“Halston. Lagerfeld. De la Renta . . . what they did, what they created, is greater than art. Because you live your life in it.”
- Nigel, “The Devil Wears Prada”
Fashion is often derided for being too fancy, out of touch or irrelevant to the greater picture of history. However, this can not be further from the truth. Fashion historians will contend that clothing history is just as important as tracking battles, chronicling the lives of rulers and the like. Clothing can even tell you so many things about society at the time of certain fashion trends.
Uncover why it is important that people analyze the fashion trends of certain epochs. You can also discover analysis of teenager fashion in ‘80s to ‘90s hip hop fashion. These analyses can help paint a sociopolitical and even psychological picture of these bygone decades.
Why is Analyzing Fashion Important?
Before you foray into looking into the nuances of Korean street fashion or plow through fashion history books, you may be wondering why it’s so important to look into fashion. What does the silhouette of clothing have to do with the cultural landscape of the time?
Below are a few reasons fashion history and looking into clothing is an important field of study.
Analyzing fashions of the time is key to understanding different aspects of the society at the time. The way people dress is directly affected by the current situation of the world. For example, bright colors and sturdy materials were often reserved for the rich and powerful prior to the advent of mass production because these required lots of time and money. This information helps you understand who has access to what material and clothing.
The cuts, fabrics and colors of clothing in any given time of history is a great way to see the cultural mores and staples of the time. The height of hemlines, the silhouettes of dresses and acceptable clothing for everyone can showcase what the dominant culture values. For example, 1920s fashion is radically different from the fashion of the Edwardian era because of how much culture had shifted after World War I.
Finally, fashion history is one of the few ways people today can understand and preserve techniques used to create these pieces of clothing. This is especially true of periods when making clothes were done entirely by hand. Many techniques are now lost because historians or even contemporaries of these designers did not think noting these techniques were important to posterity.
What are the Hurdles to Analyzing Fashion?
There are several major hurdles that can stop the interested or the curious from pursuing analysis of fashion in the ‘60s or teenager ‘80s fashion.
Here are a few of these major hurdles that prevent serious exploration into the interesting facets of clothing history.
Clothing and fashion items don’t tend to last as long as other relics because they are worn every day and made of materials not meant to last more than a few decades. Unlike swords, shields and armor made of metal, clothing is mostly made of fabrics. This means that preserving them beyond a hundred years is almost impossible without professional care such as those done by the Kyoto Costume Institute.
Fashion history is often downplayed by academics, who view it as less important when understanding the past. Fashion isn’t seen in the same lens as warfare or religious iconography. But the clothing of people in different eras is essential in understanding them. People live their lives in clothing. Fashion is involved in both battle and religion. IN fact, its involved in every facet of history.
Finally, there is a sense of elitism when it comes to studying fashion. Most pieces preserved in historical institutions tend to be the clothing of powerful and influential people. The clothing of those in lower rungs of society are more often studied in illustrations. This skews the study of clothing to focus solely on those of the rich instead of the fashions that are more widespread.
But studying clothing doesn’t have to always look into the fashions of centuries past. Scholars and enthusiasts are taking more and more interest in the fashion phenomenon of recent years. For example, vloggers like Mina Le make in-depth analysis of costuming in films relative to their supposed time periods. Such interest can foster greater understanding on the origins of fashion trends.
Here are 4 fashion trends from recent decades that can be analyzed with a critical lens. They can tell much about the culture and development of society at the time.
‘70s Disco Fashion
The iconic ‘70s disco fashion prevalent in the late 20th century stemmed from the disco music genre. Mostly spearheaded by the youth who flocked to nightclubs, disco fashion revolved around the prevalent music of the time. Clothing belonging to this trend were confined to social occasions and nights out. Contrary to popular culture, disco fashion was made for discotheques.
The disco fashion of the ‘70s were marked by being incredibly tight in some places and very loose in others. For example, the famous leggings and pants of the time practically clung to the thighs but flared loose near the ankles. This served to highlight the sweeping and rapid dance moves prevalent in disco. Disco fashion also still highlighted sensuality and freedom to a greater degree than ‘60s fashions.
‘80s Teenager Fashion
By the time the ‘80s rolled around, the liberal ideals of the ‘60s and ‘70s had rolled back and the New Right movement spread across America. Conservatism rose to prominence and the fashions of the time reflected that. This was also obvious with the prevalent fashion of ‘80s teenagers. Preppy styles such as polo shirts, khaki shorts and fitted jeans were all the rage among the youth of the ‘80s.
However, counterculture movements in the ‘80s youth also made use of many fashions that the prevalent culture did not approve of. Mullets, ripped jeans and biker fashions quickly became symbols of resistance to the Man, at least among the youth of the time.
‘90s Hip Hop Fashion
When the ‘90s rolled around, a new form of music rose to great prominence, especially among the Black communities of America. Hip hop as a music genre began decades before, starting in the 1970s but by the 1990s a new school of hip hop appeared and ushered in the golden age of the genre.
Hip hop fashion is most often associated with Black youths in urban communities. This fashion trend involved caps, bandanas, loose jeans and t-shirts as well as the well-known bling, jewelry and accessories usually made of bright metal.
In a way, ‘90s hip hop fashion was a facet of counterculture, this time showcasing the economic origins of Black communities. It put people of color, especially Black Americans, in the forefront of a fashion trend. Because of prevalent thoughts and racism, the hip hop fashion of the ‘90s were also often politicized and degraded with terms such as “gangbanger” and “hoodlum” thrown around.
Korean Street Fashion
In the late 2000s and carrying to today, there has been a rise in demand for Korean culture. Aside from musical sensations like BTS and Black Pink, many people throughout the day also embraced Korean street fashion. This trend often highlights polished and brightly colored clothing, usually with multiple bold patterns and textures.
Korean street fashion combined the flashy looks of the ‘80s with sleek and elegant modernity for a truly unique appearance. Despite being prevalent for years, Korean street fashion is still in its heyday, with more and more people subscribing to its aesthetics.
As much as people would want you to believe, fashion is very much an important facet of history. From the conservative ‘80s teenage fashions to the Afrocentric ‘90s hip hop fashion, they provide snapshots of culture and society of the times.