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

Mariel Loveland
442.1k views 10 items

In the last several decades, teen clothing has become an independent industry – from retail stores advertising the latest fashions to Instagram models forming the new trends with each post. This wasn't always the case, though. Long before the '90s birthed the denim abomination that was JNCO jeans, and even before Seventeen ran its inaugural issue in 1944, "teen" was barely a word in the common vernacular. In the early 1900s, high school clothing trends were essentially smaller versions of whatever was worn by adults. So, how did teen style manage to define 20th-century fashion? Perhaps accessibility – such as the wave of shopping malls in the 1980s – played a pivotal role.

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

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

1990s: Rise Of The JNCO Jean

1990s: Rise Of The JNCO Jean is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Here's What High Schoolers Wore Each Decade Throughout The 20th Century
Photo:  Dave Tonge / Contributor / Hulton Archive/UniversalImagesGroup / Contributor / Universal Images Group

If you were a teen in the '90s, you either owned a pair of JNCO jeans or desperately wanted one. These oversized abominations of denim were popularized by the hip-hop, skater, and raver subcultures. Boys also donned baggy tees and oversized plaid flannels, a style popularized by Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. 

Teen girl fashion lived in the dELiA's catalog, where you could mail order chunky shoes, Courtney Love-inspired baby doll dresses, and spaghetti-strapped tank tops. For those with more feminine tastes there were maxi skirts and Spice Girls-approved mini-slip dresses, while a tomboy could find baggy pants to be paired with a baggy long sleeve tee or a striped tank top barely grazing the low-rise hemline. 

1980s: Big Hair, Big Shoulders

1980s: Big Hair, Big Shoulders is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Here's What High Schoolers Wore Each Decade Throughout The 20th Century
Photo:  SKIDZ/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0/Heathers/New World Pictures

Shopping malls of the '80s brought teenagers everywhere the gift of acid-wash denim, and what a wonderful gift it was. This decade was all about bold colors and bolder silhouettes, from brightly patterned Zubaz pants to Madonna-inspired lingerie outerwear topped with a cropped leather jacket.

Slogan tees were all the rage regardless of gender, and girls' shoulders got an extra boost when shoulder pads arrived on the scene.

1970s: Bell-Bottoms, Denim, And Midriffs

1970s: Bell-Bottoms, Denim, An... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Here's What High Schoolers Wore Each Decade Throughout The 20th Century
Photo:  Mirrorpix / Contributor / Mirrorpix/Karen/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

1970s teen fashion was heavily inspired by the hippie movement, as evidenced by a profusion of tie-dye. Both girls and boys donned flared pants, and denim was wildly popular. For a casual look, these trousers could be paired with a graphic t-shirt, tight sweater or a pattered button up.

Hemlines varied in the '70s – corduroy and denim mini-skirts, midriff-bearing tops, and long, billowy kaftans popularized by musicians like Joni Mitchell were all extremely popular. In terms of color palettes, '70s fashion was enamored with earth tones like mustard, chocolate, beige, and forest green.

1960s: 'Mod' Style And Mini Skirts

1960s: 'Mod' Style And Mini Sk... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Here's What High Schoolers Wore Each Decade Throughout The 20th Century
Photo:  apfelauge/Flickr/Public Domain/The National Archives UK/Flickr/No known copyright restrictions

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, her conservative, professional style wasn't as popular with the average high school student.

While mothers and young professionals reached for Kennedy's signature style, teens were influenced by music, not politicians. With bands like the Beatles surging in popularity, London's influence flooded the United States. Fashion designer Mary Quaint is often credited with creating the miniskirt, a defining '60s fashion staple 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 polo shirts, tailored suit jackets, narrow trousers, and Chelsea boots.