Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Marketing Team: The Evolution of American Fashion

Beauty is a social construct. As society changes, so do the standards of beauty. In America, individual beauty is held to a high standard. If you put on the right outfit, or wear the right makeup, or have the right body shape, you’re beautiful in the eyes of the majority of the population. But the passage of time can change all of this.

As the decades go by, different aspects of physical appearance become more valued. During a war, physically strong individuals would be valued more than weak, and thus the image of a muscular man becomes what everyone should strive for. At any given time society can value the arts more than the sciences or tall women more than short. Yet no time period better shows the ever-changing standards of beauty than the 20th century.

The 00s and 10s

The first two decades of the century looked a lot like all the times before it. Women were wearing corsets as tight as possible, sometimes even tighter. Anything they could do to get an intense hourglass figure. They wore long skirts and long sleeve shirts. Hair was long and often tucked away in a large hat. Men wore suits, much like you see in the movies. Very dapper, with a cane and top hat. In terms of body shape, weight meant status. If you had a thick waist, it meant you had money for food, lots of food, and wealth is attractive. Of course, this was only for the men.

This all comes from the last remains of the 1800s. It was the fashion of the past and it was ready to continue on for another ten years at least. Everything was about showing status (as it almost always is). No big social changes had come along yet to affect what signified the most valued members of society. Not yet at least.

The Roaring 20s

Decade number three! The big thing for women was not wearing corsets and showing off those ankles. Everything was shorter: the skirts, the sleeves, the hair. The ideal figure was more boyish in nature with long legs. At the same time, men were starting to slim down. The suits were allowed to stay but they were considerably more casual. Everything about the 20s was more casual.

The time had finally come for the drastic changes to take place. The first change was World War I. The 20s were riding off of the fact that the worst conflict the Earth had ever seen by that point was over. People are generally familiar with the flapper movement and the rise of feminism in this time period. The women’s fashion of the time plays into the theme of freeing women from past constraints. Everyone was ready to relax and throwback.

The Dirty 30s

The atmosphere of the 30s is defined by the Great Depression. On October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed causing an economic crisis that affected the whole world. Gone was the freedom and relaxation of the 20s. Everyone had to turn right around and get back to work -  if they could find it.

Curves returned to being apart of the ideal woman’s body, though not to the extent of the first two decades. The fashion of the 30s is often defined by the Depression, but women's clothing was still full of glamour. Dresses tightened as the waistline rose back to a more natural position and women were celebrated for having a feminine body (as opposed to the boyish figure that was glorified during the 20s). Keeping with the slight return to previous styles, men’s frames were getting bigger, but this time with muscles. 

The 40s

Propaganda was huge in the US during the 40s (you make remember Rosie the Riveter from history class). Media called for volunteers to join the fight in World War II and, more importantly, those who could not fight were called upon to join the workforce to create products for the army to use, such as bullets and other weaponry. Someone had to take the jobs left by the men. The number of women in the workforce skyrocketed during the 40s. Fashion and body ideals followed the path to become more masculine and ready for factory work.

This time, women were the more muscular ones. They swapped skirts out for work pants and shirts. Men keep their muscles and their suits but this time, they either added a lovely trench coat or a military uniform.

The 50s

The war is over and men wanted to come home and start families. Immediately. Now is the time of the housewife. Dresses are back and so is the idea of a very curvy feminine figure. This is the era of Marilyn Monroe. Men were no longer concerned with looking strong but they still wanted to look big. This meant tall with broad shoulders. But don’t worry, they kept the suits.

Much like the 20s, this decade is affected a lot by the war before. However, unlike the 20s, the response to the war wasn’t to go crazy with change, it was to attempt to make a strict sense of normalcy. The men returning from war wanted to return to a nice home with a beautiful wife waiting for them. It’s this mentality that fueled the strict gender roles of the decade.

The 60s

The 60s was more of a return to the ideals of the 20s. For women, a slim boyish figure was back in fashion. There was more of an emphasis on looking younger, with more makeup. Men now tried to live up to the standard set by the first James Bond, Sean Connery. This created the idea of body hair being attractive on men, as well as broad shoulders and a flat stomach.

Technically starting in the 50s, the overarching theme of this decade until the 90s is the Cold War and advancing technology. It’s in this setting that the word and lifestyle of the “hippie” started to rise. It was also the time of protests and major social movements such as the Civil Rights movement and the Stonewall Riots.

The 70s

The biggest thing about the 70s was the hair. Women would have their hair fluffed up as large as they could go. The big, feathery hair was accompanied by minimal makeup. The ideal figure was more toned and athletic than it had been previously. For men, androgyny was becoming the new ideal. The idea was to be more lanky and thin. Also gone were the suits of the past - there were creatively colored button ups instead.

The 70s were marked by the Vietnam War and the protests that followed. The protests and general hatred of the war meant that no one was glorifying the image of a soldier. The image that was chosen as the ideal was the image of the harmless peaceful protester or a general party goer.

The 80s

It’s time for the 80s and that means it’s time for the shoulder pads. Women took to wearing shoulder pads during this time period, particularly in business settings. However, overall fashion was becoming more unisex. Denim was becoming popular alongside wild, eccentric colors. In terms of body shape, women were still expected to be curvy, with the legs especially being emphasized. Men had two idealized forms, the heavily muscled and the feminine with large amounts of hair.

The 80s was a time of change. The Cold War fluctuated, eventually ending by the end of the decade. Feminists were also trying to make changes in the political world so they could finally see equality. The gender roles of the past that were highly enforced in the 50s were being pushed aside to create a new image of the world.

The 90s

The last decade before the turn of the century. The new craze for women was the idea of the healthy, toned figure. However, this is also the time when being supermodel skinny was considered to be “healthy.” Hair was considerably calmer in the 90s than the previous two decades. In the realm of masculinity, closes were getting baggier but the ideal body shape was getting more and more muscled.

The world of the 90s was a lot more interconnected that the world of the decades before. The internet was here and ready to share beauty ideals from across the globe. Soon the standards in America would stop being just American and would soon become worldwide beauty ideals.

The ideals of fashion have continued to develop since the year 2000 and events that change the political and social atmosphere of the world will continue to alter fashion trends. The moral of the story is that beauty is ever changing and so are people. Whether or not the world says you’re beautiful at this moment shouldn’t have any effect on if you feel beautiful inside. The world is always changing, and your day to shine will come.