What were the best fashion eras throughout history? Each period in Western civilization has its own style, but not all are created equal. It's undeniable that some periods have just been more fashionable than others. From empire-style gowns to flapper dresses, some of the best clothing throughout time has come out of significant eras. The most important historical fashion has been deeply rooted in time and place. It has also been representative of changes in society as a whole, and style has always meant more than simply what garments a person is wearing.
The history of fashion trends is interesting - but that doesn’t mean it has always been pretty. Even as some periods of history have contributed to significant developments in men’s and women’s fashion, they’ve just as frequently produced oddities that are memorable only for their sheer wackiness. Just as beauty standards have changed over time, so too have standards of dress. From ancient civilization to modern times, clothing has always changed with the world, but when fashion was at its particular best is an entirely different matter.
The 1950s were a decade when the world was trying to take a breather after a cataclysmic World War. So when Christian Dior first debuted his "New Look" in 1947 - a classy ensemble with a generous, flowy skirt - people took notice. At the time, many places (including the United Kingdom) were still on war rations, and so the achingly elegant look that Dior promised his customers was a glorious, glamorous breath of fresh air. For men, the 1950s was all about hats, classic button-downs, and conservative suits.
Other looks haven't fared nearly as well. Though the rock and roll vibe of the late '50s popularized leather jackets, the early part of the decade was all about poodle skirts and bobby socks.
The 1920s popularized jazz, fast cars, mass entertainment, and some of the most recognizable fashion trends of all time. Women in the Jazz Age declared their independence from the confines of the previous generation's delicate respectability by cutting their dresses and hair short. Leg-baring, straight-waisted dresses worn without corsets allowed women - especially flappers - to dance freely.
Coco Chanel, a French designer who wore pants and bobbed her hair, led this fashion revolution all while creating timeless looks based on clean lines. For the first time, people looked to Hollywood for fashion trends, and movie stars became synonymous with glamour for both men and women.
Nowhere did politics and fashion mesh together so gloriously than in the period from roughly 1789 until 1830. When people across continents rose up in revolution, they changed more than governments - they also changed their fashion. Like the French royal family itself, the hoop skirt and the aristocratic decadence that it represented went out the window. Instead, fashionable ladies wore simple, flowy, and high-waisted "empire-style" gowns - so named because they became fashionable under Napoleon's French Empire - that were reminiscent of the classical world and its democratic ideals. Many a Jane Austen heroine stumbles through love in this very style. The influx of muslin from South Asia also made simple cotton dresses popular.
The late 18th and early 19th centuries were ridiculously important for men's fashion, too. Men forfeited the aristocratic powdered wigs of the previous era for more natural and authentic looks - Darcy could brood so well because his handsome head didn't have a powdered wig sitting atop it. Dandies like Beau Brummell - probably the best dressed gentleman in history - pushed men's fashion forward, by bringing splashes of color, refinement, and the beauty of well-tailored suits into the public eye. Oh, and he also thought excellent hygiene was the hallmark of a well put-together man.
Thanks to memorable costumes from movies like Gigi and My Fair Lady, fashions from the Belle Époque period still inspire and delight. Why? Because the outfits were just simply beautiful. This probably isn't all that surprising, since "beautiful" is literally in the name of the period - it translates to "Beautiful Time." This period saw the birth of haute couture as we know it. The term was first used in 1908, as Paris was anointed the fashion capital of the world, with its runway shows and prominent fashion houses like those of Paul Poiret and Charles Worth. Fashion embraced elegance and sophistication with white parasols, clean lines, and waspish waists.
But this era wasn't all frocks, frills, and high fashion. Gym rats should thank the Belle Époque for taking sportswear to new heights, too. As more and more people had access to leisure activities like bike riding, tennis, and holidays by the sea, attire made for sport exploded in popularity. While men wore baggy knickerbockers - pants that billowed out above the knee - many women weren't willing to let narrow skirts and tight corsets stop them from being active, and they donned bloomers for their athletic pursuits.