A watered down pretty pretty New Romantic look, was worn by Diana the Princess of Wales in her early years and she became a fashion leader. The feminine look soon moved into mainstream fashion.

Power Dressing and Yuppies Era 1980s

In the late 1970s, fashion designers showed garments with oversized shoulders and oversized clothes on slender women. John Molloy's 'Dress For Success' book advised women to dress for success by wearing suits. He advised women to at all costs abandon cardigans which he maintained was a secretarial look. The recently updated book is now a huge success again.

The then UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher seen on TV news daily, echoed these power dressing ideas in her structured suits, even taking it into wearing structured brocade evening suits rather than flimsy chiffon dresses. Whilst women don't wear power shoulders as such today many do adopt the formality of the suit for business power dressing.

The wedding dress of Diana Princess of Wales in 1981 sported huge puffed beret sleeves last seen in the 19th century. The television series 'Dynasty' also emphasised the shoulder, simply because the star Linda Evans had naturally wide shoulders. To make her shoulders appear normal every other actor had their garments shoulder padded and designed to appear wider. The very influential 'Dynasty' was watched primarily for its fashions by a global audience of over 250 million viewers.

In the 1980s the combination of all these factors led to women wearing clothes with ever widening shoulders, dressing in the way a man had in order to ascend the corporate promotion ladder. Wide easy fit shoulder padded clothes were seen for over ten years and graced everything from the suit to the T-shirt to knitwear.



Grunge was based on fashion started by a youth cult in the Pacific North West region of America in the early 1990s. The key to the look was that nothing matched, nothing was coordinated and an item was preferable if old and worn. The point was to look tousled, uncombed and unkempt, as if not too much effort had been made. Many consumers thought it pointless. Actresses like Julia Roberts who adopted the look were heavily criticised for their lack of glamour. Only those under 21 could get away with this look and Grunge died within a year, but left the fashion term. It is frequently used now to describe unattractive fashion features or unkempt individuals.


Deconstructionism questions the rules and breaks conventions in fashion. It includes putting seams and zips on the outside of a garment showing the inner construction workings of tailoring that in the past were the hidden features. It recycles old fashion and makes the undesirable part of dress such as a laddered stocking a desirable feature. Hussein Chalayan, Martin Margiela and Comme des Garçons are all deconstructionists, but Zandra Rhodes first did this 25 years ago when she put huge pinked sig zag seams on the outside of wool coats.


Minimalism describes pared down clothes in neutral tones in clean and sculptural shapes Quality fabrics in solid neutrals, with minimal detailing were first seen as a reaction to the glitz and glamour of 1980's styles. It became more popular in the 1990s. It is functional, urban subdued understated clothing which is never out of date.


Purism uses the neutral tints and shades associated with white, grey and beige. It is an expensive, quiet, unobtrusive uncomplicated look based on good cut. It lacks superfluous embellishment in its pure uncluttered simplicity. It is easy to wear and never feels out of place because it consists of simple functional items that are reduced to the basic elements of elegantly cut modern classics. It uses virtually no jewellery to accessorize the look.

The designers Jil Sander, Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein all strive to produce modern classics within the framework of pure functional natural simplicity.

Bo Ho Hippy

Bo Ho Hippy emerged in the 1990s and is a pretty millennium version of the hippy look of the 1960s and 70s. Fashion Designers such as Ghost and Tom Ford have developed variations of the look putting together dreamy velvet trimmed, beaded and embroidered items.

The early look mainly started by Ghost used lots of chiffon, bias cut cowl dresses, soft floating fabrics often teamed with little velvet trimmed cashmere cardigans.

Ford's later versions used lots of braids, beads and embroidery, crunchy toning lace, fringe, fur, patchwork and animal prints. Embroidery especially is often an embellishment on garments from peasant style to glamorous evening dress. It is in total contrast to the minimal style. By 2002 it was featured heavily by many other designers on most catwalks east and west. 2005 was the summer of the Boho gypsy tiered peasant skirt! This fashion look was global and by autumn 2005 elements had morphed into the Russian look modifying Boho into eclectic ethnic.

Update - On February 1st 2002 Voyage the shopfront for Ghost went into liquidation to the tune of £3 million. At the time fashion journalists slated the once revered company for their former outrageous prices, arrogant attitude to customers and pompous self promotion in glossy advertisements. Journalists declared they had never liked the items designed by Ghost and that it never had been real couture.

Laver's Law is at work here.

Ghost as a fashion label is still designed by originator Tanya Sarne who has a stake in the business that was sold. Now Ghost clothes are still sold in concessions and in small boutiques where discerning women shoppers seek clothes that transcend fashion fads. Many are looking for something different are often pleased by the washability factor of very special looking clothes including luxury trousers, tops and oriental inspired jackets made from washable silk.

A Final Word on Subcultural Styles

Subcultural styles first developed around the 1940's.

Subcultural styles were identified in a book called Surfers Soulies Skinheads and Skaters - Subcultural Style From the Forties to the Nineties written by Amy de la Haye and Cathie Dingwall, with photography by Daniel McGrath. The book was written as a supporting document for a Victoria and Albert Museum fashion exhibition called Streetstyle Exhibition shown in November 1994.

Subcultural streetstyles include Afrocentric, B-Boy, Beatnik, Bhangra, Caribbean, Casuals, Cowboy, Cyberpunk, Eco, Fetish, Funk, Gay style, Glam rock, Greasers, Grunge, Head-Bangers, Hippy, Hipsters, Indie, Jungle, Madchester, Mod, New Age, Northern Soul, Old Skool, Preppy, Psychedelic, Psychobilly, Punk, Ragga, Rasta, Rave, Rude Boy, Skater, Skinhead, Soulies, Streestyle, Surfer, Techno, Teddy Boys (Teds), Travellers, Two Tones, Workwear Rockabilly, Yardies, Young British Radicals and Zoots.

I suggest that if you have an interest in any of the streetstyles listed above you obtain the illustrated and informative book. There is also plenty of information on the internet about the culture and clothing of hip hop for those interested in that area of fashion.

One interesting point is how some of the styles have been picked up by designers, adapted and invaded the catwalks so that we now see many of these once original and styles as high fashion innovations in mainstream clothing.

Once again another aspect of my page Laver's Law is at work here.

If you want to know more, the book is called Surfers Soulies Skinheads and Skaters: Subcultural Style from the Forties to the Nineties

You may also be interested in the page Laver's Law a timeline of fashion style by James Laver.
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