Youth Fashions of the Twentieth Century

Usually we study fashion in terms of couture - designers and the runway. But what about people actually wore, and why? The twentieth century was such an eventful time historically that fashion for the masses changed significantly each decade. We're going to take a look at those changes and what they meant for what real people wore.


The popularity of bustles declined significantly this decade in favor of slimmer silhouettes. Daywear became less formal, though still highly tailored, and men's shirt styles started being used as inspiration for some women's fashions. Popular styles included:
  • Shirtwaists- dress in which the bodice is designed like a man's collared shirt, a popular daytime choice for working women.
  • Tailor-Mades- woman's suit consisting of a jacket with ankle-length skirt made of matching tweed or wool.


World War I changed fashion's tone for the decade. Monochromatic outfits in darker hues became common and dresses had simpler cuts than in decades past. These changes manifested themselves in a few ways:
  • Women stopped wearing underskirts.
  • Skirts were shortened to above-the-ankle, which made stockings more important.


With the war over and the economy booming, fashion took on a more carefree look. Skirts got shorter and younger women wore sportier styles as the flatter-chested, more boyish look came into vogue. Some examples of these boyish looks were:
  • Chemise-style dresses with a straight up-and-down cut - waist not accentuated - instead of a curvier, more feminine shape.
  • Shorter, tube-shaped dresses with pleats, gathers or slits to allow greater motion.
  • Trousers for women.


The failing economy brought fashion back to a more conservative place than it had been in during the Roaring '20s. Skirts got longer and style accentuated broad shoulders instead of longer legs. Movies became more of an influence on fashion and some other changes to note were:
  • Man-made fibers like rayon and and viscose came into being.
  • Waistlines moved up for a return to feminine styling
  • The push-up bra sweater look came in for young women.


World War II Spelled huge changes for mainstream fashion. Materials being used for soldiers' uniforms and supplies had to be rationed, which limited fabrics and dye colors on the home front. As women entered the workforce, their clothing had to be more functional to be able to stand the wear-and-tear of factory work. These styles maintained popularity after the war, as did the college fashions of veterans returning to school on the G.I. Bill. Some of the most noticeable trends were:
  • Men's suits re-made into women's outfits to save material.
  • Knee-length skirts worn with simple blouses.
  • The color red, to save on rationed green and brown dyes.
  • Trousers became standard for women's daywear.


The financial stability of this decade allowed gave teens and twenty-somethings the money and leisure time to establish their own fashion culture for the first time. This was also the decade when music became a major influence on fashion. Youth styles favored:
  • Synthetic, easy-care fabrics like polyester.
  • Skinny ties with tighter trousers.
  • Pullovers with jeans.


The idea of interchangeable separates came in the mid-60s, allowing more individual creativity in women's dressing than the suit-sets and dresses of previous eras. Styles became less gender-specific later in the decade as the hippie look became more common and casual comfort was key for both genders. The most significant new trends were:
  • Mini-skirts
  • Bright, colorful prints
  • Bell-bottom jeans for both genders


Since the hippie look had become accepted, comfort remained a key factor in American dressing. There were some changes from the 1960s, however, as clubbing became more popular and the disco look came in. Fashion in the '70s included:
  • Tighter, more exaggerated bell-bottom pants.
  • Platform shoes
  • Custom t-shirts featuring iron-on decals became popular as young people wanted their casual styles to reflect their personalities and taste.


The move toward comfortable, youth-oriented dressing reached its pinnacle in the 80s when workout clothing became trendy daywear. Popular were:
  • Sweatshirts with the collar torn out to achieve a slouchy boat-neck.
  • Leg-warmers and leggings in bright colors
  • Tracksuits


Grunge and hip-hop styles were major influences on early '90s youth dressing and a toned-down 1970s style came into vogue later on. Comfort and minimalism were keywords of the decade. Young people were wearing:
  • Baggy pants
  • Flannel shirts
  • Flared jeans

It took a long time to get here but today casual clothing is the norm in America and young people are a huge influence in trends. What's next?