Style and music have been closely interwoven for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Even before we had recordings to listen to and music videos to marvel at, musicians, singers and dancers performed on stage in front of audiences who were charmed and intrigued by their unusual clothing and fashion choices. Performers have always been given more license to play with how they visually represent themselves, whether that’s through costume, practical stage wear or the latest designs from fashion houses. Because they are necessarily one step outside of ‘normal’ life, they can get away with breaking the status quo more often than not.
Sometimes, a performer or celebrity will spark a craze for a new type of style and suddenly people can’t get enough of it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a musician either; it can simply be anybody in the public eye as our notion of ‘performer’ has expanded over the last century or so. Modern examples of this might include Ariana Grande’s distinctive high ponytail or Kim Kardashian’s signature bodycon dresses. There’s no telling how long these two cases might stick around for, but there are a number of hot looks that have lasted for decades and can still prove popular with people today.
The Turn of a New Century
Way back at the beginning of the 20th century, the Western world was just emerging out from the Victorian era. The Gibson Girl look was all the rage in the USA, with poofy hairstyles piled high on women’s heads and a more athletic physical build coming into fashion. Britain and Europe were transforming traditional Indian and Middle Eastern clothes into new fashionable items for La Belle Epoque, wearing stylised turban hats, harem trousers and kimono-shaped evening wear, and embracing a more traditionally masculine look for women. Early jazz was becoming popular, and a more laid-back, relaxed approach to life became acceptable. You can still find this look today, influencing loungewear, pyjamas, athleisure styles and more formal clothing too. The rich, sumptuous colours and fabrics that designers used for early 20th century evening wear are still popular, often adding a touch of class and glamour to an outfit. Look to Paul Poiret’s creations for inspiration.
The Glamour of the Riviera
Following on from this promising beginning, the new century started to pick up speed. Fashion became radical and subversive, with restrictive garments like corsets thrown away altogether by the younger ‘in’ crowd and a looser shape embraced instead. The classic ‘flapper’ look involved dropped waist dresses, painstakingly beaded fabrics and embellishments like feathers or fringing – great for dancing the night away to the now ubiquitous jazz sound. This is when glamour really had its heyday, as bright young things travelled to the French Riviera for holidays and the High Society set started tanning in St. Tropez. You can still find this style prevalent in those very same locales, within the casinos of Monte Carlo and on the beaches at Cannes. Well-loved design types from this era, like art deco and modernism, have found their way into ultra-modern settings like the online table games at Poker Stars or the detailed environment of the Bioshock gaming franchise. The longevity of these fashions is down to the strong link they forge between the natural world, practicality and glamour. Louise Brooks and Clara Bow epitomise this look.
The 1940s New Look
Just a few years later, however, and fashion was concerned once again with a relatively restrictive silhouette. Dior’s New Look arrived in the 1940s and was characterised by a nipped in waist, voluminous skirts and wide shoulders. The hourglass shape of the previous century was back but with a new twist. People had missed the luxury, pomp and ceremony of the Edwardians and wanted to update it for the new era. Whilst jazz was still popular, it had lost ground to exciting sounds like swing, big band, Latin and country music; people were returning to a more orderly and familiar style in both music and clothing, though with a new sense of freedom. The infamous ‘Chanel suit’ was also a hit during this time, marrying classic masculine and feminine styles into the perfect item of clothing for women that proved both practical and stylish.
The Swinging Sixties
Fast forward another decade or so and you arrive at the rule-breaking revolutionary swinging sixties. By this time, the normalities of yesteryear – like corsets, heavy silks and opulent accessories – were making way for mass-produced, brightly coloured clothing bought ‘off the rack’. New fabrics like plastic, polyester and PVC had entered the arena, and the focus was on cheap and cheerful in a state-of-the-art throwaway culture. There was also a resurgence of interest in historical costume from the Medieval period and the Renaissance, as there had been earlier on at the turn of the century. Pop music was born and increased emphasis was put on folk music, rock ‘n’ roll and R&B.