Weird History Here's What High Schoolers Wore Each Decade Throughout The 20th Century  

Mariel Loveland
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Teen clothing is an entire industry – from the cameras sold to eager moms snapping their kids' first day of school outfits to the leagues of fashion houses and magazines touting the latest style. This wasn't always the case. Long before the '90s brought us the denim abomination that is JNCO jeans and Seventeen ran its first issue in 1944, "teen" was barely a word in your average Joe's sartorial vernacular. In the early 1900s, high school clothing trends were basically smaller versions of whatever was worn by adults. So, how did teen style manage to define 20th-century fashion? Blame accessibility – those shopping malls of the '80s didn't create themselves.

Clothing in the 20th century constantly changed with ideal beauty standards, which inadvertently always manage to cycle back around. The '20s and '60s celebrated boyish figures with flappers and Twiggy-inspired shift dresses. The '50s and '10s championed cinched waists and hourglass figures.  As soon as the Great Depression ended and technological advancements made fashion more accesible to the masses, people stopped making their clothing out of chicken feed sacks and started experimenting.

These are the cutest outfits for high school by the decade – from '70s bell bottoms to the wild hats of the early 1900s.

1990s: JNCO Jeans Were Invented – You're Welcome


1990s: JNCO Jeans Were Invente... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Here's What High Schoolers Wore Each Decade Throughout The 20th Century
Photo: Delias/Disney

If you were a teen in the '90s, you had JNCO jeans, particularly if you were of the male persuasion. This oversized abomination of denim was popularized by the hip-hop, skater, and raver subcultures. Were you even alive in the '90s if you didn't have a pair? Boys also donned baggy tees and oversized plaid flannel that was popularized by Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. A classic move was layering a baggy t-shirt over a long sleeve. Why was everything so baggy in the '90s?

Teen girl fashion reveled in the dELiA's catalog, where you could mail order chunky shoes, Courtney Love-inspired baby doll dresses, and spaghetti-strapped tank tops. For girly-girls there were maxi skirts and Spice Girl-approved mini-slip dresses. For the tomboy, there were baggy pants to be paired with a baggy long sleeve tee or a striped tank top barely grazing the low-rise hemline. Does anyone else remember when camouflage had a major moment? 

1980s: Big Hair Couldn't Hide Your Neon Zubaz


1980s: Big Hair Couldn't Hide ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Here's What High Schoolers Wore Each Decade Throughout The 20th Century
Photo:  Imgur/New World Pictures

The '80s was that glorious era wherein teen pop stars hung out in malls – so shopping was obviously a major focus of the time. It also brought teenagers everywhere the gift of acid-wash denim. What a wonderful gift that was. Acid wash was everywhere – bonus points if you wore it in a tapered leg. This decade was all about bold colors and bold silhouettes – from brightly patterned Zubaz pants to Madonna-inspired lingerie as outerwear topped with a cropped leather jacket.

Slogan tees were all the rage for boys and girls – whether it was cut into a muscle tea or baring the slogan "Frankie Says Relax." Shoulder pads also had a mega-moment and preppy high-school aged girls wore oversized blazer with exaggerated shoulders (as seen in the film Heathers).

1970s: Bell Bottom Jeans Kept Your Hemlines Far Out


1970s: Bell Bottom Jeans Kept ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Here's What High Schoolers Wore Each Decade Throughout The 20th Century
Photo:  Sears/Wikimedia Commons

1970s teen fashion was heavily inspired by the hippie movement (including tons of tie dye). Some articles of clothing transcended gender. Both girls and boys donned flared (or bell bottom) pants, and denim was wildly popular. For a casual look, this could be paired with a graphic t-shirt, tight sweater or a pattered button up (boys also wore patterned, satin button ups and graphic tees).

Hemlines were all over the place in the '70s. There were corduroy and denim mini-skirts, mid-drift-bearing tops and long, billowy kaftans popularized by musicians like Joni Mitchell. Airy maxi-skirts were also a popular choice. And as far as color palettes go, '70s fashion was enamored with earth-tones like mustard, chocolate, beige, and forest green.

1960s: 'Mod' Style And Mini Skirts Defined What It Meant To Be A Teen


1960s: 'Mod' Style And... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Here's What High Schoolers Wore Each Decade Throughout The 20th Century
Photo:  Flickr/Flickr

The '60s was the decade of the Mod – especially for teens. Though First Lady Jackie O. Kennedy was a wildly influential figure in fashion who brought shift dresses and pillbox hats to the American home, that style wasn't as popular with your average high school student.

While mothers and young professional reached for Kennedy's signature style, teens were influenced by music, not politicians. On the back of the British invasion with bands like the Beatles surging in popularity, London's influence flooded the United States. Mary Quaint, a fashion designer often viewed as the woman behind the massive trend, is credited with creating the miniskirt which was the defining '60s fashion choice for teen girls. Supermodel Twiggy, who wore oversized mini-dresses in order to offset her gaunt frame, championed this style and the psychedelic, brightly-colored patterns that marked the decade.

Mod style was also popular among teenage boys – and still is today. According to GQ, "…They remain stylish, because they always were." Key items included polos, tailored suit jackets, narrow trousers, and Chelsea boots.