Defining the Decades

Words Alice May Sten­son

As we approach the eve of 2020, anoth­er year clos­es but so does anoth­er decade. Fash­ion is very much a thing of trans­for­ma­tion – tak­ing cul­tur­al insights from the world in which it exists. Mov­ing ram­pant­ly with the times. Each ten year peri­od crafts its own noto­ri­ous style, from the Mary Quant miniskirt to Jacque­mus mini­bags and beyond. In trib­ute to the 2010s, OVERDUE rounds up past hero pieces:

Swing­ing straight into the 1960s, a decade rich with colour and quirky eclec­ti­cism, we see hope. A time when Youthquake made moves in the inde­pen­dence of young peo­ple, turn­ing to fash­ion as a rebel­lious out­let. Mods and rock­ers pop­u­larised parkas, drain­pipe trousers, then the Beetle­crush­er shoe. Else­where, flo­ral Mary Quant miniskirts caused a ric­o­chet with their pre­car­i­ous hem­lines. Girls trad­ed long hair for Twig­gy-esque bobs, pulling upon their feet white go-go boots below Mon­dri­an shift dress­es. Pop Art jew­ellery, with its Andy Warhol charm took the form of giant spher­i­cal ear­rings and vinyl pen­dants. For those with a lav­ish eye, the Her­mès “Kel­ly” bag became a rag­ing sym­bol of sta­tus. Audrey Hep­burn and Brigitte Bar­dot epit­o­mised the six­ties through sim­ple ele­gance; pair­ing an LBD with pearls or a pill­box hat. The defin­ing mot­to became one of mould-break­ing, of dress­ing vivid­ly, look­ing opti­misti­cal­ly for­ward. 

By the 1970s, daisy prints had evolved into dis­co-ready psy­che­delics. Bell bot­tomed trousers, flares too, graced every dance­floor. While brands like Hal­ston and Armani grew to rel­e­van­cy, the glam rock move­ment saw a colos­sal rise of the plat­form boot. Mod­ern pre­cur­sors like Ray-Bans and Levi jeans also gained sig­nif­i­cant style trac­tion. Where the 1960s birthed rebel­lion, the 1970s saw its fruition through Vivi­enne West­wood and the leather-clad, safe­ty-pinned punks. David Bowie then tapped into dark arts of Japan­ese fash­ion, with avant-garde Kan­sai Yamamo­to designs and ear­ly Comme des Garçons. But per­haps the most defin­i­tive gar­ments were those of gold medal­lion neck­laces atop turtle­necks and gross­ly over­sized lapels. Excess was rife. Lay­er­ing of knits: tank tops, Mis­soni stripes, and cash­mere skirts served for the win­ter months. By stark con­trast, Ste­vie Nicks made flow­ing boho dress­es a hip­pie pièce de résis­tance for fes­ti­val sea­son that echoed the airy, care­free nature of the decade.

The 1980s called, they want their shoul­der pads back. No decade did size quite like the eight­ies. Larg­er than life, pow­er suit­ing took charge in the office just as lycra leo­tards marked the decade’s go-to for sports­wear. Neon shell track­suits were a key piece, as the emer­gence of Fila, Reebok and Puma threw fash­ion into the fit­ness world. Cult icons like Madon­na pop­u­larised fish­net gloves, bejew­elled ban­gles and the infa­mous coned bra. It was a time of great exper­i­men­ta­tion, not-so-great permed hair. The New Roman­tics explored pirate cul­ture, mak­ing waves with tri­corn hats or a bal­loon-sleeved shirt. Exquis­ite dress­mak­ing from Alaïa to Mugler ele­vat­ed the female body to new heights of seduc­tion; cling­ing fab­rics being the most flat­ter­ing. All the while, casu­al Amer­i­can cool soared as Calvin Klein debuted its icon­ic cot­ton under­wear. The raunchy adver­tis­ing cam­paigns were unlike any oth­er. Back in Britain, fash­ion was giv­en roy­al flour­ish after Princess Diana donned the prep­py kit­ten heel and blouse as clas­sic decade items. Her influ­ence was extra­or­di­nary. In a time of the 1984 polit­i­cal hotbed, the gen­teel Princess of Wales came to carve out a lega­cy. Not least for her grace­ful dress sense, but her phil­an­thropic ways. Mono­chrome midi dress­es with a string pearl neck­lace were part of this new mod­ern fem­i­nin­i­ty.  

Exchang­ing sophis­ti­ca­tion for Spice Girls, the 1990s was fashion’s ver­sion of a fun lit­tle sis­ter. One that wore stacks of bead­ed neck­laces and stomped around the house in hot pink jel­ly san­dals. Baby Spice and the Olsen twins put forth a baby­doll mash-up of dain­ty slip dress­es over car­go pants, much to the dis­may of fash­ion afi­ciona­dos. Super­mod­els, by con­trast, intro­duced celebri­ty glitz to the decade. A his­to­ry book gar­ment was Liz Hur­ley’s 1994 black and gold Ver­sace dress at the pre­miere of Four Wed­dings and A Funer­al. High glam­our became syn­ony­mous with the likes of design­ers John Gal­liano at Givenchy, Dior and Karl Lager­feld at Chanel who defined the nineties through lux­u­ry tai­lor­ing. Over­all fash­ion blurred into var­i­ous sub­cul­tures. On one hand, Kurt Cobain and the grit­ty Doc Marten, ripped-jean grunge dressers. On the oth­er was media mania: v‑hip swim­suits from Bay­watch, leather Matrix trench coats, or the co-ord pat­terned suit, cour­tesy of Clue­less. The nineties debuted per­haps the most nos­tal­gic items of his­to­ry. Some have even crept back in 2019 – bum bags and chain belts to name but a cou­ple. Fen­di’s baguette bag has also been revived by the likes of Olivia Paler­mo and Emma Roberts.

Upon the mil­len­ni­um, 2000s fash­ion seemed to take a casu­al turn. It was now that Juicy Cou­ture and velour track­suits – think Paris Hilton, Brit­ney Spears – had a shin­ing moment. Lead­ing onto the low-slung “bum­ster” trouser, famed by Alexan­der McQueen, or J‑Lo’s icon­ic green Ver­sace num­ber, this decade was the most promis­cu­ous yet. Sex and the City best summed up the 2000s; effer­ves­cent, and full of Manolo Blah­nik heels. Crop tops with a lay­ered spaghet­ti strap camisole made reg­u­lar appear­ances, as did patent fab­rics, noto­ri­ous­ly in pink a la Legal­ly Blonde. Fash­ion took on unusu­al pro­por­tion, tes­ti­fied by the imprac­ti­cal­ly tiny shrug top or wide-legged skater jeans. Yet acces­sories exud­ed a more tacky appeal. Stud­ded belts, Von Dutch truck­er hats and satin head­bands sold in droves. Sien­na Miller and her gyp­sy-skirt-cir­cle-belt com­bi­na­tion are worth an hon­orary men­tion. With the expan­sion of new tech­nolo­gies, plus brands that glo­ri­fied retail, the noughties explod­ed with stand out items. The it-bag was a prime exam­ple, char­ac­terised in the 2000s large­ly by Dior sad­dle bags and the Chloé girl, with her “Padding­ton” top-han­dled style. Shop­pers were quick to absorb new trends, defin­ing this decade as one of high street glam­our. 

Alas, the 2010s are reach­ing the bit­ter­sweet end. As the cur­rent decade comes to a close, one can appre­ci­ate its fash­ion pos­i­tives and faux pas. Off-duty mod­el style poised the Bel­la Hadid slim sun­glass­es as a key decade item. Like­wise, the Jacque­mus mini­bag took a small spot­light in 2019. It was all about the details. Pri­or to this, ath­leisure and streetwear reached peak pop­u­lar­i­ty; Kanye and Kim Kar­dashi­an West helped to ush­er in urban dress­ing through Yeezy, as well as numer­ous sports col­lab­o­ra­tions. Gen Z inter­net cul­ture, street style and scan­di-min­i­mal­ism were oth­er huge influ­ences. From them, sta­ples of the Guc­ci belt and Valenti­no “Rock­stud” heel were born. Unlike these suc­cess­es, the ear­ly 2010s saw flops aplen­ty. Aztec leg­gings, an abun­dance of flower crowns. Not for­get­ting the par­o­dy of ugly shoes: Crocs, Ugg boots, fur loafers, dad sneak­ers. There was a point, too, where “Mil­len­ni­al Pink” rose to fame, most notably with Rihanna’s organ­za Giambat­tista Val­li gown of 2015. Fash­ion took a post-mod­ernist stance by way of Rick Owens who favoured decon­struc­tivist design and shunned aus­ter­i­ty. Balen­ci­a­ga had a sim­i­lar premise, coin­ing the unique “speed train­er” as a sig­na­ture item in 2017. This anti-tra­di­tion way of thought trans­lat­ed to uni­sex every­thing, as the decade came to embody gen­der flu­id­i­ty.

But what does fashion’s future hold? It’s like­ly, giv­en that sus­tain­abil­i­ty remains at its fore­front, vin­tage cloth­ing will make a size­able impact. The rework­ing, recy­cling, and reas­sign­ing cycle may encour­age cre­atives to merge parts of all pre­vi­ous decades. Then, Insta­gram remov­ing its “like” sys­tem could fore­see a step away from fast fash­ion or influ­encer cul­ture. Logo­ma­nia is reach­ing its demise as peo­ple become over­sat­u­rat­ed by brand­ing. Per­haps some­thing sim­pler is on the cards, or dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy may take the cre­ative reigns of 2020. What­ev­er its direc­tion, here’s to a hap­py and healthy new decade!