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Some of these fashion trends in the 20th century look outdated to modern eyes.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.


  • 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."

  • An Androgynous Look Dominated The Early '60s

    The economy was still strong in the 1960s, so fewer women made their own clothes, instead opting to shop for them. What people wore often indicated their social class, and casual clothing became the standard. Women strived to be thin, like model Twiggy, and many aimed for the androgynous look.

    Women wore miniskirts and imitated British-inspired "Mod" fashion. Both men and women started wearing bright colors and clothes featuring geometric patterns. Men wore flared pants, knit shirts, and sweaters.

  • Hippies Broke The Fashion Rules In The Late '60s

    The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York City were metropolitan centers for hippie culture in the 1960s. Those who subscribed to this subculture wore clothing in direct contrast to the Mod look popular during the era.

    Women rebelled against wearing makeup and shape-defining articles of clothing, such as girdles, padded bras, and stockings. Instead, they opted for peasant shirts, tie dye garments, bell-bottomed jeans, and long maxi skirts. Both men and women preferred wearing sandals and growing their hair long. Men also grew unruly beards.