Fashion is a language that has evolved throughout the ages. Some want to stand out from the crowd, while others choose pieces based on comfort. What’s more, is neither of these things is mutually exclusive. Whatever your fashion language is, there’s a statement you make through what you wear.
When Melania Trump donned a jacket emblazoned with the message “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” on her way to visiting a children’s shelter in the height of a national debate around controversial family separation policies, it became international news. And this definitely isn’t a new concept.
Who can forget Madonna’s iconic outfit in her “Like a Virgin” music video? The combination of rosary beads paired with a provocative bridal gown got the hairs on many Catholic’s necks to stand up. Her bold and unapologetic approach to fashion solidified her place in rock stardom and fashion history in one fell swoop. Yet, these days, that same get-up would be considered timid at best.
Women and men have been pushing the societal envelope with their outer (and under) garments for as long as anyone can remember, but the standards and messages are always changing.
Keep Up or Get Left Behind
Throughout the last three centuries, fashion has often marked the beginning and end of an era.
In the late 1800s through to the end of WWI, Paul Poiret dominated the fashion world dressing Paris’ best. His signature styles marked the tail end of the corset era. But by the end of the war, his company fell apart due to an inability to keep up with contemporary tastes. By the 1920s flappers were hiking up their hemlines and chopping off their hair as women proclaimed their embrace of greater independence, challenging norms of conservative dress. This might have been one of the earliest notable instances of women donning a more androgynous look, swapping their clothes for chic sportcoats.
Naturally, Coco Chanel took post-WWI design to the next level, designing women’s suits and the classic LBD. Her dark and demure aesthetic responded to the feelings of a country deeply affected by war by designing clothing that suited their emotional state.
Enter the 1950’s and Paris’ stronghold on fashion began to dwindle. Youth culture upended traditional ideas around how fashion is consumed. The divide between upper and middle classes became blurred, mostly in the United States, where consumer culture boomed. The uppity French conventions which often used rigid rules around style as a way of making the class distinction very clear were left behind.
The ’60s was the era that ultimately blew the fashion worldwide open. It was after this point that no single locale would dictate fashion ever again. Paving the way to where we are today, styles, fabrics, cuts, and trends became limitless. The free-love movement and young people angered at the state of the world, brought about new and radical styles of dress. Showing skin, ditching bras, and genderless styles became more and more commonplace.
Fashion is Constantly Evolving and Revolving
Today’s modern-day realization of the goth aesthetic draws from Victorian and Edwardian fashion, though our current way of life has shifted dramatically from the time of servants and masters. Punk rock has evolved as a genre and as a fashion sensibility where it's now as readily visible on the streets as it is in high-end design houses (the most anti-punk of places). The point is fashion can be manipulated, reimagined, and reframed in ways that are innovative and new.
Looking through the lens of the past, it’s clear that fashion has almost always served as a mouthpiece for making a statement about the times in which we live.