9/5/18: Dresses Throughout History (Part I)

Jumping back into historical fashion, dresses have been a huge staple in women’s clothing for centuries. To save us all some time, we’ll not go too far into anything pre-1940 or so.

For the sake of this discussion, we’ll say that dresses were pretty much all that women wore (and all they were allowed to wear) for a long time before the late 1800s. It was considered a daring move to wear pants until around 1920 or 1930 when wearing them as casual and leisure wear became increasingly popular. The sporting of these previously taboo items of clothing didn’t depreciate the number of women who wore dresses, however, as they were still sold everywhere and considered proper attire for any event. Now that you have a little bit of background, we’ll get into some of the more specific information of dresses throughout the decades, starting with the 1940s.

During the early 1940s, dress lengths began to shorten, switching from the long and extravagant dresses (popular until the 1930s) to around knee length and casual dresses. Colors of these dresses were usually soft colors or whites, often with plaid or floral patterns. More formal dresses came in colors typically associated with business styles, including shades of brown, grey, and black. Dresses often had sleeves that came down about to the elbows, usually a little pit shorter, and had collars a lot of the time (much like a present day button up shirt but in the form of a casual dress). Often times, they were smaller at the waist with flowing skirts to emphasize a woman’s curves and add more detail to the dress itself.

Moving on, you’ll notice that, as far as the basic design of the dress, not much changed between the 40s and 50s. Really the only big change that happened during this time is a change in common designs. Things like polka dots became increasingly popular along with slightly bolder colors like red. As far as brands aimed at the upper class, dresses were very different. Dior, in the 1950s, designed dresses with big flowing skirts and cinched waists. The goal was to change the appearance of a woman’s body to look curved. Dior also encouraged women to use corsets and to wear belts to further the effects of the dresses themselves. Dior created for those who preferred the sort of Audrey Hepburn style, with a lot of long gloves and off the shoulder dresses. With all the differences between what more expensive brands put out and what women wore often, the one biggest similarity is probably the length. Over all these many different designs, the dresses’ average length stayed pretty much the same from brand to brand and style to style.

The 1960s and 1950s were two very similar decades as far as dresses; they had the same styles, same patterns, and same colors a lot of the time. In a way, the 1960s were just a transition period from the 50s into the 70s, as the dresses’ designs kind of slowly morphed into the colorful, hippie-style dresses that come to mind when you think of the 1970s. Due to all these similarities, this decade was one of the least impressive and least interesting of the entirety of the 1900s.

Here’s where we’ll leave off for now for time’s sake. If you’re interested, this discussion will continue tomorrow in part 2!

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