Many styles come and go, but some have the power to endure. Here’s a look at some of the most popular American fashion trends over the years.
Polo shirts are timeless in their appeal and remain one of the most beloved American fashion trends. The style peaked in popularity during the ’90s thanks to grunge musicians.
The 1920s saw women begin to dress in a more modern fashion compared to decades past. With the women’s suffrage movement leading to the 19th amendment, women became more empowered and free to express themselves through their wardrobes.
One major trend of the 1920s was the flapper dress. This style featured a dropped waistline and hemline that reached around the knees. It was a drastic change from the Gibson Girl cinched in waistlines and was considered scandalous at the time.
During this time, women also began to shorten their hair into the bob haircut. This new style paired nicely with the popular cloche hat.
Men’s clothing also shifted away from the traditional tail coat to a shorter tuxedo. This look was influenced by Hollywood and allowed more freedom for the wearer. Narrow-fitting trousers and t-shirts were also popular for daily attire.
Women’s styles moved away from the boyish look of the 1920s and into a more feminine silhouette. Hemlines returned to natural waistlines and necklines were often rounded or softened with draping, pleating, puffed sleeves and other decorative elements like cut-outs, mock jabots, and tucks.
During the Depression, many Americans turned to Hollywood films for glamour and style inspiration. Movie stars like Joan Crawford demonstrated the power of wide shoulders and padded cuffs that would become a key feature of the 1930s fashion.
By the end of the decade, hemlines began to shorten again, and the cloche hat was an essential accessory for completing this look. With the rise of a more democratic culture, sartorial style became less of a mark of social status. Instead, anyone could look stylish with the right clothing and accessories. For example, gloves or a silk scarf could elevate a simple house dress into a sophisticated outfit.
A major shift occurred in the 1940s as government regulations played a large role in fashion. From inventive make-do and mending in the early part of the decade, to a forward thinking philosophy of a confident modern woman in the latter part, rationing was a major factor in shaping silhouettes. Boxy shoulders, nipped in waists and shorter skirts were popular. Rosie the Riveter was a symbol of this new, empowered feminine look.
Many women learned to sew to save money and rationing coupons. Designers like Claire McCardell focused on practicality with pieces that were versatile and easy to wear, often using utility fabrics. Pants became more common as well, particularly in warm weather. Evening dresses were still a favorite, but the hemlines had been lowered and necklines deepened from the earlier 1930s styles. Casual shirts were also becoming popular, and the “camp” style collar that has become a classic today can be traced back to the 1940s.
After World War II, American fashion became more casual. Newer fabrics came into play, and designers began to come from other places than Paris. The New Look dominated women’s fashion for a while, as Christian Dior’s full skirts and nipped-in waists created a sleek silhouette that exuded femininity.
The 50s also saw a gradual loosening of silhouettes, as sack dresses and relaxed fit blouses gained popularity. Flouncy wide-circle skirts, known as poodle skirts, became popular among young girls and teenagers.
Men’s clothing also took on a more casual look during this decade, thanks to the influence of rock and roll music and films like Rebel Without a Cause. Tailored suits paired with shirt and tie still reigned supreme, but sports coats in textured materials and bold splashes of color were also common. Casual pants were also in style, including Capri pants that reached the mid-calf and cigarette pants that went down to a man’s ankle.
The 1960s saw a major departure from the traditional. Designers began experimenting with modern, man-made materials. Paco Rabanne designed chainmail pieces that looked like outer space suits for the sci-fi film, Barbarella, which was a huge hit and pushed fashion into the future.
Women’s skirt suits became a popular trend. They were structured, ladylike garments that featured a straight pencil skirt that ended just above the knee paired with matching jackets. They came in many different colors and fabrics. Jacqueline Kennedy was a big fan of this look, wearing pantsuits in a variety of colors.
Skirts also got shorter, reaching mid-calf lengths or even lower. The mini skirt was a bold move that symbolized women’s liberation from the more conservative styles of the past.
The ’60s also gave rise to Mod and Youthquake styles that blended hippie counterculture with more spirited, sexy looks. Op Art was a popular style that featured striped, checkered and wavy line prints.
The ’70s saw fashion relax a bit, worrying less about hemlines and embracing patterns. Wide-collared shirts, inspired by disco stars like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, became popular on womenswear, too, along with full-length dresses that hugged the curves and were often trimmed with velvet or satin. Chevron became the decade’s big pattern, and oversized shearling coats (like this one on supermodel Celia Hammond) made a statement.
Fashion also became more gender-neutral, with men and women dressing in a style that would later be typified by jumpsuits, leotards and leggings. Bandeau tops, which featured a string tie around the neck, dominated bikinis, while halter tops appeared on everything from figure-hugging dresses to beach-friendly swimwear. The 1980s would see a return to tailored suits, but the ’70s laid the groundwork for what we know as casual sportswear today.
From oversized sweaters to asymmetrical dresses, the 1980s favored bold fashion choices. Power dressing emerged as a major trend, reflecting a new confidence and authority among women in the workplace. Tailored suits in bright colors and contrasting fabrics were popular.
Leg warmers, terry cloth headbands and floppy hats were also in style. MC Hammer and the Beastie Boys sported tapered, light-wash jeans with Adidas sneakers, which remain popular to this day. Hosiery was an important aspect of ’80s fashion, including colored tights and textured fishnet stockings.
A new generation of women were influenced by the iconic style of Linda Evans, star of TV shows like Dynasty and Dallas. Her natural broad shoulders became a coveted style feature, inspiring designers to craft shoulder pads. The era’s fashion influencers included Madonna, Michael Jackson and Boy George. The Jheri curl African-American hairstyle became a coveted look embraced by music icons and celebrities. The ’80s marked the birth of MTV, and it was a decade when it seemed anything was possible.
From t-shirts to jeans, the 1990s favored casual styles. Plaid flannel shirts were popular with both boys and girls, especially during the grunge movement of the early part of the decade, while sportswear like Champion sweatshirts and track suit jackets were also quite common among youth (Fig. 2). For women, the pants suit replaced traditional skirt suits.
By the late ’90s, fashion took on a more polished form-fitting look. The ’90s also saw the return of bright colors, as a reaction to the dark shades of the grunge and skater subcultures. In men’s fashion, khaki pants joined jeans as a staple of the dressy casual style, with blazers and bowling shirts being worn over jeans and khaki chinos for a hybrid formal look. During this time, it became fashionable to leave shirts untucked, as seen on many of the characters in Dawson’s Creek. Popular accessories included bright t-shirts and choker necklaces.
The 2000s brought in a new era of modernity that influenced fashion. Metallic silvers and blacks were popular, evoking a Matrix-inspired look. Also, oversized bags, aviator sunglasses and jelly bracelets were in style.
In the early and mid-2000s, denim was a major clothing trend. Yoga pants, ripped jeans and light-wash jeggings were worn with t-shirts or polos with popped collars. Dresses over jeans were also common outfit choices for women, along with ballet flats and aviator sunglasses.
Scene styles were also popular, inspired by indie and rave fashion. This included skinny black biker jeans with bright t-shirts or hoodies and tutus. Hair was teased and dyed with bright neon colors or accessorized with bows and tiaras. Utilitarian looks, such as cargo pants and shearling jackets, were also fashionable in the early and mid-2000s. These styles were influenced by movies such as Top Gun and Midnight Cowboy, as well as by popular celebrities like Sienna Miller and Paris Hilton.