When I was once asked to describe my personal style and the eras that influenced the construction of my ‘signature aesthetic’ I was stumped. After all, one day I could be channeling my inner ‘Audrey Hepburn’ midi dress circa 1955 (as photographed by Norman Parkinson) and the next I would unleash my inner 60’s mod, with a Mary Quant esque mini skirt or an a-line silhouette. From a young age I had always loved travelling through fashion history and while some photos relinquish a rather murky fashion past- why did I think that ra-ra skirts were acceptable with jeggings and ugg boots?!- it also showed me that the definition of my ‘personal style’ not only evolves over time but also pays reverence to ‘fashion history’ and in particular three key eras: the 60’s, the 70’s and the 90’s. However, being a ‘fashion lover’ also makes me prone to experimentation and through my research I decided to go back in time to explore fashion history from eras that I wouldn’t necessarily normally ‘choose to wear’ but at the same time is clearly synonymous with my ‘fashion identity and perspective’.
From learning that ankle boots were unisex in the 19th century, to exploring how fishnet tights went from being ‘worn by prostitutes’ to mass production in the 1920’s, I set myself a challenge to learn a little more about the key pieces in my wardrobe and how they became the popular phenomenons that they are today. And thanks to Linzi Shoes, I found that there are more to ‘ankle boots’than meets the eye…
1804- 1850’s And The Resurgence Of Ankle Boots
Introduced in 1804, the ankle boot became a ‘primary shoe choice’ for both men and women, and was the only ‘shoe’ during the Victorian Period, that was seen as ‘unisex’.While ankle boots were originally made from silk and satin, the emergence of ‘leather ankle boots’ proved to be a hit with both sexes and cemented ‘cult status’ due to its comfort and style appeal. By the 1850’s ankle boots were no longer ‘confined to the filthy rich’ and due to mass production, ankle boots became available to all, regardless of ‘monetary income’. During the 1850’s the ankle boots were adorned with embroidered patterns and dyed fabrics in shades like navy and green became popular with men and women. By the 1880’s however ankle boots fell out favour, where court shoes with a ‘Spanish heel’ and ‘Calf Shoes’ became popular, due to what ladies called a ‘refined elegance and sophistication’ that separated their fashion identities from men.
But all was not lost; while ankle boots were still continued to be made in the 1870’s and all through the 20th Century, it seemed like the humble ankle boot was losing out to popular boot styles like the ‘knee high boot’. But then as if by magic, fashion powerhouses like Dolce Gabanna and Balmain created A/W collections in 2012-2013, featuring ankle boots and the itty bitty shoes have been enjoying a renaissance ever since. For me personally, ankle boots happen to be my ‘tied favourite’ (alongside ‘sock boots’) type of boot, as they are versatile, easy to wear and unlike knee highs (which I still love) do not fall down and make me look like I have forgotten to put shoes on!
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The 1870’s- 1920’s & The Mass Production Of Fishnet Tights
When we think of fishnets today we equate them with ‘sexiness’, the bedroom and female empowerment but did you know that pre-1920’s fishnets were only worn by prostitutes and performers, as a way of ‘enticing their male and female audience’? And where else but the city of love, illicit affairs and lust -yep you guessed it Paris- to have performers dance around in their fishnet stockings, while they lure their spectators into their magical web? But how did the 1920’s mass production boom, transform fishnet stockings into the gappy tights that we know and love today? It was those revolutionary flappers that changed the game; the 1920’s were characterized by loose, un-tailored dress silhouettes, with intricate beading and worn with bejeweled or plain fishnet tights, while their feet were encased in patent kitten heels or court shoes . Flappers were known for raising eyebrows with their retaliation against conventional societal norms so it should seem only fitting that they should adopt fishnet tights into mainstream use.
Although the 1920’s kickstarted the mass production of ‘fishnet tights’, the 70’s popularized fishnets among sub-cultures like the punk/rock crowd while the eccentricity of the ‘loud and bright’ 80’s spawned bright fishnet hues like blue, green and red, which many young people wore with neon bright leg warmers and matching headbands. By the 1990’s however, the most popular form of ‘fishnet etiquette’ that we know and love today was a slogan or band t-shirt nonchalantly tied into distressed jeans or a ripped denim skirt and paired with combat boots, which-similar to the 70’s – played into the sub-culture component of fishnet tights but made it more wearable and accessible for modern day fashion lovers.
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1913-1119 & Paul Poiret’s Cocoon Coat
If there could be one pioneer that elevated the blueprint for modern fashion history as we see it today, it would be Paul Poiret. The man behind draping, harem pants and ‘lampshade tunics’ Poiret was very much inspired by ‘fantasies of the Orient’ , by ’employing the language of Orientalism ‘ through romantic and theatrical clothing. According to the ‘Met Museum’ Poiret would create a cylindrical wardrobe inspired by the Orient that emphasized ‘flatness and planarity’ through ‘rectangular shapes’ and cut along straight lines, as evidenced by his curation of the cocoon coat. Poiret’s deference to ‘Oriental tailoring’ and shapes was seen as a rejection of the Western paradigm and it’s supposed primacy.
While Poiret was famed for going against fashion norms and creating avante garde looks that somehow could translate into effortless every day wear, unknown to many, this pioneer of modern fashion was responsible for trends that we know and love today. In particular Poiret’s Cocoon coats were much revered and while they no longer have the bubble or balloon hem of the 1910’s, the simple, almost slouchy silhouette of the ‘cocoon coat’ remains popular with retailers like Topshop today. Colours are bright and pay homage to Poiret’s love of texture, flat silhouettes and naturally his love affair with the Orient. While many of his coats like his 1919 ‘day coat’ have a long, almost robe-duster tailoring, his shorter cocoon coats, which have been simplified for modern day, often demonstrates his penchant for opulent textures , inspired by the stage and Orientalist extravaganza. In my case, the Cocoon coat that has been paired with the ankle boots above, is a more subdued affair but nevertheless a reminder of Poiret’s revolutionary trends , even a hundred years ago.
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1940’s -1960’s And Audrey Hepburn’s Turtleneck Craze
While turtlenecks are worn by both men and women in modern fashion, it must surprise you to find out that they were worn under chain mail in the medieval era, to stop soldiers from developing rashes and wounds during battle. Thankfully, turtlenecks are more of a fashion staple today and was popularized by the one and only Audrey Hepburn, although we should give out a notable mention to Jayne Mansfield who helped to popularize a feminine, sexy version of the style in the 1940’s and 50’s.
However the ‘Beatnik’ or Bohemian version of the ‘turtleneck’ which is closest to modern day styling often paired turtlenecks with either ‘Mom Jeans’ or skinny jeans, as seen by Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe in ‘Funny Face’ and would be a ‘street style classic’ for many years to come. Audrey’s ability to transcend style trends and combine unisex, androgynous fashion with her own feminine sensibility became an inspiration for pioneers in the ‘Me Decade’ otherwise known as the 70’s, where Gloria Steinem further reinforced the turtleneck as being the uniform of the enlightened and intelligent feminist.
1960’s & Mary Quant’s Revolutionary Mini Skirt Trend
As all good Historians know, often those who are seen as the winners/creators/inventors are Usually the ones who helped ‘cement cult status’ as opposed to the actual creator. In other words, like Shakespeare who was believed to have ‘ripped off some lesser known plays’ and mark them as his own, Mary Quant too was inspired by Courrèges 1964 skirt designs, which history often mistakes as being her ‘own invention’. Correction, Mary did not create the mini skirt but she is rightly credited with making the mini skirt as popular with youth culture as it is today.
Naturally, as the fifties were associated with ‘conservatism’ the ‘ Swinging Sixties’ sought to ‘disassociate itself’ from its predecessor by creating short skirts that were so synonymous with an era that was known for being free-spirited, revolutionary and characterized by political liberation and social and generational mobility. As it was the youth’s who were for the first time ‘defining the scope of fashion history’ the short mini skirt lengths reflected their need to rebel against the norm and demonstrated their distaste for conformity. As the sixties spawned multiple generational sub cultures like mods vs rockers, clothing became brighter, bolder and had more of a message than ever before. And its easy to see how trends like the Quant mini skirt remains popular nearly over 50 years later, with youth culture still having a huge impact on the way that fashion designers curate their collections, when they know it is those who have the biggest disposable income.
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1970’s & The Floppy ‘Fashion Led’ Hat
Although ‘floppy hats’ were worn in the late 1960’s, it was the seventies free spirited ‘bohemianism’ that made ‘floppy hats’ so popular with actresses and style icons like Faye Dunaway and Bridget Bardot who began wearing soft, solid-color felt, face-framing styles in the 1970s. Often adorned with thin ribbon and in rich colours like pumpkin, rust and brown that were so synonymous with the iconic seventies colour palette, it wasn’t just among ‘youth culture’ that floppy hats became a popular form of artistic fashion expression. In fact floppy hats made of straw and nylon became popular with brides walking down the aisle including celebrity brides Bianca Jagger and Farrah Fawcett, while floppy hats in pale pastels and embellished with silk flowers were paired with floral cotton ‘tea’ dresses for garden parties.
Some might associate the 70’s hat trend with the 1975 cult classic ‘The Stepford Wives’ as ‘uniform worn by the robotic queens of conformity ‘ but thankfully modern fashion designers have created individualistic hat styles to suit all needs and tastes. However i’m still waiting for a beautiful pink hat to fly over my way… Any suggestions?
What Are your Thoughts On Fashion History? Do You Have A Particular Fashion Era That You Gravitate Towards?
Please note I was gifted Boots from Linzi, this is not a monetized collaboration. Regardless of ‘gifting’ all research and thoughts are my own.
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