These Were The Ideal Beauty Standards For Men And Women Throughout The 20th Century

Beauty is fluid. For proof, look no further than the varied beauty and fashion trends popular in the United States in the 20th century. Depending on the decade, the ideal man or woman looked quite different. While men's styles focused largely on clothing rather than their bodies, 20th century beauty trends for women were heavily influenced by the size and shapes of their figures.

As television and film became more popular midway through the century, Americans began looking pop culture and beauty icons for fashion cues. Women pined to look like blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe in the '50s, and waiflike Kate Moss in the '90s. Men first looked at silver screen stars and later bulked-up bodybuilders as influences.

Some of these fashion trends in the 20th century look outdated to modern eyes. But whether the look was understated and tailored or over-the-top and glamorous, these trends were all the craze at one point. Just remember: beauty was, and is, in the eye of the beholder.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

  • The Early 1900s Championed Voluptuous Figures And Stylish Suits

    During the early 1900s, women wore S-bend corsets to emphasize their figures. The aim was to show off one's curves by pushing the hips back and the chest up. Illustrator Charles Gibson popularized this look, which became known as the Gibson Girl. Women wore puffy blouses embellished with lace and ribbons. Large, wide-brimmed hats covered their hair, which was often parted in the center and made fuller with extensions. In the 1910s, frilly shirts were still in fashion, as was a higher waistline; skirts, however, became tighter.

    Young men preferred trimmed mustaches and short hair, while only older gentlemen sported beards in the early 1900s and 1910s. Three-piece suits were common, along with narrow jackets and starched collars. After the onset of World War I, men commonly posed for photographs in military uniforms.

  • Curves Went Out Of Fashion In The 1920s

    The Flapper-style dress, with its straight silhouette and shorter hemline, came about in the mid-1920s as women opted for more casual attire. The aim was to have a boyish figure and a flat chest. Most daringly, women also began to wear their hair short as a way to express themselves. The Jazz Age was all about excess and partying, and exposed skin and non-traditional femininity expressed a carefree attitude.

    Men of that era started wearing suit pants with cuffs, and the lapels on their jackets were smaller compared to the wider lapels popular during World War I. Shoes became more lavish, with wingtips and fringed tongues. Like the women, Jazz Era men aspired to be thin.

  • Hats Were All The Rage In The Roaring '20s

    In the early 1900s, women preferred wide-brimmed hats. By the '20s, they started wearing the close-fitting cloche hat, which was perfect for women who opted for short hairstyles. These rakishly tilted hats were often paired with chic flapper dresses.

    Men wore all sorts of hats in the 1920s, depending on the occasion: straw boaters, panamas, bowlers, or fedoras. The bowler was particularly popular; towards the end of the decade, men wore these hats in brighter colors.

  • 1930s Fashion Was Glamorous, Despite The Depression

    By the 1930s, women had abandoned the boyish look. Now they favored clothes that accentuated the natural waistline and fitted more closely to the body. Narrow hips, however, were still greatly desired. The economic hardships of the era led to the rise of cheaper factory-made clothing, particularly garments featuring zippers. But evening dresses were all about glamour; silky, clingy, bias-cut dresses showed off a woman's figure.

    As for men in the '30s, they wanted to be Superman – literally. An athletic figure was greatly sought after, and clothes emphasized broad shoulders and narrow waists. Military-inspired jackets and coats were popular, as were high-waisted, pleated pants. As for evening wear, Fred Astaire's tuxedo tailcoat was the must-have look.

  • Practical '40s Fashion Highlighted Shoulder Pads And Broad Chests

    During the 1940s, women started wearing knee-length dresses. They also began wearing shoulder pads under their dresses, blouses and jackets, creating a boxy, masculine appearance. It wasn't uncommon for women to remake men's suits into women's wear while the men were overseas fighting in World War II. Cleavage was a no-no, but women's clothing did feature cut-outs and sweetheart necklines. The apparel of this era was less geared towards fashion and more towards durability.

    Men commonly wore suits, sport coats, trousers, and sweaters during the '40s. The typical outfit consisted of dress pants and shirts. They also opted for fitted sweaters, sweater vests, and waistcoats. The clothing was meant to emphasize their figures; actors like Clark Gable and bodybuilder Charles Atlas inspired men to build strong, muscular chests.

  • 1950s Women Showed Off Hourglass Curves While Men Lounged In Leisure Wear

    Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe greatly influenced women's beauty standards in the 1950s. The hourglass shape and curvaceous figures were sought after, as was perfect skin. After the strict regulations of wartime, hyper-femininity became all the rage; when out and about, women wore dresses and sweater sets and skirts. Their dresses featured wide crinoline-puffed skirts and small collars with a variety of designs on them. Closer-fitting dresses became more popular later in the decade.

    Men loosened up with their fashion in the '50s. They wore Hawaiian shirts, trousers, and loafers. Polo shirts also became popular both on the golf course and off. The younger generation wore cardigan sweaters and letterman jackets. The James Dean look – a leather jacket, white t-shirt and jeans – was relegated to the "bad boys."