The period shortly after World War I marked such a vivid change in the fashion of women, that it indeed shaped the future of the emancipation of femininity. Whether or not fashion is a definable mirror for social change is no better described than in terms of the Flapper culture of the 1920s. In many ways fashion is a mirror of cultural and social change but also of social identity and counter-culture. Exploring fashion from the times of ancient Greek culture to our modern day, we see a number of styles and expressions that recur over time, meaning that in the strictest core of our society, we keep returning to those cultures as ancient and sophisticated as they are.
Fashion in the ancient Greeks
The ancient Greeks set the scene for what we consider to be fashion today. Clothing had previously performed the duty of warmth and protection, but in Greece it also and social standing. Fashion was loose fitting and elegant and those that wore tight fitting clothing were considered barbarians (Rymer, 2008).1 Both men and women wore loose fitting sleeveless tunics and the distinguishing factor was that women wore these tunics to their ankles and men wore shorter versions. The wealthier you were the more colourful the tunic was, as the common folk wore plain colours. Winter saw the introduction of heavy woolen cloaks over this (Ibid.).
Women wore their hair long and curled, or braided, but slave women had their hair shorn short (Ibid.). Already with this information we are able to see how fashion distinguished class and social structures in ancient times. Hence the idea of the urchin haircut that became popular in the 1920s as a counter-revolutionary approach to the social norms that dictated what a woman should look like. In one sense this narrowed the gap between the rich and the poor, making it possible to have whatever style you choose regardless of what side of the food chain you were on. However, if it is considered that today the cost of hairstyling and colouring, it can be presumed thus that at times the wealthier people are still able to afford more expensive styling.
The restrictive clothing of the previous years, counting up to the Flapper era, had been a mark of the suppression of women and was shrouded in societal myth and sexual restraint but became a lesser concern after the war. When the war began, women were forced to run their countries as the men had done, working in factories, making ammunition, earning a living and looking after the home and children. Fashion changed drastically in this period partly as a practical measure and partly as a freedom expression. In fashion history terms time never stands still. In the Edwardian era, new influences and a changing society in a young century began to challenge the stiff formality that prevailed.
In the years between 1905 and 1918 clothing styles emerged that were evolutionary in bridging the gap between the rigid formality of the Edwardian styles and the ultimate changes that led to the knee high dresses of 1926.(Weston Thomas, 2008).2 Shorter skirts and flatter chests were more practical for those working in the factories and definitely more comfortable, but did it have another message? In previous years, revealing a part of your body was considered restricted to those who worked the streets and in brothels and criminal practices, but since women were now free to explore their sexuality, the length of the skirt was not distinct to social standing. So fashion did indeed change with society as we have seen the manner in which it distinguished social status in the ancient times and up to the Flapper era.
Prior to the Flapper era, Victorian fashion was considered the most suffocating and restrictive of all, since making a good marriage was more important than physical comfort, it became necessary to expose a womans assets without being provocative. The bustiers were built for playing up the curvaceous bosom and the bustles were created to enhance the derriere, both body parts depicting the essence of the feminine form. Since women were unable to flaunt their assets any other way, this was considered the most practical way of gaining the male attention even if what lay beneath was not quite as voluptuous.
Incarcerated within a farthingale and numerous layers of voluminous fabric the lady was constantly aware of the quality of her performance within these garments. The earlier bid for simplicity and freedom was overwhelmed by a profusion of puffs, ruchings, fringes, ribbons, drapery, flounces with additional headings and edgings, and strange combinations of materials and colours. (Nunn, 2001).3 At this stage women were as incarcerated by social obligation and niceties as they were by their clothing, making it impossible to explore the freedom of the human body as it is naturally.
Tentatively though, women are every bit as dictated by fashion today as they were in their suppressed era. The idea that women have more power now is complemented by the wearing of jeans and T-shirts, compliments of Coco Chanel. Beauty/ seduction are also important purposes of dress. Most people want to look attractive, at least under certain circumstances. But what is considered beautiful is also subject to variation. Ideals of beauty also change over time within the same culture, as we will see. (Jirousek, 1995).4 It can be said that the fashion statements of the 1980s is no longer pertinent to the present day. and three layers of are no longer considered practical or beautiful and neither is the be-muscled body that .
Then again neither are the voluptuous hips of the Romantic period very popular either. The media are responsible in part for this phenomenon. Constantly highlighting the stick-thin long-legged freaks of nature such as models are, it requires a great deal of strength not to concern oneself with the popular culture. Initially women were chosen as models not for their sake of their slender frame, but because their slender waif-like figures were bland and therefore would not detract from the clothing they wore.
Today, however, that has become a cultural norm. IF fashion were NOT a mirror of societal change, then there would not be a pandemic of from anorexia to bulimia and the new craze of orthorexia. One certain thing in the fashion world is change. We are constantly being bombarded with new fashion ideas from music, videos, books, and television. Movies also have a big impact on what people wear. Ray-Ban sold more sunglasses after the movie Men In Black. Sometimes a trend is world-wide. Back in the 1950s, teenagers everywhere dressed like Elvis Presley. (PBS, 2008).5 So suddenly everyone is sporting the shaggy look popularised by Jennifer Aniston? Suddenly the whaspy waist is a must ad then it isnt and then it is and thenwell, it isnt.