Fashion Research Paper

The development of human society was traditionally accompanied by the progress of its socio-cultural sphere. Basically, people always wanted to develop some common traditions and habits that would be common for a particular community. This trend could be observed in different spheres of life and it is still relevant today. Probably, the most obvious the intention of people to have something in common may be found in fashion which is an extremely important part of human life.

In fact, fashion was not just an attempt of people to get similar preferences in clothes, music, etc. but it was also a very important social factor that united people. Actually, fashion fulfills the same function today as well as it did throughout its history. However, it is worthy of mention that fashion is one of the most rapidly changing aspect of social and individual life because within the last fifty years only fashion has evolved dramatically and, what is probably more important, the recent trends indicate to the increasing speed of changing of fashion.

Nevertheless, fashion always served as a means of self-expression of individuals, it is also an excellent opportunity to demonstrate individual’s uniqueness though this uniqueness tends to disappear as soon as some item of fashion actually becomes fashionable. In such a situation it is quite interesting to trace the evolution of fashion within the last fifty years which unquestionably reflects the evolution of human society within this period of time.

The essence of fashion

However, before discussing the historical development of fashion within last fifty years, it is necessary to briefly dwell upon the notion of fashion in order to better understand its essence and, thus, understand the role fashion plays in the life of the entire society and each individual in particular.

Speaking about fashion, it is necessary to point out that it is primarily a socio-cultural phenomenon. Basically, fashion implies the current trends in the existing lifestyle. Moreover, it is traditionally associated with the most recent trends. To put it more precisely, fashion is the current popular mode of expression. It is important to underline that fashion tends to reflect the general cultural trends or even establish them in a way because fashionable actually may be associated with progressive, the most advanced, though it does not necessarily means the best.

In fact, fashion cannot be fully associated with progress, like scientific progress, for instance. Instead, it would be more logical to speak about change which inevitably accompanies social progress and this change finds its reflection in fashion. Practically, it means that fashion reflects the popular trends of the mode of expression. At the same time, fashionable means that something or someone fits in with the most recent popular mode of expression.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that often fashion is limited in the popular perception by wear style, or clothes. However, it is an obvious mistake that fashion may be referred solely to the world of clothes and the art of dressing. Instead, it is a boarder term that can refer to other spheres of life. For instance, fashion may be also applied to music, cinematography, and even lifestyle at large. In fact, what fashion in all spheres have in common is the fact that fashion is traditionally associated with glamour and style which fully correspond to the most recent trends.

Obviously, it is possible to view fashion as a kind of art which constitutes an essential part of the cultural life of society. It proves beyond a doubt that fashion reflects the process of change in society. To put it more precisely, fashion may reflect the recent cultural trends. For instance, it may reflect the dominating socio-cultural norms by means of emphasizing certain style in clothes that may vary dramatically from the style that underlines individual’s sexuality, or which is rather practical, that is typical for Western societies, to rather conservative and traditional, that is more typical for traditional Oriental cultures, for instance.

However, it is worthy of mention that fashion and conservatism are often viewed as totally antagonistic notions because fashion is based on constant change while conservatism implies the absence of changes or slow changes.

Nevertheless, despite the potentially wide use of the notion of fashion, in the modern world the term fashion is traditionally associated with clothes. It is worthy of mention that in recent years, the trend of fashion to novelty has gradually declined because of the process of globalization but, on the other hand, it reflects the historical trend to certain uniformity of society. This refers not only to clothes but also to the lifestyle at large.

In general, it should be said that fashion is the product of its epoch and it is constantly changing reacting to the socio-cultural changes but often the changes in fashion are too rapid and they occur faster than socio-cultural changes. This is why often fashion is characterized as an extremely changeable and unstable concept.

The development of fashion

Obviously, the development of fashion is permanent and unstoppable. In fact, it is impossible to stop the progress of fashion as it is impossible to stop the progress of culture, though probably progress is not the best term that should be applied in this regard. In fact, change seems to be more correct notion here. At the same time, the development and changes that have occurred in fashion throughout the last fifty years perfectly reflect the socio-cultural process that took place in society and was a kind of response to the changing conditions of life.

A. 1950s

In fact, 1950 marked the dramatic changes that had started in Western society and culture. It was the post-war epoch when people had already recovered from the horrors of war and the new generation had started to play an extremely significant role in fashion as well as in social life at large. At the same time, in order to better understand the basic trends in fashion of 1950s, it is necessary to briefly describe the historical background of that epoch and major social and cultural trends.

In general, 1950s were the epoch of great changes and growing contradiction between the two global systems, capitalist and communist. As a result, the growing tension naturally affected all spheres of life. To put it more precisely, there existed quite contradicting trends. On the one hand, there was a panic fear of communist expansion and the necessity to protect traditional values that was often extremely exaggerated and engendered social protests, especially from the part of the younger generations. On the other hand, there existed a kind of romanticism concerning the opportunity of an alternative lifestyle and it is even possible to speak about the revolutionary romanticism that actually resulted in the numerous social protests and again younger generation played the probably defining role in this respect.

In fact, it should be said that the role of younger generation in 1950s had increased dramatically and fashion could not fail to be affected by this common socio-cultural trend. As a result, youth fashion dominated in fashion industry of 1950s. At the same time, it should be pointed out that it was a natural reaction on the growth of the new culture where the society had faced the birth of rock n roll and the appearance of the teenager. It is important to underline that the teenagers of the new generation, of 1950s, were absolutely different from previous generations that may be explained by the dramatic socio-cultural changes and the revolutionary romanticism mentioned above.

In actuality, this resulted in a dramatic change that was reflected in fashion. To put it more precisely, teenagers of the previous generations traditionally dressed the same clothes that their parents and there were no distinguishable differences in fashion and style between adults and teenagers. In stark contrast to the past generations, the new generation of teenagers in 1950s had developed a new, different and rebellious style in their dress. Basically, the changes were quite unusual to the past generations and tended to the development of the overtly sexual dresses that were the real challenge to moral and ethic norms of the older generations and marked the start of sexual revolution in Western societies. For instance, men mainly ware tight trousers, leather jackets, and emphasis was on long greasy hair. As for women they had an option of wearing a full skirt or a tight ‘pencil’ skirt. This was the prevailing fashion for the entire decade, until hemlines began to rise and a more futuristic egg-type silhouette began to appear only in late 1950s. Unquestionably, such appearance was not simply unusual but, to a significant extent, unacceptable for the older generations.

In response to the dramatic change in fashion, the new brands had started to develop in 1950s. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that in the UK the Teddy Boy became both style icons and anti-authoritarian figures. At the same time, in the US, Greasers had a similar social position.

B. 1960s

Basically, 1960s were the logical continuation of 1950s and the rebellious trends initiated in the previous decade had grown stronger throughout 1960s. It should be said that this was the decade that broke with many fashion traditions typical for the past epoch and, at the same time, it was the natural reaction of fashion on the dramatic social changes and social movements that grew in power at that epoch. In fact, it was the epoch of really great changes.

In this respect, it is worthy of mention that, to a significant extent, these changes were predetermined by the social movements for civil rights and equality of all people. To put it more precisely, the African-American people led by Martin Luther King and his follower had gained new rights and opportunities in the US. This was an extremely important point in history of the 20th century of the US as well as Western civilization at large which affected fashion, especially in America where traditional African and African-American motives became very significant. Also, it is worthy of mention that 1960s were characterized by the growth of the feminist movements which also struggled for equality of citizens, notably for equal rights of women that also inevitably affected fashion and style. In general, it is possible to estimate that the significant impact of social movements basically resulted in the further liberalization of fashion.

As for the cultural life of the epoch, it was marked by the progress of the Beetles, who became the idols of the generation of 1960s and became the symbols of the entire epoch. It is possible to say that the Beetles were among the leaders in fashion since they influenced dramatically their audience and, thus, they could shape tastes and preferences of millions of people not only in music but in fashion as well.

Speaking about fashion proper, it is worthy of mention that the beginning of the decade was marked by the popularity of culottes which were in style at the epoch while the bikini finally came into fashion in 1963 after being features in the movie Beach Party. It is necessary to underline that the bikini was quite a revolutionary invention of that epoch and was a serious challenge to the standards of the past.

Furthermore, Mary Quant invented a mini-skirt and it became the rage in the late 1960s. At the same time, the progress of the hippie movement in the late 1960s also had a profound impact on clothing styles, including bell-bottom jeans, tie-dye and batic fabrics, as well as paisley prints. It is also worthy of mention that head coverings changed dramatically toward the end of the decade as men’s hats went out of style, replaced by bandana if anything at all, and as men allowed their hair to grow long, the tradition launched in 1950s. Also, it should be said that under the impact of the growing importance and significance of African-American culture Afro hairstyle became the hairstyle of choice for African-Americans.

As for women, it should be said that their hairstyle ranged from beehive hairdos in the early 1960s to very short styles popularized by Twiggy just five years later. Between these two extremes, the chin-length color cut was also very popular. It is worthy of mention that famous people produced a significant impact on fashion of that epoch. For instance, the pillbox hat was fashionable due almost entirely to the influence of Jacqueline Kennedy who was the style setter throughout the decade. At the same time, it should be said that the development of the feminist movement also led some women to eschew the bra in an act of defiance against patriarchy.

Furthermore, the technological progress of that epoch could not fail to affect the development of fashion. As a result, some new materials, other than traditional cloth, started to become more and more popular, among which may be named polyester and PVC.

In such a way, the dramatic changes in fashion of 1960s perfectly illustrate the profound socio-cultural changes in society of that epoch. It is even possible to speak that the numerous social movements which targeted at the structural changes in society willingly or not affected the fashion of that epoch which similarly to 1950s could be characterized as revolutionary in a way.

C. 1970s

The decade was basically characterized by the development of the romantic fashion trends of the designers, such as Yves Saint Laurent, Ossie Clark, and Zandra Rhodes, thought these trends grew weaker by the end of the decade when they were replaced by the start of the most influential and long lasting fashion movements since Dior’s new look with the emergence of punk from the British designer Vivienne Westwood.

In fact, it is possible to divide 1970s into two stages the early and the late 1970s. The early 1970s were still under the serious impact of late 1960s and jeans remained frayed and tie dye was still quite popular. At the same time, by the mid of 1970s the changes became obvious. For instance, by this period of time, as the economy improved, silhouettes narrowed, and hemlines dropped again from mini to midi skirts – mid-calf length – to maxi, ankle length though all three lengths enjoyed almost equal popularity.

As for men’s fashion, it is worthy of noting that ties broadened and became more colorful, as did dress shirt collars and suit jacket lapels. It should be said that probably the most serious change in the mid-1970s was associated with the name of Yves Saint Laurent who introduced the peasant look in 1976 which became very influential at that epoch.

In general it should be said that at that time clothing was very unstructured and fluid. It is worthy of mention that embroidered clothing, either self-made or imported from India or Mexico was also quite popular.

With the popularization of disco and the increasing availability and diversity of man-made clothing, a drastic change in the mainstream fashion occurred. To put it more precisely, all styles of clothing were affected by disco style, especially those of men. As a result, men began to wear stylish three-piece suits, which were characterized by wide lapels, wide legged or flared trousers and high rise vests. The zippered jumpsuits were popular among both men and women. Even women’s blouses were available in body-suit form. At the same time, their shoes echoed the fashion of the 1940s, with high-healed, lower-platform mules.

However, the late 1970s were marked by the increasing impact of punk on fashion. Basically, pun as a style originated from London from the designer Vivienne Westwood and her partner Malcolm McLaren. Postmodernist and iconoclastic in essence this movement was a direct reaction to the economic situation during the economic depression of the period that had started in the mid-1970s. Punk had at its heart a manifesto of creation through disorder. In fact, punk fashion can be traced to the ripped jeans, torn t-shirts, scrappy haircuts and worn and torn leather jackets sported by the members of the Sex Pistols.

In such a way, the 1970s may be characterized as a transitional epoch between 1960s and the new punk epoch which continued even in 1980s.

D. 1980s

Speaking about fashion of 1980s, it is necessary to point out that it was basically oriented on the popular culture. It should be said that 1980s fashion incorporated distinct trends from different epochs, including ancient Egypt, the early 20th century English royalty, Victorian era buccaneers, and punk rockers from 1970s. The most conservative, more masculine fashion look that was the most indicative of the decade was the wide use of the shoulder pads. While in the previous decade the silhouette of fashion tended to be characterized by close fitting clothes on top with wider looser clothes on bottom, this trend completely reversed itself in the early 1980s as both men and women began to wear loose shirts and tight close fitting pants. Men wore power suits which they sometimes jogged in to work since they were stiff when they were bought. This was the result of the greater tendency for people to display their wealth.

It is necessary to underline that brand names became extremely important in this decade, making Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein household names. At this epoch, Madonna was titled the ‘Material Girl’ and many teenage girls looked to her for fashion statements. It is also worthy of noting that the impact of media on fashion also increases. In this respect, it is possible to draw the example of the popular movie “Flashdance” which made ripped sweatshirts well-known in the general public. The similar effect on fashion of 1980s produced the television shows such as “Dallas” and “Dynasty”.

Furthermore, it should be said that the early 1980s could be characterized as the new Romantic Movement in fashion which was basically associated with the name of Vivienne Westwood. At this epoch the make-up was streaky and bold. Pastel colors dominated fashion of that epoch, while the mid 1980s were characterized by more somber and muted tones. The late 1980s were characterized by the growing popularity of acid-washed jeans and denim jackets which were extremely popular with both sexes. Leather jackets were popularized by Michael Jackson and earrings became a mainstream fashion for male teenagers.

E. 1990s

The 1990s were the epoch which are traditionally defined as anti-fashion, though, in actuality, this was quite a contradictive epoch in relation to fashion. It should be said that this was the period of great socio-cultural changes that inevitably affected fashion. Utilitarianism grew more and more popular while the world had started to become globalized.

Naturally, in such a situation fashion could not remain uninfluenced by the general trends of the epoch and it also started to tend to unification in global terms with gradual disappearance of local or national verities which were gradually replaced by new universal style, or the lack of it. However, it is an obvious mistake to believe that 1990s, being the epoch of anti-fashion, did not have fashion at all.

In stark contrast, as well as any other epoch fashion in the 1990s kept progressing and continued its development, while the so-called anti-fashion should be rather viewed not as the absence of fashion but like another style in fashion typical for the 1990s.

The reason for such a labeling of fashion of the 1990s is quite simple. The main reason is the progress of minimalist styles which were dramatically contrasting to the previous epochs and fashion styles of past decades. There existed many contradiction and overlapping trends in fashion of the 1990s. At the same time, the most significant event of the epoch was the rise of grunge fashion in 1992. The latter was influenced by grunge music. It should be said that grunge style in fashion resulted in a decline in bright colors and was dominated by plaid flannel shirts, stonewashed blue jeans, and dark colors like maroon, forest green, indigo, and brown. Grunge fashion popularized Doc Martens style shoes and boots, and high-top sneakers.

However, the late 1990s was marked by the move away from grunge and the new post-grunge style had started to develop. It is worthy of mention that retro clothing inspired by the 1960s and 1970s was popular for much of the 1990s.

F. 2000s

Speaking about the present epoch, it should be pointed out that basically fashion has incorporated elements from the fashion of past epochs. To put it more precisely, the modern fashion is characterized by the domination of punk-style clothing, continuing from 1990s and preventing certain features and styles of fashion of 1980s. Basically, it should be said that, to a significant extent, fashion of 2000s continues the traditions of 1990s. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that early 2000s were marked by the popularity of whale tail and protruding boxer shorts, which expose the undergarments and buttocks, incorporating hip-hugger jeans, crop tops, and high riding thongs for women or boxer shorts and sagging jeans for men also became fashionable. As a result, the center of the lower back became a common placement for tattoos among young women.

It should be pointed out that the development of fashion in the 2000s was marked by the growing impact of hip hop culture. In fact, this is due to the hip hop culture that baggy jeans became popular.

Among the more recent trends of fashion of 2000s, it is necessary to point out a strong trend to evoking styles of 1980s as 1980s nostalgia becomes more common. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the trend to globalization of fashion became even stronger than it used to be in 1990s. In fact, nowadays, it is possible to estimate that the world fashion acquires common features and loosing national peculiarities. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that, to a significant extent, this trends is supported and promoted by modern media which influence dramatically social behavior throughout the entire world.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that fashion is a constituent element of human and social life. It has accompanied human life throughout different epochs till the present moment and nowadays fashion is still progressing and changing human mode of expression. Obviously, fashion may be viewed as a mirror that reflects the major socio-cultural changes of the epoch, but, unlike other aspects of socio-cultural life, fashion focuses on the newest trends and it changes rapidly and the change occur even faster than socio-cultural shits are accomplished.


1. Barker, Olivia. “Everything is so 5 minutes ago.” USA Today June 10, 2003.
2. Givhan, Robin. “A Trend Without a Leg to Stand On.” Washington Post, Oct. 27, 2006.
3. Kara, Nooreen. “Kanye West Concert Review” The Situation November 22, 2004.
4. Kim, Kibum. “Where Some See Fashion, Others See Politics.” New York Times Feb. 11, 2007.
5. Lalli, Nina. “Checkered Past: Arafat’s trademark scarf is now military chic.” Village Voice Feb. 17th, 2005.
6. Laver, James: The Concise History of Costume and Fashion, Chicago: Abrams, 1979.
7. Peacock, John. The 1980s. New York: New Publishers 1998.
8. Rubin, Joey. What Is Emo Music? A Genre Profile. Retrieved on 2007 March 11.
9. Tierney, Tom. Great Fashion Designs of the Eighties, New York: Routledge 1998.
10. Wilson, Eric. “A New Size for Denim: Extra Tight.” New York Times May 4, 2006.

We offer help with writing research papers for all students who are in need. You can buy custom research papers completed by the most qualified academic writers online.