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Fashion's Past Inspiring the Future

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Fashion trends never truly disappear.

Image credit: Egyptian faience and gold beadnet dress, Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

4500 year old Egyptian faience and gold beadnet dress…or contemporary couture? It’s the former but in my eyes, it could be either.

With global fashion weeks upon us, I’ve been thinking about the industry’s constant nod to the past. Designers use history to inspire their contemporary lines, whether in a linear or abstract manner. Mood boards get created, displaying a collage of images to evoke the feeling of the next upcoming line. It can be anything from the history of the automotive world to ancient Egypt. That inspiration, that mood, sparks a story, then a specific style, and from that is birthed a collective group of complementary colors, textures, patterns, and finally garment design.

In whatever order it happens, even creation on a grand scale must begin with the simple kernel of an idea, a thought that is not contrived but springs forth so randomly you have to jot it down quickly wherever you’re at lest you wait and risk forgetting the thread of the narrative.

In a parallel pathway, not only do designers draw inspiration from the past, they also bring back in direct fashion trends from previous decades.

Joan Crawford film promo shot, circa mid 1940s.

Elsa Schiaparelli added shoulder pads to her garment creations for women beginning in the 1930s. She was an avant-garde designer who liked to challenge the status quo. Her clothing was eclectic to say the least, progressive to boot. But it was in the early 1940s during World War II when women took to the workforce in large numbers that shoulder pads really began to trend for women in North America and Europe. The correlation between the war and this trend cannot be ignored. This was a bid to reflect strength, authority, and power in aesthetic fashion for those newly placed in an office setting.

In the 1980s there was a resurgence of women entering the workforce in staggering numbers and once again shoulder pads made an appearance with even more exuberance than the last time. Blouses and jackets with shoulder pads, when combined, gave one unparalleled height.

And now, here we are in 2022 and I’m hearing whispers of their return at this season’s runway shows.

Villa Romana del Casale mosaic, 2000 years old.

In ancient Rome and Pompeii, it was all about what looks awfully close to a bikini for athletes. While it certainly took a long time for this type of skin exposure to make its way back to popular culture it nonetheless did so in some Western countries just after WWII. The bikini as beachwear reached maximum popularity in the 1960s in the United States.

Conversely, the longer one piece of early 20th century beachgoers is making a comeback for many athletes today- as well as with children! Of course, this is only a sampling of trends. Cultural and religious beliefs greatly affect how one swims and relaxes at the beach. All expressions are welcome.

I could go on forever about the comings and goings of fashion styles. Fabric slashing, inner wear as outer wear, neon colors, skinny jeans, nautical style, puffy sleeves, ponchos… they’re never really gone for good.

Jean Paul Gaultier F/W 2008 couture as homage to 17th century farthingales.

Sadly, men’s fashion has not gone through the dramatic decade by decade to century by century evolution in style and replication. Beyond the recent lean by many designers to make their clothing more unisex, if you were to look in a fashion history book you would not see much difference from piece to piece for men within the last century in the West (with the late 60s/early 70s as one exception). I throw down the gauntlet of challenge here, designers. Men deserve a bit of a fashion revolution!

More about the loss of men’s fashion as peacockery and the homogenization of work wear later…it’s a subject worth diving into. There have been some changes recently, though more so in couture special occasion wear than day to day pieces.

Anything is possible though, isn’t it? It’s all a matter of how long it takes the world to hit the Repeat button.

What styles do you still like to wear, regardless of popularity? What styles from fashion history do you wish would come back? What will you NEVER wear again?? I’d love to hear from you!

Until then~

Best wishes,

Vivie V.

*Vivie V. is a fashion enthusiast from Chicago with a penchant for handmade and vintage pieces. She holds a B.A. from Columbia College, where her passion for the creative arts was heavily cultivated. When she’s not blogging for Tailor Village she’s concocting DIY fragrances, sewing her own clothes, and running her consultancy, Vivie V.’s Adorn Yourself.

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