The Evolution of Fashion Across the World in the 1900s

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The Evolution Of Fashion Across The World in The 1900s

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Fashion Change

The debate on the precise origin of fashion change has led costume historians to agree that many people began accepting popular styles of dressing in the middle ages while fashion trends spread rapidly in the early 20th century. Historians agree that the US and Europe have been shaping the trends in fashion for a long time. The West has been the source of fashion trends that the world easily adapts to since the countries are regarded as the origin of fashion, style, and elegance. Although people have tried to preserve their cultural dress codes, the influence of the US and Europe on the fashion trends remains unchallenged. Thus, examining the fashion trends of the 1900s can be helpful in understanding the role of Europe and the US in the spread of fashion trends. Also, exploring the fashion of the mentioned period helps in understanding the reasons for changes in fashion over decades. The evolution of fashion in the 1900s can be understood by separately examining women’s and men’s fashion as discussed below.

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The 1900s fashion trends seem to have been borrowed from the last three decades of the 19th century. Towards the end of the 19th-century, various fashion trends evolved. According to Frick, the fashion trends evolved as a result of cultural forces that affected the styles of dressing (123). Boucher writes that changes in the roles of women, the artistic movements and changes in the political climate contributed to the fashion of evolution of the 19th century that crossed to the early 20th century (89). The evolution saw the US take a leading role in the fashion change since she was witnessing economic and social changes that influenced the dressing trends (Breward 57). With the growth of the textile industry, the US became instrumental in influencing fashion across the world. Europe remained the pioneer of fashion trends across the decade (1900-1910) since it set international standards in fashion design.

Women’s fashion in the 1900s

As noted earlier, the 1900s fashion borrowed from the 19th-century dressing trends. The silhouette hourglass dresses of the 19th century became popular among women in 1900s. Breward indicates that the narrow silhouette dress was popular even in the 1700s (72). The dress is still referred to as the empire waist (Frick 43). It became popular during the reign of the first emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte. The dress became popular across the world as Napoleon continued trading with other countries. The other European countries copied the fashion from the French textile industry.

The silhouette dress was seen as a fashion for the confident women (Frick 121). The dress was designed to reveal low chest and curvy hips of the fashionable women. With time, the dress was redesigned to lower its waistline in a way that it appeared slimmed and elongated (Boucher 39). Also, the dress was modified to have necklines that were high and supported by boned collars. Women added elegance to the dress by wearing belts around their waists.

Another popular dress among the women in the 1900s was the S-bend corset. The dress pushed women's hips backward and their chest forward. According to Boucher, Women wearing the corset portrayed a pouter-pigeon shape (47). Puffed frilly blouses completed the pigeon shape among women. Women wore skirts that brushed the floor during the 1900s. The skirts were fitted with heavy clothing around the waist and fluted towards the hem. However, after the mid-1900s, the French fashion houses introduced the silhouette concept into the skirts (Frick 109). They made skirts with a flat bust, narrow hips, and thicker waists. As time went by, towards the end of the decade, fashionable skirts were considered to be those above the floor. Fashion houses in Europe and the US made skirts that were approaching the angle.

Narrow skirts with raised waistlines dominated the fashion world towards the end of the 1900s. Fashion photographers contributed to the spread of the fashion from Europe across the world. As the European countries were occupying other regions such as Africa and trading with the East, the fashion continued to spread (Breward 127). Long tunic jackets complemented the fashion of the late 1900s. The jackets were worn on top of slim blouses and ankle-length skirts.

Medium-heeled shoes dominated the women’s footwear in the 1900s. Laced leather shoes were available for women in early 1900s (Boucher 63). During festive events, women wore slippers with straps. Moroccan leather was used to make shoes that were seen as uncomfortable since they were not fitted with fabric (Boucher 97). Regarding hairstyles, the middle of the 1900s saw women wear brimmed hats that were decorated with feathers. By the end of the decade, women wore smaller hats over their styled hair and shaded faces.

Men’s fashion

At the beginning of 20th-century, men wore sack coats for formal and informal occasions. The coats were worn to complement the three-piece suits (Boucher 49). In the US, the waistcoats that were matching with the suits were common. Frick indicates that the color of the suits and the coats contrasted the color of trousers to communicate social class (207). The trousers appeared shorter and had turn-ups. Men wore Norfolk jackets for outdoor activities and cutaway morning coat during formal occasions. The cutaway coats were popular in Europe while dark tail coats dominated the evening dress.

Stiffened overall collars made the 1900s fashion for men’s shirts. Narrow neckties and especially ascot ties were also popular in the 1900s (Boucher 67). The upper class frequently wore top hats. Men’s shoes were boot-like since they could cover above the ankle. Therefore, boots became popular in the 1900s. However, with time, laced shoes became common footwear as oxford shoes gained popularity.

Reason for fashion changes

Various issues caused the change of fashion across decades in the early 20th century. For instance, changes in the leadership of empires caused shifts in fashion styles in France. The "empire waist" tag given to the silhouette dress changed when the emperor came out of power. Also, the availability of raw materials led to changes in fashion (Breward 87). For instance, the demand for shawls in France led to the decrease in demand for clothes from the French fashion industry. The cashmere shawls influenced the change of fashion. Besides, the decline of the trade between Morocco and Europe in the early 20th century led to the changes in shoe fashion as leather became scarce.

Historical events such as the First World War also led to changes in fashion. During the first world war, for instance, women embraced ‘working clothes' such as trousers and overalls (Frick 107). The emergence of social classes over decades also caused changes in fashion. In the US for instance, hats became popular with the upper social class in the 1920s. Trade between nations brought changes to fashion as the textile industry tried to integrate aspects of culture into fashion.


The evolution of fashion across the world in the 1900s revolves around the changes in men’s and women’s clothing over the decade. Europe and the US took the lead and spread fashion trends across the world through trade and colonialism. The changes in fashion over the decade emanated from historical events and availability of raw materials. Examining the fashion trends over the decade helps in understanding the contribution of the West in the fashion industry and the role of trade in spreading these trends.

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